February 28th, 2011
08:27 AM ET

Fate vs. free will in 'The Adjustment Bureau'

The new movie "The Adjustment Bureau" with Matt Damon aks whether our lives are pre-determined or if we have free will.

CNN's Fredricka Whitfield speaks with the film's screenwriter and a pastor in this week's installment of Faces of Faith.

Watch CNN Newsroom weekdays 9am to 3pm ET and weekends. For the latest from the CNN Newsroom click here.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Celebrity • Christianity • Movies • TV-CNN Newsroom • United States

soundoff (151 Responses)
  1. Bob

    What really amazes me, as an atheist, is the subset of atheists who call themselves skeptics and claim that they have free will. Since our brains are made of atoms and molecules and cells, all which must follow the laws of physics, how do you skeptics explain how thought can control physical matter? It can not. Thoughts arise from physical matter that follow the laws of physics. There can be no free will unless you have a soul. Since there is no soul there is no free will.

    February 28, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Shamrock6

      The universe is much more complex and esoteric than any laws of physics claim to illustrate. Claiming to know everything by the hands of a few scientists makes as much sense as claiming to know everything at the hands of the faithful. They are both equally unaware. Choose to understand or choose not to understand – it makes no difference. Keep searching for the truth though. Don't stop on the doorstep of science....and never rest on the laurels of religion.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Bob: I could've used your help in the other thread on this topic.

      @Shamrock6: That's an awful lot of words used in order to not take a position on the matter.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Butterart

      Shamrock6 – Agreed; claiming to know everything (about fate vs. free will) by a few scientists or believers (or bloggers) isn't enough to resolve this debate. However, I would revise your comment to say, "Keep searching for *your* truth though." because I'm sure you and I don't agree on some of this stuff (which is OK by me). Different beliefs = different truths.

      February 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Don

      Bob, you've really set up a great strawman. Here's a torch so you can burn it and not bother us with your stupidity any more.

      March 1, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  2. WOBH

    Like... How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?... This debate is a meaningless excercise. The movie looks good though.

    February 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Justina

      Wobh, there are meaningless questions such as that, sure, but this fate(predestination) vs. free will is a very significant theological question or a quest, though the answer for us must be experienced in the acknowledging us as created beings. The depth of God's word, the character of Jesus Christ, the size of the known universe, solemn realities regarding mankind, compound beauty of the creation world and music – all contribute to this mystrerious wonder of God's absolute sovereignty and our having free will as a person. Keep pondering, read the Bible, trust in God and be amazed!

      March 1, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • HotAirAce

      It is a meaningless debate because there are no gods so no need to argue about free will. And no need for "But let's pretend that god exists..." hypotheticals 'cause that just encourages believers, delays their deprogramming and wastes atheist's time.

      March 1, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  3. moment-of-faith

    you have 100% free will. It was giving to you by JESUS ..

    February 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Reality

      One more time, as per Father Edward Schillebeeckx, the famous contemporary, Catholic theologian who spent a greater part of his life studying the topic and writing books about it:

      Church: The Human Story of God,
      Crossroad, 1993, p.91 (softcover)

      "Christians (et al) must give up a perverse, unhealthy and inhuman doctrine of predestination without in so doing making God the great scapegoat of history."

      "Nothing is determined in advance: in nature there is chance and determinism; in the world of human activity there is possibility of free choices. Therefore the historical future is not known even to God, otherwise we and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings. For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women."

      i.e. No one, not even god (if one even exists) can prophesy since that would violate the inherent human gifts of Free Will and Future.--

      February 28, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Bob

      The Bible does not say Jesus gave us free will. The Bible is a myth anyhow.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Justina

      Bob, read Luke 12:57 – Jesus calls mankind to exercise free will! Also He acknowledged all of Old Testament where God calls out people to CHOOSE life instead of destruction over and over again. Atheists should really stop making ignorant assumption on religion and start reading the Bible if any of them is serious about life at all. Normal, honest people don't have guts to speak on things they don't know. Rightly so. Atheists are not normal or honest.

      March 1, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • @Justina

      I am a Christian and I take offense at your comment about atheists. While I do not share their views, your statement that they are not normal nor honest is extremely offensive. It is erroneous to paint an entire group of people with the same brush like that. Please refrain from making generalized comments about people. It is very narrow-minded and goes against what our Lord teaches us about loving our neighbors.

