A compelling essay on free will from an internationally recognized authority on atheism, and author of God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction.
Do we have free will? And if we don’t, why do we feel as if we do? In a godless universe governed by impersonal laws of cause and effect, are you responsible for your actions? Former evangelical minister Dan Barker (God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction) unveils a novel solution to the question that has baffled scientists and philosophers for millennia. He outlines the concept of what he calls “harmonic free will,” a two-dimensional perspective that pivots the paradox on its axis to show that there is no single answer—both sides are right. Free will is a useful illusion: not a scientific, but a social truth.
Evangelical minister turned atheist Barker reshapes the debate on free will in this slim but complex work. He argues that those who assert all things are entirely predetermined and those who claim humans have genuine free will fail to realize they are approaching the same problem from different angles. Behavior in itself is determined, he argues, but judgments about that behavior retroactively give the sense of free will, much as beauty only exists after humans consider an object. By turning free will from a quality to a product and process, Barker contends that a kind of harmony develops that blends and enriches both human actions and social structures. He also claims that the illusory nature of free will does not make it any less useful to shape morality and allows free will and determinism to coexist on different scales. Barker frequently uses metaphors of music (he is an amateur jazz pianist) and stories about animals to illuminate difficult concepts, but often his arguments are too dense for casual reading and not quite detailed enough to be purely academic. This uncertainty of audience along with the author's snark about religion ("I now dismiss the dogma as incoherent and coercive") will deter some readers. Others, however, will find Barker's model a useful way of thinking about free will that adds new perspective on a complicated ethical and philosophical quandary.