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It's Devil's Advocate Time! Today's subject: free will.

John Kelleher

'Free will': voluntary, coherent, intelligible personal responsibility, is a strictly theological category. That is, we have our free will solely in the Risen Lord Christ Jesus, in and through the sacraments of the Catholic Church, and decisively in the Holy Eucharist.

'Free will' does not exist, and will not be found, 'naturally' in this Fallen World. Rather it exists primordially, 'in the beginning', solely in the grace of Christ, the Second Adam. The sole ground and font of all the freedom and responsibility we will ever have is Our Lord's free obedience to His Father. We have all of our 'free will' within Our Lord's freedom and responsibility, and absolutely none apart from Him.

The explanation for the perennial difficulty in finding a sufficient ground, let alone a sufficient definition, for 'free will' then becomes clear: we were looking in Fallenness for something inherently unFallen. More precisely, only the entire Event of the New Covenant, not limited to but very much including Our Lady's Immaculate Conception, His Incarnation, His Cross and Resurrection, and the sacraments of His Catholic Church, are sufficient to encompass the mystery of the true and real existence of our free will in this Fallen World.

Our Lord's Cross and Resurrection, and the actual sacraments of the actual Catholic Church through which the Risen Christ continues His work, are absolutely decisive for human life and for the universe. This is the meaning of 'free will'; no other will be found.

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It's Devil's Advocate Time! Today's subject: free will.

(And remember: a 'Devil's Advocate' is NOT the devil. He doesn't even work for the Devil. A true Devil's Advocate is actually always hired by the Good Guys, to as vigorously as possible present the contrary argument.)

PART I

INNOCENT BYSTANDER: ... But Mr. Devil's Advocate, Sir!?

D: Hi.

I: How are you going to show that we don't have free will?

D: Well, there used to be only one 'strong' way to show that we don't have free will: to show that we never had it.

I: Sounds preposterous, but bad, if true.

D: Yeah. But recently, a Catholic theologian, Fr. Donald J. Keefe SJ, particularly in his 700+ page masterwork, Covenantal Theology, showed (just as one part of his argument) another way. Recall that in Catholic circles, "theology" is merely a Catholic scholar's learned discussion of possible implications of Catholic doctrine, not Catholic doctrine itself. All Catholic theology, however venerable, has a position -- and lack of inherent status -- similar to that of a law article discussing a Supreme Court decision.

I: Yeah, I knew that already. What's he have to say for himself?

D: Fr. Keefe opines: the source of free and meaningful choice and responsibility -- free will -- is the living God, not any time-less principle or idea. Because in Eden we were truly free in the gift of God's grace and presence, we even had the freedom to refuse freedom itself -- to refuse that gifted world of freedom, and freely and responsibly choose a world that we could grasp and take by ourselves. And we did. That was The Fall.

Since free will was never available from any time-less principle or idea, we will never find its reclamation there. Only the living Christ -- God alone -- can now fully honor and protect the awful responsibility of our First Parents' choice, and yet not be encompassed by it. So the only Eden, so to speak, remaining is the Catholic Mass, the continually renewed physical/spiritual Event that makes re-present the risen Christ's sacrificial death on the Cross. This Event, which is the living work of the living Christ in covenantal union with his Bride the Church, and the other Catholic sacraments that flow from it, not any principle or idea, are the sole foundation of free will in this our fallen but still evanescently beautiful world.

I: Well, aside from the fact that guys like that normally also talk about sin, which would seem to imply the existence of free will, that sounds even more preposterous, and also icky.

D: There you go. Shall I begin with the strongest classic argument against the existence of free will?

I: No crosses, versus crosses? What do you think?

D: OK, then. The classic 'strong' way to show there's no free will is to show that, for anything at all to make sense, free will cannot exist.

I: You have got to be kidding me.

D: Nope. So, let's start with a bumper sticker...

I: Wait. Just wait. If there's no free will anyway, why are you even trying to convince me?

D: Exactly.

I: ????!!!

D: Let's try this. It's early October. Two young bucks have lowered their antlers and are fighting over a doe. Not just any doe, mind you. The doe they are fighting over is going to be Bambi's Mom! Those two bucks are plainly resisting each other, right?

