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. Justina

    If there were no predestination and free will, we wouldn't say things like, "I will fulfill my destiny." As mysteriously created beings, our spirits know what's in this world and beyond, and that we need the Divine Savior! God did His part and He is inviting us to a wonderful destiny!

    March 1, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  2. Tohrm

    You'll have to define that point of origin as being located BEFORE the "Big Bang". And considering the dimensional aspects, mass and energy may just be a localized manifestation of other-dimensional stuff. But where did it all begin? We see the current results, but can only guess about the dimensional mechanics of it all.
    Predestination is not impossible, nor is free will. The differences would be in whether quantum indeterminacy is really all that indeterminate and any analogous phenomena by which these things could occur that might share these characteristics vis-a-vis free will vs. predestination.
    Time is a dimension. Movement requires time. Have another banana.

    March 1, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  3. athiestgorilla

    there is no free will. all energy and all mass have an original point of movement. the big bang. following the simplest laws of physics, fate must exist. an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by another force. all that jazz. draw the obvious conclusions i am making here.

    March 1, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Justina

      Athi-lla, you are only talking on physical( you're wrong on that anyway). The simplest law of physics would never have you write a non-sense. It was your free will to show your own idiocy here.

      March 1, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • Tohrm

      Have a banana. 😀

      March 1, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  4. redeemedchild

    I could only smile when I read this and think god that he allowed me to know him and his truth for myself that way when I read something like this I am not tossed to and fo by different beliefs or doctrines

    February 28, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  5. Rich Zubaty

    You can find out a whole lot about free will right here: http://therudeguy.com/books/I_Choose_Therefore_I_Am_01.15.2010.pdf

    February 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  6. Paxman

    The priest from Medjugorje pra-yed over her a couple times while we were there and before our trip was done she was cu-red. She came back home without the wheel-chair. They even had to go to the local bis-hop in Mos-tar to submit medi-cal docu-ments and testi-mony from her doc-tors that this was a mira-culous heal-ing.

    February 28, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  7. sealchan

    The Matrix trilogy did a very good job of treating the notion of free will and fate. You can see free will as a choice you have already made, but now you are merely exploring the why or how of it.

    One effective way of studying the unconscious is to interpret dreams and applying the notion of choice to dreams reveals the nature of some of the odd "doubling" of action of that occurs which represents an impulse toward more than one response to an event. Often one response comes first but a second response (aka choice) follows and seems to dictate the further action of the dream. This gives us a dominant and passive pair of choices. It is as if two options are present but you have always chosen what has now become the dominant choice.

    February 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  8. FloridaDave

    Didn't the movie Dark City prove the existence of (so called) Free Will?

