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By Stanley W. Ayre — March 2023

I am a retired marketing executive with 94 years completed. Those have caused me to see Free Will (FW) as the most important moral question in life — in all versions FW is wrong; in the Christian version, it is the epitome of injustice and an unending source of hate and arrogant pride. *** NOTE: This subject is so large and involves such difficult fields as physics, quantum mechanics, neuro-science, psychology, religion and others so that it is impossible for a single individual of the billions to comprehend. There comes a time when one must decide what to believe on the basis of what he- she has learned in life. I have done that here using mainly common sense.*** Christopher Hitchens, just before dying, called for “new ways” to make the case against “this lethal delusion [religion]”. This is a new way, though indirect, and is lethal to religion. Much of it is derived from philosophy and science, but ir will be understood by a far larger audience than they command since it is based on common sense (CS). The most ardent theist cannot deny the truth of its foundation because of their own personal experience. The latter engages the to-be-convinced  as an active participant in the argument offered here. He-she compares the FW claim to what only they know about their livesIn many that can touch emotional chords. Lincoln said, ‘All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.’ FW entails that mothers count for nothing — not even in matters of moral choices. That fact for some may be so astounding, so insulting, so disrespectful, that itcould be a tipping point!  *** Of course, this new way is not a silver bullet but it is a mighty arrow In our argument. Everyone can relate to it and understand it. Its active ingredients are the personal experience of the to-be-convinced and his/her inherited instinct for fairness to see that humankind’s eternal destiny simply cannot depend on what we are not responsible for. *** This new way makes the complete case for determinism. Now we have a genuine Trinity — philosophy, science and common sense – and FW’ers don’t.



Except in crisis situations, deciding a serious moral matter: whether to choose A or B, you bring to mind all you remember and think relevant, along with other pros and cons, then choose. Your choice is dependent on what you have become and learned, not on some FW magic with no connection to you. It must be that way for it to be your choice.

 . . St. Augustine (354-430 CE): “. . . God’s precepts would be of no use to a man unless he had real choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.”  — Retractions Book II, Chapter 66.

. . St. Paul: “And if Christ be not risen then is our preaching vain, and your faith in vain,” –1 Corinthians 15:14          

Paul could have said the same for Free Will. If your choices were caused by forces not under your control, you have no need of a Savior because you are not guilty!


First some absolutely essential definitions, then the new way, some gems from leading scientists, Einstein’s Credo. What many see as embarrassments for determinism (opposite of FW),  Determinism’s great virtues,– not the least is countering the HATRED engendered by a doctrine

based on the depravity of man. A conclusion and YOUR DECISION.


Free Will discussed here asserts that, unless mentally incompetent, a child, or acting under threat of force, you are able to choose freely between alternatives irrespective of your biological inheritance and all experiences in your life.

Determinists to the contrary, assert that your choices are determined – caused – by your biology and all your experiences as they have interacted to produce you at any point in your life. They agree that we all consider what to do and then do it. That is not a contradiction of determinism, but an affirmation of the whether-we-can-do-as-we-choose question, and an explanation of the far more important, why-do-we-choose-as-we-do question.

Compatibilists Are Determinists! but say we are free to be the self we are, play the cards we are dealt. We choose what we want, and that is not only compatible with FW, but all the FW anyone should want. As with all things philosophic there are very many variations of compatibilism, championed by very smart people.

Christianity adds ‘miracle’ to the power of FW. They claim that every person (with the exceptions mentioned above) has FW which enables each to know and choose the morally correct course!(For those who don’t choose correctly, that is their passport to HELL)

Astonishingly, the Catholic Encyclopedia limits this power of FW to overrule heredity and environment to serious moral matters, seriously deliberated!

What is that but acknowledgement that in non–deliberated and non–grave-moral matters a person cannot act freely? Of course, Christian claims are theological, not conclusions based on reasons or science.


Unfortunately, those shorthand words are utterly inadequate to convey what they include. They hide their meaning. For that one must ponder the flesh and blood details as they apply to the way one has lived his/her life. Doing that thoughtfully is key in the NEW WAY.

The new way juxtaposes the FW claim against the factors that made you. You and only you have certain knowledge of how your life developed and will  have opinions about the effects of the factors. The factors will not surprise you, but reviewing them with the FW claim in mind that none of them matter in your choices, will surely astound you, especially when all of them were imposed on you.This will guarantee a better understanding of heredity & environment and its eternal significance to those who believe in heaven or ‘suffering forever in a lake of fire’.

