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Evolution and Free Will

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

If evolution is true, then there is no free will.

Have you ever wondered if you have free will? Do you really make choices in life? Are you really free to choose anything about your existence? Or is every thought and action you experience–including the decision to read this post–predetermined?

The question of free will in humans has occupied the minds of philosophers for centuries. But if evolution is true, the answer is simple, straightforward, and should be non-controversial: there is no free will in human beings or anywhere else in the universe.

You see, the naturalistic (i.e., Godless) explanation for the universe starts with the Big Bang. According to this theory, at the Big Bang every atom currently in the universe, including those now in you, was blasted out, with atoms shooting randomly in all directions. Since the Big Bang, these random lifeless particles of matter have continued banging about in senseless, purposeless motion.

Lifeless matter in motion. That is all the universe is; there is no “free” or “will” in the naturalistic universe of atoms sent mindlessly into meaningless motion. Atoms just go where nature demands without purpose or plan.

The unfree, no-will motion of atoms was determined at the moment of the Big Bang like billiard balls careening about after the break in a game of pool. Imagine a billiards (or “pool” or “snookers,” if you like) table the size of the universe and innumerable balls being sent flying with unimaginable energy at the first shot. The balls would continue bouncing around, into each other, and off each other–constrained only by natural forces–for millions and billions of years.

If the Big Bang theory alone explains the beginning of our universe, then the atoms spewed out in all directions are no different than our billiard balls. And these billiard ball-like atoms continue to move in motion according to physical laws (wherever they came from, but that’s a different problem) without choice and without purpose. They simply went where they had to go.

Atoms sent flying at the Big Bang with no purpose and no control, with no freedom and no will–that is the essence of a naturalistic universe.

Evolutionary theory is simply the creation story for the naturalistic universe of the Big Bang. According to evolution, somehow some of the billiard ball-like atoms randomly flung into space were forced un-freely by natural laws to be jostled and banged just so to become something “alive.” And after a first collection of atoms somehow became alive, the senseless, purposeless, unfree motion of the billiard ball-like atoms continued in their inescapable predetermined motion to become you and me.

And, if evolutionary theory is true, the atoms sent flying at the Big Bang are still senselessly knocking about in you and me unfreely and without any will according to natural laws, and nothing else. That is, we exist because we were predetermined by the initial motion of atoms at the Big Bang, and we continue to exist according to the continued, purposeless and unchangeable motion of those first atoms.

Atomic matter in motion and forced into purposeless interaction by natural laws. That is the essence of the explanation for you and me, if evolution is true.

The atomic matter has no free will, it is just matter. Does a hydrogen atom have free will?

How, then, can the conglomeration of atoms we call human beings have free will?

If this is the first time you have ever thought about free will, then this must all seem a bit non-sensical to you. And it seems non-sensical to you because evolutionary theory makes it non-sensical.

You see, evolutionary theory demands one reality, and the world around us demands a different reality. And, it is a bit amusing to see the evolutionist crowd try to put the square peg of evolution into the round hole of reality.

The more bold (and honest) of the evolutionary crowd do not even try to square reality with evolutionary theory. William B. Provine, for example, made no apologies for the necessary reality evolution demands. In a debate with Phillip Johnson, an intelligent design proponent, Provine summarized his views on what “modern evolutionary biology tells us loud” when he stated (bold emphasis added):

. . .There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either. What an unintelligible idea.

Provine is absolutely correct, if evolution is true.

But other, more timid and less committed evolutionists try to find an evolutionary basis for free will. And this is where the various viewpoints get amusing. Like trying to explain why the sky is really green despite appearing blue, such evolutionists simply show a lack of Provine’s fearless commitment to a naturalistic universe.

Probably the most influential modern evolutionist in this space is American philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett. Dennett is referred to as one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism”, along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Stanford news reports an event in which Dennett was introduced as a “rock star” and proceeded to expound on his views on free will.

We encourage readers to read the entire piece, but here is an excerpt that illustrates how “rock star” evolutionists discuss the “square peg/round hole” problem of free will:

Philosophers and theologians have been struggling to explain free will for ages. Although Dennett is a vocal proponent of evolution, he disagrees with the evolutionists who claim that “human beings, like all other creatures, are machines for passing along their genetic code.” He calls this opinion the “standard mistake.” There is something special about the human mind that has allowed humans to outcompete all other animals, Dennett said. He claimed that the unique attribute that sets humans apart is our ability to ask why. “This word ‘why’ introduces a very important practice: the practice of sharing reasons, comparing reasons, criticizing reasons, rebutting reasons, [the] give-and-take of reasoning together,” Dennett said. Our ability to represent our reasons is “what gives us the freedom that matters,” he added.

