Is human free will dependant on the supernatural? Freedom and determinism are still at odds in many people’s minds. The argument behind the conflict is the notion of human license over liberty. Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote, that, “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted.” Science dictates that since, “Every cause has an effect, therefore true free will is an impossibility in a deterministic universe," or in other words: Hume’s fork; either our actions are determined, in which case we are not responsible for them, or they are the result of random events, in which case we are not responsible for them, (Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy). Without religion we would go savage; with science we’re just automatons. Your alternatives are God or blind chance, however, there is another option, which is, “If someone rejected one sort of idea in the face of scientific evidence for another sort of idea, a rational process is the existent arbitrator in the dispute and produces concrete freedom to decide for or against one idea or another.”

People can make choices
even if the very concept of “choice”
doesn’t apply to the pieces of which they are made.

This is essentially about mind, and reason does not compel a person to decide, no matter how compelling the evidence. Or if you prefer the language of determinism: our liberty in choice comes with the determinism of our ownership of all that determines us, especially those determinates which originate inside us. If a chimpanzee,--our closest cousin in the animal world, -- could conceptually think and had real fundamental intellectual alternatives, it would have free choice in some areas of its life, and not be merely suffering from, “The illusion” of being free (as Sam Harris asserts in  The Moral Landscape). Consider for instance, if Sam Harris’ child continually lied to him as she grew up toward  adulthood, yet Sam Harris taught her to believe that free will was an “illusion”  – that self-regulation was only a habit forced upon a person by home, tribe and herd – and took no punitive action against her to change this nasty behavior. The likely result wouldn’t surprise any decent hard working honest person. We would consider him – in his role as a father – foolish, cowardly, and if he had no spouse to correct for his idiocy, even a failure.

In fact, let us suppose that we were all atheists and a group of philosophers, (let’s call them Positivists or Skinnerians), convinced us to believe that we were determined, that we had no real freedom of choice whatsoever. That factor alone would change everything which we do, and in a most unfortunate and drastic way. We’d stop taking responsibility for our decisions. We are subjective, determined and bracketed. Every intelligent person understands this.  We are not talking (in regards to free will) about a huge aspect of our lives. We are saying: If you know a thing is wrong, and you want to do it anyway; then, as your mature reflective self grows (as the years go by) you have a shot at saying, “No!”, of being in control, of having your “reasoning self” being the driver at the wheel. You can affect your moral character in an important way over time.  “We don’t have a ‘get out of evolution free’ card, but we are also not meat robots whose behavior is determined by the positions of a few knobs and switches, independent of any societal forces.”

When Michel Onfray states, (In Defense of Atheism), “When a court functions without religious symbols, it nevertheless operates in accordance with . . . biblical metaphysics . . . The child-rapist is free; he has the choice of engaging in normal sexual  relationships with a consenting partner or of inflicting horrifying violence on a victim.  . . .” I assume this applies to thieves who refuse to work for a living and the junkies who rebuke the straight life with the needle?  This is a version of Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), and other Leftist atheists’ broken-circuit arguments. He, like all intellectuals who deny human freedom, want the argument both ways. Is a pedofile not free to choose? Then let’s uproot this monster before he again acts on his compulsion. Or is he really sick and has broken circuits? Then how can he be treated anymore than a healthy heterosexual appetite could? It is just a fact like a smoking gun! Some immutable disposition you’re born with. Onfray implies that the child-rapist shouldn’t rot in prison but be treated. After treatment, maybe we could resettle him in Onfray’s neighborhood. The pedofile will at any rate not be given the chance “to confront the disease he suffers from.” Excellent. He doesn’t suffer from a disease anymore than if he was a farm boy mating with ponies. It is learned behavior, that’s why in the history of pedofile crime we see not immediate compulsion but an escalating from fantasy to actual assault. Hyperbole argument to the pedofile example doesn’t change the fact that Onfray and his ilk’s obnoxious contention is that male rapists are sick and aren’t really committing a criminal act by stealing sex with power and brutality, that we’re either born lucky (mentally healthy) or unfortunate (mentally diseased),  and indeed, that all immoral behavior is mental disease. So, are you screwed by choice or by chance? If by choice, then punitive situations have moral meaning and can make sense. If by chance, that is, broken circuits and corrupted genes, then treatment is likely a waste of time. Either way, the thesis is incoherent. And Besides, in some important sense we can all be psychopaths, can't we? The devout Catholic of the Dark Ages who boiled to death the Protestant in oil, and vice-versa after the Reformation with the Protestant doing like-tortures to Catholics, all the totalitarian autocrats who massacred innocents in the millions, the Islamists who murder gay people and stone women to death to this very day. See? Psychopaths are us? Belief and psychotic-sociopathic behaviors are far more connected to a conscious self-aware being as deceptive as us human beings than any neuroscientist will admit.

