It occurred to me that an interesting test of free will would test the "will". I propose this test.

Believe, for an entire day, in God.

I have these questions after you have completed the test:
Can you do it?
How is this test flawed?
What, if anything, does it prove?
How would you modify the test?
What other questions should we be asking about this test?

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I guess I'm naturally curious (have no choice in the matter) and choosing (of my free will) to investigate this topic.
It could be argued that I place myself in the shoes of a believer every time I deal with a believer.
I do this to a level that, for a short while, I believe that there is a god. However, after the short period of belief, I merely remember to ask myself, "What is rational?", and after a short confrontation between desire and reason, reason wins (as expected with me) and I return to Atheism.

I do this because the only way to deal with someone of a differing perspective is to see their perspective first.

As flawed as their perspective is, I still must take it on briefly to deal with them.

I do the same for more than just religious. I do it with what may be considered "fanatical" or "dissenting" in order to persuade them back to reason.

Not everyone can do it. And I still respect those who cannot. For their ideals are set in stone... mine can be altered to suit the circumstances... but always return to the same point.

You can easily step into someone else's belief system with no fear provided that you set a pre-condition... that you will remind yourself of why you are who you are afterward. Failure to remember to do this results in you being susceptible to propaganda, brainwashing, etc.

You CAN make yourself immune to brainwashing, so long as you can rationalise why you are who you are.

... if you can't rationalise who you are... you've got problems beyond the scope of this topic.
Hi Mike,

Beliefs are subject to change but they can't be temporarily suspended unless you're a Christian :-)

LoL . . . no really . . . I think a prerequisite to sanity is to understand (within reason) what is, and what is not, possible. This test of yours reminds me of Benjamin Franklin's "experiment" to discover how long he could be perfect -- live without a mistake. I don't recall how long he lasted but it was something like 2 weeks. I'm pretty sure the experiment was tongue-in-cheek but he might have been serious.

To me, the biggest problem with the free will debate is nailing down what, exactly, is meant by free will. It's unfortunate that this term includes the word, "free". It leads some to assume complete liberty.

To me, if I can exercise -- within the constraints of external realities -- control over the course of my life, then I have the minimal requirement for free will: self-determinism. Acting randomly or arbitrarily is not free will to me. I'm not even sure it's possible. But acting in your own self-interest is a sure sign of free will. Why would external influences (causality) care if you act in your own self-interest or not? They wouldn't. They CAN'T! Only you would. Only you could.
I can't do it!I used to be a christian and now I think it is so stupid for any one to believe this at any age.That I can't even pretend to think like a christian,I can't pray,I can't even understand why any one would be that stupid!I'm still in shock that I believed this at one point!
You have given us no behavioral definition of "believing in God." How are we to determine whether or not we believed in God in such a way that someone else could replicate the experiment? I think a more reliable test of free will would be to propose to do some action that is against ones self interest, serves no useful purpose to others and would not be seriously encouraged by anyone else: for instance, living on a diet of human feces for one month. The experimenter would have to forgo any reward before or after the experiment, such as paid interviews, publications or notoriety. There can be no possible benefit to oneself or anyone else, or the validity of the test is compromised. That means no one else can know about the test, so again, it cannot be replicated, making it scientifically invalid. Therefore, there is no scientifically valid way to test the proposition that free will exists.
Either free will exists . . . or it doesn't.

The fact, either way, is not controversial. Only the confusion is controversial.

I say the confusion stems from human hubris. We want to be in charge: God-like. So we claim ourselves as sources.

But we're NOT the source. In the grand scheme of things, we never even existed until fairly recently.

It seems ridiculous but free will is driven by causality. Free will is not under our control. Seems preposterous, no? Free will is a natural product resulting from the combination of human intelligence interacting with the world around us (causality). The key is prescient imagination. We anticipate the future and plan accordingly. For a full explanation, see Free Will: Explained.
The assumption that underlies your question sequence, Mike, seems to be that 'believing' is volitional, and as far as I can see, there is no epistemological basis for supposing that that this is possible. We hold propositions to be true or false because we have grounds for doing so, unless perhaps we are delusional or excessively vulnerable to suggestion for some reason. What you are suggesting maybe is that we assent to a thought experiment or to an exercise in make-believe, which is a common enough strategy in philosophy for encouraging a rational discussion of possibilities, but we must surely recognise that 'believing' is simply not amenable to the imperative mode: one simply cannot instruct another person to engage in such propositional attitudes as 'know', 'believe', 'love' and so forth. Obviously one can pretend, or respond to an invitation to pretend, but to do so is to assume a metacognitive posture by virtue of which one knows that the adopted propositional attitude is false. What would be gained by doing so? Is the idea simply to stand in another's shoes?
There is a chapter in The Varieties of Religious Experience titled "The Will to Believe." I have not read it for a long time, but I recall that James argues people believe various religious and other rationally questionable propositions because, on some level, they "want to." I suspect it is either because they want to fit in with a social group or because they fear the loss of some benefit of believing: "Santa/the Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy won't come," or "God won't let you into heaven when you die" if you don't believe.
I don't think I'm capable because I lack the brain chemistry required for the euphoria that religious people call "spirituality."
I used to think that I was raised in an un-loving home. I used to have crushes on girls but they never responded positively. In reality I seriously think I am incapable of responding to overtures of "love." The brain chemistry is behind the ability to recognize a loving gesture. I simply don't have it, but I do sense the empty loneliness. At least I know enough to understand that it's not other peoples or my parents fault.

What we can will ourselves to do certainly isn't free, at least it is not without limits. I feel reasonably sure that we would all like to be what we are not in some way, small or large. I'd like to be more friendly, more tolerant, perhaps able to sing (better), to be able to play guitar like Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton, blah, bah, blah. Anyway, these desires I cannot will into existence. No matter how much I practice guitar, I never come any where near their level. What we can will ourselves to do, certainly is limited.


The argument that evil must exist, and that we must have freewill in order to get a ticket into heaven just doesn't wash. If a god made the universe, and that god wanted us all to be lovely palsy-walsy friends together, (or whatever), the god could have made us all behave that way by our very natures. Being like that would only be a change in the limits of so-called free will. If we MUST HAVE FREEWILL for theology to be true, then it fails, because, (and I repeat): what we can will ourselves to do is not free, it's limited.




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