In this the third part of a look at what science has to say on the concept of free will, we will delve into the relationship between volition and consciousness. And it gets weird. I won’t even rag on William ‘Lame’ Craig this time, though it is always tempting. One thing I should say before continuing is what version of free will I am rejecting: the traditional contra-causal free will which is a consequence of discredited dualistic notions. Tom Clark puts it this way:
If you imagine a situation in which you are behaving and you make a particular choice, many people suppose that given that situation exactly as it transpired you could have chosen something other than what you did. But a science-based naturalism looking at the situation as it arises will see the choice as a function of the exact conditions that were present at the time. So if you play that scenario there is no reason to think that anything else would have happened. Many people think, in supposing that they have contra-causal free will, that had they been in that situation even with the same desires, the same exact circumstances inside and outside themselves, they could have chosen or done something other than what they did. And this is what [naturalists] are denying. This is what I think a thorough science-based naturalism challenges is this idea of a causally-autonomous, metaphysically-autonomous self that somehow gets to cause things but is itself not fully caused1.
There are some types of free will that are compatible with determinism and we will get to those later. True contra-causal free will just has too many issues associated with it to be a viable concept. One I have alluded to before, that we would be paralyzed into inaction if a large part of our everyday actions weren’t calculated at a subconscious level. There are just too many choices at every moment. ‘Walking across the street’ is a high-level intention, but each individual step requires a decision to place the foot calculated from terrain, balance, etc. If you have to think about it, you will simply fall over. Second is that contra-causal free will means that people would be far less predictable than they are, which is not a good thing.