Let us talk today of a complaint leveled against the idea of natural will. Natural will is where your choices are determined by all of nature, rather than one physical body.
The complaint is that it encourages laziness and destructive behaviors because people can claim “The universe made me do it.”
This exclamation is a riff on the famous saying, “The Devil made me do it.”
There are obviously inherent differences but let us again ask the honest reader to admit that free will has no basis in science. Free will is simply an outdated mode that now traps us in suffering by making us think we can disobey the universe. If you accept that premise then let us continue on.
Well, what is the difference between the “universe” and the “Devil”? One is a scientific concept for everything encompassing reality, the other is considered by religions to be the personification of evil.
Let’s take both these ideas at face value: we’ll assume both the universe and the Devil exist as stated.
What’s obviously different?
One is not inherently bad (the universe could make you altruistic, for example), while the other is always bad (theft is blamed on the Devil). Hidden in that division is that one of them can accept a relative mortality and for the other it’s impossible: morality is absolute.
Therefore if we can show that relative morality is on firmer ground than absolute morality, the difference between the two becomes even more obvious.
I have two examples that show how morality is always with a particular context. That context must always be assumed, and so morality must be relative.
The first example is this: A man finds many horses. The villagers say he is blessed. The man says “We’ll see.” One of the horses breaks his son’s leg. The villagers say the man is cursed. The man says “We’ll see.” The army doesn’t draft the son because of his broken leg. The villagers say the man is blessed. He says: “We’ll see.”
The moral of this story is that dividing good from bad is always a limited view. One event in one context can appear bad but in a larger context appears good. There are always larger contexts so good and bad are artificial (though sometimes helpful) constructs.
The second example is about the rightness and wrongness of murder.
A mama bear named Arcadia has three cubs: Bernardo, Otso, and Nanuk. A mama wolf named Liloo has two pups: Caleb and Mingan. The pups are very hungry and food has been scarce, so Liloo goes looking. The mama wolf comes upon the little bear Otso and can catch him if she moves fast.
Is it moral for Liloo to catch Otso the baby bear to feed her pups, Caleb and Mingan? Is it moral for Arcadia, the mama bear, to defend Otso, even if it means Liloo’s pups will starve and die? If the baby bear Otso was going to grow up and eventually terrorize human hikers, do the answers change? What if Liloo’s pup Mingan was the one that would eventually terrorize hikers?
This example highlights the difficulty of an absolute morality. It’s not that morality is useless or should be thrown out; it’s that good and evil are always relative and a specific context must be assumed for a specific morality to hold water.
To bring this back to the main point of whether “the universe made me do it” is a valid argument, we see that if morality is always relative, then the universe cannot do absolute wrong.
The universe always works out the way it’s going to work out, even though that doesn’t necessarily mean it works out for you individually or even for the human species.
When we accept free will is baloney, we must also accept right-and-wrong are not dichotomous. They are not evenly divided.
This morality-is-relative idea can be called a “soft” argument for why “the universe made me do it” does not increase people’s desire to commit destruction.
A “hard” argument would go something like this: people, regardless of whether they assume free will or not, are willing to contain harmful behavior (for whatever version of harmful they choose). This is because free willists believe people are responsible for their actions while natural willists see earthquakes and thieves as both forces of nature and defense against both as allowable.
If both free willists and natural willists see a reason to protect against criminals then even a natural willist trying to use “the universe made me do it” to excuse destructive acts would be looked at incredulously.
Another defense against this argument that violence would increase if people join the naturalistic camp is that morality does not come from belief in free will.
While the free will belief can help us get along better, most moral behavior comes from billions of years of genetic cooperation, millennia of cultural insight, and centuries of protective institutions such as government.
If your belief in free will popped out of existence right now hopefully you wouldn’t start running around stealing TVs. If that’s all your sense of goodness rests on, you have bigger problems than the spread of acceptance of natural will.
To reiterate, “the Devil made me do it” is false because it assumes morality is absolute, which isn’t the case.
“The universe made me do it” is on firmer ground because the universe could make you be altruistic and behave positively and because good-and-bad are inherently relative.
A stronger argument is that destructive actions could be contained by both the free-will and natural-will camps because of personal responsibility and force-of-nature defense, respectively.
Another strong argument for why “the universe made me do it” would not increase unwanted behavior is that good behavior comes not primarily from belief in free will but from genetic cooperation, cultural insight, and protective institutions.
Given the arguments put forth, belief in natural will is unlikely to increase bad behavior.