The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
6 Points

free will does not exist

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Post Voting Period
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after 3 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/21/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 935 times Debate No: 39241
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (9)
Votes (3)




I am arguing in favor of
-the concept of free will being an illusion
-our actions and inclinations being the result of background information
-neurophysiological processes working in the unconscious being the true source of every thought and desire


I accept this debate and I will be arguing the following

1) While emotions are nothing but chemical reactions in our brain and desires based on emotions thus explained, I believe that our rationality and ability to weigh pros and cons in making everyday decisions in everyday life are not defined or determined by any force, be it internal or external.

2) I believe that humans have the ability to think outside of emotion and want and have the ability to think, weigh pros and cons, and that the decision is decided by what seems to be the best option. For example, I thought about the pros and cons of taking this debate. While I have a desire to engage in philosophical, scientific, and religious debates, I do believe that this is still free will Because of the following:

A) The desire was not based on emotions, but on an interest to learn.

B) Even if my desire to debate these things is not part of free will, I still had to choose among the various debates to accept this one. I weighed the pros of entering this debate (it will enlighten me in a philosophical manner, I will be able to understand others views, and I will find personal satisfaction with it, etc. vs I could lose, destroying my percentage, I do not have readily made arguments and the time is limited, so it will take up essential time and energy, and there is a possibility of me losing interest and grudgingly finishing the debate based on my own pride.) I chose this debate because the pros outweighed the cons based on things that mattered to me. I personally hold that the following is more important than the cons of this debate:

BA) I find it important to enlighten oneself,
BB) understand another's views,
BC) and enjoy a happy life based on self-satisfaction, which is greater than my need for prideful victory.

3) Even when it comes to basic needs such as food and water, people, especially religious people, have been known to forgo these basic needs almost to the point of death. This is most certainly not a predetermined action or decision on any part of nature.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for graciously accepting my argument. I feel much obliged that you take interest in my opinion and I also am very interested to hear your opinion concerning this debate.

1) We are not the authors of our own desires and inclinations.
-Take for example the Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky case of July 23, 2007.
-The two men forced their way into the house the Petit family in the quiet town of Cheshire, Connecticut
-Hayes notices William Petit, the father, asleep on the couch; he proceeds to beat him in the head with a baseball bat in order to silence him, but something within him arose when the man began scream. He subsequently beat him silent.
-Komisarjevsky proceeded to tie the two daughters, Hayley age 17 and Michaela age 11, to their beds.
-Hayes abducted the mother, Jennifer Petit, and forced her to take him to the bank and withdraw 15,000 dollars in cash.
-At the house, Joshua proceeded to take naked pictures of Michaela and masturbate over her.
-Hayes and Jennifer returned to the house, Joshua and Steven split the money and then decide what to do next
-It was decided that Hayes would RAPE Jennifer and then he subsequently STRANGLED her, much to the surprise of his partner
-They then realized that William had escaped his bonds; terrified, the men set the house ablaze resulting in the deaths of the two girls due to smoke inhalation, only William Petit survived.
-Komisarjevsky was asked during a taped confession why he had not untied the girls from their beds...his response, "it never crossed my mind"
-These men were career burglars, not murders. They never entered that house with the conscious decision to kill anyone.
-To provide background information on the men, Komisarjevsky was raped as a child, knew he was "different", and was aware he capable of great coldness.
2) Scientific Reasoning
-Moving away from the anecdote, these men will never know why they are as they are; nor will we ever know why we are NOT like them.
-If you traded places with either of these men, atom for atom, identical genes, brain (or soul is prefer), and previous experiences, then you would BE these men and would have committed the same atrocities
-Thoughts and impulses arise spontaneously in the unconscious portion of our brain and only appear in our consciousness afterwards
-If your brain was to be hooked up to an EEG or an fMRI then I would be able to observe your neurons (as little as 256 according to a recent experiment) within your prefrontal cortex decide upon an action approximately 7-10 seconds before you were consciously aware of your decision. Subsequently, 300-700 milliseconds before you are aware your muscles are moving in order to complete an action, your motor cortex had already made the decision for you.
-Where is the freedom in this? Your unconscious neurophysiological processes determining every thought, inclination, and desire before you are consciously aware of it, how are you free?
3) Something for my opponent to consider
-Let us say every morning you wake up and are immediately thirsty.(Where is the freedom in deciding to be thirsty?)More importantly, sometimes you drink coffee, sometimes water. One morning you awake and possess a strong craving for coffee. Why the sudden the sudden desire for coffee? Why not water? Say you want to be rebellious, why did the thought of being healthy manifest into your brain thereby compelling you to drink water? Why not orange juice or any other beverage?
4) Conclusion
-Free will is an illusion because you are not consciously deciding upon anything, not your thoughts, desires, actions, impulses or inclinations.
-You had no ability to decide to be sane, nor did you decide not to be insane.
-If you were to become another human being, same atomic structure, same genetic makeup, same brain, and same life experience, then you would have committed every action in the exact same manner in which they did.

