Free will: A religious idea

One of my blogging buddies, myatheistlife, made a case for free will which can be found here, here, here and here which I did disagree with. I ask you to read the articles he wrote, they are well argued though in the end I didn’t think he made a strong case for free will. For those of you, who have followed this blog for sometime know that I hold the belief that free will is a chimera. We live in a deterministic world. Our actions appear to us to be freely willed, and freely chosen but this is just an appearance, an illusion.

My friend mentions Dennett, who for all intents and purposes I think holds the idea there is no free will but thinks people need not be told they have no free will that it is bad for society. I think this is analogous to not telling men that they share a common ancestry with other apes fearing that they will start to behave like apes[most behave worse than apes without holding this to be true].

In the Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche writes of four great errors;

  1. The error of confusing cause and effect,
  2. The error of false causality,
  3. The error of imaginary causes, and lastly
  4. The error of free will.

He says this of the error of free will, and I find it agreeable, that without the desire to punish, the need free will does just not arise.

Today we no longer have any tolerance for the idea of free will; we see it only too clearly for what it really is- the foulest of all theological fictions, intended to make mankind responsible in a religious sense- that is dependent upon priests. […]

He goes on to say,

Whenever responsibility is assigned , it is usually so that judgment and punishment can follow. Becoming has been deprived of its innocence when any acting the way you did is traced back to will, to motives, to responsible choices; the doctrine of the will has been invented essentially to justify punishment through the pretext of assigning guilt. 

The Hebrews priests, not being able to explain why their god allowed them to suffer, resolved that it must have been men’s failure to do as god willed/ commanded that they were punished. By telling men they had wronged god, the priests were for all intents assured of a steady income as long as they maintained they were spokesmen/ agents of the supposed god they had created. This folly has been passed down to us.

Alvin Platinga in his attempt to explain away evil in the world, advanced the free will defense that many theists, apologists and theologians use to justify and defend any attempts at showing that if the Abrahamic god does exist, then among other things he is capricious, a cruel bastard and a fiend. If this god were to exist, and is responsible for everything that exists, then there is no explaining away evil free will or not.

Nietzsche continues on this absurd psychology

All primitive psychology, the psychology of will, arises from the fact that its interpreters, the priests at the head of ancient communities, wanted to create for themselves the right to punish- or wanted to create this right for their god. Men were considered free only so that they maybe considered guilty – could be judged and punished; consequently every act had to be considered as willed and the origin of every act had to be considered as lying within the consciousness.

And finishes by saying what our duty is, that is, we must free the world of the idea of punishment and guilt, and by extension of morality objective or otherwise.

Today we immoralists have embarked on a counter movement and trying with all our strength to take the concepts of guilt and punishment out of the world- to cleanse psychology, history, nature and social institutions and sanctions of these ideas. And there is in our eyes no more radical opposition than that of the theologians, who continue to infect the innocence of becoming by means of the concepts of “a moral world order”, “guilt” and “punishment”. Christianity is a religion for the executioner.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

20 thoughts on “Free will: A religious idea

  1. john zande says:


    I see you’ve engaged Ben over on Violets blog. I did so yesterday. Enjoy it. He’ll keep at it all day 😉


  2. aguywithoutboxers says:

    Without “free will,” then the concept of “sin” ceases to exist. This idea would bankrupt the churches, temples, synagogues and mosques the world over. That’s not such a bad thought. Another great post, my brother!


    • makagutu says:

      Sin as I understand is a crime or rather an offence against a deity. In this sense, without gods there is no sin but free will would still be argued for. But without free will there can be no responsibility and as such there should be no punishment and this is what am advocating for.


      • Allallt says:

        I have written about this issue somewhere, but unless you particularly want to read it I’m not going to hunt it down. But I do want to add this: even without freewill there can be a concept of crime and punishment.
        Punishment, now, is seen to fit three purposes: rehabilitation, safety of the public and retribution. Removing freewill from the system only gets rid of this idea of retribution. We can still hope to rehabilitate people to protect our own experiences, or lock them away if rehabilitation cannot be achieved.


        • makagutu says:

          I agree with public safety and rehabilitation as motives for locking up someone. Am not sure I agree with retribution because it still holds a person responsible for the act and it is this idea/ concept that people are responsible for their actions is what I want us to get away from.


  3. Part 5 of my Free Will series is coming and will answer this post… wheeeeeeee. Good post.


    • makagutu says:

      I will wait for that part. Did you get my email with links to posts on free will


      • I have been hammered with work and life recently. Wait till I post about the neighbour moving in day … and the hundreds of dollars it will cost me to replace everything that blew up! Trust me, it’s a great story.

        I’ll catch your email shortly. Thanks


        • makagutu says:

          I can’t wait for the story.
          I understand sometimes life gets in the way but then again life is the whole, so we sometimes have to spend more time looking at just one aspect then with time go back to normalcy!


  4. violetwisp says:

    I completely agree with you. We are a product of our biological make-up and our experiences. These inevitably inform all our choices and actions. Public safety and rehabilitation are the only sensible aspects of criminal justice, and we can have an impact on people’s negative behavioural ‘choices’ by introducing experiences that aim alter their behaviour.


    • makagutu says:

      The society has a duty to improve those considered to be a threat to themselves and the society and I must admit that as a race we are still too poor to do that. Not in a financial sense, though this could be true, but in the sense that in many cases we want retribution. We want payback and we call it justice instead of revenge!


