Breaking the Free Will Illusion


Hello, this is my first time posting, but I have a question about free will. I have read most of the other threads on free will, but have a little understanding of Catholic free will.

There’s this website: run by a ‘Trick Slattery who is quite knowledgeable on the “free will illusion”, but I have yet to find any academic credentials. He advocates a book: “Breaking the Free Will Illusion” by showing determinism and indeterminism cannot account for free will. His book has several 5 star “life-changing” reviews. His blog talks about the benefits of abandoning this illusion for the “betterment of humanity”, and the difficulty of rejecting this “false belief”.

Could I get help on a Catholic definition of free will (maybe different from “the ability to have, of your own accord, been able to have done otherwise”)? Also if this ‘Trick Slattery is qualified? He only uses determinism and indeterminism with a lot of assumptions about the world. I personally believe in a limited free willl; casualty can play into decisions, but the action of choicing good and evil is free.

If I could get any Catholic help, that would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading this and for any answers.

God Bless you all


Hi Veritas, I could attempt to precis everything,
but as you may be unsettled by this man’s belief, you may need to study the truth in depth,
as may anyone who follows the link you have provided.
I feel the necessity of providing true sources to
protect their understanding and faith in the Holy Spirit’s teaching regarding human freedom and yours.
God bless you



Thank you for these links! But could I get commentary on this ‘Trick Slattery? He treats free will as a scientific question, that it can’t occur in a deterministic (casualty) or indeterministic (acausal) universe. If you read the Determinism link it mentions indeterminism. I think Slattery and New Advent are talking about different definitions. Could I get some help?

God Bless


Hi, Veritas6. Welcome to the forum.

that it can’t occur in a deterministic (casualty) or indeterministic (acausal) universe

It sounds like Mr. Slattery claims that causality can exist only in a deterministic universe. Looking for a definition:

In mathematics and physics, a deterministic system is a system in which no randomness is involved in the development of future states of the system. A deterministic model will thus always produce the same output from a given starting condition or initial state.

But I would say first that “no randomness” does not equal “no free will”. If everything that happens is determined, our free will may still be one of the things determining what happens.
Therefore if there is free will the same cause will not necessarily always produce the same outcome.
This could mean the universe must be indeterministic, or only that Mr. Slattery’s definition of determinism is not the one I found online.

However: if “deterministic” means no randomness, then “indeterministic” means there is randomness. It does not follow that “there is randomness” must mean “all is random”.
So if nothing is random, all is caused; but free will is one possible cause among many.
If some things are random, it does not follow that everything is random. Causality may exist in the same universe as randomness.
If causality exists then free will is a possible cause of events.

I hope this helps. God bless you.


It seems that quantum physics is putting into question the deterministic or completely causal view of the physical world. Several good videos here on the impact QP is having on the philosophical case for free will:

For the Catholic take on free will, a good beginning is Augustine’s On Grace and Free Will available in several places on the web, including

Long story short: sin enslaves, grace makes us free.

Jesus: Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. If the son makes you free you will be free indeed. (Cf. John 8:34)


Thank you for the answers. On this link: , Mr. Slattery states:
If all events are caused (determinism), then our thoughts and decisions are “events” that are caused (so only one option is viable).
But if some events are not caused (indeterminism), any “acasual” event cannot be up to (caused by) me.
Then we cannot “of our own accord”, have been able to have done otherwise in a situation.

Is this a false dichotomy? This comes from a materialistic/naturalistic point-of-view. Could I “acausal” events be God and His plan? I’m sort of spitballing. Could I get a Catholic input on this? Thank you.

God Bless


Could I please get some help for my latest comment? It has been bothering me for a while, hopefully someone could weigh in on this dichotomy I pointed out. I’m not sure if it is a false dichotomy, could I get a good Catholic point of view? Thank you.

God Bless


I believe there is no dichotomy. The definitions of determinism and in-determinism are faulty.

There are no events without causes. Some events are due to deterministic causes, such as chemical reactions. Others, like decisions of the will, are not determined by the conditions leading up to the decision. The will is self determined, not externally determined.


I’m sure you need little help seeing the circular reasoning here.