Consider these factors, are they not responsible for who and what you are at any point in life? Do they not apply to everyone who has ever lived or will ever live?

To find their flesh and blood meaning your memory must be seriously engaged and searched. Ask yourself how you would be different had any of the listed factors been different.

. . Being born. In Christian and Islamic theology being born means you are entered into the most consequential gamble imaginable, a chance for Heaven but a far greater chance of suffering in Hell for all eternity. Jesus said ‘few’ would be chosen but ‘the many would suffer in a lake of fire.” Scores of millions believe it.

. . Born male or female physically and emotionally or otherwise. Can you doubt that many of your ‘free’ decisions in life would have been quite different depending on which you are?

. . Your brain and body (DNA) — with or without incurable and chronic pain and countless other attributes contributing to or preventing happiness.

. .  Your life in the womb, shaping your genetic self. Many mothers many behavior addict their babies in the womb from the heavy use of drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. These babies are born sick and hurt.

.  The mutations in your brain and body throughout life, and random events that may have afflicted you in such a way that a normal life was severely impaired or impossible.

. . The time in history and where on earth you were raised. Is it likely you would make all the same choices, especially on grave moral matters seriously deliberated, whether you were born in Mecca, Calcutta or Moscow?

. . Your parents, childhood, education, intelligencepersonality, and sense of humor. Not of your choice, whether wonderful or horrible..

. . Your physical stature, looks, smile and voice, your natural ability in sports, music and dance. How would your life have been affected had any of these been significantly different? Impossible to know, but surely different.

. . Your sexual proclivities and the intensity of that drive. All are awesome in consequences.

. .  Your religious indoctrination, economic circumstances, cultural influences, political and civil rights, the prevailing customs of your times. Colossal in their importance and implications for you.

, , The blizzard of experiences throughout life, not chosen by you but which happened to you, and in many cases changed your life in most dramatic ways.

Does this not account for everything that went into the making of YOU and who you are today? If anything is missing add it.

Of course, you made decisions early on and every day of your life which had effects – some huge – but when you did so they were caused by the YOU who was made by the complex of factors listed at the time you made those decisions.

Is it not ludicrous that anything you do could be independent of everything that made you, you?


Three times Tom made a choice between committing adultery and remaining faithful to the wife he dearly loved. His company sent him to a distant city to settle a dispute and Mary was his contact there. From that day he fantasized about an affair with this much younger woman. Soon she made it clear she would welcome it.

Weighing heavily against adultery was his dread of being unfaithful for the first time in his 20 years of marriage. He obsessed if caught about the hurt to his wife, his children, his parents, reputation and his career, though he thought that very unlikely due to Mary’s distant location. He even worried that the woman might have an infection he would pass to his wife.

All of this and more caused him to decline two previous opportunites for this affair. The third time was too much, they got together without discovery. Tom both wanted to — and wanted not to.

The determinist asks you to believe the most likely reasons Tom made the to-do choice was because he, 1) was born male, 2) heterosexual, 3) had a very strong drive for Mary, 4) was turbo-charged by his certainty she wanted the affair too, 5) thought the chances of discovery were remote and 6) for a host of other reasons that neither he, we, nor all the wise men could ever know.

The reasons he declined twice before can be summarized: at those times the pull of the ‘don’t’ factors outweighed those of the ‘do’.

The FW’er asks you to believe that Tom’s FW operated all three times and every time without any influence from the listed life-shaping factors! Remember, the will can’t be free if anything outside causes its choice.

There it is. Which do you believe?


Overcoming the free will illusion — “would be a bigger revolution in our thinking than Einstein, or Copernicus, or Newton, or Galileo, or Darwin — it would alter our whole conception of our relation with the universe.” — John Searle, famed philosopher and Professor of the Graduate School at the U. of CA, Berkeley.


What science says ought to be of greatest interest to Christians and others who believe we are created by God. Because all that science ever says on the matter is based on the deep systematicand validated study of — “God’s premier creation’. What nature reveals, surely ought to trump what men say God said – and what he meant.

