do we have freewill?

All men speak in bitter disapproval of the Devil, but they do it reverently, not flippantly; but Father Adolf’s way was very different; he called him by every name he could lay his tongue to, and it made everyone shudder that heard him; and often he would even speak of him scornfully and scoffingly; then the people crossed themselves and went quickly out of his presence, fearing that something fearful might happen.”
― Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger

That heading has nothing to do with this post. I like Mark Twain and I am currently reading the Mysterious Stranger.

Doug Smith wants to convince us the bible is a better source of information on neurology and psychology than what we have.

He claims Sam Harris has committed a fallacy of begging the question when he(Sam H) says

As sickening as I find their behavior, I have to admit that if I were to trade places with one of these men, atom for atom, I would be him: There is no extra part of me that could decide to see the world differently or to resist the impulse to victimize other people.

Whereas it is true it is not possible to go back in time or be someone else, it is possible to see how a person has acted in every similar situation. An example will suffice. One of the politicians in this country has in every political situation been an opportunist. For this he has been branded YES/NO or watermelon. And I am sure an example can be found in one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Smith tells us

The key experience we have is that we can decide what to do with our thoughts.[emphasis his]

But I disagree. I have thoughts like to dispatch the entire legislature. I can’t do it. I don’t have the means. I could be caught and jailed. All these are causes. They determine what I do or I don’t. To make the claim that the decision not to act is arbitrary is, in my view, either ignorance of what freewill is or a lack of engagement with the problem.

Smith then decides to create a distinction, that, I think, only makes sense to him and his followers. He writes

I think this distinction between our thoughts and our “self,” our choosing, deciding, intentional, willful self, is the key difference.

Maybe someone knows what difference he is referring to. I don’t know it. Between my thinking about vanilla ice cream and buying it, there is no gap. There are times I think I can do with ice cream but I don’t buy simply because I am not anywhere near an ice cream vendor.

I think, and I am not stretching it, that Doug has no idea what freewill is. He writes

However, none of these constraints invalidate the truth that most healthy people have the ability to evaluate options and make decisions using what we call free will.

I think it would be best for him to define what he means by freewill.

The determinist’s argument simply is that our actions have causes. I can actually go further that our thoughts are caused. They don’t originate with us. They are imposed on us by our surrounding, experiences, education and so on.

No one denies the argument, which most have claimed is the strongest challenge to determinism, that we experience the world as if we are free agents[emphasis mine]. We also experience the world around us as if it is flat. We feel as if the sun rotates around the earth. As Nannus would say, these are as if constructions. Just as we had to drop the illusion that we were a special creation, we shall have to do the same with the illusion of freewill.

Tolstoy says it best when he writes

It was necessary to renounce the consciousness of an unreal immobility in space and to recognize a motion we did not feel; in the present case it is similarly necessary to renounce a freedom that does not exist and to recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious.

This argument

This leads me to why I believe that determinism is self-refuting, or collapses in on itself. If we really have no free will, then we couldn’t actually prove it, because our very reasoning processes depend on our ability to freely choose between options.

by Smith is faulty. In fact, it can be seen, by observation that our thoughts have causes. That my using the staircase instead of jumping from fifth floor, which is a choice, has a cause.

Smith writes

When we evaluate whether something is true, we should go through a process of logical reasoning. In that process, we seek to understand competing options, evaluate each option in the most reasonable way we know, and based on our evaluation, we make a decision about what we believe is the best option. This process itself requires free will: the ability to consider options and make a choice based on whatever criteria we believe is best.


This question is not made 5 when one says they have freewill. Freewill or lack of it is not necessary in evaluating whether a feather falls faster than a stone, in a vacuum. In fact, no amount of freewill will change the value of E=MC².

Smith then attacks evolution, in a roundabout way. He writes

However, if I don’t actually have free will, my ability to make a free choice in response to this question is an illusion. I think it’s even worse for determinists who follow a materialist evolutionary line of thought. If the way our minds work is just a byproduct of natural selection acting on random mutations, then the goal for which our minds were made was simply to survive and reproduce, not to be reasonable, rational, or logical.

And how is being rational not a survival trait? Those who barbaric end up dying before they can reproduce either in fights or jailed. They have no opportunity to pass on their genes. The believer arguing against evolution in this way, I believe, is ignorant about natural selection. And what is a materialist evolutionary line of thought anyway? Is there an immaterialist evolutionary line of thought or materialist non-evolutionary line of thought?

I agree our experience of freewill is real. The question has never been of experience. The question is whether our conclusion is correct and I think it is not. Our experience is based on an illusion.

I admit readily that the question of whether we have free will has very important implications for ethics, morality, and even theological systems. I don’t stop here though. I go ahead and suggest that given a determinist universe, we must change how we treat offenders.

I don’t think Smith made a case for freewill, neither did he respond to Sam Harris or even Daniel Kahneman. In fact, I think his treatment of the two is best represented  by this quote of B. Russell

“A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”


About makagutu

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

32 thoughts on “do we have freewill?

  1. tildeb says:

    “And what is a materialist evolutionary line of thought anyway? Is there an immaterialist evolutionary line of thought or materialist non-evolutionary line of thought?”

    Laugh out loud funny… because it reveals the striking stupidity of attaching the anti-scientific, religiously apologetic buzzword ‘materialist!

    We are in agreement about ‘free will’: like you, I don’t think we have any and yet the sky remains above us.

    A very nicely crafted post about a very difficult topic, Mak. I’m envious.

