There are many different ways that people define “free will”. This confusion over words is partly why the debate even continues. What I want to do is first give a small definition and refutation for those who are in a hurry.
The average person who has never read any philosophy about free will believes that free will is nothing more than the ability to “make choices”. By such a definition, you could try to argue that free will exists. This is not what the debate has been about. It has all been about the word “free” in “free will”. If people said they do things of their own will, then it makes sense, if they said that they do things of their free will, then they have not yet questioned what their will is “free” from.
Are your choices free from anything outside of your control? Some examples might be your preferences, emotions, beliefs, religion, personality, education, species, gender, or sexual orientation? If your answer is no, then you are starting to understand the problem.
Give an example of a choice that you consider “freely” willed. Does that choice have a cause? If it has a cause, that cause also has a cause which has a cause. The causes go back to before you existed. If you say that it has no cause, then you are also not the first cause. If you claim that you are the first cause of all your own choices, you believe you are a god and that your own existence did not have a cause.
Since you did not “choose” who your parents were or when they had sex, you can’t take credit for your existence, nationality, color, gender, or species. Understanding this will eliminate the “I am better than you!” attitude that many of us have sadly picked up from others around us.
free will: “The power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies” – Wordweb
free will: “freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention” – Merriam Webster
If someone can make a choice that is free or unconstrained of external agencies, including prior causes or divine intervention, then free will would be possible. Here are a few reasons why this is impossible.
First, since we cannot choose our genetics or where we are born and what parents we get, it is silly to say that we are free of the influence of these things. Our gender, along with all other attributes that describe our bodies will obviously have some effect on how we are viewed by other humans and what jobs we can work.
Second, all the things that we are taught by our parents, or teachers in school or the religion we grew up in will in some way effect our beliefs about things. Whether we like it or not, these things are chosen for us and we have no choice and no voice other than allowed by those who teach us and reward or punish us.
Third, pleasure and pain that come from things we do or that are done to us by something else are out of our control. I did not choose which foods taste good or bad to me. The pain that comes from hunger or being cut or burned are out of my control and I will avoid these things if I have the physical power.
These influences on our thinking that motivate our actions cannot be denied or ignored forever. If you agree or disagree with my refutation of free will and send me an email or comment on something, then you demonstrate that my act of writing this has caused some type of emotion in you. I hope it is a good one, but your response is out of my control and yours as well.
You may wonder what caused me to write this refutation. There are many causes of it. First, I cannot get any response out of most Christians other than “free will” whenever the problem of evil comes up. Second, the concept is easy enough for me to understand and explain. Third, the free will belief causes us to blame others for things that they had no choice but to do.
But I would say that most of all, the subject of human will and all the relevance it has in the debate about abortion is what made me feel I had no choice. I wanted to tear down this false belief. As it turns out, that is the entire point. When we make a choice, we always choose the option that we want if we are able. Since we don’t choose our own desires, we can never have a free will. It is not the “will” that is in question but rather the “free” part of “free will” that makes it impossible.