Source: Free Will by Sam Harris


In most senses, I actually agree with you, in some I do not. I agree with you in the following ways:

Biologically, we have no choice about things such as hunger.

When speaking from a Biological view point, we have no choice in hunger, thirst, or many other biological concepts. We have no choice in how our teeth grow, how our body develops, when we need to use the restroom, or eat, or drink, and in many ways, breath! However, we have the ability to establish when we eat, what we eat, and how we eat it. Instead of feeling the need to urinate then dropping our pants and beginning the process right on the spot, we put thought into the action and because of this, along with observed health benefits that come with keeping urinary and bowel movements separate from cities and places of high population, we have created restrooms where personal hygiene is taken care of. In all, our needs are defined by our body, but we decide how to deal with these needs and in what order to do so.

Even in the case of pain, where our whole body screams for whatever terrible circumstances we are in to end, we can see from religious martyrs or people who withstand the pain for their mission or belief or whatever reason they have. It's the same thing with fasting. Ignoring physical need for religious beliefs.


I also agree that when born, a child is a blank slate. Environment determines what your personality will be like until separation from parents. Past experience is more reliable and builds our beliefs. Personality is the most difficult and uncontrolled part of ourselves. Rape victims gain distrust of men, liars tend to become more likely to lie. Yes, background is very influential in our decisions and past angers can come out when doing something that is already violent, like beating the father. This is fueled by adrenalin in our brains.

Scientific Reasoning

I agree that reaction decisions are defined by your brain. When a ball is thrown at you, you react. You make no conscious decision except against it and thus allowing it to hit you in the face. So I agree with you on this point.

Area that I do not agree with Pro on

Critical Thinking

When it comes down to complicated decisions such as buying a house, a car, whether or not to go to church, what to spend free time doing, and even reviewing new evidence, we actually have to decide on these factors. For instance, when I first read my first book on evolution, I was looking for evidence for a new idea that I had never heard of before. Past experience had truthfully nothing to do with my critical review of the evidence and the eventual acceptance of it. Using critical thinking, I went against past experiences of believing in any god or gods. Past experience would actually dictate that I believe in god.

It took going against everything I ever was to become atheist.

Physical and Experience replacement would indeed make me become that man, as I would no longer be myself, but...

It is true that replacing past experiences and genetic makeup, pretty much living my life with the exact same DNA and experiences from birth, would indeed make me that person due to the fact that personality is confined to the physical body that has experienced everything it has, filling that blank slate. However, this does not mean that I do not have free will. It simply says that I do not have a spirit or anything retaining my personality.

In conclusion...

We have what I believe is partial free will. We are guided by our past experiences, forced to act by biological processes and needs, and compelled to react to things like balls being thrown at us. However, to weigh pros and cons combines all of these plus a bit of rationality and decision making that is in the moment. Like I said, I weighed the pros and cons of entering this debate. This was not based on past experience or biological impulses or reactions to stimuli, but a clear decision I freely made based on pros and cons. We see much the same in choosing whether what is right and what is wrong. For instance, when deciding to go on a killing spree, does our violent or rational side win the internal battle? The rational side says that the consequences are greater than the joy of killing and having that power over people. The violent, emotional side does not consider this and simply acts on impulse, defined by chemical reactions and past experience.

In conclusion, Rationality is free will and anything not made by rational decision making processes of weighing the pros and cons is determined by emotion, past experiences, and/or biological processes.
Debate Round No. 2


First of all, thank you for not acting in the same manner as most of the people I that I encounter on a regular basis. I have enjoyed having a logical debate with an individual who truly knows how to use rational thought. (Finally)

Speaking of rationality, I hope I am not committing a straw man fallacy in stating that you only seem to believe in free will when reason is involved. If I am, please forgive me.

1) To address your concern about the absence of free will in regard to rationality

I ask you this...can you act upon anything that does not occur to you?

The answer is no. As in the case of Hayes and Komisarjevksy, they did not untie the two girls simply because the thought never occurred to them even though it was the logical thing to do. The rational conclusion will never be enacted upon unless the aforementioned conclusion manifests into your mind before the scenario has come and gone. The logical conclusion will then manifest into physical action only if the unconscious makes the decision, depending upon background information of course.

