Monday, May 12, 2014


They may have grumbled about it, but most of my friends have been willing to put up with my lack of belief in God.  But nearly all of them have been less tolerant of my lack of belief in free will.  I have written about my objections to free will before and if you are interested, you may want to check out my prior post on the subject of choice.  I’m not going to try to repeat the points I made in that essay, but I did want to deal here with one argument that my friends have made.  They have said that, as a practical matter, my belief that I do not have free will makes life ultimately meaningless.  What is the point of anything, they’ve said, if everything is laid out for us, if the end has already been determined, and if we have no actual control over our lives?

But of course I don’t feel helpless, and I am not in despair.  And that is true despite the fact that both intellectually and emotionally I am comfortable with the knowledge that I have no true choice.  I thought an analogy might help explain.  

I am a big fan of the cinema.  When I go to a movie, I know intellectually that the movie has already been shot, that the ultimate ending has already been determined and that we are simply watching that play out. Even so, if the movie is a good one, if it speaks honestly to the human condition, and if the acting is good, I can get caught up in the characters and the plot and am simply enjoying the story unfold. I don't whine and think that this is just a colossal waste of time since the end has already been “determined.”  The fact that it has certainly doesn’t spoil my movie experience.  

I feel the same way about the lack of free will.  My life can be like watching a great movie, except the experience is a lot better because I am a participant in the action, an actor in the performance, if you will.  Moreover, (to get a little technical for a moment) I believe that quantum indeterminacy actually adds to the drama and suspense by making the outcome fundamentally uncertain. True, as a participant I am not writing the script, I am just following it.  But the script, in some sense, is still in the process of being written.  And right now I am really enjoying the “show."

© 2014 John M. Phillips


  1. Nice analogy. I would try to mount some sort of an argument, but I haven't the will...

    1. Clever. I guess your answer speaks for itself.