    February 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  9. paxman2

    Ah, some very interesting discussions here. Free will vs. prophecy. How can both exist? And the point that if there is no God, then there is no free will because we’re only physical beings with chemical reactions producing our every thought and decision. A complicated issue it is! Let me toss out another guess at how it might work. I’m just trying to come up with a hypothesis that could satisfy a) there is a God b) He knows what’s going to happen and c) we have free will. Maybe it’s like this. Let’s say we agree there’s free will and I video-tape my son doing something. Say I put a piece of his favorite candy on a table in a room where I knew he was going to walk through and I put a hidden camera to see what he does. So now with his free will, he walks into the room, sees the candy and pops it in his mouth. Now I have a tape which shows him doing this. Every time I play the tape it’s going to have the same ending but he had free will when he did it. Well, how about with God, He’s outside of time. He created time. We live and move through time, but it is a created thing, in eternity there is no time. So we have free will but God being outside of time can see what we chose even before we chose it. I don’t know, just a theory.
    I do wonder why the non-believers are so he-ll-bent (pun intended) on destroying the faith of those who have it? If you’re happy with your life and non-belief, then why do you watch these belief articles like hawks and jump at the chance to spew your attacks? Life is going to have pain and difficulties and faith can help some get through tough times, with hope that there is some final value in persevering to the end. Without God, all that you accomplish will eventually be forgotten, rot away and our whole human race will finally burn up in a supernova unless we actually figure out a way to get off this tiny rock in space and out of our solar system. But anyway, you’ll be long forgotten and your accomplishments probably totally insignificant by then. So why try to destroy our hope and faith? Even if we’re wrong, if we live our life with proper Christian values, we should be helping others through life and we find happiness in our meager accomplishments, we can accept loss and death of friends and family and we go to our own death with hope of something better. If there’s nothing after we die, what harm was done? We won’t know we were hoodwinked because there’s nothing, but at least we died with some hope. Although you say you’re happy with your non-belief, I would guess you’re frustrated at the bleakness of your existence and that’s why you attack.
    On the other hand, I would say people of faith have a reason to try and help you change your thinking. We’re trying to give you a life with purpose, with hope, especially when tragedy and loss come into your lives – and that is guaranteed to happen.
    And many of you non-believers who are always responding have probably seen my other posts where I’ve asked: what is your theory to explain what’s going on for the past 30 years in Medjugore? 6 kids, ages 10 to 15 dropping to their knees at the same time, focusing on the same spot (even though they have side –blinders on), bright flashing lights and hot skin probes not showing up on their EEGs, all raising their heads simultaneously when she leaves. Being arrested by the communist police and threatened with jail and torture and refusing to change their testimony. And now 30 years later, still going to church daily, praying many hours every day, all sticking to their ‘story’ while raising families. Six pathological liars? I guess the proof will be if they die without the signs happening that they say will happen in their lifetimes. Mirjana refers to non-believers in her u-tube videos as ‘those who do not yet know the love of God’, so at least there’s hope in the way she puts it, He’s watched the video to the end, and sound like you’ll eventually come around. Hope you don’t have to suffer too much before then. I’ll keep praying.

    February 28, 2011 at 5:04 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 6:30 pm |
    • Matt


      If God knows my every disposition in the present, there's no problem with his knowing the choices I will make in advance. That doesn't change the fact that I'm acting on my own dispositions, which is what free will means.

      Free will is not about unknowable randomness, which seems to be the core of the argument for those that think there's a conundrum there. If you keep a journal all your life and a time traveler gets it after you die, then brings it back to the present so he knows what you're going to do, does that somehow rob you of your free will? Of course it doesn't. Knowledge by a third party does nothing to affect free will.

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

      All people react to current environmental conditions based on past experience. There is no free will. That does not mean that people need to live without purpose. Because we have memories and have evolved to make predictions about what the future holds we can plan our actions based on what we believe will result in the best outcome. Again, this is not free will as our actions are always based on our past experience and our current environmental conditions. Also, since we evolved as social beings we have a tendency to take care of those who are important to us. Thus our plans in the future will tend to result in looking out for others – provided that our past educational and family experiences have not damaged us – for example, child abuse begets more child abuse in subsequent generations.

      The bottom line is that there is no need for religion and there is no need for a belief in free will.

      February 28, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Paxman

      Yes, I guess no "need" but if it's the truth then why avoid it? Hey, I’m not claiming to know everything, just proposing a theory, and asking a question. I just know what I’ve seen and experienced through my life. I went to Medjugorje in 1991 at the start of the war, with a youth group, and a teenage girl from their high school that had been in a wheelchair for the past couple of years with a dege-nerative brain disorder that was diagnosed to be terminal.
      Pax. (breaking up reply and throwing in – to try to pre-vent mod-er-a-tion)

      February 28, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Paxman

      The parish priest from Medjugorje, Fr. Jozo, pra-yed over her a couple times while we were there and before our trip was done she was cured. She came back to the U.S. without the wheel-chair. They even had to go to the local bis-hop in Mostar to submit medi-cal docu-ments and testi-mony from her doc-tors that this was a mira-culous heal-ing.