If this is an accurate representation of the author’s view, then there is a disparity between the degree of universality between the “some” premise and the “any” conclusion. If some events are not caused, then some are.

As to how one determines a causal vs an a-causal event, please see the “Gettier Problem” that did such a good job smashing the arbitrary wall between “knowing” and “believing”. It’s unknowable.

Generally, points forwarded like the one that seems to be troubling you are predicated with a very specific interpretation of the concept being critiqued; “very specific” to the point of being reductionist.

All the author has here is a theory that has been nested inside that fact that it’s virtually untestable. If we are purely deterministic, then all we do should be able to be precisely modeled. If we are purely indeterministic, then we’d consistently behave in a way that is completely incomprehensible.

We see neither of these as being exclusively true. As such, this appears to be just another post-modern “religious” view.


Here is a childlike and yet profound way to test the power of the greatest commandments; when looking for a purpose for the creation of the universe and life.

Imagine you are God sitting in your favourite armchair. You are looking out into the vast empty void of space, and you think, I have the power to create anything I want, what is the greatest good thing I can create?

You could create all the stars and planets and be a builder. You could create a whole variety of plants; and be a gardener. You could create life with more intelligence like animals and you are a farmer. You could create children in your own image, children who could love in the same perfect way as you love and you would become a Father.

God could make a covenant with himself, and say he will love each and every one of his children as he loves himself. God could sow the commandments of love in our hearts, (conscience). God could give us the greatest commandment to love God in exactly the same way that God loves us. Because God loves everyone as he loves himself, he has given us the second greatest commandment to love all of my neighbours as I love myself.

Can there be any greater purpose to create the universe and life?

How does this fit in with your understanding of Christianity?

Can God create anything greater than life in his own image?

Does the greatest thing that God creates, depend on the relationship that he can have with them?

The greatest purpose to love, gives us the freedom to disobey God. This freedom, to disobey God could be free will.


Isn’t it interesting that there is no indication of actually comparing each case with the definition? Or that there is no mention of who does the causing? :slight_smile:

It sure looks like the definition actually used in that argument was: “Free will is when things are unpredictable, but not really.”. No wonder that such self-contradicting definition was not found to hold!

But let’s see: is “free will” something like unpredictability? Let’s take an example. A teetotaller and an alcoholic (who is already drunk) are offered a drink. Whose reaction is more unpredictable? The reaction of the alcoholic: the teetotaller will refuse the drink, but the alcoholic can accept it, can take offence and get angry etc. But whose reaction would be said to be more free? The reaction of teetotaller. Thus it is not unpredictability that we have in mind here.

The definition of free will is indicated by “But free-will is that by which we choose.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, “Summa Theologica”, first part, question 83 -

You might note that materialists can’t really apply this definition, as they do not believe that “we” exist as substances. And then, if they assume that fundamental particles are all that really exist, of course they are not going to find “us” to choose freely - or to do anything at all.


Thank you for your answer! I’ve also read that moral responsibility, blame, and punishment should be eliminated because in a casual universe, all events would be caused by another and the choices are not up to us.

This seems to ignore the fact that everyone uses reason to choose. For example: a person could have grown up in a broken family and feels he/she must turn to crime to benefit his/her family. They have the ability to weigh the options of either turning to crime or not. The author assures us that that would be a “casually willed” choice, not a free choice. Isn’t that the Catholic free will?


This is the closest you’re going to get to a “Catholic” explanation on “free will”, I think.

As to reason being deterministic; we’d like to think so but it doesn’t typically pan out in a way that can be modeled. For example: my brother and I grew up in the same environment. But when confronted by the same choice, we often prefer different alternatives.

Despite having similar experiences, we value different aspects of those experiences in different ways. So can this be modeled in a way that proves pure determinism so thoroughly that our selections could be identified with certainty before we were even aware of the choice?

Not on your life.

This is what I was referring to when I identified that your author’s theory was untestable, if even internally consistent - like any other religion.


