Free will is not an illusion

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“My genes made me do it” encapsulates how many geneticists, following the footsteps of Richard Dawkins, think of our genome’s relationship to us: complete control over our mind and body. That seemingly leaves no room for free will, relegating it to a mere illusion. At the HowTheLightGetsIn festival in London last month, distinguished biologist Denis Noble sought to dismantle this picture. Our bodies, argued Noble, exhibit agency, an ability to choose between alternatives, even at the cell level, dispelling the idea that we’re mere automata, programmed by our genome.  You do what you do because of who you are, and you are who you are because of your genes and your environment. That’s how a contemporary argument against the existence of free will usually goes. The first claim, about the way our genes determine our fate, has come out of an interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution often as…

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