Does free will exist?

(Pinched off another board)

Or is everything we do pre-destined through a cause of chain and effect going back to the beginning of time?

If you knew all the causes and timings of them, could you predict exactly what would happen in every respect due to the way these things would interact?

Do I have any actual choice in whether or not to post this thread, or am I always going to do so as a result of a combination of circumstances which predictably put me in front of the computer typing this at this point?

This topic is one that inevitably leads to endless and usually fruitless debate basically because there is little agreement about what it means to have “free will” or how to define it properly. What is “will?” How exactly does it differ between being “free” and “not free?” Another problem is that the idea of “cause” is used in too loose a way. There are several kinds of “cause” such as the “immediate cause” (e.g. a filament glowing that lights up a room), the “underlying cause” (e.g. resistance to electrical current heating up the filament), the “efficient cause” (e.g. switching the light on) and the “ultimate cause” (e.g. my desire to see better in a darkened room).

No. Not even in principle. First, there is a branch of mathematics called Chaos Theory that is deeply relevant. In essence, its message is that there are so-called “chaotic dynamical systems” that are extremely sensitive to initial conditions, the archetype being weather systems. This means that a tiny, tiny change in the initial conditions can result in vastly different outcomes in the longer term – the “butterfly in Borneo making a tornado in Texas” effect. The point to understand here is that the butterfly in Borneo flapping its wings doesn’t so much cause the tornado; rather, it can make the difference between there being a tornado and there not being one because it affects the initial conditions very slightly.

Second, the above chaos effect means that in order to predict perfectly any effect to any point in the future, one must know the initial (or present) conditions with infinite precision. Also, one must be able to compute with infinite precision. However, one result from physics (the Von Neumann-Landauer energy limit) sets a tiny, but non-zero minimum energy requirement for manipulating information. This in turn means that infinite-precision computation will require an infinite amount of energy. The total free energy available in the universe is, as far as we presently know, limited, so infinite precision can’t even get off the ground.

Finally, there’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which sets insurmountable limits on how accurately certain so-called “complementary pairs” can be determined simultaneously. Here, the archetype pair is the position and the momentum of a particle: one cannot measure both of these quantities simultaneously with arbitrary precision. Knowing one of them precisely removes all knowledge about the other, but both can be known with a little bit of fuzziness about their exact values. This is not a defect in our measuring technology but appears to be a basic fact of nature.

All of the above puts a limit on what we can know about the universe at any given moment. It thereby prevents us from knowing exactly how things will actually develop. Still, that does not mean that there aren’t certain things that can be predicted with great certainty. Clearly, there are many such. Without them, science would not have been possible.


The idea of free will seems accepted by society, and we are burdened by the responsibility of our actions and decisions. For instance, we assume, in most cases, that crimes are committed out of free will, and thus justify locking up or even executing criminals accordingly.

If someone can demonstrate how our will and actions are at the mercy of physics and chemistry, I expect the social implications will be profound.


This is so true. I once had a discussion with someone and got on the subject of the problem of evil. This person was so quick and eager to tell me about free will etc. and before you know it she had dug a hole too deep to get out! In the end, her conclusion was that all the bad stuff that people do was because of “free will” and all the good stuff was because of their god’s guidance! (This is where the Skype (headbang) emoticon would be appropriate)

For all intents and purposes we do have free will. In as much that we have the illusion of being able to make choices. One is thus also responsible for one’s choices and the outcomes. I am very happy to accept that.

Free Will for me is a non issue (like solipsism) unless it is the canard played to answer the problem from evil. Which is where one usually finds it outside deep philisophical discussions.

And then all one needs to point out is that with omniscience, one simply can not have this elusive free will.

If God knows what choice you will make, like she has to if she were to be rightly called omniscient, you can not change that choice. It is thus not a choice. At all.

Omniscience is infinite knowledge of everything that is logically knowable. Knowledge is a property of mind and is the understanding of information. Omniscience is the understanding of all knowledge that is knowable.
This include all past, present and future events and information of events.

Omniscience is argued to be one of the properties of God. Thus, God, being present everywhere AND in all of time (omnipresent), also knows the outcome of ALL possible outcomes (omniscience). He is also omnipotent and can do whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer (omnipotence). Thus it is possible that God can grant every single agent the free will to choose whatever the agent wants. Thus, the purpose of agents can be argued to be to exercise their own free will.

