Free Will: A response to Sam Harris

A new e-book by Atlasphere columnist Kurt Keefner is getting good reviews at

Atlasphere columnist Jeff Perren, for example, had this to say:

In 30+ pages Kurt Keefner effectively counters Harris’ supporting examples and arguments in favor of determinism. He pays him the compliment — rare these days — of taking them seriously without rancor or distortion, then rebuts them thoroughly.

None of Keefner’s arguments here are wholly original; they didn’t need to be. But he does a good job of explaining both Harris’ and his own positions and arguments without needless technical jargon. Throughout, the language is clear while avoiding oversimplification.

He doesn’t address all the arguments in favor of and against Harris’ brand of determinism. Nor does he delve into alternative theories such as compatibalism, emergent properties, or Kantianism. He honestly, and up front, acknowledges that to do the subject full justice would require a book-length treatment. But within the space available in a lengthy essay he covers quite a lot of ground. In a few compact sections he discusses Harris’ epistemological, neurological, and empirical bases for his beliefs — then demonstrates how Harris goes wrong even on his own ground. He does so without relying on religious arguments, arguing firmly from a secular point of view throughout.

He goes beyond simply showing the weaknesses in Harris’ position to offer more fundamental reasons about why and where Harris goes wrong. He shows that, far from adherence to a scientific view leading to determinism, it is the scientific view that supports a belief in free will, properly understood.

Keefner’s essay amply repays the time spent not just to read it but to digest it thoughtfully.

For more information about the e-book, see its page on