Free will an illusion, says noted US biologist

New members of the National Academy of Sciences in the US are asked to pen an inaugural article for its journal, the PNAS. Biologist Anthony R. Cashmore, of the University of Pennsylvania, has used the opportunity to set down a sweeping program for the reorganisation of all of society. Professor Cashmore is a plant biologist. Based on his studies of the plant species Arabidopsis thaliana, he has researched photoreceptors and how they drive plant growth and development, including changes in pigmentation and gene expression, seed germination, stem elongation, circadian rhythms and flowering.

Moving boldly out of his area of specialisation he demands that biologists recognise that free will is nonsense, that we are not responsible for our actions and that the criminal law must be fundamentally restructured.

“if we no longer entertain the luxury of a belief in the ‘magic of the soul’, then there is little else to offer in support of the concept of free will. Whereas much is written claiming to provide an explanation for free will, such writings are invariably lacking any hint of molecular details concerning mechanisms. Also, it is often suggested that individuals are free to choose and modify their environment and that, in this respect, they control their destiny. This argument misses the simple but crucial point that any action, as ‘free’ as it may appear, simply reflects the genetics of the organism and the environmental history, right up to some fraction of a microsecond before any action.”

On the whole scientists are sceptical about the claims of religion, but they fail to be equally sceptical about the existence of free will. If they really believed that free will does not exist and that all behaviour is determined by genetics and environment, then society will have to accept radical changes.

“Progress in understanding the chemical basis of behavior will make it increasingly untenable to retain a belief in the concept of free will. To retain any degree of reality, the criminal justice system will need to adjust accordingly.” ~ PNAS, Feb 8 

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