The sticking point is not that events are 'reliably caused,' but 'fixed as a matter of natural law.'
The notion of "fixed as a matter of natural law" is a metaphor for "reliably caused". The Earth and the Sun do not actually go to a Law Library to figure out what they should do. They were already doing it. The Laws of Physics describe the force of gravity between two masses which is how we predict where the Earth will be in relation to the Sun on a given date.
All of the causation is found in the objects and the forces that make up the physical universe. The "Laws of Nature" describe behavior that is so reliable that it is AS IF they were obeying laws.
In the SEP article on Causal Determinism
, its author, Carl Hoefer puts it this way:
Carl Hoefer said:
“In the physical sciences, the assumption that there are fundamental, exceptionless laws of nature, and that they have some strong sort of modal force, usually goes unquestioned. Indeed, talk of laws ‘governing’ and so on is so commonplace that it takes an effort of will to see it as metaphorical.”  (SEP)
For more on this point, see my post Determinism: What’s Wrong, and How to Fix It
in the section "Delusion, by Metaphor".
The issue is wording that implies control, such as ''we decide for ourselves what we will do'' - when information processing happens unconsciously and we experience to the report.
1. Information processing is performed by our own working brains, and by no other objects in the physical universe. Choosing what we will do is a specific example of that information processing. Thus, it is empirically accurate to say that "we decide for ourselves what we will do".
2. Whether the decision making involves conscious awareness, or whether it is performed unconsciously and then reported to conscious awareness, does not change the empirical fact that it is our own brain that is deciding what we will do next.
3. The prior causes of us must first become an integral part of us in order to participate in the decision making process. Our parents cannot choose for us any longer what we will order in the restaurant. If they made the choice then the waiter would bring them the bill. But it is only their prior influences on our dietary choices that remain as part of our own reasons and our own choices. And the fact that the choice was our own accounts for why the waiter brings us the bill, and not them.
''We decide for ourselves' gives the impression of conscious regulative control where none exists, an ability to have done otherwise - ''we decide for ourselves' - where no such ability exists within a determined system.
Regulative control is the ability to decide what happens next. Deciding what we will order for dinner is regulative control of what the waiter and the chef will do next.
If you are correct that our brains perform information processing, and one of these processes is deciding what we will have for dinner, then "we decide for ourselves what we will have for dinner" is an empirical fact that cannot be dismissed or ignored.
The "ability to do otherwise" is part of the information processing that performs choosing. Choosing is a logical and deterministic operation in which two or more options are input, an appropriate criteria for comparative evaluation is applied, and a single choice is output.
By logical necessity, there must be at least two options input, and we must be able to choose either one. Thus, there will always be at least two "I can's" ("I can choose A" is true and "I can choose B" is also true), before choosing begins. And, at the end there will be a single "I will" and at least one "I could have (but didn't)".
Because the choosing process happens within a deterministic world, and is itself fully deterministic, the ability to do otherwise is necessarily consistent with a deterministic world.
Choosing happens. And within a deterministic world, it necessarily happens.
It is decided for us microseconds before we are even aware of what we are going to think or do.
Irrelevant. Whether decided consciously, or decided unconsciously and then reported to conscious awareness, choosing is happening, and we are doing the choosing.
Actions are fixed regardless of external elements acting upon us.
All events, whether internal or external, are reliably caused by someone or something.
External elements constantly act upon us in the form of information acquired by the senses, an interaction of inputs, architecture and memory. What we do is a result of not only external forces, someone holding a gun at your head, but information interactions over which you have no control.
It is not necessary for me to control each neuron inside my brain in order for me to exercise control over myself and other things. I exercise control by simply being my brain as it chooses what I will do.
Acting according to your will is simply that. Being forced against your will is nothing than that. We have will, but our will is not free. We can act according to our will, but this is not an example of free will.
An example of free will is choosing for ourselves what we will do. We may have many competing wants and desires at any time, such as when we're browsing a restaurant menu, and we must choose from these multiple wants and desires the single thing that we will do.
Choosing what we will do sets our intent upon a specific goal, and that intention motivates and directs our actions as we pursue that goal. When that intent is satisfied, we move on to something else. This is all a deterministic process, of course. But it is also us choosing what we will do and then doing it.
Us, choosing for ourselves what we will do, is called a "freely chosen will", or simply "free will". And it is a deterministic event, just like every other event.
“It might be true that you would have done otherwise if you had wanted, though it is determined that you did not, in fact, want otherwise.” - Robert Kane
And the specific causal mechanism that determined what I would do was "me choosing to do it". And that remains an empirical fact even if you try to hide that specific fact in generalities or if you try to reduce it to neurons or chemistry or physics. It's still "me", it's still "choosing", and it's still "me choosing to do it".
Universal causation is the very foundation of the issue. It's absolutely relevant.
Sorry, but free will happens to be one of the things that is included within universal causal necessity. So, universal causal necessity is not relevant to the question of whether we have free will or not.
Free will is when we decide for ourselves what we will do, while free of coercion and other forms of undue influence. It requires nothing supernatural. It makes no claims to being uncaused. It simply makes an important empirical distinction between us choosing what we will do versus someone or something else forcing us to do something that we would not ordinarily choose to do ourselves.
Determinism by definition means fixed actions and fixed outcomes.
Which is irrelevant when all actions and all outcomes qualify as "fixed". All of the useful information is found in the specifics of who or what is fixing the actions and fixing the outcomes.
For example, if the casino owners are fixing the game, then we will complain that the game is unfair to the players. But if the customer's own choices are responsible for his losses, then no one complains.
Determinism itself is never a causal agent. The waiter in the restaurant will never bring the bill to Determinism. But, because the customer's order is the responsible cause of the chef's work and the cost of the ingredients, the customer will be billed, despite the fact that all of the events, as always, were causally necessary from any prior point in eternity.
We don't choose because 'reliable cause and effect' is somehow our friend and ally.
Reliable causation in itself is neutral. It has no skin in the game. But without reliable causation we could neither walk, nor talk, nor think, nor chew gum.
We do precisely what was determined by events beyond our awareness or control....
No. That's clearly false. Most of what we do is determined by our own awareness, our own thoughts and feelings, our own genetic disposition and prior life experiences, etc.
All of these elements certainly have prior causes, but all of these elements are now us. And it is us that is doing the choosing.
You attempt to bury us in our prior causes despite the fact that they are gone and we are still here. They exist no where "beyond our awareness or control", because they are presently located in us.
what the world is doing to the brain, how the brain responds to its inputs, its non-chosen condition,, architecture, life experience/memory.
Causal necessity guarantees that some will be chosen and some will be not chosen.
''Each person is born into a social and cultural setting
—family, community, social class, language, religion—and eventually develops many social connections.
The characteristics of a child's social setting affect how he or she learns to think and behave, by means of instruction, rewards and punishment, and example. This setting includes home, school, neighborhood, and also, perhaps, local religious and law enforcement agencies.
Then there are also the child's mostly informal interactions with friends, other peers, relatives, and the entertainment and news media. How individuals will respond to all these influences, or even which influence will be the most potent, tends not to be predictable.
There is, however, some substantial similarity in how individuals respond to the same pattern of influences—that is, to being raised in the same culture. Furthermore, culturally induced behavior patterns, such as speech patterns, body language, and forms of humor, become so deeply imbedded in the human mind that they often operate without the individuals themselves being fully aware of them.''
Yes. And as the child forms their own identity, they will accept some influences and reject others. One of the functions of mind is to screen influences to maintain some consistencies in the person's own developing character and self-image. The child is not passive during this process.
The laws of physics and the objects and events of the world are doing the determining, beginning with the Big Bang and star and planet formation, emergence of life on Earth...and eventually here we are arguing with the aid of computers.
The objects and the forces are causing the events. The "laws" of the science are describing reliable patterns of behavior, for example, the effect of the force of gravity upon the masses of two objects, or the effect of a mother's love and attention upon her child's early development.
We happen to be one of those objects that go about in the world causing events to happen. The "laws" never cause or fix anything, they simply describe the reliable patterns of behavior that have been observed.
You may not have a gun at your head, yet you have no control over what goes on inside your head to produce your thoughts and actions.
I do not need to control the neurons if I am the neurons. I do not need to control my thoughts if I am those thoughts. I know that I control my deliberate actions by choosing to do them.
We have the illusion of control, the illusion of free will....an illusion that is exposed when things go wrong with the wiring.
The choosing is not an illusion. It is a causally necessary physical event.
Whether the choosing was our own, or coerced, or insane (the wiring), is an empirical distinction determined by objective evidence. So, the location of the control is not an illusion, but a matter of empirical fact.
''It seems obvious
that we exist in the present. The past is gone and the future has not yet happened, so where else could we be? But perhaps we should not be so certain.
Sensory information reaches us at different speeds, yet appears unified as one moment. Nerve signals need time to be transmitted and time to be processed by the brain. And there are events – such as a light flashing, or someone snapping their fingers – that take less time to occur than our system needs to process them. By the time we become aware of the flash or the finger-snap, it is already history.''
That's the nice thing about short-term memory, the present is not infinitely small, but durable at least for a short time. Time enough for us to make sense of things, without worrying about finger-snaps or lights flashing.
Because all events are always reliably caused by prior events, this logical fact tells us nothing useful. While it is a logical fact, it is neither a meaningful nor a relevant fact. It cannot help us to make any decisions, because all it can tell us is that whatever we decide will have been inevitable.
It cannot be used to excuse any behavior, because if it excuses one thing then it excuses everything. If it excuses the thief then it also excuses the judge who cuts off his hand, or the mob that strings him up. It excuses revenge and retribution and torture.
''Because most behavior is driven by brain networks we do not consciously control, the legal system will eventually be forced to shift its emphasis from retribution to a forward-looking analysis of future behavior. In the light of modern neuroscience, it no longer makes sense to ask "was it his fault, or his biology's fault, or the fault of his background?", because these issues can never be disentangled. Instead, the only sensible question can be "what do we do from here?" -- in terms of customized sentencing, tailored rehabilition, and refined incentive structuring.''
Have you heard the term "rehabilitation"? It is a "forward-looking analysis of future behavior". And it did not arise from the determinism versus free will debate. Nor did the problem of retributive justice arise from the silly philosophical paradox.
The goal to replace retribution with a more practical notion of justice, one that includes an opportunity for rehabilitation, came from our own moral evolution, and is supported by the social sciences. It comes from applying pragmatism and empiricism to the justice system.
The notion that people lack control over their actions is contrary to the notion of rehabilitation. The point of rehabilitation is to provide the offender with better options and to motivate the offender to make better choices in the future. Telling the offender that he "could not have done otherwise", in the past, logically implies that he will have no ability to do otherwise in the future, because his future is already fixed by his past.
This anti-free-will movement is built upon a faulty foundation of metaphors and figurative thinking. It is better to see it as the hoax it is now, than to suffer from seeing it undermine everything later.