The cost of no free will

If you don’t believe in free will, then you are more likely to lie.


People who are determinists really have less motivation to act morally than those who believe in free will, since they can’t do much anyways.  They are less likely to be emotionally healthy.

I just listened to a podcast interviewing Marcel Brass, a neuroscience researcher.

Perhaps all of our discussions about predestination, determinism, and free will are a waste of time.  We may never be able to prove things either way, but we can know the effects of different beliefs.

I have a lot more incentive to act morally now that I know I can’t just ask for forgiveness and the magic God will make everything better.  I took a lot of comfort in the instant forgiveness and power of a being who could work all things out for those that loved him.

However, knowing that I have responsibility and agency in my choices helps me a lot more.

12 thoughts on “The cost of no free will

  1. My computer is messed up a bit and I cannot listen to podcasts. Does Marcel Brass give any hard evidence for his notion that people who don’t believe in free will are more likely to lie?

    I’ve come to the opinion free will is a myth. But I am also of the opinion that lying to exploit people is morally wrong, and something I do not want to engage in.

    • prairienymph says:

      Most of the podcast is reviewing various studies from neuroscience to social science on predicting and influencing behaviour. One of the studies reviewed had half of the participants read ‘scientific’ evidence that free will did not exist and the other half that it did. Those who read about no free will did lie and cheat more often on the task given next. I was getting the girls to bed so I don’t remember the details on that one.

      • Thanks! That’s interesting to know. It’s not a result that I would have predicted, but it is also not the first time science has provided at least some evidence for something I would not have predicted.

  2. prairienymph says:

    At first I was surprised since the people I perceive as less likely to believe in free will are those whose morality tends to legalism. But on the other hand, if everything is predestined, then wtf does it matter what you do or not?
    I don’t remember the size of the study so I can’t comment on how strong the correlation was.

  3. Cool stuff! I just happen to be working on a post for the end of the month at the Fool blog about a section of scripture which is against free will.

    I suspect that if you believe that there is no free will, perhaps you feel more justified or entitled to do what you want to do, despite it being against your conscience, because that is “just the way” you were made (or, in secular circles, just the way your chromosomes came together)? As the pop song goes: I was born this way.

  4. steve says:

    But really, does the desirability of a given proposition have anything to do with its truth?

    • prairienymph says:

      You are right. It does not. But when we cannot prove anything either way, it does seem reasonable to choose the proposition which does the least harm. Of course, even if you can prove that free will is an illusion, I may be destined to believe in it anyways. :p

      I approach atheism the same way. I cannot prove that divinity does or does not exist. I choose to live as if it doesn’t because I find it personally helpful. My lover chooses to live as if there is a god. We are both open to the idea that we are wrong and/or ignorant. (We also have different definitions of what ‘god’ is.)

  5. steve says:

    But it certainly can be proven that free will is not but an illusion. So the use of a “tie-breaker” is nullified.

    As for your other point, you are correct, any non-freewillist would tell you that while you believe in free will, you do so because at that moment in time you have no choice but to do so, (in other words there is no way you could just freely will your self to believe otherwise). We all believe what we must believe based upon everything that have happened to us in our lives up that point in time. This is an extremely subtle point, so I would ask that you reflect on it carefully.

    (Also I would add that this does not mean to imply that you are destined to always believe in free will. As time goes on and more inputs are added to your causal matrix, there may be added enough causes to change your beliefs on the matter of freedom of the human will. At that point in time, as with all points in time, you will have no choice but to believe as you believe. You would have no ability to freely will your self back to the state of believing in free will.)

  6. limey says:

    I have been following some of the discussion about free will recently as I find the concept of there being none rather intriguing.

    I understand some of the arguments for there being a lack of free will and I certainly see why many have come to that conclusion. However, in my own mind I don’t like the conclusion. I find the concept of there being no free will difficult to consider, but I have not yet been able to explain why in any way that doesn’t simplify to “I don’t like that idea”

    Up until a few years ago, I would have called myself a Christian and then free will was very important to me. After all, isn’t that the point of faith, we use our God-given free will to chose to worship him. I never saw pre-destination as a conflict to that. God knowing what you will do is not the same as not having a choice.

  7. steve says:


    I can certainly relate to your current state. The paradigm shift that non-free will enlightenment represents can be shocking to ones sensitivities on several fronts. There are many who when reflecting on the notion that free will is nothing but an illusion, think of the consequences of this and find them to be undesirable, and some maybe even horrific, and in response to the unsavoriness of these realities, they push back against non-free willism, and fight to maintain that humans have a will that is somehow free. But we cannot pick what is real based upon what is desirable.

  8. prairienymph says:

    I think this conversation is lacking in definitions.
    When I use the term ‘free will’, I use it rather loosely and not as an absolute. To me it means that I have some agency and responsibility for my actions.
    I am influenced by many factors and aware of some of them. However, being aware of these influences can help mitigate their effect. For example, I tend to draw people with bigger eyes and cheeks than is realistic. Aware of my bias, I can compensate and have a more accurate representation.
    If there is no free will, then remedial therapy and certain forms of education are meaningless. Studies show that they are useful. I cannot think they are illusions too.
    By ascribing to free will I also reject the ideas that there is a being or force that will make circumstances turn out a certain way regardless of my actions. There is no script writer forcing me to think or do certain things who will cause an earthquake to happen so I miss a car crash. Random chance, circumstances, history and other factors can predict how I react to certain things but I am not a puppet. I do have responsibility for what I do.

  9. […] the definition of Free Will that I find most challenging, which is rightly raised here too ( One definition I have seen (I think it was on WEIT) is that if you could present someone with the […]

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