|Chicago Theological Seminary|
Many scholars were asked to respond to this, mostly of the secular variety.
Evolutionary theorist Jerry Coyne (University of Chicago) says his question is:
"If science does in fact confirm that we lack free will, what are the implications for our notions of blame, punishment, reward, and moral responsibility?"
Now that is a great question. And a pressing one. A much-discussed one.
For if we lack free will, and what I do is not because "I" chose it, but is either determined or indeterminate, then...
... I am not responsible...,
... I cannot take credit for what I do (I can neither be blamed nor praised)...
... and I cannot be punished for "doing" (what would that mean, if no free will?) something "wrong?" I could be institutionalized because I am a danger to society. But this would not be because I committed a crime, since "committing" myself to something implies a choice.
I think this question, which is so very important for our future, is in principle unanswerable. For what sense would it make for a scientist to choose to confirm that we cannot make choices out of our free will?
I suggest we are rational in assuming what feels intuitive to us; viz., that there is an "I" who is able to make choices that are not fully reducible to antecedent causal conditions; hence, assuming free will exists. (Our belief in free will is what philosophers call a "properly basic belief.")