But free will is something else.
But the scientific concept of determinism is all-pervading, and very hard to take.
It's the idea that all events are predetermined by countless minute, intricate reaction sequences which have been occurring since the beginning of time. I simply can't get a grasp on it. I suppose it's slightly easier for people who have studied physics, or have some understanding of quantum mechanics. I can boast neither.
Jerry Coyne suggested last week that belief in free will is parallel to belief in god(s). Why? Because science can't prove or deny its existence (yet, at least). Because people cling to free will - they need to believe in it in order to retain a sense of order and morality in the universe. Because it's been shown that people who doubt free will are less likely to be kind or ethical in their actions.
And, of course, because both beliefs will get you nowhere meaningful. Choosing to believe in something doesn't make it real.
But you see how pervasive such a belief is, that I cannot help but describe human actions as choices, even as the very existence of free choice is being challenged.
I agree with Coyne. I think the parallels between god and free will run deep. And as a disbeliever in one, (helpless) believer in the other, I think the most important of these parallels is this: it shouldn't matter. Regardless of what may or may not be, if proof is outside our grasp (at least for now), then our lives and actions should not be influenced by a belief tending either way.
I don't begrudge someone their personal faith. But I am deeply uncomfortable with people who use conclusions drawn from their faith to guide their actions in the real world. Argue all you like, but the way I see it, the very worst extremist values in today's world are held by the actively religious.
Likewise, I think people who view their lives in terms of "powerlessness to fate" or "ultimate responsibility for all actions" are promoting a kind of groundless extremism. The political consequences can be ugly.
What we know for certain is all we have for certain. Our actions should stem only from that.
But I'm curious - where do you stand on the free will question? Are you an existentialist? A determinist? A believer in destiny, or in chaos? And how does this affect your life and choices?