      Peace and blessings!
      Micah 6:8

      March 1, 2011 at 7:18 am |
  4. Bob

    There is no such thing as free will as man understands it. Everything we do is a reaction based on our prior experience and our current environmental conditions – we cannot control either one of these so therefore there is no free will. However, the world cannot be predetermined from what we understand about quantum mechanics. So, there is no free will and nothing is predetermined.

    February 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  5. Someone

    Its funny how the response to spritual articles are always the most
    heated and controversial. A lot of you seem intent on bashing christianity and also other religions (though christianity gets the brunt of it cuz most of you don't know much about islam/hindu/buddism/etc. I guess that is due to your exposure to a few months to a few years of sunday school, thinking that you have a full handle on christianity.) The sad thing is that if religion really didn't matter to you, you would've passed by this article and it wouldn't have bothered you so much whether there is fate or free will. The fact that this bothers you in anyway means that either you understand that there must be more but you are confused, or you tried to believe but was hurt while in church or by people that say that they believe in God. For those that are confused, I ask that you research deeper, see really what the bible is saying and not just in portions that you feel like reading or what you need to make a certain point. For those who have been hurt by the church or by the people that say that they believe in God, I apologize in their behalf. I know that I probably didn't partake in that act, but I feel that some of you do need that apology to start the healing process. I hope that someday you will heal and see that God does truly love you. Please understand those that call ourselves christians are terribly flawed and yes we make a lot of mistakes. It's unfortunate, but that is the reason all the more that we need Christ and His forgiveness.

    February 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Bob

      This has nothing to do with religion. Science has proven there is no such thing as free will. This question is about spreading what we know from science. That is it.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  6. Mr Milson

    In a european version of social tale about the times we live in,

    the question of free will and fate comes up and dismissed as a kind of government

    super computer called "fate".,see for example "v for vendetta" 2006 film and a

    graphic novel series with the same name.

    For more serious students of life, any introduction to philosophy will do well

    where the subject of free will and determinism are explored in a scholary fashion.

    February 28, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  7. squashman

    Recent studies using MRI brain scanning have shown that people can subconciously make decisions up to 6 seconds before they are aware of how they will choose. Science has shown that quantum mechanics has certain laws, which scales upwards to atomic and molecular laws. Living beings are merely complex constructs made of these particles. The only thing that can change what happens to us is outside stimuli that alters our current state of being within these strict laws. The only stimuli science has discovered is from other actors following these known laws of nature.

    As such, in order to have true free will, one would need to be capable of altering the laws of quamtum mechanics. This has not been proven, thus science should not assume humans have free will; rather it should be a scientific endeavor to prove or disprove the concept of free will once a suitable hypothesis supporting the existence of free will becomes testable.

    February 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Butterart

      My recollection of quantum mechanics from college thermodynamics is that significant incidents on the atomic and molecular scale may not be as we assume they are at the system level (i.e., human scale level). This possible difference is know as the uncertainty principle. In college we used to calculate the atomic/molecular state as a probability of human-scale state because, obviously, we never really knew the atomic state for sure. It sounds like you're saying atoms and molecules dictate fate, which might lead one to believe god is in the atoms. From my background, I suspect the results you suggest (as we don't have any supporting data) are not as conclusive as you would want us to believe. Assuming what you suggest *is* true, soley by virtue of the uncertainty principle (and the example I gave regarding probability calculations), our existence is free-will. But then, I don't really have an opinion.

      February 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  8. WMesser58

    The whole thing is a fairy-tale that has not more merit than a comic book. The reason religion is worthless is that it does contradict itself in all it says.

    god is either omnipotent or omniscient, or Omni benevolent. There is no such thing and I am constantly amazed at how people will twist, change, re-write, and interpret it to satisfy their own agenda.

    religion will never work because it is fabricated and until the intolerant holy-rollers cease and desist there will always try and kill you to justify their own warped and demented thinking.

    February 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • HZD

      And why should we agree with you? Because you say so? It sounds like you are standing on about as firm of ground as the people you are mocking.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • WMesser58


      I'm not mocking anyone. Merely stating the facts it’s obvious though I struck a cord with you.

      I find it interesting you’d respond to someone you consider unworthy of your time and yet you waste it by replying to something you claim not to believe in. FASANATING

      February 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Carolyn

      Well WM58 ever thought you chose a life to not believe in God or that concept? On a personal note I am sure you will be returning to earth – taking another lap around that Mount Sinai. Good luck next lifetime.

