The widespread abandonment of free will belief would induce a major societal shift; it would lead to a more compassionate, empathetic approach to everyday interactions and cause dramatic, positive reforms in our linked systems of penal law and criminal justice.
Mitch J.

Wait, there's no free will?

"Free Will is False" F.A.Q.


Click on the headings to expand/collapse:


[+] What is free will?
Free will is the alleged ability that human beings (and possibly some animals) have which allows them to overcome all the uncontrollable influences that determine their thoughts, desires, and actions.

Free will is only meaningful in the context of responsibility. If free will is a coherent idea, and if it is true, then blame and praise are fair and logical. If we have free will, then we-- to a certain extent, at least some of the time, in at least some situations-- can justifiably be held responsible for the decisions we make. Believers of free will, when blaming someone for a perceived negative action, are not invoking the kind of "blame" one might assign to a non-living thing (consider the tornado that ravages a town), but a strong kind of responsibility that goes beyond simply identifying the local source of a problem. Free will believers are saying that fundamentally, the person chose to do something wrong and (somehow) could have chosen to do otherwise.

(Note the distinction here: free will believers not only claim that something else could have happened, but also that if something else did occur, it would somehow be meaningful to say we chose to make the alternative occur.)

Oftentimes, free will is thought of as conscious control. As human beings, we do not usually self-identify with all of our biology. The hairs on your head don't feel like "you," and even if you lost a limb, you wouldn't go about getting a new Social Security card and passport. Your conscious mind is "you." Furthermore, most people do not blame others for their unconscious actions (e.g. the movements of your physical body while you sleep). Instead, we tend to blame people when they are awake and aware. We recognize the situations when an individual has a thought, acts in a manner consistent with that thought, and feels a direct link between his thoughts and actions. The free will believer then says, in such situations, that the individual chose to act upon "his own free will" and is therefore fundamentally responsible for those actions and the consequences of those actions.
Free will is an arrogance on the part of man: the assumption that he is the only object in the world that does not react to certain stimuli.
Jacque Fresco

[+] Why is free will nonsense?
Keep our earlier statement in mind: "free will is only meaningful in the context of responsibility."

If an event occurs which has no cause, then you are not responsible for the occurrence of that event. In fact, by its very nature, no one is responsible for such an event, since it has no cause.

Hence, we need only consider those events which have causes. Now, this should not be a difficult task, as you've most certainly noticed that we all live in a world of cause-and-effect. Things happen because other things cause them to happen. The natural extension of this truth of reality is known as determinism. Explicitly,
Determinism is the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.
Information Philosopher page on "Determinism."
You have a thought? What caused the thought? Do you control your desires or do you just have desires? How could you possibly control your desires? As Sam Harris rightly points out, to do so "you'd have to think your thoughts before you think them."

The physical forces of the universe push and pull matter and energy. A sequence of events, analogous to the toppling of an endless line of dominoes, ultimately leads to the thoughts popping up in your conscious mind and to the mechanical movements of your body. Everything "we" are, "we" think and "we" do is completely and totally determined by prior causes. Hence, we do not have free will. Even when we feel like we are deliberating between several decisions, an honest inspection of such a scene will reveal that one desire simply, inevitably trumps another desire. We don't make a certain desire win; the physical nature of our brains and the internal and external influences affecting our biological systems completely and totally determine what "we" do.

(Still not convinced? Some compelling refutations of free will: videos, Snyder, Crabtree, more...).

[+] Is it really that simple?

Yes, it is. Although the issue of free will has been cloistered in the world of academia for quite some time, one does not need a PhD in philosophy to understand determinism and arrive at the logical conclusion that free will does not- and could never- exist. Free will is simply incoherent and does not make any sense in any universe- deterministic or indeterministic (i.e. a universe where at least one "un-caused" thing has occurred).


The faulty notion of free will has persisted due to human bias. Humans desperately want to feel in control of their lives and often misunderstand the implications of living in a society that recognizes that people are not (fundamentally) responsible for what they do.


Like religious belief, belief in free will is based on fear, falsehoods and wishful thinking.


