Robert P. George interestingly observes the following about free will (recently brought to my attention), which a secular humanist might be expected to dogmatically reject.
“Christian philosophers such as Germain Grisez, Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., and Olaf Tollefsen have rigorously shown, however, that the denial of free choice is rationally untenable, because it is a self-referentially contradictory claim, a self-defeating proposition. No one can rationally deny free choice, or claim as illusory our ordinary experience of freely choosing, without presupposing the possibility of free choice. To deny free choice is to claim that it is more rational to believe that there is no free choice than to believe that there is. But this, in turn, presupposes that one can identify norms of rationality and freely choose to conform one’s beliefs to those norms. It presupposes that we are free to affirm the truth or falsity of a proposition, our desires or emotions or preferences to the contrary notwithstanding. Otherwise, the assertion of no free choice is pointless. The person who says people can’t freely choose presupposes that there are reasons for accepting his claim, otherwise his act of asserting it would be pointless. But our ability to understand and act upon such reasons is incompatible with the idea that one is caused by his desires or by outside forces to accept or not accept such claims. So someone who denies free choice implicitly contradicts his own claim.”
~George, Robert P. “A Clash of Orthodoxies.” First Things no. 95 (1999): 38.
I heartily agree, and think that to deny free will is to deny doxastic voluntarism and rational deliberation, but we all apprehend that our very denials of doxastic voluntarism or rational deliberation are done deliberatively and voluntarily. In response Josh Dever offers the following rejoinder:
“Prof. George’s further charge that secular orthodoxy
is committed to the denial of free will I also find
baffling, since the view that there is no free will is an
extreme minority position in philosophy. As I read
Prof. George, we secularists are supposed to reject free
will because it comes into conflict with “hard” or “soft”
determinism. However, the dominant (although hardly
universal) view among philosophers these days is
that there is no genuine conflict between determinism
and free will. Donald Davidson, for example, has said
that arguments for that supposed conflict are no more
than “superficially plausible.” Far from being “written
off as an illusion,” free will is alive and well under the
The argument that the denial of free will is “rationally
untenable,” by the way, is fallacious. While it may
well be the case that, if there were no free will, there
would be no point in announcing that there is no free
will, or even that the nature of our subjective experience
is such that none of us can seriously doubt the
existence of free will, this does nothing to show that
there is free will.”
~Dever, Josh. “A clash of orthodoxies: an exchange.” First Things no. 104 (2000): 46.
I think this response is both lame and typical. First there is no rational justification possible for the denial of free will (to which Dever practically conceded), but the deeper point is that libertarian free will is antithetical to what has become the orthodoxy of secular humanism, and this is precisely (and obviously) the kind of ‘free will’ which Robert P. George had in mind.