Matt C. Abbott
Is free will for real?; Pope Francis: 'you cannot love God outside of the Church'
By Matt C. Abbott
June 27, 2014

From a June 19 story at Live Science:
    It's a question that has plagued philosophers and scientists for thousands of years: Is free will an illusion? Now, a new study suggests that free will may arise from a hidden signal buried in the 'background noise' of chaotic electrical activity in the brain, and that this activity occurs almost a second before people consciously decide to do something....
I asked Father John Trigilio Jr., author, theologian and president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, to comment on this latest "study."

Father's response is as follows (slightly edited):
    Philosophical poppycock. Or, to be more precise, a pure non sequitur fallacy. That's how to categorize this study as reported by Live Science. Empiricism maintains that only what is sensibly observable is true and real. It's the 180 degree antithesis of rationalism. Both, however, conflict with the moderate realism we find in Scholastic Thomism, which Holy Mother Church rightfully calls 'perennially valid.'

    Free will is what distinguishes the human soul from animal and vegetative souls. Computers work on programming. Animals act out of instinct. Human beings have two faculties of their immortal souls: the rational intellect and the free will. What differentiates an act of man (actus hominis) from a human act (actus humanus) is the exercise of the free will. Only willed acts are moral acts.

    If the latest so-called scientific position is upheld, no terrorist can be captured and brought to justice. No murderer, no rapist, no thief can be held accountable if free will is an illusion.

    The Nuremberg Trials after World War II were based on the natural moral law premise that the first moral principle is known by everyone and anyone having the use of reason. Nazis were tried for their crimes against humanity, especially genocide in the Final Solution (the Holocaust or Shoah). Since it was accepted as logically true, every criminal tried was presumed to have free will and thus his or her actions were moral and thereby culpable. Free willed acts can be morally good or morally evil. Without free will, there is no moral act and therefore no responsibility. The excuse, 'I was merely following orders,' did not hold water.

    Without free will, man is but a sophisticated organism or an organic machine. Free will makes us human. Without it, we are educated animals. Rational intellect alone does not make us human. We need both faculties of the human soul to be human. Decisions humans make may not always be logical; often, they are immoral and evil. But for them to be human, they must be freely willed choices.

    Our whole jurisprudence is based on responsibility rooted in free will. Diminished freedom can occur from 'ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1735). Alcohol, drugs and other substances can almost completely impede one's freedom in certain severe cases. However, persons still have culpability for actions such as drunk driving and drug-induced criminal behavior.

    If we believe this study, we may as well close all prisons and fire all police and judges. After all, no one is morally or ethically responsible since free will is merely an illusion. If men and women are predetermined or prewired to act in all cases, there is no basis for guilt or innocence.

    We know better than that, lest we forget 9-11, the Holocaust, slavery, racial segregation and all other acts of human evil.

Some very interesting remarks given by Pope Francis during a June 25 general audience – which, of course, won't get anywhere near the extensive media coverage his "who am I to judge?" remark received:
    We are Christians because we belong to the Church. It's like a last name: if the first name is 'I am a Christian,' the last name is 'I belong to the Church.' No one becomes a Christian by himself....

    There are those who believe you can have a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside of the communion and the mediation of the Church. These are dangerous and harmful temptations....

    On the contrary, you cannot love God without loving the brothers, you cannot love God outside of the Church; you cannot be in communion with God without being in the Church. (Source)
© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, WOSU Radio in Ohio, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback and story ideas. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if those emails are marked confidential. Also, if you give me permission to publish a quote of yours in my column, please do not contact me at a later time to request that I delete your name. Only in very rare circumstances will I quote anonymous sources. Thank you and God bless!)


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