If you take some of the hard determinists' arguments such as in the work Incognito, D Eagleman, you see at once that biological reductionism is supported by some science and little philosophy. Human behavior has a marked, and sometimes, irresistible component when the physical brain is affected; however, trapped by their cause-effect dogma, human creativity and originality are dismissed as springing strictly from matter. ideas, languages, creativity and concepts are believed to be hardwired; that is to say, they are the results of a super-sophisticated molecular machine, — us — and that the theory of mind and even mind itself is illusionary. Mind is brain-matter. Ideas, like rocks, sometimes roll down hill. Spinoza said the only difference between a human being and a stone rolling down a hill is that the human being thinks he is in charge of his own destiny -- huts, houses, skyscrapers and spaceships are in some sense like rocks. They have been put together by the universe with us as the mediator. Who would object to that? We’re mindless biological machines with no choice or creativity, especially, no self, only what the Big Bang dictated; that, and chance or fate as the singular puppet master.

Some people say that if God did not exist and everybody knew it; we'd go native; if we were all atheists, everything would be permitted, and the world would look like Las Vegas. However, look at it this way, if people know a stock will go up tomorrow . . . it will go up today. (Malkiel’s Law). Or look at it another way: if we all could get rich in the stock market, entertainment, horse racing or by using some other equally, exciting or easy techniques, then the slow tedious expensive method of accruing our economic future with higher education (human capital) would be for the most part, forsaken, and the result for humankind, would be a disaster. In other words, we all react to the information at our disposal. Students just stepping out into the world, especially so.

What does this say about free choice?
We want it thrust upon us no matter what the cost.
But do we really have it?

Ultimately freedom in humans is dependant on individual creativity. While every later act or thought is dependent upon former decisions or speculations, we create ideas and then act on these original events. This way, bona fide freedom is achieved. This creativity – this value judgement – this focusing and weighing of evidence, (this carving of a rock into a wheel), is choosing between one thing or another with reason as the judge between right and wrong. This sets us free from many compelling determinative factors.

Reason is the fundamental value in ethics. It is the arbitrator for harmony and cooperation of the emotions, passions, instincts, intuitions, impulses and whatever other states arise in people. Reason can resolve conflicts between these often chaotic aspects, and bring about the greatest satisfaction to a person, helping manage their lives in attaining personal happiness and building moral character so that they are not always reacting emotionally, (or out of control as it were). It gives us all a shot at our own unique self-criticism so we can adjust our behavior in the future; it gives us valuable bio-feedback. Volitional acts by long-standing habits of reason, -science, -creativity, -whatever, are indeed 'the libertarian illusion' that is all too real.

People can be creative and invent original ideas of their own –  rational or otherwise – they're abounding with hypotheses, theories and opinions, most of them wrong, but nonetheless, to a high degree, creative. Protagorean Man is the measure of all things. Rendering of much of the modern problems of subjectivity, moral relativity and scepticism are often patently impossible as so many logically necessary connections can demonstrate. We are subjective, that's a given, but with almost any effort, we can attain outside information, and change direction. Going with the flow is just a lazy inclination which at any rate is exposed to be a false one.

Turns out that unless you lock yourself in a dark closet (or have one singular source of knowledge about everything), you are receiving and transmitting, therefore constantly changing, direction. The only question is, "Do you want to be a good driver or blind at the wheel?" Do you want to use reason, or the alternative, (feelings, faith, hunches and etc.,) to decide? It is about self-managing not about judging. You are free either to be a slave to your emotions or liberated by your powers of reasoning, but don't be misconceived, you are, as Jean-Paul Sartre long ago coined, "Condemned to be free," along with every other human being.

