George Zimmerman says his shooting of Trayvon Martin was “God’s plan”; theologians disagree

March 26, 2015 • 12:22 pm

If you’re American, you’ll surely remember the killing of the black teenager Trayvon Martin Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida three years ago, with Zimmerman claiming that, as part of a neighborhood patrol, he was justified in shooting Martin because he was defending himself against a suspected trespasser. The murky details of the case, combined with the fact that Martin was black and Zimmerman white, ignited a racial conflict that has continued, promoted by similar cases, over the past three years.

Leaving aside the question of guilt or innocence, I want to point out that Zimmerman is now, according to PuffHo, claiming that his killing of Martin was “God’s will”. This brings the issue of theodicy—the apologetics of evil in a God-run universe—right down to earth:

In a video [JAC: below] released on Monday by the law firm Ayo and Iken, which represents Zimmerman, the 31-year-old said he has a clear conscience and does not believe things could have turned out differently that day in Sanford, Florida.

“I believe God has his plans, and for me to second-guess them would be hypocritical, almost blasphemous,” he said in the video.

Well, you know, you could make a case for that, for God is supposedly omnipotent and omniscient and benevolent. So He not only knew that Martin was going to die, but could have prevented it. But He didn’t? Why?

That’s the question that has plagued theologians for centuries, and there is no satisfactory answer. The only conclusion is that it was part of God’s plan for Martin to die, even if you think that that death was necessary to preserve “free will” in our species.

But of course theologians can’t tolerate that, so they do their usual dance of confused apologetics:

Though steeped in religious rhetoric, Zimmerman’s analysis does not sit well with many Christians who reject the notion that God wanted Martin to die.

“It’s a theology that’s different than mine,” Rev. John Vaughn, the executive vice president of Auburn Theological Seminary, told The Huffington Post over the phone. “My theology is one of much more that’s rooted in God’s love and that we have free choice and will.”

Pastor Victor Montalvo, who leads a congregation in Sanford just blocks away from where the teenager was shot, told HuffPost he believes Zimmerman should assume responsibility for his actions and repent.

“The idea that God willed for him to shoot Trayvon is absolutely ludicrous,” Montalvo said. “It’s not God’s fault that Trayvon is dead.”

Of course it is? God could have stopped it—if He existed! But here we see the waffling of theologians who out of one side of their mouth suggest that it might have been God’s plan, because some good came out of it, but out of the other assert that it couldn’t have been God’s plan. Those are the noises Monsalvo made:

Montalvo said the shooting brought to the forefront “seething” racial tensions that have existed in Sanford for generations. But, he added, it also has provided Christians with an opportunity to “stand in humility” and work to restore their communities. And this is where Zimmerman’s statement on Monday breaks down for the pastor.

“God can use even the worst situations,” he said. “But when you talk about the will of God, you talk about the desire of God,” and it’s not right to say that God would want this death.

“That God somehow wanted Trayvon to be shot and killed … We don’t see that in Jesus,” Montalvo said.

The fact that Montalvo “doesn’t see that in Jesus” is a meaningless statement. If he believes in an all-powerful and all-loving God, then somehow God did want Martin to be killed, even if it was a foreseeable byproduct of some greater good (like the nonexistent “free will” accepted by both believers and the average person, or even to give Christians a chance to be “humble”). If God allows murders like Martin’s to preserve “free will,” then of course God knew that Martin would die in that cause. But couldn’t He intervene from time to time to stop murders but still allow tax cheating and ATM thefts? Nobody would be the wiser.

Zimmerman is a nasty and odious piece of work, but he’s only carrying the Christianity of his region to its logical conclusion. He’s deposited a steaming mess in the laps of the clergy, and they don’t know what to do with it.

79 thoughts on “George Zimmerman says his shooting of Trayvon Martin was “God’s plan”; theologians disagree

  1. They word-games they play to justify the unjustifiable ‘sophisticated theology’ [scoff] – it’s like reading a badly translated manual, looks like English, sounds like English, but is in fact gibberish

  2. “steaming mess in the laps of the clergy”

    That is a sign to put above the door of any evangelical who purports to have God’s justification.