. Dr. David Eagleman, Professor of Neuroscience at Stanford University, from his book INCOGNITO: As far as we can tell, all activity in the brain is driven by other activity in the brain, in a vastly complex, inter-connected network. For better or worse, this seems to have no room for anything other than neural activity – that is, no room for a ghost in the machine. … If Free Will is to have any effect on the actions of the body, it needs to influence the ongoing activity in the brain. And to do that it needs to be physically connected to at least some of the neurons, but we don’t find any spot in the brain that is not itself driven by other parts of the network. Instead, every part of the brain is densely inter-connected with – and driven by –other brain parts. And that suggests that no part is independent and therefore “free”. So in our current understanding of science we cannot find the physical gap to slip Free Will – the uncaused causer – because there seems to be no part of the machinery that does not follow in a causal relationship from the other parts.  [Emphasis added.]

Who you even have the possibility to be starts at conception. If you think genes don’t affect how people behave, consider this fact: If you are a carrier of a particular set of genes [defining males] the probability that you will commit a violent crime is” [He then cites crimes where being male is 4. 3, 5, and 8 times more likely the perpetrator is male rather than females; males have 13 times greater chance of being arrested for a sex offense and 51 times greater chance of being on Death Row!]

. . SWA NOTE: If both have FW, why would males commit crime — even if only one percent of males do — at such a greater rate than females? If everyone has FW,does it not follow that the incidence of serious moral wrong in any random group in the population will apprxomate their incidence in the population. How would you bet if records were kept on the next million newborns anywhere in the world and examined for crimes after 10, 20 and 30 years?

. . Dr.Eagleman, this time from his book, THE BRAIN –The Story of You. At this very moment, just like every moment of your life, networks in your brain are buzzing with activity: billions of electrical signals are racing along cells, triggering chemical pulses at trillions of connections between neurons. Simple acts are underpinned by a massive labor force of neurons. You remain blissfully unaware of all that activity, but your life is shaped and colored by what is happening under the hood: how you act, what matters to you, your reactions, your loves and desires, what you believe to be true and false. Your experience is the final output of these hidden networks. So who exactly is steering the ship? How do I decide? Brains are composed of multiple competing networks, each of which has its own goals and desires. . . .” [Tom’s case.– Emphasis added.]

. . Bruce Hood, PhD Psychology, formerly Professor at Harvard U. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now at U. of Bristol, UK, from his book, THE SELF ILLUSION. It seems absurd to question my free will here, but as much as I hate to admit it, these experiences are not what they seem. This is because of a multitude of hidden factors ranging from genetic inheritance, life experiences, current circumstances and planned goals. Some of these influences must also come from external sources, but they all play out as patterns of neuronal activity in the brain.  This is the matrix of distributed networks of nerve cells firing across my neuronal architecture. My biases, my memories, my perceptions and my thoughts are the interacting patterns of excitation and inhibition in my brain and when the checks and balances are finally done, the resulting sums of all of these complex interactions are the decisions and the choices that I make. We are not aware of these influences because they are unconscious and so we feel that the decision has been arrived at independently . . . .” [Emphasis added.]

.. Dr.Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neuro-enterology, Stanford U from his book, BEHAVE: Adolescence shows us that the most interesting part of the brain evolved to be shapedminimally by genes and maximally by experience; that’s how we learn – context, context, context. We are constantly being shaped by seemingly irrelevant stimuli, subliminal information, and internal forces we don’t know a thing about. Our worse behaviors, ones we condemn and punish, are the products of our biology. But don’t forget that the same applies to our best behaviors. [Emphasis added.]

Dr. Sapolsky has a new book, Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will, which  is entirely devoted to our subject. It will be published in October 2023.

.. Sam Harris, PhD, Neuroscience, UCLA  and a degree in philosophy, Stanford U.,  from his book FREE WILL,., Once we recognize that even the most terrifying predators are, in a very real sense, unlucky, the logic of hating – as opposed to fearing – them begins to unravel. . . . even if you believe that every human being has an immortal soul, the picture does not change: Anyone born with the soul of a psychopath has been profoundly unlucky.

SWA NOTE: Harris fully realized that profound luck also applied to him and all those in any field who have premier abilities, including the grit to work very hard, long hours in awful conditions and pull themselves upWhat an antidote to arrogance!


Ironically, determinists must pretend we have FW. The whole world works that way – as it must — in order to demand and expect adherence to mutual promises and understandings, the essence of relations between family, friends, others, in business and everywhere.