As a scientist and atheist, you rejoin, If one is responsible for this certain thought, X, then this thought X must be anteceded by X1 + X2 and so forth. Or so the theory goes. The process is determined and no thought is ex nihito (or comes about from spontaneous combustion as it were). Or if you perfer a more concise definition from Sean Carroll, an American theoretical physicist who specializes in quantum mechanics, gravity and cosmology and like Dennett is a compatibilist and believes my view of libertarian free-will is ultimately false: "The usual argument against free will is straightforward: We are made of atoms, and those atoms follow the patterns we refer to as the laws of physics. These laws serve to completely describe the evolution of a system, without any influences from outside the atomic description. If information is conserved through time, the entire future of the universe is already written, even if we don’t know it yet. Quantum mechanics predicts our future in terms of probabilities rather than certainties, but those probabilities themselves are absolutely fixed by the state of the universe right now".

No such determination is made by volitional awareness which results in original creative thought, especially focused thinking determined and arbitrated by reasoning. It is a long process, the chronicle of which is the entire history of ideas, the evolution of mammalian life on earth and the unfolding of the cosmos. For instance, history isn’t determined by technology, ultimately, technology is invented by the human mind, nonetheless, in part, history is determined by technology. Free will is the event that is sometimes the deciding factor in a formula which includes, perhaps, 90 per cent physical (genetic, environmental and cultivated), and 10 per cent mental (i.e., it is up to you,); so you can make yourself freer than you are, and in part how you do that is by never thinking that you are robotically determined; you are not completely free, but certainly, no Calvinist slave.

Here, what seems intuitive, is the rapid end of a process. What seems determined is also freedom to act on original ideas. What is a result of mystifying human behavior sometimes has a prime mover, that is, you sometimes have freedom of choice based on your ability to decide among multiple options with your reasoning being the determining factor against your being completely determined about one specific choice. Reason is related to your power to produce ideas, in that, focused awareness (directing the will, mind, self on objects of some sort, etcetera), is an ultimate choice; concentration creates ideas (i.e., creative alternatives). Your faculty of reasoning is the arbitrator. You are free to the extent that you are rational, analytic, thoughtful or whatever you would like to call it.

Einstein's Theory of Relativity was like a mystical event after years of super intensity in the dimension of focused awareness. Where is his freedom? Many Einstein-types like Heidegger at the time in Germany, with perhaps even greater IQs, joined The Nazi Party. (And Professor Peterson, with all due respect, let's be completely honest here, if Nietzsche had been alive, who do you really think he'd be backing as his uberman in Germany in the 1930s?)  So, what moral culpability did these two thinkers (Hitler and Einstein) have? On the one side is a Jew who is the exact epitome of a scapegoat, a pacifist-determinist. On the other, the dark movement clouded in blood instinct, uber's will to power and the crowd's angry roar. Notice Relativity and Nazism aren’t Spinoza's rocks rolling down the hill. They’re explanations and events caused by ideas. Einstein and Hitler originated and refined them. The one? The other? Neither really determined completely, nor free, but the result of the human mind in process and the history of a complicated event.

The creation of idea doesn’t guarantee morality, but only human freedom itself. Reason – the act of focusing on necessary connections – guarantees human free-action. Atheism and freedom are not incompatible. Science and free-choice are not at odds. The existence of free will is not a resounding fact to exclude all others, but a fact notwithstanding. So this is the science of free will: the more it is mastered, the greater the likeliness of self-control; the more you are resigned to the inevitability of fate, the lesser the likelihood that you’ll master your own fortune, thus caving into whims, even ones like serial murder, child-rape and democide.

Sam Harris says in Free Will that choice made from something other than deterministic compulsion is an illusion. Anyone who has the point of view as such, that is, the physically coupled x + y = z type argument, especially the worn-out old one that ‘if all antecedent factors are accounted for, than the unique homo sapiens' ability of cognitive creativity is an illusion.’ And moreover, if free will is indeed an illusion, (that there is no seat in the brain for mind/self/soul), then there is also no moral culpability for homo sapiens' action. There is no real agency in us; there is no one driving; the self in itself is an illusion; in fact, it’s magic and Sam Harris has no rational opposition, only the religious miraculous one. How brave. He’s like an atheist in Iran. 