      February 28, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  9. Um...

    When I was a little kid, I asked about this. So we have free-will, but God already knows what choices we're going to make because he can see the future, which means that it's really predetermined. So what's the point? The answer was always..."But you have free will." Um...do I?

    My bull$h!t detector was fully operational as a little kid. That hasn't changed.

    February 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • graceonfire

      Its too bad you relied on one answer from one train of thought to arrive at your conclusion. But if your satisfied with your conclusion, thats all that matters. Have a good day.

      February 28, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  10. JohnQuest

    Carolyn, how can fate and free will work together? If a person is fated to be in X place or do X thing, no matter the choices that person makes he/she will end up in X place or doing X thing, that is not free will, that person had no choice but to be in X place or to do X thing.

    February 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Carolyn

      LIke I said, if you signed up for something in the Spirit world to accomplish or be in this reality you will do it. For example, if you decided to be in an accident on 6/1/2010 to lose your arm – you will do that. Your soul signed up for school so there are things you have decided upon before you got here. Freewill is just that – your souls evolution doesn't require every detail to be predetermined.

      February 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Carolyn, you use the words Soul, Spirit World and Reality like I understand what you are talking about. I have no concept of Spirit World, I take it by Soul you mean the human consciousness (the eternal working or our minds). How did we sign up for something before we became conscious of anything?

      February 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Shamrock6

      JohnQuest – because the soul is – for all intents and purposes – eternal in that it has always had a consciousness. It takes a number of lifetimes for the soul to grow and learn, through experiences in this particular world of existence. Read the "Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception". It will explain everything. The different worlds or planes of existence, what happens each time we die and the process for coming back here to learn more. What "Heaven" really is and how everything interacts with everything else etc.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Carolyn

      JohnQuest, sadly most of us forget our contracts before coming. It sucks. And I'll be the first one to stand up and say I must have been real stoned when picking my parents. There are teachings that state there is no such thing as freewill that our lives are designed to the minute detail like down to the box of cereal you will choose on your next grocery run. That teaching doesn't reasonate with me. However, the bigger things I think are set in stone. Like being a parent, etc.I don't think the spriit world is that anal to predetermine everything. I also believe that God says no too. No matter what you do it just won't happen. I was just introduiced to some thoughts from the book "Quarks and Creation." [John Polkinghorne] I like how John says that maybe God doesn't know the future. He allows us to create without much interference, because its the established rules in this reality.

      February 28, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  11. Carolyn

    There are things you signed up for before your arrival here. Fate/freewill can work together.

    February 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  12. FloridaDave

    I think therefore, I am.

    February 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Beelzel

      I think, therefore I am ... I think.

      February 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  13. becca

    We should read and study the Bible to find out.

    February 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • NL

      If you read the Bible are you doing so out of free will, or were you predestined to read the Bible?

      I link this back to my question about the devil. Does Satan have free will and, if he does, could he choose to go off the Revelation script that is keeping him from victory, or even ask for forgiveness if he wanted it?

      February 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • graceonfire

      @NL – There comes a time when its up to you to decide. No one has all the answers, answers do vary widely, and if its your spiritual existence, you should be the one in charge of it. Giving everything over to anyone else isn't a wise choice. For one thing, it could affect you and the life you live now, and thats not even getting into what people believe about the here after. I read and study about God and beliefs on my own, and go from there.

      February 28, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Sirena

      I think you are missing the point of NL. They are asking if you choose to read and study the bible or are you predestined to read said bible.

      February 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • NL

      Exactly, and we can add to that the particular message you take away from reading the Bible. I have read extensively and regularly from the Bible since I went to Catholic schools, and continue to today, but with a different understanding that I had as a child. Was this change predestined for me, or my choice, and how can anyone really 'choose' what they come away believing if they are being intellectually honest with themselves? These are the kinds of questions I had in mind.

      March 1, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  14. Ok...

    All of these big comments make my head hurt.

    February 28, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  15. Frank

    I wish I knew. Sometimes things appear to be predetermined and sometimes it seems we are a product of the choices we have made.

    February 28, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  16. skynyrt

    I believe that Ms Whitfield is an absolute joke. If CNN wants to be taken seriously they need to dump anchor/reporters like her & that weekend clown that points at the TV screen with a pencil in his hand as if he is taking notes. Her stories are not to be seriously considered, with such in depth journalism covering Iman or Venus, or "What its like to be..." She throws up softball questions in the vein of, "How does it feel..." Excuse me while I throw up, I just can't bear thinking about her stupid, stupid reportimg anymore.

