After reading the above posts, I think I'd just like to say that I don't see free will as a philosophical question. Rather I see it as a question for chemical and physical law. If there is no place in the human mind that can escape the laws of chemistry and quantum whatever - then everything that happens within our mind is not of any control. It is impossible for any agency to exist regardless of appearances.
What we consider consciousness would be merely the output from an organic computer, wired and programmed by evolution.
As for the punishment question, I feel that in regards to criminals, we must understand they are not evil, but merely big fleshy products of a robotic existence. That said they can either be rehabilitated or destroyed.
"What we consider consciousness would be merely the output from an organic computer, wired and programmed by evolution."
That's just a form of reductionism. It's akin to saying that a cat isn't really a cat; it's just a collection of atoms.
The Universe has a state which represents the exact arrangement of its constituents (whatever these may be). This state + randomness completely determines the immediately next state the Universe will have. To say anything else would be mathematical (not just physical) lunacy. Considering this, I could not believe in our power to overcome the laws of physics, which, by definition, completely govern us.
Now, I know most sane people wouldn't claim we aren't subject to the laws of physics, so what's all this fuss about? I am yet to hear a clear definition of free will, even though I've asked for it numerous times. It's either me who's not getting it or people don't want to accept that we are made of particles whose future states are completely determined by their present state + possibly randomness. If this free will is something that is not esoteric enough to escape the laws of physics, and ultimately mathematics, then what is it and why is it so important for rational people?
However, that being said, consciousness, whatever it may be, is completely real (at least for me it is, you damn philosopher's zombies) and all those qualia that baffle me are real. Therefore there is meaning, even though on a fundamental level we aren't in control. In my opinion, the fact that we can feel love, friendship, hope, joy and so on, is something of the greatest importance, regardless of the fact the current state of the Universe determines its future states.
I will use Bob Arctor, Keanu Reeves rotoscoped alter ego in A Scanner Darkly (2006) from PKD's A Scanner Darkly (1977).
Bob Arctor is a free agent - he is in fact the freest agent in his environment. You could say that if Arctor did not actually, really, truly, positively have free will (what ever we can agree this to mean) he had 'the kind of free will he could use'. Meaning - he had something that, in the limit, approached our maximum or upper limit of what we have both agreed is free will.
Both LaPlace's Daemon and Maxwell's Daemon will represent the two agents (imaginary agents admittadly) that possess what we will agree to is a measurable or weighable or durative or in anyway making a material impact on the universe since we are monists, rationalist, skeptics, doubters, peer reviewers, furious bloggers etc. etc. and we can eventually decide a very important question.
My question is: Can you express free will in multiples of Plancks Length, the smallest 'allowable' space-time area allowed in this universe. Planck's Constant gives us the Planck length which you can think of as the opening in a net that holds up this universe. Your measured quantity of free will cannot get smaller than this. How big is your free will particle - it must be larger than this?
How big is free will. In the 13.72 B years, when did free will emerge from star stuff and planet stuff and biological stuff? Was it last Thursday? Could we measure the effects of free will on black holes? is free will encoded in Hawking Radiation?
Or maybe evolutionary biology explains free will. But you would be wrong. Or chemistry, or fishing for trout or panning for gold or commenting on blogs. B.F. Skinner fail.
Or is it possible that this is a remnant of rampant dualism in an atheist? Do you really want to go back to having a free 'little you' in the cockpit that talks to Zeus? That is called Casper.
I heard that the free will particle is the decidetron and it's the only particle which can choose how to act and thus influence other particles by interacting with them anyway it wants.
I bet our brains are filled with this kind of particles and that's where free will emerges. All we have to do now is wait for the guys from LHC to discover this particle.
Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker on Free Will