On the 26th of February, in celebration of the Farnham Humanists 10th anniversary, Professor Jim Al-Khalili (president of the British Humanist Association) presented a talk entitled “Written in the stars: how to live happily in a deterministic universe” at Trinity Centre, Guildford. Godalming College students Jonathan Holmes, Jessica Horne (studying media) and Anna Smith and Hanna Miles (studying English literature) attended the event to record proceedings.
Jim used theories of modern physics, such as Einstein’s Block Universe and Causal Determinism, to justify the notion of a pre-determined universe. He then discussed the ways in which the ‘randomness’ of physics at a quantum level challenges the idea of pre-determination, suggesting instead that the universe works in a random way, which we are unable to predict. However, Jim argued that although quantum behaviour is non-deterministic this is only evident at a microscopic scale, at a macroscopic scale, it does not affect the ultimate deterministic nature of the universe.
Although as a young person this seems a daunting topic, it was intriguing to contemplate a perspective I had not previously given much consideration. Jim would argue that you have not chosen to read this article, yet are under the impression you had the free will to choose to do so. Ultimately, the sentiment of the talk expressed that we should act as if we do have free will, regardless of whether it exists or not – as Jim said, “the illusion is enough”. He suggested we should instead live following humanist principles of compassion and charity – good advice by anybodies standards.
Anna Smith and Hanna Miles 6/3/14