Hi, I was wondering if there is an atheistic explanation for the phenomenon of free will?
To try and put the question into specific terms so that there is no confusion:
1. We have the experience of being able to choose. This may be manifested in a course of action or merely a belief to be held.
2. If our choices are merely a reflection of the particular brain chemistry involved, or of any other physical process, we cannot be said to have a true choice in any sense, as there is nothing outside the physical realm to be influencing the action of the brain and body, which are physical things. Therefore, it seems that any physical explanation for free will is by definition faulty, including any potential future knowledge we may uncover.
3. The standard way out of this, and the way that I took as an atheist, is that there really is no such thing as free will and we merely experience the illusion of choice. This begs the question of who is experiencing this illusion, but apart from that, if we have no choices that are not determined by physical law, then how did we arrive at that conclusion? In order to exercise rational thought, you must be able to make a free will choice between two alternatives according to which you believe is more weighty. If there is no free will, on some level you have no choice but to believe this and it is not rational in any sense.
A1. Now of course, the argument made in point 3 does not mean that the hard determinism theory is false, merely that if it were true we would have no way of knowing that, since the belief itself invalidates the process which led to the belief.
A2. Randomness is not the same as choice. Demonstrating that not everything can be predicted in its behavior, even with a hypothetical infinite body of knowledge about the original state, does not mean that this randomness is an explanation for choice, any more than a roulette wheel chooses the number the ball falls into.