[+] What do scientists and philosophers say? 
Neuroscience is the field of scientific study that most directly provides evidence for refuting free will. For example, Libet famously showed that our unconscious minds make decisions before we are consciously aware of what paths we will eventually take. If your brain has already decided upon eating vanilla ice cream before you are consciously aware that you are going to eat vanilla ice cream, then clearly, "you" do not control your actions via your conscious mind.

As we study the brain, we learn more and more about exactly what causes us to do what we do. For instance, we may discover a link between one's frontal lobes and violent behavior. Hence, those with frontal lobe lesions may be more prone to engage in violent, aggressive activities. As B.F. Skinner once said, "We believe in free will because we know about our behavior but not about its causes."

Physicists know we don't have free will because we're made of atoms, which are in turn divided into even smaller quantum particles, of which we certainly do not consciously control. The interactions of infinitesimally small bits determines everything we do. Einstein vigorously opposed free will when he said:
Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.

Everything is determined ... by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust - we all dance to the mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.
Honestly, I cannot understand what people mean when they talk about the freedom of the human will. I have a feeling, for instance, that I will something or other; but what relation this has with freedom I cannot understand at all. I feel that I will to light my pipe and I do it; but how can I connect this up with the idea of freedom? What is behind the act of willing to light the pipe? Another act of willing? Schopenhauer once said: Der Mensch kann was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will (Man can do what he will but he cannot will what he wills).
Unfortunately, the same skepticism, open-mindedness and demand for intellectual rigor that makes science our greatest force for evidence-supported rational investigation, also prevents the scientific community from coming to a consensus on the issue of free will. Many neuroscientists think "more evidence" is needed before we can officially claim that free will is bogus. Also, some theoretical physicists maintain that quantum phenomena suggests we may live in an indeterministic universe, and this possibility, somehow, could make room for free will.

Of course, such well-meaning scientists are mistaken. Again, "free will is only meaningful in the context of responsibility." No matter how things happen, it is not meaningful to say that "we" consciously (or otherwise) make those things happen. Hence, no free will.
If I were to answer the question of whether or not I believe in free will, I would still dodge it...
Azim Shariff
(Click here to watch Shariff and others dodging the "difficult" question of free will).

In philosophy, those who accept the truth of determinism but attempt to argue that we still have free will are known as compatibilists. Compatibilists tend to make semantic shifts with words such as "responsibility," "control," and "freedom" until they've deluded themselves and the inquiring public into thinking that we control our lives. Some compatibilists feel identical with their biology, and so they will illogically claim that we are "responsible" for the actions of our unconscious processes. Others might claim we only have the ability to reject ideas ("free won't"). These seemingly "nuanced" positions are actually just demonstrations of wishful thinking; they, who want free will so intensely, relentlessly endeavor to call something "free will."

(Read more about the follies of compatibilists in the next section of the F.A.Q., entitled, "Can we call something else free will?")

[+] Can we call something else free will?
For what purpose, other than to mislead, would one call a "car" a "goldfish" ?
If you have the brain of a violent person, then you possess the brain of a violent person. You may also have had the further misfortune of being exposed to experiences that helped contribute to your violent nature. You may have irregular frontal lobes and unstable parents, but you didn't choose either of these challenges. Furthermore, there is no extra part of you that could overcome these challenges; you are simply the product of the physical features of your brain and the events that have transpired. After all, even if you did possess some 'brain stuff' that balanced your violent impulses, you would not have willed that physical piece into existence. You would simply be lucky to have such a biological feature.

Compatibilism is nonsense. It is a word soup. It is an evasion of an obvious truth, borne out of a strong desire to maintain a pretense of control over one's actions.

The compatibilist concedes the truth of determinism (i.e. events have causes). Furthermore, the compatibilist concedes that there are an abundance of things one cannot control. Yet, somehow, this 'sophisticated' believer contends that free will and determinism can co-exist.

Such a person might claim that you are identical to your biology. Well, where do your physical boundaries end? Perhaps one can arbitrarily define one's limits as being a few millimeters beyond one's skin. Yet, on a sub-atomic level, 'you' are just a bunch of indistinguishable particles in a cloud of particles that includes the desk chair a few feet away from you.

