I am often puzzled by the obsession with ‘free will’ in the new atheists, and more generally students of science. It is impossible to prove much of anything here, and yet the anti’s are completely certain of their position. The determinism of early physics was almost ancient in this context and was addressed over and over again by figures such as Kant, and others. I must therefore be suspicious this false certainty is a result of the bad education scientists get. Clearly they learn about such issues as free will from narrow scientific educational environments where the issues are treated via the assumptions of physicists, where determinism works.
There is another perspective: this stance revives a ‘dialectic’ forcing the issue back to debate, and it is true that defenders of free will tend to be sloppy. So the debate can be useful. It is hard to defend free will in the context of current science. It never occurs to its fans that this shows the limits of current science.
One problem here is that Kant study is difficult and rarely reaches a large audience. And most Kant scholars wouldn’t make waves here and would muffle the question in academic blah (I learned this the hard way: try claiming Kant couldn’t have been a darwinist, and the Iron Curtain of silence will descend). One solution, long advocated by many is to study the Critique of Pure Reason via the section on ‘Dialectic’, the antinomies. Whatever the case, it is true that people being trained science are given very narrow perspectives.
The issue of free will is often muddled by its main defenders, religious apologists. These theists often mistake their own position: the will of the individual is surrendered to the ‘will of god’, not a trivial act, one with results that are unpredictable, and not much to do with ‘god’, I fear. The reality is complex and ‘will power’ is not the same as the axiom of ‘free will’ given to the ‘sentient being’ at the level of humanity. Science has a dialectical opener to challenge this, but I don’t see the effort making much headway. Figures such as Kant beckon the student of physics to review their assumptions.