2) Critical Thinking

To be more specific, in the case of critical thinking your consciousness is only a medium through which your unconscious "decisions" are made a reality. When you were looking for evidence concerning a new idea and decided to reject past experience in favor of evolution (I applaud) you unwittingly acted out a decision that was already a foregone conclusion. You cannot manipulate your genetics, nor can you consciously be aware of all the factors that are taken into account during a decision. If you could, then free will could exist; however, critical thinking is a strong example of how your mind can manipulate you into believing that "critical thinking" is actually being accomplished. The reason you came to the conclusion you did was not the result of a conscious decision, yet it was the result of factors that were unknown to you working in the background. A rebellious spirit, a maverick personality, or maybe sheer dissatisfaction with the religious proposals you have been exposed to all were aspects that were unbeknownst to you when your brain unconsciously decided to alert your consciousness that a change was imminent.

2) Physical and Experience replacement

Relates to everything that I have ever already mentioned, your genetics, external stimuli, and past experience all determine the mental event that precipitates the physical action.

3) Conclusion

Free will is purely an illusion contrived by man due to the fact we feel as if we are the conscious authors of our thoughts and actions. The unconscious is the true origin while the conscious is merely a stage. Our biological predispositions (genetics), our life experience, and external stimuli are the predominant factors in the formation of every inclination and desire. Every factor must have the possibility of consideration in order for free will to coincide with the laws of physics; and this is clearly not the case in actuality due to the fact that we cannot contrive anything that does not occur to matter how logical the conclusion may be. Even in regards to rationality, every consideration and delineation that occurs is the result of the conscious awareness of the thoughts and desires that originate, and are ultimately determined, by the neurophysiological processes of our unconscious. Unfortunately we are mere spectators to the interplay of our minds, stripped of all control, how are we to deal with ourselves? Ah, a debate for another day.


No, you are correct in saying that I see free will in rational and critical thinking and I will further that point here in my closing arguments.


As I said before, free will is rational thinking. Though the thought must occur to me before I can rationally think about it and weigh the pros and cons of the given situation, is it not true that once the thought had occurred to our dreadful human being, that he would then have two possibilities? One is that he chooses to untie the girls and let them go while the other is that he chooses to not untie the girls and, in fear, malice, thoughtlessness, or any other cause, just let them die. In this case, since that possibility existed, it would seem that free will lies in the final decision and is a product of rational thinking. Determinism is purely the idea that every thought has a predictable cause and every decision, in hindsight, is predictable. It is that all of these natural, experiential, and predicable processes always lead to certain decisions. My argument is that this is true, but for as long as there exists the possibility of them choosing to have untied the girl, or me not entering this debate, or rejection of evolution, exists, then so does free will.

It is entirely possible that though I subconsciously felt the need for a change in thinking, that I could have rejected evolution and Atheism all together. Though the factors that led up to my decision were unchangeable, there exists the possibility that evolution and Atheism would not be the change I chose. For instance, I could have rejected Evolution and Atheism for an agnostic view to both the Theory of Evolution and the Existence of any god or gods. Deism is also a thought that occurred to me, but I did not accept that either, even though the same factors were at play for Atheism as was for Deism.

Physical and Experience replacement

Once again, the fact that if I had been put into his life from birth to death that nothing would have changed because of the factors present in his decision does not indicate that he was without free will. If you look at it from a compatibility point of view, free will is the result of determinism in the form of making a rational decision.


In conclusion, free will exists in Rational thinking and is philosophically proven by the possibility of another choice in any situation so long as the Determinist process allowed for the factors to be decided on by the Rational thinker, or agent. The ability to weigh pros and cons while thinking outside of emotion stems from the unchangeable factors that led up to the choice. However, we still have to weigh those pros and cons out and decide on what is the best answer to the situation.

This form of free will and Determinism coexisting is called Compatibilism.

This was my source throughout this last round. It was a very interesting article by Stanford University in their Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

My Thanks to the Pro

Pro, I thoroughly enjoyed this debate. It accomplished all of my goals and was very enlightening. Before this debate, I had not really thought about free will and whether it existed or not. It turns out that I not only had an opinion, but I had one that was a huge Philosophical side of a debate still raging! I thank the Pro for instigating this debate and I hope we can debate again in the future.
Debate Round No. 3
9 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 9 records.
Posted by 2-D 2 years ago
I don't see that free will means freedom from your brain chemistry or genetics. This is counter intuitive. We choose from a variety of options and this is a quality largely distinct to humans. Free will describes a phenomena.

