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A Theoretical Physicist Defends Free Will

Physics, he says, has made huge strides, but has not upset free will

George Ellis, considered a world leader in relativity and cosmology (right, courtesy David Monniaux), offers some thoughts:

Physics has made huge strides since the days of Laplace; indeed, it would be completely unrecognisable to him. Yet there are still physicists today who confidently proclaim that we can’t have free will because physics determines everything, including brain functioning – entirely ignoring the complex context and the power of constraints.

If you seriously believe that fundamental forces leave no space for free will, then it’s impossible for us to genuinely make choices as moral beings. We wouldn’t be accountable in any meaningful way for our reactions to global climate change, child trafficking or viral pandemics. The underlying physics would in reality be governing our behaviour, and responsibility wouldn’t enter into the picture.

George Ellis, “From chaos to free will” at Aeon

That’s a devastating conclusion. We can be grateful it’s not true. From our own discussions of free will:

No free will means, among other things, no justice

Jerry Coyne just can’t give up denying free will. Coyne’s denial of free will, based on determinism, is science denial and junk metaphysics

How Libet’s free will research is misrepresented: Sometimes, says Michael Egnor, misrepresentation may be deliberate because Libet’s work doesn’t support a materialist perspective.


Does “alien hand syndrome” show that we don’t really have free will? One woman’s left hand seemed to have a mind of its own. Did it?

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A Theoretical Physicist Defends Free Will