Because God knows ALL the possible outcomes of every single one of our choices, it does not mean you only have one choice or no free will in our choice, just that the outcome of your choice is known, no matter what we choose. Thus, it can be argued that omniscience and granting free will are not contradictory.

There are two gaping holes in the above “argument.” Who can spot them?


Which means Free Will is out the door. If you know a future event and it does not come to pass, you didn’t know the future event as well as you would have liked to think you did. And if it invariably does, there is no Free Will.

Thus, it can be argued that omniscience and granting free will are not contradictory.
Only with a few mental gymnastics and redefining of terms.

Are you talking about God’s free will or God granting free will to contingent beings?

God has Free Will? Free Will can be granted?

I am talking about Free Will being in logical contradiction with Omniscience.

I don’t know, perhaps. Metaphysics for you?

Why not? One might argue between two types of free will. Necessary and contingent. Perhaps we were granted contingent free will because we are contingent beings? You might argue that is not true free will because we can not choose to exist for infinity. Does this mean we do not have the free will to decide on the choices given to us everyday?
You do have the choice and free will to be the author of your actions right?

Is it a contradiction for contingent beings (us)? You might argue God can’t have free will because God already knows everything and can therefore not have free will to not know certain things. Why can’t God grant free will to contingent beings, even if it is only contingent?

Because if God knows I am going to make a certain choice on a certain day, I can not not make that choice. So I have no choice. Thus no Free Will.

Say you have choices X1 to X10000000 (make it infinity or 2 if you want). You will choose a certain choice between X1 to X10000000 (infinity or 2 if you want). God knows this as well as the outcome of this choice. Does this mean you don’t have a choice between X1 to X10000000 (infinity or 2 if you want) and thus no free will?

Indeed it does.

If God knows out of 2, or a 100, or a thousand, or a million or an infinity of choices, I will make choice X, THEN I HAVE TO MAKE CHOICE X NO MATTER WHAT AND MY FREEDOM OF CHOICE DOES NOT EXIST.

This is the logical contradiction of Free Will and Omniscience. And in this universe and existence, contradictions does not exist.

If Free Will exists, God deosn’t exist. :wink:

Whether Free Will actually exists is another question all together and one I am happy to not break my head over. At the very least the illusion thereof exists and I’ll live with that.

Who said you WILL make choice X when it is argued that God knows you will make any of the X1 to X10000000 (make it infinity or 2 if you want) choices. Not just one particular one.

God says so.

If she knows I will make choice X, then I can not not make choice X. Otherwise by any defintion, she didn’t know!

It really is that simple.

Omniscience: Infinite knowledge of everything that is logically knowable.
Free will of contingent beings: Having more than 1 choice in a situation.

At time T1, contingent agent A has choices X1 and Xi (i>=2).
Omniscience implies that one is AWARE of all the choices granted to an agent and the outcome of the choice being exercised by an agent.
It is argued that because choices X1 and Xi (i>=2) and the free will to choose ANY of them are given, that it is logically unknowable to know the outcome of an agent’s choice with free will. However, omniscience still implies the knowledge of the outcome of ANY choice, even though it is logically unknowable which choice will be made.

It most definately can be argued that omniscience and granting free will are not contradictory.

Only when you redefine omniscience like you just did. :stuck_out_tongue:


If you don’t know the choice, it ain’t complete.

But lets work with yours for a sec:

It is logically knowable (whatever the fuck that means) to know which choice agent A will make under which circumstances. If one knows the circumstances, one knows the choice. God knows at least the circumstances as they too seem logically knowable (whatever the fuck that means).

If one knows the choice to be made, agent A has no Free Will.

btw under logically knowable it seems the knowledge of the choice one makes, squarely and comfortably resides as well. ie She has to KNOW as it is LOGICALLY KNOWABLE. This might be merely because it is a vacuous choice of words. (if you’ll pardon the pun)


Lost your train of thought between all the ****?

Not at all. My train just bulldozed through the fuzzy logic into clear skies of beyond!

Why don’t you explain to some of the interested people here, namely me for one, how future “knowledge” of things that haven’t occurred are to be considered “logically knowable”?? ???

The things you make up as you go along is truly as astounding as it is hilarious.