Free Will is a Bad Excuse, Nothing More

Certainly not an endorsement of Rand, but very much an endorsement of this sentiment.

“Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a ‘tendency’ to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape.” ~Ayn Rand

Via Jessica over at Utopian Science.  She tells me she intends to do a mega-post on morality within the week, so stay tuned.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Alex Songe

    Folks like William Lane Craig et al look up to Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga. Alvin Plantinga came up with the modern free-will defense of the problem of evil. Atheists always respond to this with natural evils, and we give examples of tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other various natural phenomena that usually kill more people in a stroke than free will does. Alvin Plantinga et al have been working on theories of “natural evil” which they understand as animal suffering, though, avoiding confronting natural disasters…but their answer would nevertheless be the same: Alvin Plantinga has responded that the sins of demons and devils cause natural suffering. That their free will is what causes sin in the natural world outside of humanity. Seriously.

  • Raging Bee

    Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a ‘tendency’ to evil.

    That’s not an “evasion,” that’s a known fact: we do indeed have certain influences, from hardwiring to conditioning to limited wisdom, that make evil decisions more likely than they would otherwise be. We have (to take just one general example) a desire to live in peace with other people, but we also have material needs and priorities that incline us to mistrust and betray those others when the going gets tough.

    And I really don’t see why Rand would have thought that facing an obvious fact was a “cowardly evasion.” It’s about as ignorant as just about anything else she’s said about human nature.

  • Raging Bee

    A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice.

    Well, yeah, life here on Earth really isn’t fair — you don’t have to go to a casino to find yourself playing a high-stakes game with loaded dice. And it’s not just loaded dice we have to contend with, it’s wonky neurons — we may have free will, but our brains are not “intelligently designed.”

  • Robert B.

    Yeah, I remember that quote, but I consider it to be refuted by the discovery of cognitive bias. (That happens a lot with Rand’s philosophy – psychology wasn’t too advanced at the time but she could have at least read Pavlov.) The dice are loaded. Quite a lot of the bad stuff that happens is humanity’s fault, and much of that is related to those same biases.

    Anyway, you’re quoting her out of context. The thesis of that essay was that free will exists and that people should be held responsible for their flaws and virtues (a thesis that I pretty much agree with despite errors like the quoted passage.) It had nothing to do with the religious-apologetic argument that free will answers the problem of evil. Rand generally spent very little time refuting religion directly; she seemed to consider it not worth responding to.

  • Raging Bee

    Robert B.: Rand’s problem here isn’t ignorance of psychology, it’s her desperate refusal to admit that we need government to intervene in our lives for any reason. And if we acknowledge that humans have a tendency toward evil acts, it very quickly follows that we need to give government enough power to enforce laws to counteract such tendencies. That’s against Rand’s religion, so like any other unhinged religious authoritarian or zealot, she’s simply ignoring any fact, no matter how obvious, that contradicts her rigid belief.

    • Robert B.

      That quote isn’t from an argument about government, any more than it was from an argument about the problem of evil. She did write about more than one thing, you know. And she had lots of problems, here and elsewhere, of which I heartily assure you ignorance of psychology was one.

      And I’m ashamed to read here the nasty and false claim that an atheist expressing her opinion strongly (or perhaps, an atheist who is wrong) is no different than religion. I’m not trying to defend Ayn Rand in general: despite her libertarian politics she was nastily authoritarian in other important respects, her zealotry is clear, “unhinged” is an unfortunate term but it’s very possible she was mentally ill, and you missed “bigoted” and “arrogant.” But she despised religion and rejected faith. She was rather bad at backing up her beliefs and ethics with evidence and reason, but it was her clear principle that one should do so.

      “Religion” is not just a bad word we use for people whose ideas we don’t like. It has a clear definition, please remember it.