I: Yes...

D: Do they have free will?

I: Animals don't have free will.

D: OK, fine. But they're still clearly trying to 'persuade' each other about something important to them, right?

I: You're trying to get me to say that animals have free will, too!

D: Sorry, PETA fans, no, I'm not. I'm merely pointing out that determined efforts to persuade don't necessarily imply the existence of free will. Conflict is a kind of effort to persuade. A crude kind, to be sure. But birds do it; bees do it; even educated fleas do it... [1]

I: A gentleman never quotes Cole Porter out of context.

D: You have a point. But my point is that conflict, and resistance, and therefore at least types of efforts to persuade, pervade the entire biosphere. And it's not necessary to posit that free will exists in any of it. You may do so if you want, but it's not necessary in order for the 'persuading' to begin. But before we get into 'intentionality', and 'consciousness', and Lord Knows What All, may I talk about my bumper sticker?

I: I guess. What bumper sticker?

D: The bumper sticker I saw once. It said: OBEY THE LAW OF GRAVITY.

I: Okay, that's a little bit funny. Maybe. So what?

D: So, after my own mild chuckle, as is my curse, I put on my philosopher's hat and tried to figure out why I laughed.

I: You poor man.

D: Tell me about it. Though we are bound by the law of gravity, it is meaningless to urge that we 'obey' that law, since we can't disobey it.

I: OK, so the cognitive dissonance of witnessing an effort to persuade us to 'obey' a law that we know can't be disobeyed, makes us laugh. I get it. Destroys the joke, but I get it.

D: I find that if I just take my philosopher's cap off again, I feel all better. So let's call a 'True Law' a model that is an exact fit to a reality. The law of gravity is a good approximation of a True Law. We can't 'disobey' a True Law, so we can't really 'obey' it, either. The terms don't fit.

I: So when I look at (let's say) Newton's law of gravitation, even though we now know it's not an EXACT fit to reality, it does come close enough to your definition of a 'True Law', that I can look at it and see some of the characteristics of a True Law. Like the fact that the word 'disobey' doesn't fit that context. A True Law just says what is. We can't 'disobey' the law of gravity, so we can't really be said to 'obey' it, either. OK, makes sense.

D: So you agree with me.

I: I just said so.

D: OK, good... I guess we're done. Really nice talking with you.

I: Uh, I thought we were going to talk about free will.

D: We just did.

I: And about how, for anything at all to make sense, free will cannot exist.

D: Yeah. You agree, so... I guess we're done with that topic. How about about baseball, or football? But not soccer. Don't get me started on soccer.

END OF PART I

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PART II

INNOCENT BYSTANDER: ... Mr. Devil's Advocate, Sir, I have more questions.

D: Hi, again.

I: I agreed with you that it doesn't make sense to talk about 'disobeying' a True Law (of which the law of gravity is an approximation). You can't 'disobey' the law of gravity. And I agreed that therefore, it doesn't make sense to talk about 'obeying' a True Law, either.

D: That you did.

I: So how does this show that, for anything at all to make sense, free will cannot exist?

D: True Laws are important. Taken together, they describe all the coherence in the world. We don't know all the True Laws yet, and maybe we never will, but if there's anything coherent about something, there's a True Law that it connects to.

I: I have no idea where you're going, but provisionally, OK.

D: But I'm skipping a step.

I: Aha! I knew it.

D: Modern science relies on statistics; or more precisely, on probability theory, to analyze much of its data. In probability theory, nothing except tautologies (like A = A) can have 100 percent probability. So essentially everything interesting in science is 'uncertain' to some degree. And some of the very brightest of the people who study probability theory have re-examined and firmed up its underlying assumptions and ascertained that the width, so to speak, of our uncertainty about our conclusions, while it can still be validly calculated, is far, far broader than many people, including many scientists, naively believe.

I: So the law of gravity is only an approximation of a True Law; but I already agreed with that. And some scientists oversell their data -- what else is new? And the map is not the territory. Who doesn't know that?