The pretense is easy because determinists live that way too. It takes a non-emotional, thinking state to remind ourselves that our choices are effects of causes. In everyday life the determinist’s reaction to certain events is as emotional as the FW’er, and when emotional, just as judgmental. It requires effort to remember that it is a necessary fiction . . . and we do not always make it.

But it certainly makes it far easier to see Jesus’ utterly utopian “love your neighbor” as simply required to be just; to offer a soft answer which, as the Bible says, ‘turneth away wrath’ and easier to forgive slights and even serious wrongs. It reduces tensions and stress.

Determinism also has the salutary effect of reminding the above average among us that they too would be average or below but for very good luck. Many will bristle at that idea and point to the double jobs they had while going to night school and then studying to well after midnight every night! They worked hard when they could have played, that is why they are on top! Yes, no doubt. But where did they get that grit and determination? That too was in the cards they were dealt – luck.


I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer’s words: ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.

 Compare Einstein to those who are quite proud to have it said of them, ‘He/she does not tolerate fools gladly’


FW is inescapably a source and sustainer of HATE, especially among some ardent and aggressive Christians. After all, the religion is based on guilt and the urgent necessity to repent sins, accept Jesus as savior, and be rewarded with eternal life in HEAVEN. Those who will not accept the ‘loving’ offer of salvation before they die, will suffer forever in HELL

So is it surprising that if Christ on Judgment Daysees one as so evil, that he will consign him/her to the worst fate within imagination, that some of his followers might presume to know who these evil people are and try make them suffer in the here and now – cancel their right to be heard, read, or seen, to employment, harass them wherever they are, all in an explosion of self-righteous zeal?


If a five year old pulled the trigger that killed his sister, he is not responsible for killing herbecause he is too young to know the consequences of his act. But he is accountablefor why the gun discharged.

FW’ers make much of the idea that determinists would not hold the Hitlers and CharlesMansons ofthe world responsible for their crimes. True, but we would hold them fully accountableand stop their crimes just as society does now.


Holding one to his/her commitments is an experience for them to which they will react. That is the way we all change. The arsenal of experiences includes education, example, praise, reward, work, admonition, reproof, scorn, ridicule, and punishment ranging from fine, public service, jail or prison where there is plenty of time for reflection – even to capital punishment. The experience becomes a memory recorded physically in their brain. Reflecting on it at the time or even well into the future could cause them to understand that the view of things that permitted them to engage in anti-social behavior was wrong – or, just the opposite, reinforce their bad behavior.

Whichever is the case, it is a natural process, easily accepted because wholly unforced, In a sense the miscreant reaches a new conclusion. Often enough that conclusion results in a change in a socially useful direction.

If individuals have engaged in illegal behavior they can be compelled to endure certain experiences, some extremely unpleasant. The object is, or should be, to cause them to naturally change behavior in the right way. Should this be impossible society must do whatever is necessaryfor public safety. Determinism does not entail mollycoddling criminals; but their reform if possible.

The very, very difficult challenge – in way too many cases it is impossible — is to find the right dosage of experience that will cause natural self-change as desired.

All of these measures treat the subject as if responsible for his/her behavior. But the determinist at the intellectual level realizes, or should, that no matter the crime, the subject is not responsible for whom he/she is and therefore must not be hated.


Determinism is based on the beyond-argument evidence that we are all victims of circumstances over which we had no control, compelled to exist with an imposed genetic makeup which, interacting with countless imposed experiences and perhaps sprinkled with random mutations in body and brain, combined to make us who we are. With our recipe tweaked in other ways, we would all have different selves.

This understanding fosters a more humane and sympathetic view of others as it dampens undue pride among the very lucky.


The case of Tom, the reluctant but seriously pre-meditating adulterer, presents the essence of the issue: FW or Determinism.

Did he decline adultery twice because he loved his wife; his morals forbade it, fear of discovery, etc.?

Did he go ahead once because he was born male, heterosexual, had a powerful desire for this younger woman, etc.?

Or, was his FW operating on all three occasions, and he made those decisions totally free of any influence from all the life-shaping factors that made him, and over which he had no control whatever?

That is for you to decide.

Author: Richard L. Fricks

Former CPA, attorney, and lifelong wanderer. I'm now a full-time skeptic and part-time novelist. The rest of my time I spend biking, gardening, meditating, photographing, reading, writing, and encouraging others to adopt The Pencil Driven Life.

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