Free will: a ponderous question to be considered May 19 and 20

It’s a question under upheaval as neuroscience creates increased understanding of the brain: are we free to determine our own paths and beliefs?

The community is invited to gain greater understanding on the topic of free will, and how it impacts one’s life, by attending presentations by leading theologians during a Loma Linda University conference May 19 and 20.

The discussion — a significant one in a society that presupposes free will to form its understandings of law, religion and ethics — will be presented in an accessible manner for the well-read layperson.

Friday evening, May 19, at 7:30 p.m., Philip Clayton, PhD, will offer his viewpoints in a lecture titled “Science, Ethics and Free Will: Why Neuroscience Doesn’t Ground Freedom, and What We Might Choose to Do About It.” Clayton holds the Ingraham Professorship of Theology at Claremont School of Theology. He has published numerous books, including two related to human freedom: Mind and Emergence: From Quantum to Consciousness and In Quest of Freedom: The Emergence of Spirit in the Natural World.

Saturday afternoon, May 20, at 3 p.m., Thomas Oord, PhD, will share his perspective in a presentation titled “Genuine Freedom for Creatures and for a God of Love.” Oord is a professor of theology at Northwest Nazarene University, as well as an award-winning author. He has written or edited more than 20 books, including, related to the topic of free will, Creation Made Free: Open Theology and Science.

Oord’s talk will be followed by a panel discussion.

Both lectures take place at Damazo Amphitheater in Loma Linda University’s Centennial Complex, 24760 Stewart St., Loma Linda.

The conference is sponsored by the Humanities Program, which is housed in LLU’s School of Religion and directed by James Walters, PhD, professor of religion.

Neuroscience is increasingly discovering traces of conscious thought in the subconscious brain, according to Walters, who said, “What that new knowledge means for individual human responsibility in both ethics and religion could be profound.”

The conference will aim to find practical suggestions for how the contemporary Christian can make sense of this topic in light of popular press descriptions of free will as an illusion.

“Through interdisciplinary scholarship, the conference will candidly grapple with new knowledge coming out of neuroscience,” Walters said. 

Clayton’s and Oord’s lectures will be the main highlights of the two-day conference for the public, but several other sessions will take place during which scholars of expertise ranging from psychiatry to ethics to theology will present papers. To learn more about the full conference, call 909-558-5925 or email Magi Armany at