Is free will a myth or the foundation of law and order?

Michael Cook

Calvin was deemed a heretic by Catholics for preaching that only the predestined elect would be saved and that the predestined reprobate were all toast. That was in the 16th century, but the battle over free will continues, though written in the language of neuroscience rather than theology.

Some recent research in psychology suggests that when people disbelieve in free will, they are more inclined to act in antisocial ways. Free will is said to underpin all social morality. In one often-cited paper, Kathleen D. Vohs and Jonathan W. Schooler found that disbelief about free will was associated with lax attitudes towards cheating among the students they tested. They concluded, much as Victorian atheists did about religion, that “identifying approaches for insulating the public against this danger becomes imperative”. In other words, whether or not there is free will, people are more moral if they believe in it.

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