    February 28, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  17. JohnQuest

    NL, something's pretty wonky about the whole concept.

    February 28, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Justina

      It means God is the sovereign Creator and we are morally responsible creatures.

      February 28, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • NL

      Why do you need a "sovereign Creator" to make us "morally responsible creatures"? Are you saying that he programmed us that way?

      February 28, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  18. Reality

    One more time, as per Father Edward Schillebeeckx, the famous contemporary, Catholic theologian who spent a greater part of his life studying the topic and writing books about it:

    Church: The Human Story of God,
    Crossroad, 1993, p.91 (softcover)

    "Christians (et al) must give up a perverse, unhealthy and inhuman doctrine of predestination without in so doing making God the great scapegoat of history."

    "Nothing is determined in advance: in nature there is chance and determinism; in the world of human activity there is possibility of free choices. Therefore the historical future is not known even to God, otherwise we and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings. For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women."

    i.e. No one, not even god (if one even exists) can prophesy since that would violate the inherent human gifts of Free Will and Future.

    February 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Bob

      There is no free will – neurological research has shown decisively that there is no such thing as free will.

      February 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  19. David Johnson

    The problem is, that Christians have insisted on their god being Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnibenevolent. No god can be all three at the same time. They contradict each other.

    If god knows what He will do in the future and because He is Omnipotent, does something else, then He is not omniscient.
    If god knows what He will do in the future and cannot not do something else, then He is not omnipotent.

    If God knows the future, that means that the future is predictable and unchangeable. This, in turn, means that our actions are predetermined. If god is all knowing, free will is an illusion.

    This also binds god, in that He knows what he will do in the future, and He must do it.

    Let's look at Jesus and his predictions that Judas would betray him and Peter would deny him.
    Those were future events. Do you think Judas could have used his free will to opt out? Not, if Jesus/God was omniscient. Same goes for Peter.

    The actions of Peter and Judas were predetermined. They had no choice.

    Biblical predictions would not be possible, unless events and human actions were predetermined.

    What about the child who is murdered by a monster, or a people slaughtered by a stronger opponent (or a god)?
    Did they choose to be harmed? Where was their free will? These acts show that the strong or the people in power have greater free will than their victims. Hmmm...

    If god has a "plan for each of us", then that pretty much rules out free will.

    Jeremiah 29:11
    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

    "You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!" [Psalm 139:16]

    Ephesians 1:11 "We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."

    "this man [Christ Jesus] delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23a NASB).

    The 6 point Calvinists believe our fates are sealed, even before we are born. This would mean that god allows humans to be born, knowing they will someday burn forever. Seems wrong to me, even for a mysterious god.

    There is no evidence that a god gives or safeguards human will.

    February 28, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • NL

      Good point about prophecy. The devil himself seems to have no free will in that he would be able to read the bible for himself, consider that he WILL be defeated, and yet has no other option but to act out his part in the end times melodrama. I guess he simply can't ask for forgiveness because that would ruin God's plans, wouldn't it? Yet, supposedly, he had the free will to rebel in the first place. Something's pretty wonky about that, isn't it?

      February 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • David Johnson


      Especially true, since the fallen angel would have known that god was all powerful and all knowing. It would make it tough to win a spat.

      One fundie told me, that Satan understands he will lose. He just wants to take as many people as he can, to Hell with him.

      But, if god is omniscient, it makes Satan's efforts useless. The number of lost souls, would already be totaled.


      February 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • NL

      David Johnson-
      Why would Satan be satisfied with just increasing his own numbers when he could do something that could manipulate even those who believed they were heaven-bound into committing a fatal sin? Something like convincing folks to take the Bible literally? I mean, if he wanted to prove that he was better than God then why not make a move on His kingdom as well? Take in the truly evil people and the faithfully blind as well. That would leave God with only us atheists and those who follow a different religion, people who wouldn't worship Him after we die anyway. God would have nobody to worship him for eternity then. Now, that would be clever, eh?

      Then again, maybe the most clever thing that Satan ever did was to dupe a bunch of first century jews into believing that their leader was divine. The creation of Christianity sure has been a curse to the jewish people resulting in all kinds of hardships and persecutions. If Satan really wanted to stick it to God then what better way than to unleash Christians upon His people?

