28 Chapter 2
THE NATURE OF REALITY
There is a tricky point here that needs a little time to sink in. The
claim being made is not that free will seems impossible to a few
godless modern scientists, but that scientists have discovered
something real. In other words, the existence of free will is going to
look more and more impossible, as science marches on. Mr. Pinker's
assertion really is: as they have begun to already, scientists will, over
time, more and more precisely be able to describe and to quantify the
laws governing human behavior. In five hundred years, no one will
find the existence of human freedom to be reasonable, just as no one
now finds a flat earth to be reasonable. The case against both of them
will simply be too decisively established.
Mr. Pinker and scientists like him do not at all dispute that it seems
to us that we have free will, any more than they would dispute that the
earth looks flat, if you look out your kitchen window. They don't even
dispute that we might be very insistent that -- in both cases -- "it's just
obvious" to us what the correct answer is, that our response to the
claim might be: "but you can just look out the window and see that the
earth is flat!"
Nonetheless, what things look like, at first glance, and what the
case is, are two different things, as all rational people now accept
regarding the shape of the earth -- and as they will increasingly accept
regarding free will. Although there are still a few extremely primitive
men, and some extremely childish ones, who continue to insist that the
earth is flat, in five hundred years, men who believe in free will will
have the same social, cultural, and intellectual status as flat-earthers.
Nonetheless, continues Mr. Pinker, he is not upset, nor need we be,
for -- ta-dah! -- free will can still exist, if it is something that actually
exists, but will forever appear to be an illusion to rational human
This point is a bit tricky. Mr. Pinker is not, at the last minute,
denying what he spends 500 pages proving: that scientists will
continue, day by day, year by year, to uncover more and more
evidence that free will is impossible. His version of "don't worry, be
happy" amounts to finding a special way of looking at this fact, so that
we can continue to believe in free will, anyway. Using this special way
of looking, nobody need ever be disturbed by these findings.
However, something important escapes Mr. Pinker's notice, when,
in the very last pages of his book, he turns to this cheerful reassurance.
For what Mr. Pinker's 'reassurance' actually amounts to, is that we can
still believe the truth that free will exists -- but only by assuming that
human rational inquiry will inevitably lead us further and further away
from the truth that free will exists.
Over time, rational scientific inquiry will lead us to conclude, more
N.B. This is an html-ized copy of a page from the pdf file, The Knucklehead's Guide to Covenantal Theology.