  5. SteveInCO says:

    Hmmm… disappearing comments time, let me see if I can reconstruct the masterful thing I wrote yesterday. Knowing my luck it was probably the best thing I ever wrote and now it’s gone into the ozone.

    Nietzsche as quoted did indeed identify the consequences that would follow from there not being free will, but he did it in a way that struck me as peculiar; he implies that free will is an excuse invented by people who want to punish others. I really don’t think that it’s fair to claim that that’s the motivation for all who believe in free will.

    But it is true that punishment makes very little sense if it’s truly an automaton you are punishing. It would also make no sense to reward such an entity, so the (future) cure for cancer should not be rewarded, either, if there is no free will; the scientist(s) in question would just be automatons doing their automaton thing. (Hey Nietzsche: Maybe we came up with free will as an excuse to give people awards?)

    Free will, if indeed it doesn’t exist, is a powerful, powerful illusion, and it takes a very abstruse philosophical argument to try to counter that illusion. Those claiming it *is* an illusion, I believe, have to do a lot more than offer an argument (that could have some hidden fallacy in it) but also be able to account for the fact that there is creativity in the world and we do seem to be self-aware and able to make a decision sometimes at variance to our usual patterns. I am not claiming that conditioning from an early age, and behaviors learned until they are subconscious do not form a major part of people’s beings. I wouldn’t be able to type this as fast as I am if I had to think about where to put my fingers (I *mostly* touch type) if there weren’t a lot of “automatized” behaviors. But I am having to go through quite a process of deciding what to type, and occasionally realizing that what I just typed is dreck that needs the delete key (and thankfully I am not doing this on a mechancial typewriter wondering why they make the erasers so damn small–some automatons somehow invented computers). How can an automaton with no free will manage all of this? I would need to have a positive explanation for how that can be before I will accept that the argument against free will might not be just committing some sort of fallacy or failing to account for a (possibly yet unknown) fact about reality.

    Both the pro free will and anti-free will sides have got some ‘splainin’ to do. Until then I am going to go with what I get by examining my own consciousness, and conclude that it has free will at least. I realize that could ultimately prove false, but it’s reasonable to conclude on that basis. (Just as it was reasonable to conclude the earth does not move, until we learned a few things. Actual empirical evidence that it does move, by the way didn’t come along until over a century after Galileo, but it was accepted on theoretical grounds, obviously, before then.)

    (I read a very interesting science fiction story recently predicated on the premise that the vast majority of human beings are in fact NOT self aware even though they certainly acted volitional, and the discovery of a method of discerning this. And the social consequences of that discovery. But that sort of speaks to Daniel Dennet’s point cited by someone here.)

    I just want to add in closing that some of the comments here seem to imply that the only possible motivation for belief in free will is religious in nature (i.e., justifying the concept of sin), and if that is fact what was intended, that’s fallacious too; the fact that someone has invented the concept of a crime against god and exploited it for horrific ends does not invalidate the concept of a crime.


    • makagutu says:

      Oh well brother, I see your memory ain’t so bad after all 🙂

      What could be the other motive for free will?

      You’ll realize I don’t talk of rewards since in the real sense, no one should be praised for acting they way they did simply because given similar circumstances and stimuli, they will act in the same way. The scientist doesn’t chose to get a cure for cancer but acts as he would, it is innate in the woman/ man!

      The reason for creativity in the world is not based on free will. You don’t choose to be an artist, if that were the case, I would be a musician belting classical tunes! The ability to sing or paint is innate, a person is born with it and one can’t chose one way or the other. Well, it could be learnt but it isn’t a matter of choice.

      Your deleting some word and replacing it with another is not a question of exercising free will but is tied to the fact that each word has a specific meaning you attach to it and there is something you want to communicate. It is this that determines your choice of words not free will.

      Well you can go on with the belief that you have free will, I will not deny you that, I will just tell you it looks to you like you have free will.

      There is no fallacy in saying the possible motivation for inventing free will is to make men guilty and responsible and provide a justification for punishment. The existence of crime doesn’t follow from any of the premises.


      • SteveInCO says:

        So long as it is qualified with “possible” I will agree with you.

        But I think it’s far more common that people think they have it because it sure seems like they do; it’s the surface impression one gets.


    • SteveInCO says:

      Oh, the SF story I alluded to was “Descartes’ Stepchildren” in the January/February issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact.


  6. Nice post 🙂 Have you read “Free Will” by Sam Harris? One thing he talks about is the new investigations into free will with fMRI machines — that is functional MRIs, or MRIs that can be used in real time (not photos afterward). Apparently, if people are told to lift either their left or right hand, at their leisure and at their own choosing, the fMRI machines can see in their brain which hand they will lift just BEFORE they actually lift their hand! So, something more is going on in our brain than our “person behind the eyes” concept that we tend to have naturally. Our brain makes decisions that we are not aware of and these decisions are not in our control. This is, in my opinion, the nail in the coffin of free will.


    • makagutu says:

      Thanks 😀

      I have had the book for the last one and haven’t got to reading it as yet. I think I should especially now that I have an interest an free will and it’s implication on punishment and legal systems.


  7. […] that we don’t have free will. I have written quite a number of posts that can be found here, here, here, here and here that try to espouse my thinking on the idea or opinions by other philosophers […]


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