Consider carefully the words of a rock star above. He notes the “something special” about the human mind and recognizes that this “unique attribute” sets human apart by allowing us to “ask why.”

But this form of “explaining” free will commits the logical fallacy called “begging the question.” The ability of humans to ask “why” is not the answer–it is the question! And Dennett, for all his education and stellar abilities cannot provide an evolutionary explanation for the human “freedom that matters.”

Not to pick on Dennett, but to show how easy it is to see the logical inconsistencies of a false theory, consider another excerpt from an interview with Dennett. This one comes from an Oxford University Press publication, in a section entitled, “Free Will, Responsibility, and Punishment.” An interview with Dennett appears in Chapter 13, from which we provide two pages with our commentary.

Again, we encourage readers to read the full interview with Dennett, but the short excerpt below, with our commentary, should suffice to show that what passes for intellectual rigor on this topic is slightly more than argle-bargle which goes uncontested by the rock star crowd.


For an excellent and enlightening look into the free will issue, consider the July 2016 article in The Atlantic, by Stephen Cave and aptly titled, “There’s No Such Thing as Free Will–But We’re Better Off Believing in it Anyway.”

The Atlantic takes a serious look at the issue, including the far-ranging implications of evolutionary theory’s implications. The article notes that the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It also permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream.

But the genius of The Atlantic article is its sober analysis of evolutionary thinking on free will. For example, the article explains:

The sciences have grown steadily bolder in their claim that all human behavior can be explained through the clockwork laws of cause and effect. This shift in perception is the continuation of an intellectual revolution that began about 150 years ago, when Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species.

The Atlantic continues:

Shortly after Darwin put forth his theory of evolution, his cousin Sir Francis Galton began to draw out the implications: If we have evolved, then mental faculties like intelligence must be hereditary. But we use those faculties—which some people have to a greater degree than others—to make decisions. So our ability to choose our fate is not free, but depends on our biological inheritance. Ibid.

After discussing the evolving debate throughout the 20th century, The Atlantic article pegs the real issue:

This development raises uncomfortable—and increasingly nontheoretical—questions: If moral responsibility depends on faith in our own agency, then as belief in determinism spreads, will we become morally irresponsible? And if we increasingly see belief in free will as a delusion, what will happen to all those institutions that are based on it? Ibid.

Do you see the issue? If evolutionary theory is correct, and we are merely the predetermined result of atoms in motion, the continued, predetermined motion of those atoms are not under our control.

As The Atlantic article documents, data show that when people believe they have no free will they act like it. And the results, if extrapolated to the entire population would be disastrous.

Do you want to see if an evolutionist really believes his chosen theory? Steal his wallet. If he objects, he betrays his own ideology.

Fortunately, like all real implications of evolutionary theory, few people beyond the Provines of the world really believe them. Like people of faith everywhere, evolutionists say they believe one thing, but live like they believe another.

In fact, The Atlantic article exposes exactly this dynamic among the evolutionist faithful who, instead of boldly insisting everyone live their creed, instead suggest that people believe “an outright lie.” For example, Saul Smilansky, a philosophy professor at the University of Haifa “has wrestled with this dilemma throughout his career, and come to a painful conclusion:”

“We cannot afford for people to internalize the truth” about free will. Smilansky is convinced that free will does not exist in the traditional sense—and that it would be very bad if most people realized this. “Imagine,” he told me, “that I’m deliberating whether to do my duty, such as to parachute into enemy territory, or something more mundane like to risk my job by reporting on some wrongdoing. If everyone accepts that there is no free will, then I’ll know that people will say, ‘Whatever he did, he had no choice—we can’t blame him.’ So I know I’m not going to be condemned for taking the selfish option.” This, he believes, is very dangerous for society, and “the more people accept the determinist picture, the worse things will get. Ibid.

Well, that is quite a place to land in the debate.

But it accurately captures the brutal reality of a naturalistic, evolutionary world.

To selfishly be or not to selfishly be? Is that the question?

Maybe there is another question: Is the naturalistic, evolutionary world the world of reality?

Why does it seem that the reality we all experience is not the naturalistic, evolutionary reality?

Might there be a true reality in which we absolutely do have free will and can choose to selfishly act against one another and to sin against God?

Think about it.

Photo credit: Photo by Sherise VD on Unsplash


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