    1. This whole thing has a very OJ feel. Remember when several years after his trial he made some media announcement about “I didn’t, but if I had….”? In both cases, nobody asked them to bring the murders back up. Nobody asked their opinion on it. They just seem strangely compelled to re-open the issue that made them a pariah in everyone’s eyes. Are they picking a fight? Did they like the public spotlight so much that they now would rather have public condemnation rather than no publicity at all? I have no idea why someone in this position would seek to draw such attention to themselves.

      1. I’m not sure whether the video above is the whole thing, but I saw the whole interview a couple of days ago, and Zimmerman is painting himself as the victim. His logic seems to be that as he was just God’s instrument, people should forgive him. None of this is his fault. He’s looking for sympathy because of what he’s suffered since the incident.

        1. IIRC the interview was set up by – and the interviewer is – Zimmerman’s lawyer. IOW, he isn’t responding to some media outlet’s request for an interview or telling his side of the story as part of some third party report, he’s fabricating the entire event himself.

          Most of us would never even have thought of George Zimmerman in March 2015 if he hadn’t made this video. But since he did, most of us have thought of him…as a murderer. My question is really, what made him think that pushing himself into the spotlight at this point in time would be good for his reputation?

          1. If that wasn’t weird enough, Zimmerman compared himself to Ann Frank in the video.

            He also blames Obama, but that’s not surprising at all.

            1. Yeah, it was his on his own initiative, and the questioner is his lawyer. This guy is really disturbed imo. The whole episode with his ex-wife last year (I think it was last year) showed again he’s not the sort of person who should be allowed to carry a gun.

              He’s in major denial and needs a good psychologist – one who will tell him he needs to accept responsibility for his actions.

      2. My initial thought was that (subconscious?) guilt could be a factor, but the notion that the man has a conscience seems unsound, to say the least.

  3. To say – “piece of work” is way too kind for this idiot. If he is the Hispanic he pretends to be, I’m sure that one good confession solves everything.

    Maybe when he was threatening his X wife with a shotgun a while back, that was all part of gods plan as well.

    If we can’t blame George and we can’t blame g*d, then maybe we fall back to the cell phone and the gun. If not for those things this moron would not have been out there playing cop in the first place.

  4. I wonder how the theologians would be spinning matters if a black man had hunted down and shot an unarmed white teenager instead of the converse. Would “god’s will” even be part of the discussion? Other than it being “god’s will” that the black man receive capital punishment for his actions.

  5. A few days ago, here in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, NY, there was a house fire caused by a faulty hot plate. Here is an Opinion from the Observer (a NYC broadsheet’s website: ) titled, “Why Did God Allow Seven Jewish Children to Die in a Brooklyn Fire?” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

    Why Did God Allow Seven Jewish Children to Die in a Brooklyn Fire?

    By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach | 03/24/15 10:48am


    A woman lights up a candle at the scene of a fire that killed seven children yesterday in the Midwood neighborhood March 22, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

    It was Saturday night, after the Sabbath, that I heard that seven children-all siblings-had died in a fire. The fact that they were orthodox Jewish children did not make the tragedy worse. All children are God’s children equally. But it did make it more theologically challenging.

    You see, the fire had started because the family was Jewishly observant and therefore had a hot-plate they were using so as not be cooking with an open fire, which is against Jewish law. The hot-plate was faulty. Had they not been observant, would they still be alive?

    God is supposed to be our protector. When tragedy strikes our first impulse is often to defend God rather than rail and thunder against the injustice of it all.

    But God’s first role is not supposed to be our consoler-in-chief. Rather, He’s supposed to be our foremost guardian. If He could split the Red Sea than He can safeguard against faulty electrical wiring. If He could bring down the walls of Jericho then He could have waved off toxic chemical fumes. And if he could revive the dead with Elisha then He could preserve the life of these small children.