Is it meaningful to say that you are responsible for the ticking of your heart? Is it meaningful to say that you are responsible for the single trait of sickle cell you were burdened with since birth? Are you responsible for the actions you take based on the thoughts you never think? Are you responsible for the actions you take based on the thoughts that forcibly jumped into your consciousness? After the thoughts appeared, did 'you' make your physical body move? Free will is only meaningful in the context of [responsibility]. We do not blame the storm for the damage it causes. We only require a word to explain that in a local sense, it is the agent (system) that should be associated with a particular series of events (e.g. the ravaging of the city) in order to remedy the problem or to prepare for a similar future fiasco.

The compatibilist may say, 'Causality is unavoidable, but we still choose.' Nonsense.

The compatibilist may say, 'I am my biology.' Fine, but you are not to blame for the biology you have inherited (or, more accurately, 'the biology that is you'), the influences you cannot control and the events that have led you to becoming who you are.

The compatibilist never says, but should say, ''I concede that determinism is true and we do not have free will. We have desires, but we do not control our desires. Still, I would like to describe my 'will' as a 'free will'. Also, I promise to avoid obfuscation and to make clear to the naive free will investigator that man cannot control his decisions and fundamentally, man is as much to blame for committing a crime as a tornado is to blame for wrecking a home."
Mitch J., Jargon

[+] Why is this issue so important?
The legal system. Our laws are not based entirely on the notions of reforming individuals and deterring future criminal activities. Since the beginning of humankind, we have justified hurting others with an eased conscience due to the false belief that somehow people choose to do terrible things.

However, we do recognize those who do not seem to be able to choose as easily as the rest of us. Explicitly, we are sympathetic to animals, children, the elderly, the mentally ill, the physically ill, etc.

If, as a global society, we recognize the truth of determinism and reject the ludicrous notion of free will, it would no longer be fair or logical to blame ourselves or others. Instead, if we want to fix problems and help people, we need only seek the causes of those problems and then devise appropriate solutions.

You don't have to blame a flat tire to fix it.

Why can't we treat all wrongdoers compassionately and humanely, with our only focus being on helping the wrongdoer and preventing future negative actions? Why lock prisoners in metal cages, repress their sexuality, and force them to adapt to the violent sub-culture of prison life?
One of the most frequently voiced criticisms of free will skepticism is that it is unable to adequately deal with criminal behavior and that the responses it would permit as justified are insufficient for acceptable social policy. This concern is fueled by two factors. The first is that one of the most prominent justifications for punishing criminals, retributivism, is incompatible with free will skepticism. The second concern is that alternative justifications that are not ruled out by the skeptical view per se face significant independent moral objections (Pereboom 2014, 153). Yet despite these concerns, I maintain that free will skepticism leaves intact other ways to respond to criminal behavior—in particular preventive detention, rehabilitation, and alteration of relevant social conditions—and that these methods are both morally justifiable and sufficient for good social policy.
Gregg Caruso, A Public Health-Quarantine Model

[+] What about religion?
As is often the case when a provocative issue enters society's intellectual discourse, a fair, objective, and rational mind is required for the honest investigation of free will. Hence, those who are less encumbered by dogma hold a tremendous advantage in this endeavor.

Simply put, most free will skeptics are also skeptical about religious and supernatural claims. Although the determinist need not renounce all religious belief in order to be philosophically consistent, free will skeptics are often atheists or agnostics.

[+] What exactly do you guys, the NFWN, do?
We are a network of free will skeptics who work together to inform the public that free will is bogus and that the recognition of this truth of reality can help us create a more honest, rational, compassionate society.


Resources for refuting free will

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We are a network of free will skeptics who work together to inform the public that free will is bogus and the recognition of this truth of reality is an important step in the formation of a more honest, rational, and compassionate global society.



Visit these NFWN affiliates to find out why free will is incoherent and why it's so important for society to recognize this truth:


Resources from the Forums


Free Will, Science and Religion Podcast (Itunes, Internet Archive, Stitcher)




Causal Consciousness


Comprehensive breakdowns of why we don't have free will:


Sam Snyder


Vexen Crabtree


Daniel Miessler



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