      February 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Paxman

      I know, you’ll just attribute it to the amazing powers of the human mind, but if that’s the case, then again, why try to destroy people’s faith? If faith can heal, then why not let it be? What is your goal? And what is your explanation of Medjugorje. Watch Mirjana's u-tu-be videos, some in app-arition, facing the sun, a person's shadow moving back and forth changing the strong lighting on her face, yet no reaction in her eyes. If she's putting on an act, she should have been the one winning at the academy awards last night. 🙂 Sorry about having to break it up, mod-er-a-tor kept whacking it.

      February 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • David Johnson


      Some thoughts on your post:

      You said: "Well, how about with God, He’s outside of time. He created time. We live and move through time, but it is a created thing, in eternity there is no time. So we have free will but God being outside of time can see what we chose even before we chose it. "

      Time requires movement. Before the expansion of the Big Bang, time did not exist. (Hawking, has posited that time might break through to the other side of the singularity, but I cannot speak to that. I'm just not smart enough.)

      Most people do not realize, that not even empty space existed before the Big Bang. Nothing existed.

      A fraction of a second after the Big Bang, time began and the gravitational force reduced enough to allow the expansion. The fact gravity did reduce was a big problem for Prof. Hawking. String Theory may explain this phenomena.

      It does not matter where god resides, or what He is made of. If the future can be known, then everything is predetermined. Even what god will do in the future cannot be changed.

      You said: "So why try to destroy our hope and faith? Even if we’re wrong, if we live our life with proper Christian values, we should be helping others through life and we find happiness in our meager accomplishments, we can accept loss and death of friends and family and we go to our own death with hope of something better."

      If believers were content to enjoy their faith in their homes and churches and schools and religious communities, I would not bother to comment on these blogs. I would be happy to see them...happy.

      This is not the case, however. Christian Believers want to force their beliefs and values on everyone.

      They want to pass laws that enforce their morality.

      They insist on constructing monuments to their god on public property.

      They interfere with the teaching of science in public school.

      They want prayer in public school, but only to their god.

      They demand that $ex education in public school be abstinence only, even though studies have shown it is worthless.

      It is a matter of self preservation, to save as many people as possible, from drinking the Kool Aid.


      February 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • David Johnson


      You said: "If you keep a journal all your life and a time traveler gets it after you die, then brings it back to the present so he knows what you're going to do, does that somehow rob you of your free will? Of course it doesn't. Knowledge by a third party does nothing to affect free will."

      This morning, I went to my shirt drawer to select a shirt to wear for the day. I chose a blue one, because it brings out the darker blue of my eyes.

      I thought I had free will to choose which shirt I would wear.

      But if god is omniscient, then He already knew which shirt I would pick. My free will was an illusion.

      Your story is not the same thing, You are implying you had free will when you originally made the decisions you wrote in your journal.

      If god is omniscient, if the future can be known, your free will is not real. You cannot choose differently than god knows you will. If you can, then god is not omniscient.

      If god is omniscient, then the future is binding even on god. God knows what He will do, and He must do it. If He doesn't, then He is not omniscient.


      February 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Bob

      @David Johnson – There can not be free will unless there is a soul. For example, since we are all composed of physical matter, it must be that we are subject to the laws of physics. It has never been shown that thought can change matter. There for your thoughts are a result of interactions of physical matter and your thoughts can not control physical matter and therefore you have no free will. The only way we can have free will is if we have individual souls and we are all mini gods, i.e., we cannot be controlled by a bigger god. No one believes this. Thus, belief in free will makes no sense for the atheist or the christian.

      February 28, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Reality


      And where might we find the doc-uments about the cure? Miracles require specific before and after medical doc-umentation by reputable doctors.