    Why God is silent and seemingly absent in the face of so much suffering is the real question of this tragedy. These kids were innocent. Does God not promise to protect the innocent? “The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.” (Psalm 121)

    These kids were vulnerable. Does God not promise to guard the defenseless? “The Lord is the keeper of little ones: I was humbled, and he delivered me.” (Psalm 116:6)

    These kids deserved long lives. Does God not promise to safeguard humanity? “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” (Psalms 61:4)

    1. And this is where some people say God did want them to die. That it’s all part of His plan and He has a good reason for this, even if we don’t understand. God moves in mysterious ways – it’s almost as if there’s no god at all!

  6. The way this trainwreck of a person has conducted himself since the Trayvon murder indicates we have not seen the final chapter of his aggressive behavior.

    1. I don’t suppose that the Florida legislature will modify or do away with its “Stand your ground” law so as to neutralize Zimmerman or Zimmermanesque nutbags.

      1. Are you kidding? How else are they supposed to keep the niggers and spics in line if they can’t shoot them whenever they start to get uppity and intrude on the personal space of a righteous God-fearing gun-totin’ white Republican?


        1. ” . . . intrude on the personal space of a righteous God-fearing gun-totin’ white Republican?”

          Zimmerman has a white (German) name, and is apparently God-fearin’ and aobviously gun-totin.’ Do I correctly understand that he is half white?

          1. Zimmerman’s own race (Hispanic with enough naturalization to be mistraken for white) wouldn’t at all enter into the minds of the righteous God-fearin’ gun-totin’ white Republicans who control Florida state government.


            1. As a matter of interest, what does ‘Hispanic’ mean as a racial category in the USA? Mediterranean people are normally regarded as ‘white’in Europe – except perhaps by unreconstructed believers in the blond & blue-eyed ‘Aryan race’. Does it mean that some of his ancestors were Indians from Central America? It is, I must say, astounding to a non-American like myself that racial categorising continues to play such a huge part in the American polity. Why is this?

              1. I think it arose to have some way to identify the many immigrants we get from Central & (to a lesser extent) South America, Puerto Rico, and many Caribbean countries. Some of these people are migrant workers, or refugees, or in some other way in need of assistance. In order to get some idea of the magnitude of the situation, for censuses and the like, the term Hispanic was coined for all such immigrants. Basically we’ve been receiving a great influx of Spanish-speaking people from our Western Hemisphere neighbors.

                I think it was a benign coinage, and I don’t think either the Hispanics or the rest of the nation have a problem with it, although I’m sure there are subgroups who would prefer a singular identity–Mexicans, say. But given the number of nationalities, Hispanic was one way to put a name to certain populations who might need, say, Spanish/English bilingual schools.

              2. I think Diane has it basically right; its a geopolitical term rather than a biological one. After all, we don’t call people from Brazil Hisuguese.

              3. As a matter of interest, what does ‘Hispanic’ mean as a racial category in the USA?

                In practice, it’s somebody whose recent origins include a part of the Americas where most people have a built-in suntan and speak Spanish and maybe Portuguese.

                Yes, it’s a very confused definition — especially, for example, when you start to consider all the Russians who migrated to Mexico who are now Hispanic.

                It is, I must say, astounding to a non-American like myself that racial categorising continues to play such a huge part in the American polity. Why is this?

                Because we’re, by the numbers, a bunch of racist bigots.

                Other places, other times…there were classes defined by familial heritage. India still has its castes.

                Here, the brown paper bag rules. If your skin is lighter than a brown paper bag, and especially if your hair is straight, you’re one of the privileged many; otherwise, you’re one of the despised few.

                …and then, of course, there’s the additional irony of all the straight-haired whites who go to such lengths to curl their hair and tan their skin….


  7. What’s with the video. He must be planning on cashing in with a book or a “ministry” or something.

    1. I gather that, since he was acquitted, he’s allowed to once again roam the streets with a firearm, “standing” whatsoever “ground” his feet happen to be on?

  8. What a slap in the face to Trayvon’s parents and family. God killed your son and I’m innocent. How low can you get?

  9. Imagine Zimmerman had a partner with him, and that partner had the opportunity to forcibly restrain Zimmerman from shooting Martin once the partner realized what was about to happen.

    If the partner stood by and did nothing and just watched Zimmerman shoot Martin, that partner would be considered an accomplice.

