Bait and Switch: A Review of Sam Harris's Free Will


Alvin Plantinga

Questions of free will and determinism have long been asked in theological and philosophical circles, but with the rise of neuroscience there’s a new player in town as evidenced by Sam Harris’ book “Free Will.” This review of Harris’ book by noted philosopher Alvin Plantinga provides a helpfully thorough response to the view Harris presents. Plantinga begins by investigating just what it is Harris means by “free will” and finds that Harris has dangerously mixed two ideas: classical free will and a rather different idea which Plantinga terms “maximal autonomy.” While free will asks if we can choose between two options, maximal autonomy asks if we can also determine all the factors which influence and lead up to a moment of choice. Harris argues that, in essence, all our actions are out of our control; we all have the equivalent of a pathological condition that inhibits us from exercising any form of free will. Consequentially, for Harris, our actions are not our responsibility. In response, Plantinga shows the good reasons from which our choice to perform an action is drawn, along with the more convincing Christian arguments regarding the existence or non-existence of free will.

What can neuroscience tell us about our decision-making process?

How can we integrate a neuroscientific understanding of the decision-making process with a theological understanding of free will?

Source: Books & Culture

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