D: Here's the thing. Probability theory itself assumes that there is a 'territory' -- a reality -- that we can make maps of. So, for it, 'truth' still means an exact map of the territory; that is, a True Law. In our terms, probability theory can help to describe how (un)certain we are that a particular map is a True Law.

I: You're still not going to convince me that the law of gravity isn't a pretty good map!

D: And we would hope that our 'maps' of human behavior will increasingly over time be more and more accurate -- connect with more and more accuracy to the underlying coherent True Laws. For if what we do is not ultimately expressible by a True Law, that which we do is not coherent, it is -- I love using the word 'literally' properly -- literally incoherent, meaningless.

I: I have this sinking feeling that I'm being led into a trap, but I can't find it yet, so... OK.

D: Thus...

I: Aha!

D: Yes?

I: Unpredictability! OK, so human behavior, to be coherent, must at least in principle be connectible to a True Law; that is, connectible to some statement or principle or concept or equation or recipe, etc. that is true because, being an exact model of something real, it's true of necessity -- it can't not be true. Otherwise, we end up 'justifying' human behavior purely in terms of Power, or Whim. And if we can't in principle connect a particular human behavior to some True Law(s), then that behavior is incoherent, meaningless. But free will occurs because our behavior is not predictable -- at least, not entirely. You're not certain what I'm going to do next, and I'm not certain what you're going to do next, and that's where free will is.

D: I'm not certain that unpredictability necessarily means that free will exists.

I: Sure it does!

D: Are you able to completely predict the path of a stone as it rolls down a hill?

I: That's not a fair example. But since I have a hidden trap of my own to spring, I'll play along. No, I can't.

D: And?

I: No, I personally could not. But some people have argued that even in principle, it isn't possible, even in the macro world. And in the quantum world, there's the Uncertainty Principle. It says 'uncertainty' right in the Principle!

D: So, if, even in principle, you could not exactly predict the path of a stone as it rolls down a hill, that would mean that the stone has free will.

I: That is not what I said.

D: I'm waiting.

I: OK. But just because I personally am giving up on this point -- for the moment -- that does not mean that somebody smarter than me can't come up with a better answer.

D: Fair enough.

I: Just so that's clear.

D: Perfectly. Do you want to see where this leads us -- provisionally, of course?

I: No. I mean Yes. But I remember how you hand-waved your way out of talking about 'intentionality' and 'consciousness' before. I haven't forgotten that, either.

D: And you shouldn't. All I claimed at that time -- implicitly, of course -- was that a discussion of those topics diverged from the main line of my argument about the non-existence of free will. Put differently, I implicitly claimed that a discussion of those and similar topics would not present any fatal objection to my argument. I then asked your indulgence to proceed, which you granted.

I: Well, OK then. So, it's like when the prosecutor objects, and Perry Mason says to the judge, "I believe I can connect it up, Your Honor, with a little more latitude." And the judge (that's me, in this case) says, "Very well. On the understanding that you can connect it up, proceed." So... OK, go ahead.

D: Thank you, Your Honor.

I: You're welcome. So -- go ahead. Ruin my day.

D: I wouldn't dream of it. But I know that you mean, 'Continue', so here it is. The argument from coherence seems a very strong one. There may be ways to talk about incoherent intentions, or even about consciousness that is not coherent, but there doesn't seem to be a way to talk about meaning, intelligibility, and reasons, without coherence.

I: Some smart person could conceivably prove you wrong on those points. But yes, I have to agree. And that sinking feeling I had before is returning. But pray, continue.

D: At every moment in its path down the hill, whether that path is 'in principle' predictable or not, the stone is still bound by the True Laws that govern it, whether it likes it or not. So also with coherent human behavior. And of literally incoherent behavior, nothing much can be said.

I: This is starting to look bad for free will. This is upsetting.

D: Take your time.

I: But... wait... wait... Yes! I've thought of something HUGE that I don't see how you could answer. The solution is obvious! So, by all means, go ahead.

D: All right. You're sure?

I: Absolutely.

D: And upon the horns of that dilemma, 'free will': voluntary, coherent, intelligible personal responsibility, evaporates. If any human behavior is coherent, its foundation must be in some True Law or Laws analogous to the law of gravity, we are bound whether we like it or not by them, the words 'disobey' and 'obey' can't apply, and so our action, even if not predictable, can't be voluntary; and if a human behavior is incoherent, nothing much can be said.

