Praxis Circle interviews cover a wide variety of worldview topics, ranging from politics, philosophy, religion, and beyond. In under a few minutes, our Contributors will provide a balanced overview of  human free will using featured clips and corresponding transcripts below. As a disclaimer, these clips express the momentary thoughts of our Contributors only. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Praxis Circle, and they are intended merely to offer food for thought.


Free Will and Materialism



James Hall:


So, I really think that science does best when it doesn’t try to talk about intentions and purposes. I really think that religion does best when it accommodates itself to whatever science happens to discover about how things actually work. That leaves the question open; is there intentionality and purpose? Is there free will? Because you don’t have intentionality and purpose without free will. Is there free will at the human level? Or at any other level? I think so, because I think I see it. I see it at work. I understand it in my relationships with other people, but I also know that that does not eliminate statistical predictability.


I do not know whether you cheat on your income tax or not, and you don’t know whether I cheat on my income tax or not. But it would be fairly easy to determine that… I’ll make up the number, obviously made up. That 13.843729153% of people do. And that therefore there are certain odds that it’s likely at a certain level that you do, or that I do. That’s not a restriction on our free will. That isn’t something that makes me do it. It’s simply a matter of being able to statistically describe the way in which large numbers of people exercise their free will over a span of time, given the choices that are open to them.



James Hall:


Finally on that theme, and I know we’ve jumped way ahead, having free will doesn’t mean that I can wave my arms and fly. Having free will does mean that from time to time, I am presented with genuine options, genuine choices, and among those options and choices that are open to me and that are genuinely possible for me, I, of my own judgment and taking full responsibility, I choose A rather than B or B rather than A. And I say I do that because I do it all the time, and I’m aware of the fact when I do it.


Now, is there some long causal explanation behind that? In a way, yes. The way I was raised, the values I was taught as a child, the way Halls do things, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But all of that, I’ll use a metaphor that I’ve used before, and then I’ll leave this. Causation is extremely complicated. You cannot identify the cause of an event. It’s going to be a network of causes coming in from a gazillion different directions. If the causal links behind a particular event predominantly are internal, they are predominantly the product of the operation of my own functioning organism, they’re mine, rather than external impinging from outside, I want to say that’s where free will operates. And it’s an operational distinction. A free act is an act that is primarily internally driven. A strictly caused act is one that is primarily externally driven. And most events at the human level are both. And maybe at the natural physical level, maybe all of them are external, but I don’t think so.

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Free Will and Theism



Michael Novak:


It’s crazy to think of Jefferson and Madison as secular people. I could give 100 reasons for that, but the main reason it happens is that many of the historians are secular themselves. And they just can’t believe that anybody takes the religious language seriously, so they don’t. Well, a lot of us do and let us read the text in our meaning of it. Here’s the way Jefferson begins the Declaration of Religious Liberty:


“Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free.” Now think about that for a moment. That’s where he begins his reflection on religious liberty. That God hath made the mind free. “That all attempts at influencing it by temporal punishments or burdens or by by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of the body and mind. Yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either as was in his Almighty power to do. That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical.”



Michael Novak:


One other line I love very much from the four religious documents of Virginia, mostly on religious liberty. This is from Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, which is 1776, George Mason, author. But this last section 16 is Madison’s. “That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator.” And the founders, particularly the Virginians, thought this was a self-evident proposition, that if you think about what a creator is and what a creature is, the duty of the latter is just pressing and it’s self-evident, you owe everything to the creator. “So that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason and conviction.”


And this is the great insight of the Christian faith; that God has to be imagined as insight and judgment, that is his reason and conviction. Not will, not arbitrary will, not power, but in the beginning was the word, the insight into all the things that were to come, the active intelligence of which everything is born and their connections. “And this religion can be directed therefore, only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. And therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion.” Some receive it at one point in their lives, others in another point, sometimes in turmoil, sometimes in rejection. “So equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, and that it is the mutual beauty of all: to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”


What I love about it is that the language of the conclusion, “to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each” other in announcing religious liberty for all, it does it in a completely Christian language. And I think as a matter of fact, only Christian language is able to handle it. You have to have a God who wishes to speak only to the conscience of persons and one and another, and who wants to be worshiped by women and men who are free, who choose him. He’s not the worship of slaves who submit to him.