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      Tildeb, thanks for the compliment. Means a lot!
      You know he dismissed Sam Harris with a hand wave, then immediately after quotes a bible verse. These people are insufferable

      Liked by 2 people

      • tildeb says:

        I find those who are generally dismissive of Harris rarely understand him. And too often belief is used a shield behind which one’s best and worst characteristics can seek and be afforded shelter.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. archaeopteryx1 says:

    I must admit, Mak, that I ride the fence when it comes to knowing whether I believe or disbelieve in the concept of free will.

    You quoted Tolstoy as saying, “it is similarly necessary to renounce a freedom that does not exist and to recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious,” and you speak of, “We also experience the world around us as if it is flat. We feel as if the sun rotates around the earth….Just as we had to drop the illusion that we were a special creation, we shall have to do the same with the illusion of freewill.

    Since it DOES seem as though we and the earth are stationary, and that the sun revolves around the earth, if we have no free will, why is it not simpler to accept appearances as fact, rather than go digging until we find evidence to the contrary? How is that not a conscious exercise of free will, since by far, the easiest avenue is simple acceptance of appearances? Why do we scour the universe for truth? What drives us, if not free will?

    Liked by 3 people

    • makagutu says:

      I must admit, arch, this is one of the topics I will readily admit that I could be so wrong in my conception of the argument.
      That said, I don’t seem to understand you. Are you saying our inquisitiveness is driven by freewill?


  3. Excellent post, my friend. I wonder, as I always do regarding these “free will” practitioners, when exactly does our will become free? At what exact, specific moment in the development of the human being, from conception to death, does the will become free? I want a specific answer that does not involve brain development as that is as deterministic as you can get. Exactly when does the will become free of causality? The instant of conception? 1 month after birth? 1 year after birth? When? Is a will free for a person with a brain disorder that limits their cognitive ability? If not, then clearly “will” is tied into cognition which is a biologically caused and induced process-one that in no way is “free” to be whatever, whenever, or whoever it wishes to be. “Will,” and our concept of it, is very human and very predictable-just like these asinine arguments about how friggin’ “free” we are of what and who we are and all the circumstances, biological and environmental, that have made us so. Just because I can think a thing does not make it so. Thinking, believing, and/or writing well-worded rhetorical essays on this matter is not evidence for its existence. It is wishful, hopeful, and very human, predictable behavior to BELIEVE our wills are free. Only humans think will is free because only humans have brains evolved enough to the point that they can think such a thing. Nothing free of cause here, only very predictable, human, behavior developed over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Maybe one day someone who argues about the freedom of their will will come up with empirical evidence to support the claim or an argument different or less predictable than the one you cited above. Until that day, I simply must say, no will is free. At best, they cost .25 to .50 cents, but they’re definitely not free.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hariod Brawn says:

    As I understand it, the proprioceptive sense of ‘me doing (or choosing) something’ proceeds only after the felt (pre)disposition has in effect decided to act or choose. This is what deceives us into thinking we have agency as autonomous beings – the idea that there is any ‘decider’ or ‘chooser’ behind the decision and choice. The proprioception feeds back recursively into the illusory sense of a self with agency, and so sustains that sense of autonomy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Scottie says:

    I use to think that free will was the idea of doing something or making a selection and being accepting of the consequence of your choice. However I have been shown that our actions or choices are determined by the very consequences we will have to tolerate by our choice. The example I used once was Ron made me a great steak dinner but I had free will to eat it or not. Then I was asked if it would hurt Ron’s feelings if I did not eat the dinner and if I would want to hurt Ron’s feelings. I replied yes it would and no I never would want to hurt his feelings. So I really had no choice except to eat the food. So as I understand it my choice was influenced and mandated by the actions, thoughts, feelings of another. So if my actions were mandated by something I couldn’t change then I did not have free will at all over the whole thing. Thanks and hugs

    Liked by 2 people

  6. shelldigger says:

    I must admit my journey to understanding my free will is illusory has been underway for a while now. (Thanks Mak! 😠) I see this guys argument much as I used to consider free will.

    I can see now that many experiences, many causes affect our perceptions. Choices are not as free as they appear. That said it is still damned difficult to let go of.

    Much as religion requires a personal journey to be free of, free will or the illusion, has become another journey. You guys keep the beer cold, so when I finally get there I’ll have a cold one waiting on me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…it is still damned difficult to let go of.” That’s what she said.

      Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      I am working on ensuring the fridge is working 24/7 even when there is power outage.
      It’s a journey for all of us. We learn from one another


      • shelldigger says:

        I built a working wind generator model a few years ago. Tied in to a voltage regualtor and charge control, it directs current to a battery bank. The battery bank serves as juice to run a power inverter, which makes 110. Then I can run a light or two and the TV when the power goes out.

        Though…the charge controller is a steady draw, and not enough wind to keep up with that draw over time. It will run the batteries down. I keep meaning to get a couple of solar panels to tie into the system so it will work full time.

        Just so much shit to do already. I have just recently discovered that taking an aluminum boat down to bare aluminum and repainting with marine paint is something you will only want to do once in a lifetime. Got to sand one more time between coats and get the lasr coat on in a day or two. It has been a chore…


        • makagutu says:

          Ah, so in short our longterm power demand is catered for.
          I am always inspired by the things you get done. One day I will try and put together a chair.


  7. Doug Smith says:

    Hey Mak, I appreciate you reading my post and considering what I said. I’m sorry it didn’t resonate with you, but am grateful that you cared enough to take the time to think about it anyway.

    Best regards,



  8. Superb post, Mak. This article below was just published today.

    “Free Will: We’re convinced that it exists, but new research suggests it might be nothing more than a trick the brain plays on itself”

    Take note of the internal link “motivating punishment”, highlighting 5 studies which provide a potential explanation for the strength and prevalence of belief in free will.

    Liked by 1 person

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