    So, to excuse Jesus from stopping Zimmerman, one must acknowledge his impotence in such matters. But, if he can’t even induce an extra shot of adrenaline into Zimmerman’s system to make his shot unsteady enough to let Martin escape…remind us, again, how Jesus is supposed to heal the sick and raise the dead and what-not?

    Of course, the theologians do a desperate cake-and-eat-it dance around Epicurus. The mystery of faith informs us that Jesus both could have done something if he wanted to and was powerless to act even though he wanted to and yet still retains full omnipotence and moral compassion. As usual, the only real mystery is that anybody with two neurons to rub together actually buys that bullshit.


    1. For that matter, why couldn’t Jesus protect Zimmerman from Martin in the first place and prevent the situation from escalating to death? What an asshole.

      1. …and, before the “Free the Willies!” canard comes out from the Christians in the peanut gallery…Jesus could have manifested as some homeless beggar who asked Zimmerman for some change and engaged him in friendly banter just long enough for Zimmerman’s and Martin’s paths to not cross. Or he could have inspired one of Zimmerman’s pastors to give a more persuasive sermon of love and peace and racial equality that would have melted Zimmerman’s heart — a task trivial even for a Greek Muse.

        Lots of ways for Jesus to have saved Martin without limiting Zimmerman’s Freedom Willies any more than any of the rest of us do in the daily course of affairs.


      2. Or, if God can infinitely divide bread and fish, why not skittles? Jesus could have done this to prevent Trayvon frim leaving that night. Hell, in the Bible, he did it just because people were hungry.

    2. If the partner stood by and did nothing and just watched Zimmerman shoot Martin, that partner would be considered an accomplice.

      To pick nits, the partner would not be considered an accomplice because Zimmerman was acquitted; according to the jury, there was no crime for which someone could have been an accomplice.

      1. Fair enough. “Had Zimmerman been found legally culpable of something, a partner who passively permitted Zimmerman to commit the crime would have shared his culpability.”

        …and I think many of us here are inclined to believe that we would have found both Zimmerman and his nonexistent hypothetical partner culpable of something-or-other….


      2. Yes indeed. But I would bet, or hope at least, that if there had actually been a partner with Zimmerman that the trial would not have resulted in an acquittal.

    3. Not sure what you mean by “partner,” but accomplice liability is limited to those who act affirmatively to “aid or abet” — that is, assist, counsel, command, or induce — the criminal conduct of another. At common law, a simple bystander had no duty whatsoever to intervene in a criminal act or to assist a victim.

      Some jurisdictions have partially abrogated this common-law principle through enactment of so-called “good Samaritan” statutes. Such laws, however, tend to be very limited — imposing an affirmative duty only on persons in a “special relationship” with a victim (for example, parent/child, healthcare professional/accident victim) or on persons who can assist a helpless victim without incurring any risk to themselves. Even then, they tend to be misdemeanor statutes imposing a mere fine for their violation.

      Then again, you’d think God would be in a “special relationship” with all His flock, and that He wouldn’t need be coerced by Caesar’s law into rendering aid to a lamb in need.

  10. The best laid plans of gods and men gang aft agley.

    Even god, apparently, doesn’t always get what he wants.

    Or is it that he doesn’t want it after he gets it?

  11. Zimmerman is equally justified in claiming to know God’s will as any theologians..because when you make shit up anyone can say anything with equal justification…theologians (even the “sophisticated” ones) have no method of discerning truth.

  12. Zimmerman has a history of troubling and abusive behavior, which should cast even deeper doubts on his invocations of pious self-justifications.

    Fox news didn’t like it when Obama quoted the Bible and they won’t be any happier with a non-believer like me doing so, but somewhere Isaiah says that we really don’t understand God’s ways at all.

    But Paul Simon said it even better,

    God only knows / God makes his plan
    The information’s unavailable to mortal man
    We work our jobs / Collect our pay
    Believe we’re gliding down the highway
    When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

    (from the Greatest Hits album)

  13. It is peculiar how often god’s will seems to manifest itself in form of young, male, African-American corpses in “stand your ground” states with weak gun laws that enforced Jim Crow before the civil right movement.