How utterly dishonest. If some philosopher says, ‘There is no absolute knowledge! And that is the only thing we know for sure.” We see the perplexity of the situation and even a first year university student understands the complexity of outright Socratic skepticism. Marxism’s view of an inevitable calamity is another example of this sort of thing. If it is inevitable, why preach it, why promote violence to have it succeed? If we are determined, why write a book trying to get us to change our minds about free will? Why try to spread determinism like it was a religion? If it is really true, then no action is necessary. Like Karl Marx, Sam Harris wants the argument both ways,--help bring about the inevitable! He wants you to make a cognitive choice based on a reasonable argument that there is no free will by reading his book. If he is right and there is no free agency (no real independent self), then gathering information, discussing the subject and trying to change our minds is hopeless. So, why do it? Maybe to sneak a hidden notion into the discussion. Is he saying that you can make a real choice to change direction, but it is not really (really) free, but only really free (that is without compulsion). (But you can’t use your reason and change your mind because you are just fooling yourself based on the fact that there is no self). There is just so much irony in this position: every 'mismanaged' homo sapien would love moral permission to “Go with the flow!” And despite his claim to be in some ‘revolutionary’ minority, many people hold this undemanding position, including many religious people and certainly many Leftist intellectuals. His argument is laughable. “Mismanagers of the world unite and read this book. You have nothing to lose but your self-control!” Life without consequences, a (would-be) philosopher's wet dream.
Am I free to change my mind as he asks? Is my mind/body—as an integrated living biological organism which is spontaneously ordered by the whole being—allowed to change me? Are we binary or even multiple beings? Am I allowed to choose a philosophy or does my mind-body organism choose it for me. The self is maybe this in-house necessary myth of the organism incorporated for its survival and progress—to even pass along its genes and information—working in conjunction with the living creature which is me. But I choose to call it Edward A. St Amant. A strong will is a tactical maneuvering to contain all the competing priorities to acquire the things we need over a lifetime. You and me are whole persons whose interest are paramount no matter what name we are called and no matter how many internal voices are competing for control. I am pretty sure I at least have a seat at the board. How many other members are there? Well a few and I try to convince them to be rational, loving and kind in their dealings with other self delusional mind-bodies. But damn, if you are an evolutionist, atheist and libertarian, why the hell talk like this? For the Sam Harrises and neuroscientists of the world? I think a better idea would be to say I come from a long long lineage of self-aware organisms (Homo sapiens), and we have learned over some millenniums interesting facts about managing, creating and promoting our individual selves through our ideas, impulses and feelings, no matter where the expression of the self is manifest; as certain as I am that evolution is true, I am equally certain that Sam Harris is a Noam-Chomsky--Don Quixote, and as anti-free-market as Ché Guevara's very own Bernie Sanders, as well as being as religious as the Marxists: Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Pot Pol, Ho Chi Min, Tito, Castro and all the fundamentalists in the fairy-tale world of their progressive Hegelian Lutheranism; what a nightmare.
Mind is the Emergent Property of Brains,
A Process not a Thing,
Not a Piece of (Extended) Matter.
In philosophic lingo among the secular naturalists, my view on free will is derisively called contracausal as opposed to the compatabilist's view of freedom like Dennett's, choice based alone on the absence of coercion. Everything in life has and gives value, especially economic choices; human beings create value in all things and in all choices and actions; Hume's guillotine is an illusion, we need both the descriptive (science) and prescriptive (reason) for our ethical lives. We are the great self-aware morally-evolving creatures in the crux of evolution, and while our human nature is malleable in the grand flux of time, it can be treated as a permanent event because of the time frame (i.e., it takes perhaps tens of thousands of years to make any significant change in our basic physical or moral structures); we culled the psychopath out of the primate in us with violence, but we were not 100 percent successful.
I am not categorically denying the fact that brain damage and disease doesn't alter human behaviour anymore than with mere self-control alone we always do the right thing: we are free agents up and to a point. Surely a man who has billions of sperm in his ejaculate instead of the average 100 to 300 million, might be more susceptible to fantasies of violence toward others to attain his desires, and eventually even rape a victim to acheive them, but should we ever sympathise with his action, especially given the fact that in a free society, he could have safely paid for it if he couldn't manage it any other way?