First my friend, WELCOME to CAF

Space in limited here so my reply will be much briefer than you deserve.
1st. From Father Hardon’s Catholic Dictionary is the definition you seek [Fr. was one of the most esteemed theologians of the 20th Century]

FREE WILL. The power of the will to determine itself and to act of itself, without compulsion from within or coercion from without. It is the faculty of an intelligent being to act or not act, to act this way or another way, and is therefore essentially different from the operations of irrational beings that merely respond to a stimulus and are conditioned by sensory objects.

You and Trick [appropriately named as that is precisely what he attempts to do here] seem bent on accomplishing what is literally IMPOSSIBLE, and a bit silly too.
I guessing that you’re not likely familiar with the Bible [which BTW, is a 2,000 year old –
Catholic Book]. Here is a free site you can access to ck out the passages I quote.

Gen 1 [1st Bible-book & chapter] teaches US that GOD choose to use His FREEWILL to Create humanity [alone] in His Image. Then John 4: 23-24 tells us that GOD “is a [immortal] Spirit”

How then does immortal humanity, emulate God who is an immortal –SPIRIT?
At the instant of conception GOD gifts each human Soul [defined here as that which animates & gives life] with a mind, a intellect and a freewill; ALL of which like God are SPIRITUAL REALITIES, & are immortal and can’t be killed.

“You’re presumption” presupposes that the universe and life-forms have no meaning [no value] which is ridiculously illogical & morally incomprehensible. Goodness has to have an origin as doe’s evil.

“Goodness” stems from GOD who can be defined as “ALL GOOD THINGS PERFECTED”

“Evil” stems from man’s intellect, mind and freewill.

YOU freely chose to write your post: that friend required in an infallible-absolute sense, your mind, intellect and freewill. That is indisputable!

Consider further these things:

In all of the Universes many BILLIONS of stars, planets and galaxies only ONE can be PROVEN to contain all that is necessary to support life form: Planet EARTH

Earth has many millions of living things; but Only ONE THING; humanity is rational. TO BE RATIONAL REQUIRES IN AN ABSOLUTE SENSE, A MIND, INTELLECT AND FREEWILL. So to deny freewill is to also deny that man is rational.

Where do you suppose the Natural Laws like gravity came from?

God Bless you friend


He’s incompletely describing all possibilities. There are more than “completely deterministic” and “uncaused” in this discussion. So, his assertions stand, but trivially.

His problem is that he’s not describing who causes events. Free will implies that humans cause events of their own volition. These would be neither ‘deterministic’ nor ‘acausal’. Rather, they would be ‘caused by a moral agent’ and therefore, not ‘random’.

It’s his assertion that the only option other than ‘deterministic events’ is ‘random events’ that leads to his error here.


Thank you, I suspected this was the case. Another problem I have with this website is the author insists we don’t have free will and demands we must abandon this illusion for the “betterment of humanity”. He relies only on that false dilemma of determinism or indeterminism.

I’ve seen this on other websites, they reject free will and advocate we stop blaming and punishing people for their actions because they cannot “of their own accord, been able to have decided otherwise” in a situation. No moral responsibility exists because casual events have determined their life; only one option is a possibility. If you have time, could you skim through his blog?

I’m worried he might have a point because of how enthusiastic he argues his stance and how good his book is reviewed. If you have the time, could you give me some thought on Mr. Slattery? Thank you.

God Bless


Everyone argues their opinions enthusiastically, wouldn’t you say? That doesn’t imply that they’re valid opinions. :wink:

Hmm… someone who has no academic background in philosophy, who has self-published an ebook on Amazon, and who claims to have found the solution to the free will question (whereas the question remains open among philosophers), but whose book is not peer reviewed? I think I’ll pass… :thinking:


So do we have the ability to have choose otherwise if we rewound a situation? This author seems to confirm in a casual universe, it would be impossible to have chosen otherwise even if we rewound time.

I don’t believe we live in such a strictly casual universe, but his reasoning seems to make sense. But this is to say a criminal could not have been able to have not robbed a bank because everything would be caused. He wants to eliminate blame and moral responsibility. For some reason I can’t shake this thinking that people could not have been able to have chosen otherwise. Any Catholic help would be greatly appreciated.

God Bless


The author is arguing for a deterministic universe, not a causal universe. There can be causes and effects without determinism.

Why? What is leading you to think this?

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