  14. theodicy
    Every time you mention this I misread it as theoidiocy. But I guess my error is not so very great.

  15. Theists often claim that without faith, anything is permissible. This just shows that with faith, anything is permissible.

  16. One distinction prevalent here comes through clearly: If the idiot deed is done by a Muslim, then the religion is to blame, but if done by a Christian, it’s just the individual misusing some otherwise quiescent backwater of the religion.

  17. Zimmerman’s contention is no more ridiculous than every other “God’s will” assertion: that it’s “God’s will,” for example, that some people be cured of bunions or erectile dysfunction, or that it’s God’s will for me to find a ten-spot in the couch cushions — or that it’s God’s will for 8,000 innocent children across the globe to die from malnourishment every day.

    1. As to the last, I’d lurve to see the theodicy-ists offer an argument that doesn’t reduce to ours-is-but-to-do-and-die special pleading. Me, unlike Tennyson’s Light Brigade, I’m standing firm on the reasoning-why front.

  18. “My theology is one of much more that’s rooted in God’s love…”

    I strongly suspect that were a quantitative study possible, the number of references to “God’s love” would be found to increase sharply after the advent of antibiotics.

  19. I think Professor Coyne is somewhat missing a point. If there is no free will, as PCC thinks, then he agrees with Zimmerman that he had no choice but to shoot Trayvon Martin, in a sense it was all predetermined (according to a particular solution of laws of physics).

  20. Can someone please explain to me the difference between Zimmerman killing someone because his sky fairy wanted him to do it, and some jihadi killing someone because his sky fairy wanted him to do it.

      1. The jihadi thinks he hears instructions from his ahead of the act; Zim doesn’t seem to have heard from his with a justification until years after-the-fact. Advantage jihadi.

        1. And that’s another good point. Fits right in with the distinctions Hirsi Ali makes in her new book between Islam and the other two Abrahamic religions.

  21. It likely was gods plan – since gods plan is compatible with slavery and genocide, as well as love peace and understanding. Thank god there is no evidence whatsoever for a god.

    1. A century and a half ago, “respectable” members of society — the Southern aristocracy and its ministers — saw god’s will in slavery. Fifty years ago, these same groups — new members — saw it in their elected officials’ use of axe-handles to keep black students from matriculating at taxpayer-funded schools. Now they — same groups, again new members — see god’s handwriting in Human Bio-Diversity racialism and the neo-confederacy.

      Some folks fail to appreciate just how long the arc of the moral universe is, so keep trying to bend it back, away from justice.

  22. I’m not sure I would find an answer to the question “Do you wish it had turned out different?” that went along the lines of “I don’t see that it could have turned out different. Given the state of Mr. Mertin’s brain chemistry and my brain chemistry at the time, there really is no way it could have turned out different – the laws of physics and chemistry being what they are and all.”

    OK – I’m being a bit snarky. There is a point, however. Who amongst the incompatibilists here doesn’t think this guy is a total asshole? And I say that in no way to justify some kind retributive punishment for this asshole – in fact, I try very hard to never do any armchair second guessing of juries, I don’t always succeed, but I hate the “court TV” world intensely. Back to the point: I think it makes no sense to say the Zimmerman didn’t make choices here and that the choices were meaningful – not illusory. It is highly likely that events unfolded deterministically in this unnecessary killing, unless Zimmerman is troubled by a brain tumor that started growing from a radiation induced chemical event or some such. I just think that the “God’s plan” excuse sounds very much like the “laws of physics” excuse in one respect (but not all respects). Both are ways of saying nothing, because they are both used to explain everything. Of course, the “laws of physics” excuse is true, but since it is always true it tells us nothing we didn’t know would apply even before we learned any specific details of this or any other series of events. It isn’t useful.

    1. Back to the point: I think it makes no sense to say the Zimmerman didn’t make choices here and that the choices were meaningful – not illusory.

      There are two big sticking points in the “free will” debate as it pertains to compatibilists and incompatibilists.

      First is that practically all compatibilists incorporate some form of supernaturalism and / or dualism into their working definitions. They’re not traditional religious variations on the them, but they do posit “something more than physics” that functions as an essential additional piece of the function. Reifications of computation and cognition and math are common, as are separation of the will from the self or cognition from the brain.

