Do animals or humans have free will?
In this column, we’ll shift gears a little and talk the uniquely human capacity for reason and free will.
While spiritual beings also share free will, no other animal does. I distinctly remember being taught in my psychology 101 university class that modern psychology has essentially dismissed the idea that free will exists, although some consider it an interesting theory to remember for historical significance. I’ll explain why such a position is utter absurdity later. For now, I’d like to simply state that this idea is quite valid and reasonable when applied to the (non-human) animal kingdom. The famous Pavlov’s dogs are but one good example of how such an understanding can provide great insights into animal behavior. Animals are indeed products of their nature and nurture, their genetic predispositions and their environment. Therefore, an animal cannot choose between good and evil. A rabbit cannot choose to be a holy rabbit any more than it can choose to be a sinful rabbit—it can only be a rabbit.
Human beings, on the other hand, represent an entirely different situation. Popular and fashionable psychology theories notwithstanding, we are very much capable of choosing between good and evil. With the use of our reason combined with free will, we actually make several moral decisions each day. Because of this we are accountable for our actions. Bad habits (which progress to addictions) can certainly weaken our free will as we become enslaved to such destructive behaviors. In such situations, our individual culpability may therefore be less for a particular repetitive mistake, as human beings, we are responsible for every one of our conscious actions. Such and understanding should be universally accepted, however, in our age of moral relativism and abdication of personal responsibility for anything, we have tickled our ears with the false teaching that we are merely animals with no free will.
I’ll demonstrate a common-sense based logical demonstration of this key distinction between humans and all other animals. Arguably, no human action draws as much universal condemnation from other humans as rape. Efforts to address the problem of rape is one of the few legitimate causes left among the various so-called women’s rights organizations that have otherwise been corrupted with a dedication to abortion. On this issue, I stand not only with them, but with all people (be they religious, agnostic, or atheist) who condemn such unthinkable and inexcusable violence. No amount of bad genes and poor upbringing can excuse a man for violating a woman in this most inhuman manner.
What about animals? Is there any equivalent to rape in the animal kingdom? Why not? Anyone who has been in the presence of dogs, or other pets long enough has witnessed a mating process that in no way reflects the standard of mutually consenting adults we have for humans. We intuitively understand and accept that such animals act purely on instinct and have no responsibility for their actions in any sort of moral or ethical sense.
It is precisely because we are so different than animals in this most obvious example that we are held to an entirely different standard. We are not bound to act according to mere natural instincts. We have the capacity both for reason and subsequent free decisions of the will. Such a rational understanding of human beings explains why we should be held accountable for our actions. Whether this issue is cigarette smoking or premarital sexual activity, we are neglecting dour duty to give appropriate guidance and instruction when we treat such reckless behavior with indifference or dismiss it with the tire old adage “they’ll do it anyway.” Far too often today, especially at the highest levels of public policy, we provide our youth the message that we expect them to behave like animals in heat without any expectation of self-control. Sadly, this frequently becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Young people deserve better. As rational human beings, we have a responsibility to affirm their human dignity and to teach them how to live in a way they will find true freedom and fulfillment.