September 3, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

One Cannot Choose to Deny Free Will

How can leading scientists be so wrong? Look how they chose to manipulate participants’ views by lying to them.

Three psychologists used fellow human beings like lab rats, lying to them for science. That should have raised ethical flags, but maybe the rules are different at the University of Cologne (Germany) and the University of Ghent (Belgium). Nevertheless, the editor of their PNAS paper from the University of California had no problem with it.

The question whether free will exists or not has been a matter of debate in philosophy for centuries. Recently, researchers claimed that free will is nothing more than a myth. Although the validity of this claim is debatable, it attracted much attention in the general public. This raises the crucial question whether it matters if people believe in free will or not. In six studies, we tested whether believing in free will is related to the correspondence bias—that is, people’s automatic tendency to overestimate the influence of internal as compared to external factors when interpreting others’ behavior. Overall, we demonstrate that believing in free will increases the correspondence bias and predicts prescribed punishment and reward behavior.

One of their methods involved giving survey participants (who were paid, by the way) a short essay to read on free will. The “control” essay provided some background on consciousness and provided for the possibility of free will. The “Anti-Free-Will Text” given to other participants denied the existence of free will, giving the usual materialistic evolutionary line:

“You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons….

The psychologists then tested their human lab rats on their attitudes about reward and punishment. Sure enough, those who had been taught that free will is a myth tended to be more lenient with lawbreakers, feeling they couldn’t help themselves.

Are we the only ones to point out that this paper suffers not only from ethical flaws, but from logical incoherence? It’s logically impossible to deny free will. The very act of denying free will requires free will. It’s like saying out loud, “I cannot speak.” Presumably, these psychologists freely chose to undertake this study, and to lie to the participants about what they were doing.

Consequently, the psychologists, and the National Academy of Sciences that published their work, are morally accountable for dishonesty as well as stupidity, as are the rest of us when we choose to do evil or not use our brains.

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