My favorite images for this are I think of pictures of St. Joan of Arc, the leader of all France, and she’s usually pictured kneeling erect with her eyes to the sky. This is a strong, free warrior. And then the picture, the symbol of his lamb is of the ruler or the man touching his head to the floor, and his forehead to the floor, in real total submission. It’s two very different gods. One a God of will and you must accept his will no matter what, and one a God of conscience and light who created the world in light, wants you to come to it in light, and only values you’re coming to him in light. These are very, very different fundamental realities and we will see the history of these two realities played out over the next hundred or two years.

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Free Will and Idealism



Eben Alexander:


I think free will is that absolutely rock-solid, basic question, because if you can really discuss and evaluate and come to a deeper understanding of free will through all the different ways of looking at it and looking at space and time and causality, I think you will end up, in that process, uncovering the answers to all the questions we’re asking. It really, in many ways, is all about is free will real or not.


There are some in the materialist mindset who pretend that the entire universe has already happened, that you can determine the far distant future just from knowing everything about the present and about the laws that govern how the present will unfold. But that’s where I think that this awakened and more enlightened worldview that we’re postulating goes much, much further and really opens the door that our free will is wide open, and that what we will see for a future of humanity cannot even remotely be predicted today by extrapolating what we think we know about this universe and where it’s headed.


It’s one of the reasons I am extremely optimistic about the world. I think some people today will read the headlines and look at all the polarization in our political systems, all the modern warfare and conflict, and say, “How can he be optimistic about this?”



Eben Alexander:


I think we all have individual narratives that are … Again, it gets down to that notion of the contract, the soul contract, that we make before we even come into life to set up hardships and difficulties, illness and injury, and then the free will is how we respond to those circumstances when we’re living it here on this side of the veil. That’s where I think all of this becomes much more instructive and fascinating, and it’s by following that pathway and being as open and honest with ourselves as we can be and interpreting the messages from the universe, realizing that, essentially, there are no accidents to any of this.


To look at any of it as unplanned chaos, I think, is a mistake. I think all of it plays a role in our coming to a deeper understanding of the universe and our relationship to it, and that’s where synchronicities and opening up our awareness to realizing that any person I run into, like in a Starbucks line or sitting beside a stranger in an airplane, they’re always there to help me. If I could just open my perspective enough to realize that they might have a message to me that really helps me to better understand all the workings of this universe and of my existence in it. That’s where I think my NDE, and certainly the lessons I’ve learned from the neuroscience of consciousness and philosophy of mine in the 10 years since my meningitis, have been a gift that I could never really pay for. I mean, this is a gift beyond any possible description, but it’s a gift of awakening, and that is something that I believe is a gift for the whole world.

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Free Will and Buddhism



Jay Ford:


So, do humans have free will? Yes. Here’s how I qualify that, and this is where I think the Buddhist perspective is really interesting because Buddhism sort of talks about how we are socially, culturally conditioned to sort of behave, see the world in certain ways—this relates to the notion of worldviews—that we are socially and culturally conditioned to sort of see this, and on top of that we make repeated sort of choices.


If one wakes up in the morning and you hit the snooze button, and you hit it again in three minutes, and you hit it again, the more times you do it, the easier it becomes to do, so that we make choices that become what Buddhism would call sort of like karmic habits. All of that is to say that while we think we have where everything we do is a product of our own choosing, in fact we are conditioned to behave and choose actions in certain ways that are often very unconscious to us.


And so, what Buddhism sort of says is that while we think we are making free choices, we are influenced by ways we’re not even aware of, and so the practice in Buddhism of mindfulness, of bringing the unconscious in a sense to the conscious realm of being present in the moment that the more we do that, the more free will we actually have. That is to say that we are actually making choices without these necessarily sort of conditioned influences dictating what we do.


So, I totally affirm the fact that we have free will, but I think in many respects we are conditioned to act and behave in ways that we’re not even aware that we’re so conditioned, so we’re actually not operating out of free will, if that makes sense.

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Free Will and Naturalism



James Bacon:

No, I do not believe in fate. I think that’s just a bizarre philosophical abstraction, and I do believe in free will. I do believe that we’re all control of our own destinies. Obviously, some of us have much more constrained circumstances than others. Obviously if we come from a well-to-do affluent family and we’re raised with a mother and father who love us and invest in us and give us good education, we have a much broader range of opportunities than someone who comes from a very poor family and a broken shattered family and mother’s a crack addict or whatever, goes to a really crummy school. Obviously, there’s differences that way. I think one of our obligations as citizens is to help other citizens widen their sphere of opportunity.

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