      But that’s not directly relevant to the point you’re addressing…that part is the semantic side of the discussion.

      Many, if not most or even all compatibilists would agree with the common statement, “You can will what you want but you can’t want what you will.” This is a direct admission that the will itself is not free…and, yet, compatibilists still insist that there is meaning in a description of the will as free, of “free will.”

      Incompatibilists do not reject the notion of freedom. Nor do we reject the basic premise of the will. At least, insofar as we’re keeping the language loosey-goosey.

      We’re basically unanimous in our objection to the marriage of those two terms together. The will is not free, and freedom is not willful. Similarly, we would object to, “married bachelor,” even though we’re perfectly fine describing a particular individual as either married or a bachelor — and even the same individual as the one one minute and the other the next. It’s the union of the two words that’s at the heart of the problem.

      So, from the compatibilist perspective, we would typically identify that Zimmerman’s brain inevitably made a series of computations that, in common language, we would call, “choices.” There was no more freedom to the choices than there is in a thermostat — but, at the same time, it makes sense in certain contexts to say that the thermostat controls the temperature of the room by deciding when to turn the heat on and off. This does not imply any special or magical or other agency on the part of the thermostat; it’s just identifying that it’s the switch that’s acting as the fulcrum between “heat on” and “heat off.” Ultimately, Zimmerman’s brain was a similar fulcrum between “squeeze trigger finger” and “relax trigger finger.”

      The next obvious question, of course, is, “So what?” Knowing that it was Zimmerman who pulled the trigger, and knowing at least some of the factors that influenced him to do so…what do we do with that knowledge?

      From a compatibilist perspective, the answer is almost obvious: he has moral culpability, the main point of attempting to salvage free will, and so we must now justifiably punish the fucker and make him suffer as is his just deserts.

      But incompatibilism permits us no such luxury of righteous retribution. We understand that he was acting his own role out in the great cosmic play, and it no more makes sense to punish him for doing so than it makes sense to punish the thermostat for letting us feel a chill.

      What we are compelled to do is the most we can to ensure an optimal future for ourselves and others. Including, even, Zimmerman. Our first duty is to protect society from a now-known threat; that means ensuring that Zimmerman is incapable of interacting with society, most practically by the isolation of prison. But we also have a duty to, if at all possible, rehabilitate him such that he may once again be a contributing member of society — and we must have the compassion to permit him to gain as much out of his own remaining life as possible. Yes, even though he denied that to Martin; if we deny that of Zimmerman as well, we are committing the same evil that caused us so much upset when Zimmerman committed it. And, though two Wrights might make an airplane, two Wongs don’t make a Rite.

      I hope that helps clarify the incompatibilist perspective for you….



      P.S. Yes, Zimmerman is a total asshole. b&

      1. “…but they do posit “something more than physics…”

        Not that I’ve seen. The issue is which level of reduction on which to focus. Compatibilists say water is wet; incompatibilists say water can’t be wet because hydrogen atoms aren’t wet.

        1. Alas, the analogy, though attractive, instantly breaks down.

          It works with water because we can observe the wetness of water.

          It doesn’t work with “free will” because we do not actually observe the freedom of the will — quite the contrary.

          Pretty much all compatibilists will agree that you cannot will what you want; you have no control over your will. You may or may not have varying constraints on your ability to execute your will, but you have no choice over what your will actually is.

          Worse…you don’t even have any choice over whether or not to obey your will. Whatever calculation your will uses to weigh whatever desires it is you have…the decision it makes in the end is what you do, whether you like it or not. You have no control over it, and you are remorselessly compelled by your will to do its smallest bidding.

          In fact, you have no control at any step of the process; as I wrote, the alleged freedom is never actually observed with respect to the will.

          And, note: this applies in any system in which the “will” is a valid construct, from compatibilism all the way through Christian soulful dualism.

          I’ll again add that “freedom” is a very useful term in and of itself in many contexts…but not in relation to the will. Similarly, the will can also be a useful term…but there’s nothing free about it.