      February 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • paxman2

      I agree David, sometimes Christians or other religions go beyond their reasonable bounds and try to impose their morals on others. In some cases that is wrong, in others, some claim it is a moral decision but I would say it is a scientific decision. Like when is a human being a human being that should be protected by law? When he or she pops his or her head out of the womb? Everything is genetically present at the instant of conception, all the mother does after that is feed and shelter the infant. These ridiculous laws are destroying our value of human life. But that’s a whole other argument. And just as I would prefer open discussion of issues instead of making certain free speech illegal, I would prefer seeing a Christian display, a Jewish display, a Muslim display and an atheist display on public greens and in schools (and displays by any other group that would want a piece of the action). Instead of trying to make the subject of religion or non-religion taboo, allow them all to view their opinions, for healthy and open discussions. And I still haven’t heard any reasonable no-god explanations of Medjugorje.
      The whole school body saw the girl’s deteriorating health for several years of high school. Her doctors sent her records to the bishop in Mostar. The church collects doc-umentation on all scientifically unexplainable medical healings before canonizing a person. (also, to someone else here, the church doesn’t ‘make’ a person a saint, they just recognize that a person IS a saint after studying the way they lived and died. The church knows there are millions of unrecognized saints). I don’t know how accessible any church medical records are, they’re probably protected by hipaa  but even if you had internet access or hand-written, signed copies, if you don’t want to believe, you’ll just say they’re false. You don’t believe the personal testimonies that are on the internet, in books, in u-tube videos, etc. so how would these records convince you? And I still haven’t heard any reasonable no-god explanations of Medjugorje.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  10. Butterart

    It looks like a fun, ENTERTAINING, movie. It's ENTERTAINMENT, not the answer to the great question of Life, the Universe and Everything; at least not everyone's answer. I hope it's not a rip-off of "Dark City". As a love interest, any actress less than Jennifer Connelly is a disappointment. As for fate vs. free will: It's all about what belief makes you feel good. If you don't want to take responsibility for yourself, then believe in fate. If you want to feel empowered, then chose free will. You can even change your mind from moment-to-moment as God will forgive and accept you if you take him in, even up to the last moment of your life. Whatever you chose you'll never know the truth until you die, and even then, if you chose free will, you won't know because you're dead. And "know" is in the context of "know" as we know it. Either way it's all a bunch of navel gazing that doesn't make any difference to anyone's existence here on Erf. You can quote me if you like.

    February 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  11. leonard

    I thought I saw this movie in condensed form as a twilight zone episode. Anyway, the idea of free will is a Jewish idea not shared by Christians who believe that G-d has a moment by moment plan.

    February 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • oy

      Isn't the idea of free anything a Jewish idea?

      February 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • troll

      No no oy, you are confusing free will and a free lunch.

      February 28, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • oy

      I think it's both troll. But only on the receiving end.

      February 28, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  12. Sam

    Talk about over-analysis. It's just an action movie. This is just another way to promote the film. They don't care about real discussion. This is promotion masked as philosophical debate.

    February 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • huh

      I thought it was a promotion that was turned philosophical by the commenters. Not that that is any less ridiculous.

      February 28, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  13. randomcomment

    All I can say is the previews look bad ass plus its got Roger Sterling (by far the best character in Mad Men) in it, so I'm optimistic about the film

    February 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  14. boohoo

    how many more blockbusters are going to rip off "Dark City"?

    February 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • huh

      What the hell is dark city?

      February 28, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  15. jekep

    God is the only one who knows what is going to happen in the future. We don't. The fact that He knows what the individual is going to do and what decisions he will make during a lifetime, before he dies, does not mean that the individual has no free will.
    The individual can change his mind but God knows that too. It is like a huge chess game with infinite elements to process. God is the only one that can do this kind of processing. We do not know our future, we just move ahead through life. We are not predestined. God knows ahead of time our trajectory and our destination. Let's make that a " plural ": our trajectories and destinations. He does not make the trajectories and then forces us to follow them.
    That's why He can give us a glimpse in the future of this world and the future of us as individuals. God knows the program that runs us (DNA) and use that information to predict the future.
    We can come to Him, or we can run away from Him and that is free will. But He is the only one that knows the end from the begining.

    February 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • squashman

      I sincerely hope you are soon touched by HIS noodly appendage and you are enlightened by HIS undeniable truths. rAmen.

