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Thought for the Day: Will Vs. Free Will

Consider the following thought experiment: have your friend throw/roll a bowling ball down a lane in which you have set up sensor to determine the precise speed, angle, and rotation of the ball just after he releases.  You can then predict, with whatever accuracy you want (just get better sensors for better results), precisely what pins he will knock down  (which, by the way, is precisely how the Wii Sports bowling game works).  Alternatively, I could set up sensors to measure the direction and speed of each pin in the set and then use that to tell him precisely what the speed, angle, and rotation of the ball was just after he released.  I assume you are not shocked.

You are not shocked because everyone knows that's the way the physical world works.  Given the complete state of a system now, I can (in principle) tell you what its state will be at any moment in the future and what it must have been at an moment in the past.  That is, of course, unless someone got in there and mixed in.  I can tell where the ball was when your friend released it, but not when he will decide to pick up the ball to play.  Why not?  Obvious answer: because humans have free will.

Less obvious issue: ummm... how the heck did human beings get free will?  I mean, if releasing the ball is just completely physical (albeit complex) electrochemical nerve impules, then I should be able to trace those back to their source.  Their source, of course, is in the brain, which seems to be (according to the biology books) just a really, really complicated mass of electrochemical processes; so again, I should be able to trace them back to their source.  In principle, I should be able to trace back the source of that bowling game back to the moment right after creation.  At this point, both Torah creation and Big Bang/evolution agree that there is a source of Will that human beings manifest as free will.

I brought this up to a friendly atheist once as a proof that even he has to admit that there is an external source of Will and in so doing admit to that creation was an act of will; which sounds a whole lot like what I say.  He had a very good answer (which was why I asked him... so hard to find a rational and reasonable atheists!).  The universe contains electrically charged matter, yet (according to them) electrically charged matter did not appear in the very early universe; ie, potential to express electric charge is different than manifesting electric charge.  Analogously, the potential for a being to develop free will is different than manifesting free will.

In fact, even we should recognize that HaShem's Will is different from my free will.  I may or may not decide to do something that I believe is appropriate; that is, my wisdom (such as it is) is different from my free will.  That might happen because I am not convinced that I my analysis of the situation is complete, or because I don't have the ability to execute my decision, or I am not interested enough to put out the requisite effort, or oodles of other reasons.  None of that applies to HaShem, so His Wisdom and Will are just different manifestations of His Oneness.  The expression of my choice is between alternatives; hence the term "free will".  The expression of HaShem's Will is just that; not a choice, really, but a simple expression.  My choices for change are a response to some deficiency; another aspect of my free will that is not relevant to HaShem's Will.

What this discussion does do for us is to put Torah creation and Big Bang/evolution firmly onto a level playing field.  Coming to Orthodoxy from a completely secular and scientific background, it was important for me to come to this realization to get over my own embarrassment about even entertaining thoughts that the world was created.


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