          1. I would say that we can indeed observe the critical difference between, as commenter Coel often puts it, a conscious entity capable of acting on desires and a house brick.

            1. But that’s just it.

              You may be a conscious entity, but are you truly capable of acting on desires?

              Or do you act on those desires with neither the freedom to do otherwise or to change the desires?

              Maybe you’ve never had the experience of procrastinating on something despite your better judgement, of knowing you really should or shouldn’t do something but doing it or not regardless…of eating the entire bag of potato chips even though you promised yourself the last time that you’d never do that again.

              If so, you’re quite fortunate.

              But, the rest of us?

              We ain’t got n choice in the matter.

              Not for the big stuff; not for the little stuff; and not for any of the stuff between.

              You’re walking down the street as a bus is coming along and you’re not suicidally depressed. Do you really have the freedom to throw yourself in front of it, even though nobody’s holding you back? Clearly not; the mere thought is so horrific you instantly dismiss it and move on to something more pleasant — and you couldn’t possibly do otherwise.

              You’re walking down the street as a bus is coming along and you are suicidally depressed. Do you really think somebody in that position has the freedom to restrain himself from throwing himself in front of it? Don’t you think that person would, all things considered, really rather change his will such that he didn’t want to kill himself but rather get on the bus to go somewhere to have a good time?

              If you don’t understand that that’s the case…then you don’t understand mental health problems, not in the slightest. And you also don’t understand how that translates into your own personal lack of freedom of the will.


              1. Having the capacity or potential to act on desires does not mean one is always successful at realizing those desires.

                I think mental health problems are beside the point. Brains produce all sorts of behaviors. Based on various things, we’ve established norms for classifying behaviors as healthy or unhealthy, but the point is that brains produce behavior – period. They do it via the creation of desires. Inert matter doesn’t do this. This is the critical difference, and compatibilists simply argue that it makes sense to use the term “free will” when talking about this difference – in order to distinguish from entities that do not experience desire and therefore aren’t free to *potentially* act on it.

              2. Having the capacity or potential to act on desires does not mean one is always successful at realizing those desires.

                It’s not even a question of success at realizing desires. You might have a desire to lift something off the ground and onto a table. You give it a try. Maybe you succeed; maybe it’s too heavy or you slip or whatever and you fail. Regardless, your success or failure at attempting to realize your desire to lift the object onto the table has nothing to do with the question of your will to lift it onto the table.

                Where will comes into play…well, you may have the desire to lift the object onto the table, but do you have the will to do it?

                Maybe you’re in a rush and you’ve got more important things to do than pick the object off the ground. Maybe somebody’s holding a gun to your head and threatening to shoot you if you pick it up off the ground. Maybe the something is worth dying for if you lift it off the ground and onto the table. Maybe you’re suicidal and see this as an easy way to die. Maybe you’re alone and depressed and just can’t bring yourself to do something as simple as lifting it off the ground. Maybe you’ve got OCD and absolutely nothing will stop you from straining every ounce of your being to lift the object. Maybe you’re just a normal person under normal circumstances and pick up the thing without even thinking about it.

                Whatever the circumstances, your desire to lift the object onto the table is utterly irrelevant, as is your actual physical ability to do so.

                All that matters is your will to lift it…and you have no control whatsoever over your will. Like it or not, your brain is going to sum up all the inputs from all those competing desires and calculate them to a binary go / no-go based on the inputs plus your current store of knowledge and evolutionary heritage and mental health and all the rest…

                …and it is the result of that calculation that constitutes your will…

                …and you have absolutely no control whatsoever over that calculation.

                Again: you have freedom, yes. You have a will, yes.

                But your will is not free, and it’s your will and only your will that’s in the driver’s seat. And all the freedoms in the world are irrelevant to your will: you can be chained to the wall and still have the will to struggle for not just freedom but a glorious life after escape; or you can be the wealthiest and most powerful person in all of history and yet still lack the will to get out of bed in the morning.

                And there’s not a damned thing you can do about either case.


    2. ‘Both are ways of saying nothing, because they are both used to explain everything.’

      I warmly agree with this.

Leave a Reply