First off let me just say how impressed I have been with all the comments you have made so far on the Readers’ Debate of the week: Does free will exist?
I have noticed that there is an overwhelming consensus that free will does not exist, and to add to that the camp that suggest otherwise tend to argue with the assumption, correct or not, that God exists. There has been little or no debate from a secular point of view declaring that there is such a thing as independent choice, grounding their claim in credible philosophy or science. I believe a convincing case can be made to that extent and I will do my best to outline it.
The view I will present is the one called compatablity, and I have chosen it because it seems to be the consensus of many that we live in a “predetermined” universe and so I will attempt to show that we can be ‘free’ in such conditions.
Before begin I must quickly explain how we can view time as being like a landscape: the terms there, here, to the right, to the left, become relative to the particular hiker on his trail, they are anything but absolute. To that extent time is the same; terms like present, past and future become relative to the person’s position in the continuum. There is an implication associated with this: future, present and past can all exist simultaneously, why: because they are all in effect the same. The only thing that divides time is the artificial divisions that we, people, force it into. Just as an area of land is neither right nor left, though it may appear either to different hikers, time cannot be past or future. Time cannot be intrinsically separated into what has happened and what is yet to happen, that is an illusion caused by our particular perspective: all of time is one course of events that is entirely fixed and has, in effect, already been decided.
Now the hard determinist would say: “indeed, everything has been decreed already, all of the future sealed” and then he might add, almost humorously, “Yes, you see I was destined to say that!” But the determinist has leapt to the conclusion that he spoke because it was so ordained on this unchangeable timeline of eternity, but what if the unchangeable timeline of eternity was so because he spoke? This may at first seem ridiculous: after all, if what I have told you is true and everything has been predetermined; then how could his decision have been freely made seeing as he was simply playing his already ordained role in this grand scheme? Perhaps the best way to explain how our determinist was, in fact, free is to quote a short story on the matter of the future.
Suppose a time traveller named Nick, convinced that a fixed future and human free will are incompatible, decides to strip Max of his free will. Nick shadows Max on June 1st, taking detailed notes on Max’s actions, decisions, utterances, and such, and then travels back to May 31st with his notepad. Nick then attends a social gathering (Max is absent) and recounts for his friends the course of Max’s life on the ‘next’ day, June 1st. After he has finished reading from his notes, Nick proudly proclaims that he has successfully eradicated any ability on Max’s part to act freely the next day –after all, Nick’s notepad will dictate Max’s actions, decisions, and such, and Max is powerless to resist.
However it is clear to me that it is not the notepad dictating Max’s day and his decisions, but Max’s freely chosen decisions determining what is on the notepad. Just because the notepad existed ‘before’ the day began does not mean that it has shaped Max’s future.
Consider the grand scheme of events I have referred to in this essay as the notepad, and remember that because of the strange manner in which we perceive time it is possible for this scheme to gather details of our ‘future.’ However, despite this it is in fact us who exerts a sort of power over our predetermined lives, and decides our fate, just as Max does.
I believe this quotation sums up beautifully the free will which I have tried to prove humans do in fact have:
“I think, to acknowledge that while whatever happens happens inevitably, free-willed beings are free within reason to determine the nature of ‘what happens,”