Is Darwinian Evolution Compatible with Free Will?

In his notebooks, Charles Darwin wrote about the “general delusion about free will.” Ever since, people have debated whether Darwinian evolution is compatible with the traditional view of human beings as responsible moral agents. In the following essays, you can explore the debate over free will, Darwinian evolution, and personal responsibility through the writings of leading supporters and critics of Darwin’s theory.

Evolution, Free will, and Punishment

William Provine

Supporter of evolution William Provine at Cornell University argues that “[n]aturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly,” including the idea that “human free will is nonexistent.”

 

Dennett and the Darwinizing of Free Will

David P. Barash

A professor at the University of Washington and a noted proponent of sociobiology, David Barash writes that “there can be no such thing as free will for the committed scientist,” but then concedes that “ even the most hard-headed materialists… live with an unspoken hypocrisy: even as we assume determinism in our intellectual pursuits and professional lives, we actually experience our subjective lives as though free will reigns supreme.”

 

The Moral Animal

Robert Wright

In his book The Moral Animal, evolutionary psychology proponent Robert Wright explains how modern Darwinian biology undermines traditional beliefs in free will and personal responsibility. According to Wright, genetic control of human behavior is so all-encompassing that “in many realms” human beings are “all puppets.”

 

Evolution, Neuroscience, and Free Will

Larry Arnhart

Political theorist Larry Arnhart at the University of Northern Illinois maintains that biological explanations of the brain offered  by Darwinian evolution “are fully compatible with traditional conceptions of moral and legal responsibility.”

 

Darwinism and Free Will: A Response to Larry Arnhart

John G. West

Discovery Institute Senior Fellow John West points out the long history of Darwinist attacks on free will, starting with Darwin himself, and suggests that if political theorist Larry Arnhart “wants to add credibility to his claim that Darwinism is compatible with free will and personal responsibility, he first needs to persuade the leading proponents of Darwinism that their reductionistic view of the human person is wrong.”