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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 17-Sep-10


Friday 17-September-10

Is free will a bad thing?

The Pope's in the UK this week, and is not all sweetness and light, giving us all a good ticking off for being overly secular and generally too radical. But then I'd guess that the Vatican are still a bit sore about Henry VIII kicking them out because they wouldn't give him a divorce, so maybe there's little new there.

Controversial subjects aside (ordination of women, etc.) I found a talk about one of his subjects quite interesting. The basic tenet seems to be that if you let people make their own choices about things they will tend to make relatively short-term, self-serving decisions. When this comes down to what is good and bad, right and wrong, then the net effect is a steady decay in social values and the destruction of society. If there is a central church that owns moral decisions then, the Pope argues, the greater good in the world will be sustained and may steadily be increased.

There's sense to this although the question then arises as to who exactly makes decisions about this. Governments, of course, do some things, in protecting the weak and redistributing some wealth to the poor, but they are still beholden to the electorate who will punish them for doing too much good. Would you vote for a party that promised 100% taxation and then equal redistribution? Communism's a nice ideal but it doesn't seem to work too well in practice. Maybe the Pope would suggest this is another example of the secular inability for good.

The basic principle seems to be that the best approach is to have a benevolent dictator who is guided by a stable set of principles. Yet even this has its limits as there is still plenty of interpretation to do. As many religions have shown, reinterpreting holy texts can lead you to war and worse.

The question remains -- what free will and free choice should we have? And if we would cede guidance to a central authority, what should that be?

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