There is no free will.
The past cannot be altered. The past is where we live; what we call “the present” slips (even at this moment) into the past too quickly for “the present” (where free will might be possible) to really exist; the future does not yet exist, so no free will is possible there, either.
Human consciousness sits in a cinema–watching history unfold as from a single spool— the single spool (the movie) the unique and singular ‘what is.’ As various as the world seems to be, it is but one thing happening one way, and we have no free will to change it. The “movie” represents nature, physical existence, all we cannot change, but can only watch; the planets, the stars, nature, the animals: the physical universe existing in time, all these things are “in” the movie, as well as our physical selves.
We cannot leap into an actual film we happen to be watching—for as real as it seems to us, it is only a record; it belongs to the past and we have no way to change what is happening in the film. Life works the same way; just as we cannot join the cast of a movie we are watching, in the same way we are helpless to change life: free will is an illusion, and this has been demonstrated conclusively by the simple fact that we live in the past.
If we accept there is no free will, the remarkable claim of this essay’s title will be easily understood.
The only difference between a Christian and a secularist at this point, is that the Christian believes that whoever made the film is good—that whatever or whoever is responsible for the spool of existence unfolding before our souls—who sit helplessly in the theater—cares.
Human knowledge is too limited to know anything of the filmmaker—and this is a scientific fact; all we can do is speculate that the spool-maker is indifferent to our fate—or not.
The former view—the universe is indifferent—is generally thought to be scientific, the latter, religious; but actually both comprise guessing about what is completely unknown; from our helpless position in the theater, watching the record of pure physical existence unfold as what-has-already-happened, we have no way of determining the nature of the spool-maker: for we ‘live’ in the absolute past of the spool; the spool-maker’s nature is beyond our reach—and science causes us to recognize this. So a benevolent film projector is as good a guess as any. This scientific guess is at the heart of Christianity. The Christ story and all the scriptures fall apart without this initial premise: The Creator is good.
The Christ story is most significant for belonging to the past; it cannot be altered, and here it lies in the same realm as life, which also belongs to the past. The Christ story is like a film within a film; like life, it is beyond free will; it exists in the past, like our childhood.
The Christ story does not have to be “real;” the Christ story is simply the figurative expression of a past which is also beyond our free will but which has one perceptual difference from the spool of physical existence—it is governed by the premise that the spool is made by something or someone who loves us. Since we have no way of knowing the nature of the spool-maker, the scientific guess can only be expressed in a figurative manner—by a story belonging to the absolute past: nothing about religious stories escape the absolute past. Christ is past tense, just as life is.
Understanding the radical nature of the pastness of the past—and how this aspect of our existence prevents any thing approaching free will to exist—allows us to see how scientific religion actually is, since without any free will, science is far less important than supposed.
Without free will, science as we commonly understand it cannot exist, since science implies changing our environment for the better. Science exists as science in the present, but religion exists in the present as superstition; but if the present does not exist, the past favors religion and causes science as a willed phenomenon to disappear, since the all-existing past cannot contain any human will, it being only a record, a film experienced by our souls sitting passively in a theater, falsely believing the unspooling of ‘reality ‘ to be something in our control.
Our position as a theater audience with no free will is a scientific hypothesis, and therefore a speculation that the spool maker is good and that we have no free will—the religious view—is actually highly scientific, if but a highly scientific guess, since a guess is all science is allowed (scientifically) to have, when it comes to the origins and absolute nature of the universe.
Now it may be argued that even if we accept fate as our fate, and that even if we admit that life ‘just happens’ and there is, in fact, no free will, this does not mean that science cannot positively effect change—look at the advances in medicine, just to take one example. Ignorance withers away under the lynx-eye of science, and since science has improved man’s lot in specific ways, we must assume science participates in free will.
But now, in the simplest manner possible, we must say what science is: the first “scientist” simply noticed something by accident, and this is all science really is, especially inductive, trial-and-error, Baconian science, which overthrew the Dark Ages model of Aristotle’s deductive, ‘lawful,’ fixed-star science.
A prehistoric caveman notices a rock precariously balanced on the top of a cliff and speculates it will fall on him; had he not accidentally seen this, he would have been crushed by the rock—is this free will? No, it is simply the physical universe fatefully unfolding.
Science is nothing more than an accidental seeing.