      February 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • thatmikeguy

      Exactly! Just because God knows all possible outcomes, does not in any way give us less choice. Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Just as we all are guaranteed a choice once accountable. God be with you.

      February 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • haha

      Hahahahaha! God predicts the future from DNA? You are so programmed and delusional, you must have no idea how crazy and illogical you sound. But I know I know. It's too complex for us to understand, right? And there's a plan even if you can't see it. And you base all of this on faith. Hey just because you can't disprove something doesn't make it true. And if I was planning a money making scheme I would tell my followers the same lines. Gotta keep them ignorant and paying up, and "gods special incomprehensible plan" is an interesting answer to you wondering why your prayers are unanswered and bad things happened even when you were good.

      February 28, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • jenks

      question to haha.. Ok yes God may never answer your prayers but I am not God. So, I don't know why. If you are hinting at there is no God then why do we exist? To me nothing cannot make nothing. Like us as humans we create things that are provide by God. If we did not exist that lovely keyboard of yours would not. Even if you have a theory on something about a billionths of chance about nothing can make nothing you have a delusion (0 x 1,000,000,000,000 = 0). If say atoms and other stuff then another question will pop in my head.. Where did these atoms come from?
      For the topic I think we have very little free will (it is a yes and no answer). Due to the fact every time I open my text book on history it never changes. In the past it is their present right? Well, if so and time is always flowing and the past may very well be like a stream. Like our time line could be the past to another time line. As I am righting this comment or not writing the comment, could be it free will or is it just I have always wrote this comment. I always say nothing is possible just impossible at this time in our lives as humans. Meaning could we travel through time, have flying cars, travel the speed of light, or various different things? Yes and no (maybe later down the line of the distant future but not at this moment in history). If say never well you have your opinion. If you could talk to ppl in the past. I am sure if you told them they could talk to some on the other side of the world they say it is impossible. I am getting off subject an dsorry about wasting your time.

      March 1, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • miche

      @jenks, if everything has to have a beginning, according to your theory and that of many others. Where does God come from, who begat that particular spirit/deity? I'm not bashing or anything just trying for understanding on other people's perspectives. Thanks.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  16. Alex

    When I saw the trailer for this movie, I immediately thought "Dark City" remake...but this time, with Sun!

    February 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  17. andre

    whoops! well said "someone", rather. john quest, keep questing for truth. you will find it. but not where you have been looking.

    February 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  18. JohnA.Evans3rd

    I believe in reincarnation we all are given the basic fundamentals the 10 comandments persay -right and wrong and we as the human race must decide if we are going to do the correct acts of benevolence or are we going to be greedy shauvanistic and petty creatures then we will not be reincarnated ," I believe we will have another 5 billion year's to get it right or the Sun will explode and kik everything " I BELIEVE GOD MIGHT BE E.T.'S who put us on this planet " created humans in their own image and if we get it together in time they will take some of us to another Galaxy where their is no rich-Poor no bad-Good where everyone will be happy !" JUST MY OPINION i could be wrong

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

      .......,,,,,,,, Here's a supply of periods and commas for you to use in future postings. It's obvious you're run out of them. BTW, a little spell check wouldn't hurt. How do you expect anyone take your message seriously when you can't properly express it?

      February 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Wes

      I would love to know where I too can get such a beautiful tinfoil hat like yours!

      February 28, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • derp

      @ Wes, I'm curious, how is his belief and crazier than believing in a man god, a sky wizard, a talking snake, a sin inducing apple, a rib woman, and an ark that all life forms got on to avoid a flood?

      February 28, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • HotAirAce


      It's not...

      March 1, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  19. Jerry

    Having seen the trailer for this movie a number of times, I hope that it is "Fate" that forces Matt Damon to wear that dumb hat, and not his "Free Will"!

    February 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Dumbhat

      With that hat, this must be a period peice. No one under 75 actually wears those anymore.

      February 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  20. andre

    well said, john quest. "by their love, you shall know them."

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

      whoops! well said "someone", rather. john quest, keep questing for truth. you will find it. but not where you have been looking.

      February 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.