If you are one of these evolutionary determinists—let’s straw-dog it and call them, idiot savants—and you say to yourself, “I’m not going to be fooled; I’m not taking the drastic step of blindly falling in love because of DNA replication pressures and you deprive yourself on principle of the single greatest human experience in life, then you’re as crazy as Nietzsche, as rigid as Kant, as authoritarian as Hegel and as hateful as Marx. I am begging you, find love and fall deep; that’s what reason demands—if you fully understand it—even if you are not guaranteed happiness, you should give it your best shot and if you would like it to last read Beyond Order. Evolution has equipped you with blind love of a (pretty) total stranger; use it.
I am not saying that I don’t like Dennett, Harris and Dawkins, (nor am I dismissing cultural evolution) but they’re not Hitchens. My atheism is like Democritus’. It’s philosophical. I think we create hypothesises (i.e., generate original ideas all the time), I didn’t need the specifics of natural selection to decide. I was an atheist long before the many books on The Theory of Evolution brought the irrefutable proof to my attention; thank you Richard Dawkins. I understand and am sympathetic  to Freeman Dyson’s point of view but really believe that in his Einsteinium wisdom he refutes and confutes atheists and believers alike because his belief is a faith in a romantic optimistic reality, a sort of hopeful teleological Christian-Hegelianism. I love the man; however, the supreme problem with faith is: “There is no supernatural reality!” That's all there is too it; join the working world of hard science and common-sense philosophy. If Dyson embraces an immanent Power, in Dyson's name, the idiot-winds of the world will justify a belief in Jesus-Mohammed-Marx-Hitler-Mosses-Ganesha-Buddha-Zarathustra-or-whatever and hound some apostate, middleman-minority trader, wealthy-innovator, gay, transgender or other poor outsiders. I mean we’re xenophobic and nationalistic enough without encouraging religion even if what you have in mind is the Quakers, (Notice that Nixon was a Quaker).
Most believers in the airy-fairy are looking for an escape hatch, the golden gate; they’re gutless romantics in the industrialized world concealing their cross-purposes in temple-senate-church-mosque and universities. They often hate life outright! Always, they love another dimension and are not wholly committed to this one. To hell with them, except sometimes they’re really wonderful. I mean I sincerely like most of them and they may well be better people than I. Certainly I like Freeman Dyson and C S Lewis. What to do?  Maybe they’re right. It can’t be resolved. Damn, I have to get back to work. This coffee sucks! BTW: If there is a Christ, praise Allah and peace be upon him. Damn Salman Rushdie, just joking; actually John Le Carré's argument is idiotic. And by the way, Buddha is depicted as jelly belly don’t you think? Why didn’t he ever bring up anything about eating whole foods and exercising?  What do I know? And Christ never once mentioned the Chinese. What about the dinosaurs? Isn’t it hilarious that Mohammed was illiterate? Who believes in this stuff? Anyway, determinism is like processed sugar which tastes great but is carcinogenic; it all sounds Spock-logical but causes defeatism, depression, devaluing of man and many other “D” entities from the dark side. Here's a quote from Einstein: "The difference between genius and stupidity, is that genius has its limits.”  Here's one from Hitler: “I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator by defending myself against the Jew." I'm not claiming like Dawkins that Einstein was an atheist, but those two quotes pretty much speak for themselves.
One of the funniest things I have read in this ongoing debate was Father Ian Markham’s book Against Atheism, a quirky attempt to refute Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris. In a Section about Nietzsche who he laughably calls the last real atheist—always easier arguing against a madman than scientists and rationalists—he makes this enormous admission: This last question flows into the second challenge: surely an atheist should be a rational egoist. We shall define a rational egoist as a person who determines that all decisions about his or her actions should be made on the basis of a calculation – a calculation of what furthers one’s own self-interest. That’s what I say: A true atheist should be a rational egoist, a libertarian and let science and reason  arbitrate what we ethically  should do, and further that all human action is moral, even economic ones. Saying this, I don’t want to insinuate that all Platonists are blind in the cave—or even ridiculous out of it—but the above citation articulates what we already know, doesn’t it? Here's a scientific formula for all the leftist atheists floundering in the cave: genuine agnosticism equals rational egoism plus intellectual independence combined with sovereign individuality.