Anthony Cashmore, biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, recently wrote an article alleging that human free will does not exist. He wrote: “It is my belief that, as more attention is given to the mechanisms that govern human behavior, it will increasingly be seen that the concept of free will is an illusion” (2010). According to Cashmore, you are reading this article because your genes and your environment have forced you to sit in front of your computer. You are not responsible for your decision to read this article, and, based on your alleged evolutionary history and your environment, you could not choose to be doing anything different than what you are doing now. You are literally a slave to your genes and your environment. As Cashmore wrote: “[A]n individual cannot be held responsible for either his genes or his environment. From this simple analysis, surely it follows that individuals cannot logically be held responsible for their behavior” (2010).
A response to such a bizarre claim is certainly warranted. First, it should be noted that the concept of human evolution is patently false (see Harrub and Thompson, 2003). Any attempt to discard free will based on evolutionary scenarios is doomed to failure. Second, it must be stressed that many in the greater scientific community, who hold an evolutionary bias, admit that human consciousness defies naturalistic explanations (Harrub and Thompson, 2003, pp. 247-428). Third, humans possess inherent qualities unlike anything seen in the animal kingdom. This truth testifies to the fact that humans have been stamped in the image of their divine Creator (Lyons and Thompson, 2002a and Lyons and Thompson 2002b). These are just a few of the concepts that militate against Cashmore’s thesis.
The most damaging line of evidence against Cashmore’s proposition is the way in which he attempts to convince his readers of its truth. His five-and-a-half page article argues that our society should disregard the outdated concept that humans are responsible for their behavior. But if Cashmore is right, then there is no way we can disregard the concept, due to the simple fact that we did not choose it in the first place. If humans are not responsible for their beliefs or behaviors, then the generally held concept of free will, that Cashmore is trying to demolish, is nothing more than an evolutionary, environmental by-product. According to Cashmore’s line of thinking, if we believe in free will at the present, and act on that belief, we are not responsible for it. If he is right, why in the world would he attempt to urge the scientific community to change its mind about free will, if the community does not have the power to change its mind? Why spend time and effort arguing against free will, if your audience does not have the freedom to choose to accept or reject your reasoning anyway? The fatal flaw of the “no free will” argument is that it demands that the person making the argument has the free will to do so, and it tacitly assumes the parties evaluating the argument have the power to accept or reject it.
If Cashmore is right, his genes and environment forced him to write the article. All those who read it were equally compelled to do so, and their conclusions about his writing are preprogrammed responses that cannot be otherwise. So, if anyone disagrees with Cashmore’s thesis, using his line of thinking, that person cannot be said to be right or wrong. The most that can be said is that such a person’s genes and environment led him to a different conclusion than Cashmore’s. Yet the fact that Cashmore is writing a “persuasive” piece of literature belies the reality that his thesis cannot be correct.
It is ironic that Cashmore, in his concluding acknowledgements, thanked his colleagues and those who reviewed his manuscript. Yet if he is right, they were not responsible for their behavior, and they had no choice but to help him. Why thank biological organisms that are just stumbling around their environment without a choice in the matter? That would be like an architect thanking the bricks that made a home possible, or a pilot thanking the air for providing lift for his plane. In reality, Cashmore freely chose to write his article, just as I freely chose to respond to it. You freely chose to read this response, and you can and will freely choose how you respond to it. And it is upon the basis of free will that our divine Creator urges us, as free moral agents, to choose to serve Him and live moral lives (Joshua 24:15).
Cashmore, Anthony (2010), “The Lucretian Swerve: The Biological Basis of Human Behavior and the Criminal Justice System,” PNAS, [On-line], URL: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/02/04/0915161107.full.pdf+html.
Harrub, Brad and Bert Thompson (2003), The Truth about Human Origins (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Lyons, Eric and Bert Thompson (2002a), “In the ‘Image and Likeness of God,’” Part 1, Reason and Revelation, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/123.
Lyons, Eric and Bert Thompson (2002b), “In the ‘Image and Likeness of God,’” Part 2, Reason and Revelation, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/125.
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