I: Whatever.

D: Much of this is pre-admitted by traditional Thomists, for example. The late Ralph McInerny once gave an informal definition of "the Natural Law" as "obligations antecedent to choice, rules that bind us whether we like it or not." [Catholic Dossier [4(5), p. 6, 1998]. This of course sets us on a quest for a 'free will of the gaps' -- arguing about what specific places exist where the rules (the True Laws) don't bind us inevitably and antecedently.

I: As I said: Whatever.

D: We can't 'obey' the True Law of gravity, because we can't 'disobey' it. But if 'free will' can exist solely in human activity that is not bound by True Laws, that appears to reduce 'free will' to the subset of human activities that are incoherent, unintelligible, and thus by definition not meaningful -- irresponsible.

I: Got it. So... How about them Yankees?

D: HATE the Yankees. As any right-thinking person will. But... you're OK with this? Our discussion, I mean?

I: I am not at all OK with Yankee-hatred. Unless they lose. Then they should rot in hell. But about our discussion, yeah, I'm good.

D: But... Oh, I see. It's that 'something HUGE that you don't see how I could answer.'

I: Got it in one.

END OF PART II

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PART III

INNOCENT BYSTANDER: Mr. Devil's Advocate, Sir! Mr. Devil's Advocate, Sir!

D: Hi, again.

I: You want to know my 'something HUGE that I don't see how you could answer'? That completely makes free will necessary, even obvious? Huh? Huh?

D: I surely do!

I: OK! So: Our entire human society depends on free will. Our actions can be voluntary. We are responsible for those voluntary actions. Take that away, and you'd have chaos! And that's even aside from the fact that: it seems to me that I have free will. That my actions are voluntary. That I am responsible for my voluntary actions. And that I expect other people to also believe that their actions are voluntary, and to take responsibility for them. But then, I thought even further, and I found the cherry on top of this hot fudge sundae of insuperable argument!

D: Sounds delicious! I'm all ears!

I: You yourself almost certainly believe in all this, too. And more importantly -- you act as if you do. We're acting and talking like normal people. Normal people believe in free will! So, no matter your argument, there has to be something wrong with it, because that argument is contradicted by all of human society!

D: That is a very, very fine argument.

I: Thank you.

D: It is so easy to get trapped in 'logical' arguments, and spiral down into 'logical' absurdities that are immediately contradicted by the facts, if we would only see them.

I: Exactly.

D: On the other hand, you would agree that just the fact that say, bees have a visible society, doesn't mean that bees have free will?

I: I know that a Devil's Advocate is hired by the Good Guys. But you sure seem as slippery as a snake.

D: Just doin' my job.

I: Sigh. I... that was my best shot. Help me out here.

D: Well, you could argue that the society of bees isn't based on things like intentionality and actual consciousness, so my example wouldn't apply.

I: Yeah! ...Oh, right. There's still that problem of the meaning, the coherence, of human behavior. If a particular human behavior is not just arbitrary, then ultimately, it has to be connectible to a True Law, in which case, words like 'disobey' and 'obey', and I suppose, also 'voluntary', don't seem to fit.

D: Sadly, yes.

I: It's like, we either have to give up 'free will', or we have to give up the very notion of coherence and make everything ultimately arbitrary!

D: "For anything at all to make sense, free will cannot exist". That's the classic 'strong' argument against free will in a nutshell.

I: Well, if that's true, it still feels like swallowing a bucket of warm spit.

D: "Consider how our social lives depend upon the notion of responsibility and how little that idea would mean without our belief that personal actions are voluntary...." [2]

I: Yeah, you said it.

D: Not me. That was Marvin Minsky, a cognitive scientist who doesn't believe in free will, writing in a pretty famous book called The Society of Mind.

I: What? I thought you said he doesn't believe in free will.

D: He doesn't. That's what makes it worse.

I: You have got to be kidding me. There's more? It gets worse? ...OK, one question.

D: Shoot.

I: Even if you are working for the Good Guys, how could I even tell at this point?

