Do You Have Free Will? I Hope So!

John Tierney blogs about free will in the Science section of Monday’s New York Times. He’s coming from a non-religious scientific point of view, but here’s the takeaway:

… [people] pragmatically intuit that regardless of whether free will exists, our society depends on everyone’s believing it does. The benefits of this belief have been demonstrated in other research showing that when people doubt free will, they do worse at their jobs and are less honest.

Tierney summarizes some of that research, which shows that determinists are quicker to cheat than people who believe in free will.

However, I would have liked Tierney to address another concern: the presupposition that the universe is deterministic. Is that what scientists think? I was under the impression scientists had identified non-deterministic phenomena in the universe, like radioactive decay. While you can determine the half-life of a radioactive isotope, you can’t predict when an individual atom of that material will decay. Is that deterministic? In other words, if you could wind the universe up again and start over from the same initial state, would those atoms all decay at exactly the same moment they did the first time? If so, wouldn’t that be prediction?

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