      February 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Joshua

      God's knowledge of the future is do to His determination of it, not passive observation ... hence He is not bound in any way to it.

      The simple truth of the scripture is that indeed God has determined whatsoever which comes to pass, including the fall and damnation of sinners.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      NL, now that's thought provoking, here another scenario (blasphemous maybe but I'm not a believer, you can't commit blasphemy if you don't believe).

      Suppose our true creator is Satan (after all, people have more in common with Satan than God) and God being the jealous cat that he is cast Satan out of the Heaven. Our true and fated path is to join Satan and only through acts of free will that we end up in a place that is totally against our nature. I can admit the opposite is just as likely, as well as the world was created by Zeus and his boys.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Dean

      David Johnson,

      Your thoughts are well constructed and logical. However, I think you are putting "god" in a box based on your understanding of space and time. Consider that there may be more dimensions of both time and space, and how that would remove the boundaries that cause some of the paradoxes that are to be found in the description of God's ways in the Bible. As an example, think of time as a two dimensional plane, in which one could observe and interact with an entire timeline including divergences from outside of it... how a change on the left could instantly produce a result on the right... for example. Hypothetically speaking, if God deals with time in such a way, he could instantly observe the outcome of every decision, so from our perspective, he knows the future, but every time we make a new decision, the whole thing changes, and he sees our new future (before we get there in our linear way of dealing with time). Food for thought.

      February 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • NL

      Funny you should mention Zeus, because in the Greek myth Prometheus was the one who stole knowledge from the gods for humans and he was regarded as a hero for doing it. Don't give the Greeks too much credit, however, because they still damned their first woman, Pandora, for unleashing evil upon the world like the Hebrews did Eve. Just your typical ancient male atti.tude that women are to blame for everything, I suppose.

      Then again, I believe it was the Klingons that did one better. They killed the weakling gods who created them and burned down heaven. Now, that's a cool creation myth, eh?

      March 1, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  20. JohnQuest

    I do not understand how we can have both, free will and faith\determinism. We cannot have free will if our paths have been prescribed (read determined by something\someone other they ourselves).

    February 28, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • UFC iTard

      You can't control what life/the universe throws at you, but you can control how you respond to it.

      February 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • graceonfire

      If you don't exercise your free will, fate will have its way. Even when we do exercise our free will, we are not the only factor in the equation, and things work out in quirky ways sometimes.

      February 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • CP

      Think of Fate as a river. Jump in and you can flow with the current, that's fate. But pick a destination and start swimming towards it, that's free will. Fate is a pre-disposition for a series of events to occur, free will is taking action yourself and making your own choice of direction. Try to swim up river and you may find Fate is overwhelming, but pick a course down river and use Fate's momentum to aid you in your journey and you may find you can reach places you never imagined!

      February 28, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      CP, I think your analogy breaks down before it really gets started. If it is fate then we don't have the choice about the water even if we believe we do. We are born in the river and no matter where we swim we are "suppose" to swim that way.

      February 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • derp

      "Fate is a pre-disposition for a series of events to occur"

      Well then if I have free will, there is no such thing as predetermined events. My free will will supercede any predetermined events. What if I exercise my free will and don't even jump into the river?

      February 28, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      just by breathing you are "exercising your free will"...so this notion some of you have as though sometimes you choose to exercise it, and sometimes you don't, is nonsense.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • john

      pastor was eyeing her body...lol...whats his plan...lol

      February 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • rt

      You are absolutely correct: free will and fate are exact opposites. Despite common romantic notions of, "I believe in fate but feel that we determine our own destiny," are simply lyrical nonsense. Fate means that everything is already decided. Free will means that you get to decide everything. There is no in-between. If one were to "determine their own destiny" this means free-will and not fate.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Dave

      I agree with WOBH, the debate is meaningless because from our perspective we can't possibly know. We can speculate, just like we can speculate about whether or not God exists or what happens after we die, but we cannot possibly know one way or the other. We can think we know, we can convince ourselves we know but in the end we do not and cannot know, from our current perspective. That's why these are philosophical questions and not scientific ones.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Dave

      @Sockpuppet Breathing is an involuntary function so it is not exercising free will. As a matter of fact if you held your breath until you passed out thus "choosing" to not breath, once you lost consciousness you would involuntarily start breathing again.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
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