D: Is the game on yet? How about a break?

I: Perhaps with a couple of cold ones?

D: I'm buying.

I: Couldn't agree more.

END OF PART III

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PART IV

INNOCENT BYSTANDER: Yankees Rule! Yankees Rule!

D: That is a condition, one would hope, that will be merely temporary. But yes, your team won -- today. I will maintain my optimism.

I: Well, our discussion about the existence of free will doesn't seem to be tending towards optimism.

D: And, as I intimated, it gets worse.

I: Yet strangely, as long as the Yankees Rule, I'm good with that.

D: So, if you recall, cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, who doesn't think that 'free will' is a coherent idea, himself brought up a very strong objection, which is that human society depends very much on the notion of voluntary human responsibility -- free will.

I: And his answer was?

D: The implications of his direct answer make things worst of all. But I think there's some initial responses he might also make, that help to clarify things.

I: Go for it.

D: They only won by 3.

I: They cruised! They weren't even paying attention, and they won by 3! We swatted you like a mosquito! So... by all means, continue.

D: I am going to ignore that. So, 'free will' might be handy. That doesn't make it real. Put differently, many such as Mr. Minsky consider that 'free will' is a genetically inherited rule of thumb, an evolved heuristic.

I: Say what?

D: We're designed to believe in free will, because that turned out to be advantageous.

I: Whether it exists or not.

D: Right. And if you look up the term 'folk physics', you'll see that we may also be designed to believe things about the physical world that aren't strictly true, either. They're evolved rules of thumb, heuristics, that roughly apply in some but not all circumstances. In fact, we probably must be strenuously disabused of at least some of these deeply-ingrained 'natural' ideas to fully absorb even classical Newtonian physics. Which may be a big reason why many first year physics students can manipulate some equations but plainly don't understand much physics.

I: We sort of have to fight off some of our 'obvious', ingrained rules of thumb to start really 'getting' physics. Yeah, I remember that happening to me. Like: there's no such thing as a 'rising fastball' -- a ball that 'jumps' up on its way to the plate.

D: Right. It's a real effect from the batter's point of view -- it really looks that way to him, even to a professional hitter -- but it occurs as a result of a limitation of our human perceptual system; it's not a physical effect.

I: So, if I may, your point is that we may advantageously have evolved a heuristic that we and others have 'free will'. And, just like a rising fastball, we can 'see' it, really see it, due to our evolved rule of thumb -- but that in itself doesn't make it real. Because we could be 'seeing' just our evolved rule of thumb, instead of something real.

D: Yes, except that in my experience, while most people are pretty comfortable with at least the general idea that their eyes can be fooled, they think it's crazy that we might be in error about the existence of free will.

I: And your answer to them is...?

D: I start rambling on about coherence and meaning, their eyes glaze over, and we agree to drop it.

I: It still seems crazy to me that free will might not exist.

D: Yes, and to Mr. Minsky, as well.

I: What? I thought he was the cerebral scientist, who's got this figured out!

D: He does conclude that 'free will' is a myth. But he also concludes -- get this -- that the truth that 'free will' is a myth, is a truth we can face only partially and sporadically. Too much of human life, he says in effect, is built on an evolved, deeply-ingrained 'natural myth' of a free human moral responsibility, so we must oscillate between knowing that the myth of free will isn't true, and behaving as if it is.

I: But that's crazy!

D: But what if that's the reality? What if the reality is, that a fundamental pessimism, even -- dare it be said -- a fundamental insanity, inflicts everything under the sun, as Mr. Minsky practically says out loud. Order, coherence, True Laws, dictate that 'disobedience' and 'obedience' have no coherent content. You are bound by the law of gravity, but you can't 'obey' the law of gravity, because you can't disobey it. And that means that human behavior can be coherent -- but then it can't truly be voluntary. And we're bothered by that simply and only because we have this partly-advantageous evolved rule of thumb that we have free will. And a great deal of human society may depend on this erroneous evolved 'feeling'.

