• My thoughts on BBC’s The Big Questions on free will

    The flagship BBC religion, ethics and politics show, The Big Questions, this week featured a whole hour on free will. I was asked to attend as a front row guest on the subject in York for the pre-recorded show last Sunday. Here are my thoughts on the actual content of what was discussed.

    The flow of the show was supposed to be free will and religion moving to genetics and scientific evidence and then on to crime and punishment. However, we didn’t really get to deal much with the last segment, of even much with the genetics part. There is so much to say on this topic that, with twelve guests, there isn’t really all that much time to get to grips with the topic as people are vying for their piece to say.

    My main criticism of the show was that they did not ask a philosopher at the beginning of the show to define terms. What this meant is that no one really had much of a clue as to what was being discussed. Everyone had their own view of what free will was and thus nothing accurate was being critiqued, like a massive array of straw manning.

    This was most apparent when I met three of the guests, Mike Pettit, Peter D. Williams and Catherine Heseltine at the train station and then had a two hour debate with them on the way down to London. Before we even got on the train, it was abundantly clear that Catherine didn’t understand the concept of libertarian free will and why it was incoherent, and certainly had no comebacks to the criticisms. Likewise, Peter Williams had no response to the grounding objection to libertarian free will. Which means that, if we had started off discussing the philosophy, these two people at least would have realised the philosophical mountain they had to climb.

    So whilst the discussion was interesting, it did flit about too quickly without ever getting to the meat of it. This, as a philosopher, is really frustrating.

    There were the usual religious claims, and some back and forth.

    There was also a self-made entrepreneurial success who was on to say that people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps (freely) but as she went on, she realised that this is itself dependent on certain factors – in other words, why doesn’t everyone pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

    Anyway, twenty minutes before it airs, these are my remembered thoughts. An opportunity missed to properly show the incoherence of free will.

    They should have given the mic over to me, right?…. Damn.

    Category: FeaturedFree Will and DeterminismSpeaking Engagements


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce