Nature Nurture Free Will

Nature – Nurture is pretty clearly settled imo. Both have a role. Nature (genetic endowment) gives one a broad spectrum of potential behaviors and nurture (experience and training) molds those potential behaviors into actual displayed behaviors.

Of course, there are some genetic traits (like hair color) that allow for no nurture adaptations. And there are some behaviors that only result from nurture’s impact (like what language you speak). One can go further statistically and say that one’s religion is statistically very related to the religion you grew up with.

But here’s a little mystery to me. Neither nature not nurture speaks to free will or personal choice. Are we to ignore the feeling that we choose our behaviors?

I can certainly see there is a gradation of nature-nurture latitude in our behavioral choices. Are you right-handed or left-handed? Did you experience pressure to be right-handed? Did you adjust your behavior due to the pressure? Or not? (Right-handed 70%-90%, left-handed 10%. Mixed use counts for the 20% uncertainty in right-handed.)

Similarly, do you want children or not? Some people follow good enough for me, good enough for my children. Some others don’t want to subject children to difficulties they experienced. (I don’t have useful twins and parenting choices statistics at this time.)

My ‘instinctive’ response is our free will sometimes overrides the dictates of nature and nurture.

Nonetheless, there remains the open question. Is our behavior completely explained by nature and nurture or does individual free choice play a role?


Religion, a belief in spirits beyond this world, doesn’t uniformally address free will. Some religions actively promote a belief in free will; others actively deny free will.

Science, a belief that every event in the world is ultimately explainable, denies free will.

Humanism gives free will a mid-way position. As in science deduction and explanations are available but they can terminate with individual choices, which are not further reducible. In this sense, the individual plays a nature-like role in the ultimate resolution of human activities.

In the legal system we base responsibility on a premise of free will.  Recently, genetics has been used, more and more frequently, to remove the presumption of free will.  My question: will all explanations of free will eventually be removed by genetic arguments?

Is there anything left in psychology if you remove all genetic explanations? Yes, psychology remains the explanation of the influence of environment.  That might seem trivial until we consider that culture and education are aspects of environmental influence.

The environment influences the manner that genetic predisposition finally is expressed.  This is not an attempt to deny free will, but to clarify the relationship between them.

The result of removing all genetic explanations, all deterministic threads, leaves psychology as the sum of all experiences and cultural behaviors which remain far beyond general understanding.  That is, psychology retains free will.

Thinking in Daily Life