Free will and Punishment

Abdullah Sameer
4 min readSep 26, 2018

“If we have no free will, the criminal justice system makes no sense.”

Ben Shapiro wrote, “Our entire legal and moral system is based on the ghost in the machine — the presupposition that we can choose to do otherwise. We can only condemn or praise individuals if they are responsible for their actions.”

People are the products of their environment, genes, and upbringing. We do not have free will. We are complicated machines that do things for reasons we cannot fathom. We are machines that produce actions based on code and inputs. It does not make sense to punish people for the sake of punishment.

The criminal justice system should not be about “punishment” but rather about reform and protection. This means that law courts have three purposes: To deter people from committing crimes, to help people become better individuals who will not re-offend, and to keep dangerous criminals we cannot reform away from society.


At a simple level, consequences influence actions. We avoid punishment and seek pleasure. So the court system can deter people from committing crimes. This would be the first reason.

Reform vs. Punishment

How do we reform individuals? With mental health support, mental training, mindfulness, exercise programs, workshops on how to make money and become self-sufficient, cooking lessons, debating skills, learning technical skills, and so on. Some countries like Sweden have already started on this and had great success:

In reality, free will is an illusion. People are just products of their genes, upbringing, and environment.

The environment

If you lived in a time where poisonous lead was being spewed into the air, you would have acted more violently. It has that effect on the brain. If you grew up in an abusive family, chances are you will become abusive. People overcome their situations, but the odds are stacked against them. Raising children in a healthy, happy home with both parents is the best chance of them being successful in life. The environment has that much effect on us, and especially in the early years.


Genes are the other factor that influences the choices we can make. They predispose some people to addictions such as alcoholism or gambling problems. Some people are more violent. Some are psychopathic. They are just born that way:

“They don’t respond to distress in others and to punishment the same way as other kids,” Paul Frick, chair of the department of psychology at the University of New Orleans

Our upbringing

Neil Strauss

I remember the example of Neil Strauss, a self-described relationship coach (also known as a pickup artist). In his second book “The Truth”, Neil describes how he spent a lifetime trying to understand why he could not stay in a relationship. He went to rehab, travelled the world to speak to relationship gurus, even tried his hand at polygamy, sex clubs and new age sexuality to find the perfect life, but at the end, it turned out the problem was inside not outside. It had to do with his relationship with his mother. His repeated the same pattern of cheating over and over again until he managed to get help and find the root problem and solve it. Figuring this out helped him to resolve his intimacy issues and marry the love of his life. He now has happily married and has a daughter.

If he was in an Islamic state, he would have been killed for adultery. He wouldn’t be a role model, a person now calling people to look deep inside and better themselves.

In the book “After The Affair” by Janis Spring I saw the same pattern. In childhood, many times either the husband or wife had suffered from sexual abuse, a distant parent, or other types of unhealthy attachment or emotional abuse or abandonment. When they sat down and dealt with their past with the help of a therapist, they ended up after the adultery with a marriage that was twice as good as the one before. Should they have been stoned to death for their ‘crime’?

Orthodox Islam is based on an inferior, outdated understanding of human psychology. Because we have made so much progress now yet Islam is stuck in time in the 7th century, with laws that make neither made sense in today’s world nor in the world they were borne in. They are a product of a flawed mind who could not see outside his situation and circumstances. Not from God.

In conclusion

It makes no sense to “punish” people. It makes sense to help them, to reform them. This is the direction we need to go as a society. To help people, not hurt them.

Worth watching: The Dark Side of Free Will

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