I used to believe in the idea of free will when I was a Christian (more specifically a Jehovah’s Witness). I believed that Jehovah God had given us the ability to choose our paths: if we wanted to be saved and pass God’s test to be rewarded with eternal life or turn our backs on Him and His son Jesus Christ and face the consequences of it. Do I want to be a career military man or a politician (both of which are forbidden in the Witness faith)? Do I want to marry her or leave her in hopes of finding someone else? Do I want to die from old age or should I take it into my own hands when I feel I am ready?
I also believed He had given us the ability to not only choose our paths, but to directly choose our individual and everyday actions. Do I want tea or pop for lunch (anyone who calls it soda gets banned)? Do I want to go to class or not? Do I want to take that route or another one which may be quicker?
This contradicted the idea of God having a “plan.” If God has a plan that was setup from day one do I really have a choice in the matter or am I just a puppet on a string being thrown around by the marionette of God? After much soul searching, (biblical) research, and uncertainty as to what I believed I eventually began believing that everything had a bigger purpose as was part of God’s plan for humanity.
I did not find it more fulfilling to believe this. I wanted to believe that I had control over my own fate, at least to some extent within God’s creation. This is one of the reason’s I began questioning God and Christianity. If God has a plan for us all where He knows the outcome for everyone on Earth, then can it really be called a test? One could call it theistic determinism or predestination. I just called it “God’s plan.”
When I finally became an atheist, I had scrapped God and the Bible, but what of the other philosophical and ethical questions that came with those things, such as free will vs. determinism (among other such examples)? I had scrapped my idea of theistic determinism/predestination, but I still did not know what I believed or where I stood on the question.
If someone were to ask me at that time if I were a libertarian (someone who believes in free will) or determinist, my response would be, “I don’t know. I’m still searching for answers on that question.” Even compatibilism, the idea that libertarianism and determinism can both be part of the answer, did not describe me. I simply did not know where I was or what I believed.
After more “soul” searching, such as watching YouTube videos and reading blogs and books about the debate, I decided I was a determinist. A secular form of determinism that does not rely upon God and His angels moving the heavens and cosmos, but the laws of physics. I latched onto the idea, not because of any lasting legacies to my theistic days, but because it made sense to me and I truly believed it was correct.
For the longest time I had called myself a determinist. I had encountered many people, theist and atheist alike, who disagreed with me and what I believed, and I had beaten their arguments into the dust for the longest time. They were easy objections to handle. Some easier than others.
It was not until very recently had some started asking questions and poking holes that I could not answer or refute. Even after finding many others and sources who agreed with me, such as Sam Harris’ new book Free Will, which I thought at the time had dealt a deathblow to the idea of free will and had justified myself in the things I could not respond to, some things kept me questioning if I really were right.
As it stands, I do not believe in what people call “free will.” Many people have called that term as ill defined as “god,” and I agreed even before this entire debacle.
I also do not believe in determinism. I think.
If people were to ask me right now at this very instance if I believed in libertarianism or determinism, my honest response would be, “I don’t know. I’m still searching for answers…again.” I don’t think I even believe in compatibilism. I just don’t know where I stand on this issue anymore.
Now does anyone have a problem with me saying that I don’t know what I believe when it comes to determinism or free will?
Then why do people have such a problem with people saying they don’t know when it comes to a god? If someone is asked, “Do you believe in God?” why does their answer have to be yes or no? Why can it not be that they just don’t know?
And before anyone says it, “I don’t know” does not automatically classify them as an atheist (nor a theist). “I don’t know” is not a lack of belief. It is neither a belief or a lack of one. Am I automatically classified as a libertarian since I do not believe in determinism (or vice versa)?
This graphic seems to epitomise the idea that agnostics don’t exist or that agnosticism is simply a qualifier to atheism and theism.
This false dichotomy of atheist vs. theist just does not work. The third choice can legitimately be, “I don’t know.” If “Do you believe God Exists?” is replaced with “Do you believe in free will or determinism (or even compatibilism)?” then why is it acceptable to say “I don’t know” in that instance?
That right there is called an agnostic. Not an agnostic atheist. An agnostic. Plain and simple. They do not claim to have a belief or a lack of belief. They don’t know what they believe. They are going through a transition, much like I am when it comes to determinism and free will. I do not latch onto either of them or their labels. Maybe one day I will be a determinist or a libertarian, but maybe not, and maybe agnostics will be either atheists or theists one day, but right now we are neither.
In an earlier post “The God Question,” I said that the question “Do you believe in God?” only allowed for the answers of yes or no. In case anyone was confused, I only said that because it does seem like this kind of a question only allows two answers. It does not. Just because it seems that way does not make it so, and this might be why many people have bought into the notion of a false dichotomy when it comes to a god and what people think of it, and this is why the question should instead be “What are your thoughts on a god?” This paradigm needs to shift.
As much as it seems like I defend agnostics, I would like to add that I find permanent agnosticism, whether or not one wants to use it as a qualifier to atheism, to be intellectually lazy. Saying that we will never know something is a cop out to avoid thinking about something and looking further into a certain subject. I am temporary, I think, in my search for answers when it comes to determinism and the like. I don’t know though, and that’s alright.