I: A scientist tells us, that we -- even he himself -- can't handle the truth, except in very small doses? A scientist? That, effectively, we have to lie to ourselves about the real story, just to make it through the day? That human society might dissolve if we actually took the truth seriously? And by implication, not only present society but any future one? That, since the future belongs solely to those who show up for it, people who are more likely to face the truth might very well be out-reproduced by those more likely to say 'La-la-la, I can't hear you', and so the whole insane process may repeat, forever?

D: You betcha.

I: Well, screw science.

D: Ah, the young. No science was involved. No scientists were harmed during the making of this argument. That's one thing. And the other is, we've all lived within a Christian ethos for so long, that we've practically forgotten that real pessimism is always a live option. Whatever you think of Christianity, its underlying optimism has become a part of our thinking: "... there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo."

I: Lord of the Rings. And I'm not 'young'. I'm at least 450 years old; I get a little confused about the exact number, what with the changeover from the Julian calendar. But I'm not quite following you.

D: It's not just some Modern Scientists who conclude to a fundamental pessimism about human life, and who end up telling us not to think about that too hard, or we might go crazy. We've more or less forgotten the massive underlying pessimism of the ancient world.... Popcorn?

END OF PART IV

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PART THE LAST

INNOCENT BYSTANDER: Mr. Devil's Advocate, Sir...

D: Thank you for the popcorn; it was delicious.

I: You're very welcome; you bought the beer, after all.

D: Do you detect any difference between 'organic' popcorn and regular popcorn?

I: Why, yes. Organic popcorn is good; regular popcorn is evil.

D: Then why did you buy the regular popcorn?

I: Are you serious? Organic is fifty cents higher!

D: A fully irrefutable response, with which I completely agree. But I think we are ready to conclude our discussion.

I: And I, for one, will regret its end.

D: Most kind. I feel the same. But we were discussing pessimism.

I: Yes, indeed. Of the ancient type.

D: In ancient Greece and Rome, it was often attested that there is no escape from True Laws; which is to say, that the idea of 'disobeying' a True Law is neither meaningful nor coherent, and hence that the idea of a free obedience, of 'free will', was also incoherent. And in those days, what seemed to be the source of, or at least the proxy for, the True Laws was the stars. The historian Daniel Boorstin wrote in his book, The Discoverers:

"The very struggle to become a Christian -- to abandon pagan superstition for Christian free will -- seemed to be a struggle against astrology. [3] ... Faith in a star-written destiny had dissuaded Romans, such as Emperor Tiberius, from paying homage even to their pagan gods." [4]

I: Well, the first thing that strikes me is that this is the identical argument we've been looking at. I imagine that you're updating the vocabulary, ignoring some changes, but preserving the underlying line of thinking.

D: Correct.

I: And the second thing that strikes me to ask is: OK, I get that refusing to pay homage to the gods was a big enough deal, was seen as so central to Roman life, that on and off for several centuries, the simple act of not paying homage would get a Christian killed. And so it was a pretty big deal for the Emperor himself not to do that. And I could see how he might get away with it; Emperors got away with a lot of things. But weren't people appalled, anyway? Wouldn't at least some of his advisers have urged him to put on a happy face, and pay homage to the gods, despite his personal philosophy?

D: Making Mr. Minsky's argument to him?

I: Pretty much, yes.

D: I'm sure Tiberius heard something like that argument, from someone. Indeed, the idea was widely circulated in the Roman world, it was 'in the air' of the time: even if the stars do make human responsibility incoherent, all men should nonetheless behave as if human responsibility were real, lest human society itself be at risk. So Tiberius should pay homage to the gods, regardless.

I: Shades of Mr. Minsky.

D: No, not 'shades of' him, as if we should pick on him or something. I'm praising Mr. Minsky for putting this classic argument so well and so articulately, and for being brave enough to follow his argument wherever it may lead. Most people aren't, you know -- either brave enough, or intelligent enough.

I: I get it. You're citing him because he's really good at this.

D: Right. And as Mr. Boorstin noted elsewhere in his book, Christians themselves had huge problems with this pessimism and found it very hard to answer. They believed that Jesus was Risen, so they knew it had to be false, but they couldn't show how. All I've done is update the classic version, which spoke of 'the stars' (and even earlier, of those very gods which Tiberius began to question), to something like 'the laws of science', 'of nature', or 'of logic', the Theory of Everything, etc. -- whatever vocabulary you prefer.

