greybeta: (Star Wars - Admiral Akbar)
Recently, I made the mistake of commenting on the age-old debate of free will versus determinism on a friend’s Facebook note the other day. I should know well enough to leave well enough alone, but I just couldn’t help myself. You see, this friend posted a series of lengthy forum posts on why we lack free will. I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the fallacious logic used to promote determinism.

Deterministic View
Point 1: God is all-knowing.
Sub Point 1: God knows everything that's going to happen.
Sub Point 2: God is always right.

Conclusion: Everything has to happen the way God knows it will, or God would be wrong.
If God is all-powerful, then he could have made the world in any way he chose. Assuming God is all-knowing, this means that God knew the outcomes of each kind of world that he would build.

This means that God decided what we would do before he made the world (this jives with what Christians say; God has a plan, right?). He chose this exact path of history, down to what shirt you wore yesterday. If that's true, then there is no way that we can have free will. God already chose everything for us.

Free Will View
God granted us the right to make our choices in life.

D2’s View
There are many ways to resolve free will versus determinism. Someone came up with the idea of “soft” determinism, for example, to try to make the two ideas compatible. But that is not the interesting case. No, the interesting cases are where one idea directly opposes the other.

Here’s an example I’ve heard. Say you roll a dice. You know the outcome must be an integer value ranging from one to six. Does knowing all those outcomes prevent you from throwing the dice?

Perhaps you’ve watched the Matrix trilogy. If you haven’t, allow me to spoil the following exchange for you.


Neo Vs. Agent Smith
Free Will vs. Determinism



Agent Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Yes? No? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson. You must know it by now. You can't win. It's pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why do you persist?
Neo: Because I choose to.

Of course, a determinist might argue that we’re merely programmed to believe we have free will. Alright, how about a Buddhist koan?

One day, a student of Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi confronted him at Sokoji, in his office, and said, “If you believe in freedom why do you keep your bird locked up in a cage?” Suzuki Roshi went over and opened the door of the cage and the bird flew out of the cage and out of the window. It is said that then Shunryu Suzuki turned to the student and said “That bird is free – you owe me a bird.”

Also, look at our legal system. Our legal system is predicated on the theory that we have free will. We punish people for making poor choices. After all, if that weren’t the case, we shouldn’t charge anyone with a crime because they were meant to do it. Oh, I know, we’re meant to punish those that were meant to commit those crimes.

All that being said, if determinism works for you, then more power to you. However, I’m determined to believe that free will triumphs over determinism. You’re always free to disagree.

Maktub. It is written.

July 2009

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