Later, one man happens to see a mosquito bite another man, and like the caveman and the precariously perched rock, a future event is predicted, medicine advances, science triumphs; yet science, as we can see, is just fate allowing us to notice certain things purely by accident—think of how all scientific discoveries in history are by rule, accidents, from the apple falling on Newton’s head to the various botched experiments in labs which lead to new understanding; these are not figurative tales; accident is really how science proceeds; and now the truth of science, of what science really is, flashes upon our souls; there is nothing scientific about science at all—it is happy accident, and nothing more.
Science has nothing to do with free will.
The Space Race wasn’t science; it was war—Russia and the U. S. racing to develop missiles and rockets; the moon merely higher ground, a tactical position in a rivalry.
Did the moon rocks brought back (many, many years ago, now) by the Apollo astronauts contain the key to understanding the universe? No. Science is no closer to understanding the universe. It is a truism that the more we learn, the less we know; the more science learns about the true nature of the universe, the less science knows about the true nature of the universe.
Science is an accidental seeing which, if the scientist is very lucky, leads to some practical, perhaps even temporary, result. This is not to say that science is not vital and beneficial: but philosophically, science is far more mundane than the lay person realizes; the best of science belongs to trial-and-error, and the greatest scientific advances are due to persistence, thinking, sweat—but mostly accident.
So here we are, without free will, sitting in the “cinema” and watching “life” (the film) go by. We have no control of what is happening in the movie (the world, life , the universe) though occasionally we have the illusion that free will exists. Science, which owes its successes to accident, to mere after-the-fact observation, is no help for the soul which sits helplessly in the cinema and longs to control its fate.
We watch ourselves, helplessly. We do the wrong thing, even though we tell ourselves over and over again not to do it. Our life—how strange!—belongs to someone else.
Every crisis in life is a crisis of free will—we are shocked to discover that what we specifically told ourselves not to do we have gone and done, and we have done so, tragically, because deep in our hearts we long for free will, and this is the only way it can be experienced: we did what we shouldn’t have done— we did it, even though we were not supposed to do it; the act itself may or may not itself be of great importance, but what matters is that our act seems, in our soul, even if unconsciously, to partake of free will.
Love is of primary importance here, because when we are really in love, and not just gas-bagging about it, or just playing at it, we are utterly helpless and acutely aware of how we cannot do anything about the movie we are watching: we cannot make the person we are madly in love with, love us, and when they say it is over, for any number of reasons stated or unstated, we can only watch helplessly “the film” which breaks our hearts: the love now belongs to the past—and this fact makes us aware of life’s awful problem: ‘life happens’ and there’s nothing we can do about it, even as it causes us intense pain. The pain is mostly due to the fact that we cannot do anything about it; we are brought to understand that we—who we really are, our souls—merely sit helplessly in a cinema watching all that is bodily and physical and material march forward, irregardless of what we might think or feel. Love gone wrong brings us face to face with our lack of free will, a fact we never want to face, because if we understand it too well, our motivation to live will disappear, and we will numbly ‘go through the motions,’ moving through life as a mere shell, hiding as best we can our nightmare emptiness from everyone.
The life of the scientist—results hinging on ‘accident,’ is no help to us, because this is the very thing that is breaking our heart, now that love has been lost: reducing our sacred love to an ‘accident’ is a concept which breaks our already broken heart.
And yet, this is one way to heal: the love we loved was an accident and maybe an accident will happen again. And further, our lover who left us has no free will, either; they did not really reject us, for they belong to mere accident, too. And so, from the idea that the best life can be is an accident; by this rather haphazard notion, we are comforted.
The accidental nature of science is its triumph, its happiness, its ebullience, its optimistic seeking-power, its joy. Perceiving accident as the soul of science would seem to demean it; but in fact this is not the case. We do not intend to demean science. Not at all.
Religion, however, is more imaginative, less accidental, and closer to what we think of as true scientific thinking.
Religion scorns the accidental nature of scientific inquiry, and here we see the chief difference between science and religion. They are oil and water. They do not mix.
Yet free will belongs to neither.
The choice is between the accidental and the changeless.
The changeless is the sacred fact religion seeks; the accidental, the necessary realm of practical science.
Whatever belongs to the past is changeless, and this is why sacred religion always belongs to a changeless past: the Christ story would not be sacred if we changed it all the time; it is the fixed past of Christianity, or any religion, which is the key to its sacred nature.
Love will help illustrate the difference:
Truly and madly in love, we want that love forever. We seek, religiously, the changeless.
Out of love and broken-hearted, we seek something else: hope in the accidental.
Desperately in and out of love, seeking to understand everything, we are religious.
Patient and calmly happy, ignorant of love’s slings, we are scientific.