I: Wow. And since I'm a speed reader, I've been checking out some things on the Internet as we've been talking. Now that I know where to look, I'm seeing the same pessimism in the classical Eastern societies, too. Lots of talk about the Great Wheel that just goes round and round, for instance.

D: And don't forget this one:

"This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that one fate comes to all; also the hearts of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead." [5]

I: Wow, that's a good one. Really harsh. Where's that from?

D: The book of Ecclesiastes.

I: From the Bible? That's in the Bible?

D: What do you think "To every thing, turn, turn, turn..." [6] really means?

I: You mean that's not happy talk, like in the song? That interpretation is a total farce? It's actually Great Wheel pessimism?

D: You bet your sweet bippie, it is.

I: A time to be born, a time to die... the Wheel goes round and round.

D: Sorry.

I: Whew! This has all been pretty depressing. I mean, except for the conversation, and the beer and the popcorn. And the Yankees winning, of course. As well they should. But I can tell we're winding down now, so now you're going to get to the part where you explain that we actually have free will, anyway. So, that's good.

D: No, I'm not.

I: WHAT?

D: There is no adequate rejoinder to the classic 'strong' argument against the existence of free will, given its premises. Would you like to know how St. Augustine, one of the most brilliant minds of any era, resolved the question to his own satisfaction?

I: I'm afraid to answer. Oh, go ahead...

D: He satisfied himself that astrology doesn't work.

I: But of course astrology doesn't work! We have modern scientific explanations... Oh.

D: That's right. If astrology really did work, Augustine would have had no satisfactory rejoinder. Since he believed that Jesus is Risen, he knew we had to have free will and the stars couldn't be decisive, but he couldn't show how that could be. So he settled for: astrology is not decisive, therefore, free will.

I: So we have a kind of 'free will of the gaps'. As our accounts, recipes, equations, theories, more and more closely approximate True Laws, there'll be less and less room for the argument Augustine made.

D: Of course, I'm neglecting centuries of Catholic theology, Protestant theology, all manner of philosophy, other religions, and so forth. Lots and lots of very smart people -- much smarter than I am, both individually, and certainly collectively.

I: But you're pretty sure that the classic 'strong' argument from coherence is difficult for them to answer, also.

D: If meaning and intelligibility and coherence exist by their connection to necessity, to things that can't not be true -- to what I've called True Laws -- then, yes.

I: So you suspect they kind of finagle free will in -- astrology is bunk, therefore, free will, QED; or one of those arguments we've discussed; or something else that might leave us hoping that free will exists, but which never quite gets us there. Is that about it?

D: Yes, my inestimable Bystander, that is about it.

I: That's 'Innocent' Bystander, but thanks for the compliment. But one thing more. As Bertie Wooster might say, "Dash it all, that's a bit rummy, Jeeves, wouldn't you say? Well, then, what about this Keefe chappie?"

D: As Jeeves might have replied, "I would not endeavour to say, Sir."

I: Would not, or could not?

D: Would not, Sir.

I: Well, why not?

D: Religion, I have observed, Sir, is no longer considered a fit subject for the Modern Mind.

I: You mean we'd be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail if we were seen to be taking it seriously.

D: I might not have deployed quite as colorful a collection of metaphors to make the case, Sir, but that is substantially my opinion.

I: Then there's nothing for it but the old, 'Exit, pursued by a bear'.

D: I believe so, Sir. I have taken the liberty of packing your suitcases with clothing and accoutrements adequate to our destination. I can have the motorcar available in twenty minutes.

I: Make it ten. We shall renew ourselves on tomorrow morning's good old b. and eggs where rougher climes a nobler race display, What, Jeeves?

D: Very good, sir. [7]

THE END

===

[1] Porter C. (song lyric) Let's Do It.
[2] Minksy M. The Society of Mind. p. 307.
[3] Boorstin D. The Discoverers. p. 41.
[4] Ibid. p. 43.
[5] Eccl 9:3.
[6] Seeger P. (song lyric) Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season).
[7] No actual Wodehouse was harmed in the construction of this passage.

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