I don't see that Pro met his BoP. He assumed free will means freedom from genetics and brain chemistry but did not clarify this with a definition in the opening round. This is still a widely debated topic and there are several definitions of free will. Pro spent the time arguing for determinism without proving that determinism makes free will an illusion.

Con essentially agreed that we have no control over several factors that determine who we are but argued that there is still freewill. This was enough given that Pro did not provide arguments to support that free will does not exist. Arguing for Determinism does nothing to rule out Compatibilism.
Posted by Ethankershner 2 years ago
Con never refuted pro's point that the basis on which options are chosen (if they are indeed consciously chosen), would be entirely dominated by the factors of which we have no control over (genetics, environment, etc.).

So even if conscious decisions are made, it still does not constitute 'free will', not even partially.
Posted by 2-D 2 years ago
With a specific definition of free will it would have been easier for Pro to meet his BoP. He wasn't just arguing for determinism but hard determinism. His main challenge was to prove that freewill is necessarily an illusion if his form of determinism is correct.

Con focused on rationality, decisions and possible decisions to support that some version of freewill is compatible with determinism. Pro didn't really address this issue instead focusing on the compelling idea that our decisions are often not in our conscious control.
Posted by wrichcirw 3 years ago
Hmmm...this debate is somewhat difficult for me to judge, due to strong bias.

I found PRO's points about biology dictating impulses to be a strong argument for determinism. Also, PRO's question: "can you act upon anything that does not occur to you?" points to the nature of choice, that we can only choose based upon what we are exposed to, and what we are exposed to is deterministic, leading to choices being made based upon the circumstances in which we discover that we have the choice.

CON argues that rationality is divorced from biology, and that complex decision-making is proof of free will. None of this counters PRO's position, and does not answer PRO's question in a manner that would point to free will. Complex decision-making would simply be an amalgam of complex circumstances.

PRO's round #2 layout was not conducive to persuasion, so I will score S&G to CON. Arguments PRO. Both sides were quite civil.
Posted by Jakeross6 3 years ago
I thought I had pretty good arguments, but apperantly not. I dispute the determiner angle reason in this debate concerning a possible argument using a supernatural deity. Both I and the pro are atheists and therefore any diety talk would be irrelevant. The only guiding process that could come close to such a claim is evolution.
Posted by NiqashMotawadi3 3 years ago
This could have been a good argument if used by Con...

P1- Pro denies "Free will" because of his belief that humans have no control on their minds, whereas Con accepts "Free will" because of his belief that humans do control their minds.

P2- An acceptance of Pro's position implies that a person denying "Free will" is denying it because of uknown factors he can't even know or control, while an acceptance of Con's position implies that a person accepting "Free will" is accepting it based on factors he does know and control.

P3- An argument is more convincing if it is built on known factors and premises(some of which might be false).

Conclusion: Con's argument is more convincing than Pro's.

Posted by NiqashMotawadi3 3 years ago
I enjoyed reading this debate but I expected a higher level of competition.

Arguments: I didn't see any strong arguments from both debaters. They explained the same phenomena differently from their opposing perspectives(aka the technique of using "but it fits" arguments). Con offered arguments for his position like the fact that we choose to go to the bathroom and exhibit control over some of our biological needs. But then it can be argued from a deterministic perspective that it is logically plausible that all such happenings were set before the initiation of the universe. Con went ahead and argued that the existence of rationality and critical thinking prove the existence of free will, when again such modes of thinking could all be decided beforehand by a supernatural agent or some cosmic force that dealt with probabilities and happenings. Pro had many irrelevant responses and he didn't offer enough evidence to support his claims, ALTHOUGH his extraordinary conclusion that we are only bystanders required extraordinaty evidence. Pro didn't even define how we could be "we" if we were seperate from our bodies and minds, when that is the first thing he should have done before defending his position. This is possibly the ol' scientist mistake in taking experiments too seriously to the exent that you distance yourself from a reality that involves you like you distance yourself from experiments that don't. Arguments were a tie as both debaters failed to provide convincing arguments.

Sources: Pro based most of what he said on the book "Free Will," which I've read and found utterly lacking in arguments, facts and citations. Sam Harris' book was simply presenting a hypothetically-correct argument which is based on very shaky grounds. Con used a standford edu source, so I'm obliged to give him the sources.
Posted by Jakeross6 3 years ago
I have found an interesting article on my position (Which I just found out the name for it) and I will respond when I have read this.
Posted by wrichcirw 3 years ago
let's see how this goes...
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by 2-D 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments.
Vote Placed by wrichcirw 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: see comments.
Vote Placed by NiqashMotawadi3 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments.