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Ninth Lecture. The Genesis of Mind

John Lucas

The other three lecturers, in the course of their final lectures, have each indicated a certain urge to rewrite the book of Genesis—for different reasons. Waddington wanted to say that the important thing was what he said to her and what she said to him, because this brought about language and that was the cause of original sin. Kenny was also interested in language as being the one thing which evolution could not explain and the one point where, since language was what made man in the divine image, some further explanation needed to be sought. And Longuet-Higgins wanted to change the botany of the Garden of Eden, with the apple-tree being the apple-tree of scientific knowledge rather than the knowledge of good and evil.

Tonight I want to go into these themes rather more fully in both a traditional and a contemporary frame of mind. Traditionally, I want to take up a debate which took place in 1860 between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley, which was posed by Wilberforce in the terms of the descent of man: ‘Are we descended from apes or angels?’ It is generally reckoned, though as a matter of historical fact incorrectly, that Huxley beat Wilberforce, or, in the terms suggested, that ‘the apes had it’. Nevertheless, some obstinate questions still remain. We are quite clear now that man is a primate and has evolved from primates who themselves evolved with the vertebrates and the chordates and so on, and if we are concerned only with the genetic explanation, then that is the explanation we must give. But still we feel that something is left out, and this is something I want to bring out today, partly to pick up two other themes which we have been developing in the course of these lectures: the theme of there being different types of explanation, and the theme of autonomy or freedom.

In order to put the question in more contemporary terms than those of a debate 100 years ago, I shall pick out the difficulties as they have presented themselves to Jacques Monod. In his book Chance and Necessity, he expressed in modern form many of the difficulties that we feel when we turn to consider the Genesis of Mind. Before I criticise him, let me first praise him. Praise him for his style, praise him also and more significantly for the biblical fervour with which he writes. We keep on hearing about the Old Covenant being annulled and the need for a new one, and this is symptomatic. Monod thinks that he writes as a molecular biologist, ruminating on the implications of the genetic code; but he feels as a man, coming to terms with the human predicament. The reason why his book has caught on is not because of the many true things which he, as a scientist, tells us which we didn't know before, but because he is expressing things which we often have felt but find it difficult to put into words.

The key error which I shall elaborate in Monod's book lies in the title—Chance and Necessity. He thinks that these two concepts are opposed, and that you can discover what chance is just simply by contrasting it with necessity. He does not realise that necessity is itself a highly ambiguous word which has many different meanings. Just take one quotation:

‘There is no chemically necessary relationship between the fact that β–galactosidase hydrolyses β—galactosides, and the fact that its biosynthesis is induced by the same compounds. Physiologically useful or “rational”, this relationship is chemically arbitrary—“gratitous” one may say’ (p. 78, cf. pp. 135–6).

Throughout this book, as one reads it, one needs to underline these words ‘arbitrary’, ‘gratuitous’, ‘chance’, ‘necessity’, ‘random’, and ask exactly what they mean.

You remember that after the first lecture, when I was arguing against Longuet-Higgins, I produced the case of the pin-table and the result, which looks rather like a cock-hat, of what happens if you drop balls from the top through a large number of pins into a number of slots (p. 10). Monod gives another metaphor, which I shall elaborate as being more congenial to Longuet-Higgins's heart. If I took this microphone and put it too close to the loudspeaker, I should get a positive feed-back; any noise coming into the microphone is amplified, and emitted by the loudspeaker, and then it comes into the microphone again and so on, and becomes a heterodyne whistle. The note of the whistle depends on certain characteristics, acoustic and electrical, of the medium and the circuit, and I could, by varying these, get a number of different notes, and indeed I could arrange that it should vary systematically. In fact, if we let Longuet-Higgins loose with one of his computers, it wouldn't be long before he produced a program which as soon as any noise came in to set up a heterodyne whistle, would produce just those notes which are the opening bars of, say, one of the Brandenburg Concertos. This is an example of how the music of the biosphere (one of Monod's favourite metaphors—see e.g. Chance and Necessity, p. 114) could be extracted from the random noise of the fluctuations and mutations which he rightly sees as the basis of the evolutionary process.

This is not a form of explanation peculiar to the biological sciences. The chemists and the physicists also use it. There is a theory of the evolution of the elements. If you want them to explain how the elements come about, they draw attention to the fact that, thanks to quantum indeterminacy, there will always be fluctuations in energy levels and that even very difficult energy walls can occasionally, not so much be surmounted, as burrowed through; and so in the fullness of time all sorts of different configurations will be tried out. It is a question of quantum mechanics—what configurations are relatively stable?—and it will be found that in the fullness of time hydrogen sometimes gives rise to deuterium or helium. One can thus build up an account of how the elements have evolved, which depends essentially on the overall structure of the quantum levels of the nuclear particles. In the same way, many chemical explanations—that of the precipitation of silver chloride in terms of solubility-products—pay attention not to a genetic account but rather some overall properties. This type of explanation is a rational, rather than a genetic or a regularity explanation. Moreover, it is open-ended rather than sewn-up, because stability is always relative to context. This last point is the most obvious one when we are considering the biological sciences, where the reason why a species has survived is because it is well adapted to its habitat, and has been able to fit well the ecological niche which is available to it, and adapt itself to any others that may be open to it.

We can see how, over the centuries, the endless interminable fluctuations of DNA molecules and proteins will ensure that every possible combination is likely to be tried and subjected to ecological constraints, and any viable one is likely to be explored and realised. When we come to consider man, we want to say two things. First, that if the question: ‘How has man evolved?’ is asked in a purely genetic way seeking for a purely genetic explanation, we agree with Darwin and Huxley. But if we ask the other question: ‘Why has evolution produced something like men?’, then we shall pick out those features of homo sapiens which have made him particularly able to survive, namely his ability to anticipate, to accommodate to, and often to control, his environment, and his ability to concert his efforts with other members of the species; or, to put it another way, the fact that he has a mind and can talk. That is to say, if we ask the question: ‘Why has man evolved?’, we shall find ourself talking about the fact that man is endowed with a mind and can communicate with other men by means of messages; those very excellences wherein man is like the angels.

The Darwinian controversy produced a great sense of shock—it was thought to refute the standard arguments for the existence of God, the Argument from Design; and so in a sense, it did. But before we are too sad about the fact that we no longer have any need, as working biologists or working scientists generally, for the theistic hypothesis, we should look rather carefully at the sort of God whose existence can no longer be proved. Yesterday, I protested at the view Longuet-Higgins was taking when he went ‘shopping around’ for gods. But today while still maintaining that there is a certain logical as well as theological inappropriateness about the consumer approach, let me go with Christopher and Tony on a shopping expedition, as Tony tries to find a god that Christopher can believe in. Since they have certain left-wing leanings, we will borrow the metaphors from the means of production. The first god that Tony offers Christopher, is a good eighteenth century working man, the great craftsman, the Demiurge who is able to make the world as it is, because this is exactly how he designed it. And instead of taking up Longuet-Higgins's objection that this is an out-of-date conception that has been rendered obsolete by more recent technological developments, let us just look at it in the spirit of Which?, noting its merits and demerits. It has certain merits; not only did it explain the biological phenomena and some of the astronomical ones, but also it gave us a doctrine of particular providence, which explained why I am here and what I ought to do. It gave some sort of meaning to life, and this should be given two or three ticks in the credit column. But it had certain bad points; in particular, it had no room for any sort of human freedom or spontaneity—the metaphor was that of the potter's vessel; and, with due respect to St Paul, this ought not to be the dominant metaphor of any theistic understanding of the nature of man. We are not playthings. If we are to understand ourselves at all, we must see ourselves in some sense as being in the image of God, in the likeness of the ultimate reality, and therefore must ascribe to ourselves some sort of freedom. Therefore, quite apart from any modern objections, we can see that there are certain moral and theological objections to the first god that Kenny offered Longuet-Higgins.

We turn to a more modern version; not a craftsman, but a manufacturer engaged on mass-production. We now see God as the great Lord Nuffield, who produces innumerable copies of the same standard design. This is the god of the classical chemist, who created enormous numbers of atoms that are exact replicas of each other. This view of the Demiurge producing a universe on a certain standard pattern has a very respectable ancestry. But as we begin to look at it, even Lord Nuffield finds himself redundant. We begin to play down the Demiurge and play up the patterns—the Forms. We consider no longer the god of the great chemist, but the god of the chemist-turned-mathematician, where what we stress are the underlying configurations of possible states of affairs. We want to see what paradigms are possible, and we pick out those patterns and look on them as our explanation of why the cosmos is as it is. And then we move a stage further, and try and see a more ‘Waddingtonian’ god, with craggy, chreodic features in which we are no longer emphasising only law-likeness, the intellectual elegance to which Longuet-Higgins paid eloquent tribute last night, but also the sense of potentiality —the sense that there is always a bit more to it, that the universe is in some sense more creative, it is always finding out new things. When we consider the biological phenomena of the world, we are impressed in two different ways: one is the immense prodigality of the biological world; the other is the inexhaustible variety and the endless initiative of the biological world. I shall not discuss the former, as I do not think we can extract a clear moral from it; but the latter we can see as giving us a clue to another possible god for Longuet-Higgins to believe in. Even so, he may not be fully content: this god, he may feel, still does not explain the whole range of human affairs and, in particular, neither answers our moral needs nor gives an entirely satisfactory account of the existence of mind. Certainly Monod feels dissatisfied. Not only will his dissatisfaction aid our thinking about the nature of mind; but so too will our dissatisfaction with some aspects of his account reveal one important requirement of any overall description of what the world must be like if it is to describe adequately a world in which minds exist.

Monod writes under a great sense of shock—he is appalled at the idea of ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’; he has the same reaction to it as the Victorians—'so careful of the type she seems, so careless of the single life’. He keeps emphasising how nature seems to be entirely indifferent to our purposes and deaf to our music. It is a real feeling that many of us have. But we should see it as the other face of freedom. If we are autonomous agents capable of choosing a number of different things, it is necessary that the Nature in which we make these choices shall be indifferent to our choices. In many ways of course, we are not totally free. I am not effectively free to eat arsenic; if I eat arsenic, my life would come to a rapid and painful end. And when we say that man is free, what we have in mind is at least two things. First, that we are able to think and feel any of a wide range of things without suffering deleterious consequences; and, second, there is a reasonably wide range of things that we are able to do without suffering any deleterious consequences. And this is the reason why we have the sense of aimlessness and loneliness that Monod puts forward when he tries to see the world: ‘If man accepts this message in its full significance, he must at last wake out of his millenary dream and discover his total solitude, his fundamental isolation. He must realise that like a gypsy he lives on the boundary of an alien world; a world that is deaf to his music, and as indifferent to his hopes as it is to his suffering or his crimes’ (p. 160). Very eloquent, but not new. We didn't need Monod to tell us that here we have no abiding city, that we are pilgrims and sojourners as all our fathers were; and it is not because of any discoveries of molecular physics that we can come to see this, but because of our first consciousness of what it is to be a person, our first consciousness of being number one, a self that is aware of itself as an autonomous agent. That is to say, if I have any sort of freedom, then necessarily I must see myself as being something separate from the world. It is part of the logic of the first person singular that I should see myself as:

‘I, a stranger, and afraid,

In a world I never made.’

The Old Covenant, which Monod says is broken, is set over against this as something coming before our awareness of our own autonomy; and for most of us most of the time it is possible to live under habits of mind that we have inherited from our parents and a number of conventional wisdoms and traditions we have taken over from our own society. It is only occasionally that we come to realise that all things are possible, and that although conventional wisdom lays it down that this, and this, and this, is the way of doing it, nevertheless, it is possible to think of doing other things, and even to do them. And it is only then that we become aware of ourselves, or as the myth of the Garden of Eden puts it, that we are naked. It is the nakedness that I want to bring out at the moment, which comes to people that are conscious of their own autonomy, as they realise that they have no vestiges of customary costume to clothe their own inadequacies. The Old Covenant was a covenant of servitude; but we have a very ambiguous attitude towards emancipation, and emancipation is a painful process whether for Adam, St Paul, or Ivan Karamazov. It is difficult to come to terms with being able to make free choices, and therefore one is bound to look back on the simple certitudes of one's youth with nostalgic eyes and to think that because we were at home and everything was happy then, we are necessarily orphans now. But this conclusion doesn't follow, any more than the conclusion which Monod actually drew from the discoveries of molecular physics.

Not only does Monod's conclusion not follow, but one crucial aspect of his account is itself inherently unsatisfactory. (In case you feel that I'm being a bit unfair in concentrating on one aspect of one man's world view, I should explain that I have a reason for concentrating on particular examples. I'm not sure that I can give a complete overall account of the world or how we should go about constructing one. But what I think I can show is a way—a schema of argument—in which a range of different alternative accounts can be refuted. And from this we can obtain some guidance about how we ourselves should go about the job. See also p. 149). Monod is obviously uncomfortable when he talks about the Kingdom, and about Values and Knowledge, because he is committed to a certain doctrine of the objectivity of knowledge which runs counter to another doctrine he has about all values being essentially non-objective, and so he has to have a certain rather implausible appeal to some fundamental ethical axiom, or an arbitral choice, which will justify our having any concern for knowledge at all. And this can't work; that is to say, it must be incoherent to separate too sharply knowledge from values, at least so long as we believe that knowledge is worth pursuing and that truth ought to be believed. Any definition of truth or any criterion of objectivity which cannot accommodate this fact must be rejected because it is denying its own warrant of acceptability. You can't have a theory of knowledge which makes knowledge not worth pursuing or an account of truth which leaves it, as it were, an open choice whether you believe what is true or not. To do this, would be to cut off the branch on which you are sitting. It was an intimation of this that led me to formulate my Gödelian argument last year, and to claim that a whole range of otherwise possible overall philosophies must be in some sense self-defeating.

Although knowledge is in some important sense objective, and although values must, if they are to be authentic, be autonomously adopted, it doesn't follow that it is merely a subjective whim whether one should choose to desire knowledge or not. It is never enough, therefore, to say merely that knowledge is objective; we need also to recognise that it must be personal, that knowledge is necessarily concerned with the knower as well as the known. And so, if as autonomous agents we aspire to affirm values that are objectively valid, we shall have to base them on certain fundamental facts of our existence. Not only are we independent of the world and to that extent set in a world that is indifferent to us, but we are in a world which has a matter of fact evolved us rational intelligent beings, and which, we now see, evolved us in a sense naturally and as a matter of course. And if we embark on any sort of metaphysics, we shall find it difficult to ascribe to the cosmic reality any lesser reality or any lesser rationality than we ourselves possess. When yesterday Longuet-Higgins was talking about cosmic purposes, Kenny began to make this point against him, that unless he was prepared to talk about something which could probably be described as God, his position was going to be necessarily incoherent. And I should maintain, quite generally, that any view of the universe large enough to include the fact that minds exist will itself have to be so large, so rational and so personal as to deserve the appellation of ‘God’.

To sum up: Monod is wrong and the French Existentialists are wrong and many sceptical philosophers are wrong, all for very similar reasons; they err both in their diagnosis of what Monsieur Monod calls the ‘soul's sickness’, and in the remedy that they offer. The breakdown of the Old Covenant is real; but it is due not to our discovering that values aren't objective but to our realising that we are free, enfranchised with the knowledge of good and evil, and able to choose the evil rather than the good. Values indeed are empty unless they are adopted by our own free choice, and we do not have to choose to adopt them. But from this it does not follow that if we choose them, they are just vanity, or that to choose them is an acte gratuit or inherently absurd. It doesn't follow; but it may seem to. On the Christian view, it is part of the human predicament that although man needs—and once again I quote—‘an ideal transcending the individual self to the point even of justifying self-sacrifice’ (p. 165), he cannot, as an autonomous self, establish one from his own resources. For that, something else is needed, something from outside involving not the austere concepts of morality and autonomy, but the more intimate concerns of personal relationships and love. So far as natural theology is concerned, the delineation of these must remain for ever in the optative mood. And to go any further, and to argue that these desiderata are, fortunately for us, in fact fulfilled, would involve appeals to Revelation which lie beyond the scope of the Gifford Lectures.



I'm sure we would all agree with much of what John has said; I certainly do. I should like, though, to try and restore the balance a little bit by putting right what are, in my opinion, slight distortions of Monod's position which I think John has made.

As I understand Monod's position, he starts from a certain intellectual problem which is that although we have no reason to suppose that there is any rhyme or reason about what atom is going to hit what molecule next, or what cosmic ray is going to hit what DNA molecule in what place, none the less, evolution does result in the appearance of living creatures and forms which show this characteristic of teleonomy. Now, his provisional answer to that problem, which he develops at some length with characteristic elegance—its really a modern development of the Darwinian theory—is that we have at work a selective process which is particularly effective because of the way in which, once you get started on a particular teleonomic system, the system can bootstrap itself and raise itself by its own shoe-laces, by incorporating new and biologically viable gimmicks which will help it to explore more thoroughly, to make the most use of its present ecological niche. As he puts it (in my own translation):

‘The extraordinary stability of certain species, the millions of years which evolution has covered, the invariance of the fundamental chemical plan for the cell, can only be explained by the extreme coherence of the teleonomic system, which in evolution has thus played the role both of guide and critic, and has preserved, amplified and integrated only a tiny fraction of the possibilities offered to it in astronomical numbers by the roulette wheel of nature’.

That is the necessity which he talks about. When Monod speaks of necessity, he's talking about the inexorable laws which determine that if you bring two DNA molecules together which don't fit, then they won't fit; but if you have a hereditary mechanism of the sort which he describes in such detail, then this will act as a very effective stabilising influence on any advantageous changes which occur. So I think that John has slightly misrepresented the precision of Monod's thought about chance and necessity. That's my first point. (I might add, incidentally, that Monod does say on the cover of his book: ‘It is inadvisable today for a man of science to use the word “philosophy” in the title or even the sub-title of a book. To do so is a guarantee that he will be greeted with contempt by scientists and at best with condescension by philosophers.’)

I'd like to take up some of the later points in John's paper. I think that he has correctly identified the weakness of the principle of objectivity as an ethical principle, if one accepts, as one reasonably might, a sharp distinction between knowledge and value. But I think I should just say what the principle of objectivity actually is, because Monod in fact defines it quite precisely early in his book where he says: ‘The corner stone of the scientific method is the postulate of the objectivity of nature, that is to say, the systematic refusal to entertain as a true explanation of phenomena any interpretation in terms of final causes or plans’. In other words, what Monod is rejecting in adopting the postulate of the objectivity of nature is exactly what John calls the doctrine of particular providence. John's statement of the doctrine of particular providence is that according to the doctrine everything that happens is foreseen and is the intentional handiwork of the Creator, so for John to reject that doctrine is for him to embrace Monod's principle of objectivity.

So let's see where we go from here. John Lucas and Jacques Monod seem to agree in essence as to how the phenomena of evolution should be interpreted. The real point of disagreement comes at the end, when we have the problem of how does one fit together one's knowledge and one's ethics. Here I should like to start a hare. I'm sure that many people in this room will be familiar with some current trends in the subject of artificial intelligence; it turns out to be very illuminating, and helpful, to represent knowledge as essentially procedural. Let me explain. To know that this is a glass which I could drink out of, is to have at my disposal a certain routine which I can go through when drinking; that is the cash value of my knowledge that this is a glass and that the stuff in it is water. Now, if ethics isn't about what we can do and about the decisions we can make, then I don't know what it's about; and I think that if you look at knowledge as essentially a useful set of tips or rules of thumb, you see that the dividing line is likely to become slightly imprecise between a system of knowledge and an ethical system. I think that this might be a way of interpreting what Jacques Monod means when he says that to accept the principle of objectivity is to adopt the basic proposition of an ethic, the ethic of knowledge; and I believe that that remark has to be thought about for a very long time before one can evaluate it properly.


I will just make three points. I don't want to argue about Monod's scientific doctrines; it is outside my competence. Of course, I was trying to say the same as he, but to put a different complexion on it. He talks about the chances of the various configurations. I say in one sense this is random, but then I point out another way in which it is only to be expected—it is rational; and so when he says ‘chance versus necessity’, or ‘chance versus rationality’ as I would rather put it, I want to concede that there is something chancy about it, but there's another type of reasoning which shows it nevertheless, not to be irrational, but on the contrary rational. Secondly, I agree with Christopher that I am rejecting the doctrine of particular providence; not just simply because it's been shown to be wrong scientifically, but on moral and human grounds because it denies human freedom. I tried to show that if one is going to have any account of man which allows man to be free, then there is bound to be some sort of randomness in the universe just following from the fact that, in one sense, man is free.

The third point which Christopher said was true, was that we should meditate on the implications of Monod's fundamental ethical postulate. Indeed I think we should; but I think that, if one tries to think it through, it then leads to the rather large metaphysics that I espouse, rather than the thin and arbitrarily adopted one that he is offering us.


At one point John said that man must see himself as the image of ultimate reality; then he went on to speak of man as being like a gypsy existing in precarious camps in the margins of a world he did not make. I think this second notion, of the alienation of man, arises from the very great and, I think, somewhat mistaken emphasis which John puts on the notion of personal freedom.

It seems to me that this great valuation of freedom is primarily a Jewish and Christian attitude. I do not think it is a Chinese or Mohammedan attitude, and in fact it is not a necessary attitude at all. In one of the lectures last year I mentioned the attitude which holds that the really and truly good man is one who does not have to exercise his personal freedom to do good, but who just naturally behaves in a good way without thinking about it. This surely is the ideal of a man, who is so much a part of nature, so much ‘the image of ultimate reality’, that he simply acts in a way consonant with that reality. The whole notion of an objective world independent of ourselves, on which Jacques Monod lays so much stress, and the notion of an ethical postulate that that truth is something which should be believed in, seems to me a clumsy and misleading way of saying that man should try to mould himself into conformity with the underlying structure of the universe. Really this applies to all living things throughout the course of evolution. I think man has already evolved to a state in which he is in much closer conformity with the structure of the universe than, say, a snake or a fish, because he incorporates into his knowledge an enormous amount of that structure which they are totally unaware of. So I think I would lay the emphasis not so much on man's freedom to behave as he wills, regardless of the nature of the universe, but rather on his still inadequate success in becoming fully tailored to fit into the world in which he is living; and that the more he fits it, the less need he will feel for ‘freedom’ in the sense of disconnection.


I'd like to take up two points that John made—the first, the point about cosmic loneliness and the second, the point about particular providence.

It seems to me that both Monod and Lucas are foisting on us as part of the real human predicament a totally imaginary predicament which is that of cosmic loneliness. They say that if there is not a purpose in the cosmos, if the non-human part of the cosmos does not have purposes and things don't happen for reasons, then we should be lonely, we should be like gypsies living in an alien world. This seems to me totally wrong—each of us has quite enough, more than enough, other human beings whom we are constantly living with to keep us from loneliness if we make friends with each other. It would no doubt be very comforting if we could be assured that the universe was controlled by an intelligence that was powerful and benevolent to human beings. But if the universe was controlled by a powerful and hostile intelligence we would be equally free from loneliness but this would not be at all a comforting thought.

The solitariness of man in the universe is, I think, just an imaginary trick which is played on us by Monod and Lucas, and essentially it is based on the anthropomorphism of thinking of the rest of the universe as if it was a human being but a human being who wouldn't talk to us. This is brought out particularly well by Monod's reference to gypsies. After all, what is wrong with being a gypsy? The thing that makes being a gypsy uncomfortable is the existence of rural district councillors who keep on wanting you to move on, or the existence of Nazis who are going to put you into a gas chamber. If you were gypsies who had the world to yourself, this would not be a lonely but a happy state of affairs; you would be kept from loneliness by the other gypsies and you would be free from persecution by the non-gypsies.

I now turn to the second point, about particular providence. I think that John was wrong to say that the doctrine of particular providence had been refuted by science, if the doctrine of particular providence is the doctrine that the life of each individual is the result of an intentional decision of God. I think that, at most, what has been refuted is the idea that the life of the individual is the result of a number of intentional interventions by God in the course of his history. But there are at least two other versions of the doctrine of particular providence which I do not see to have been refuted at all.

The first was the idea that while the life of each individual, say the life of John Lucas, is part of a divine plan, it was part of a total divine plan made by God before the world began so that out of the many possible worlds which he could have created, he created one in which the operation of natural laws, in which he did not intervene, would produce John Lucas with the history which he has. John may well say that this would involve determinism, which for other reasons he is determined to reject.

But there is also a version of particular providence which is not deterministic: it is simply that it would be possible for God to leave John free in his choices but in virtue of his power and knowledge, which so much surpasses even that of John, to adopt a strategy which he foresaw, no matter what choices John made, would give him a certain history. This would, of course, not mean that each particular action of John's was the result of providence but that John's overall life was.

John, as I said, rejects determinism because he thinks that it is incompatible with autonomy. I argued last year, that this has not been shown; but I want to conclude by exposing an equivocation which John made use of in his attempt to show that it was not only a truth but a logical truth that anybody who was free must be cosmically lonely. He said: ‘If I have freedom, I have to see myself as a stranger and alone because nature has to be indifferent if we are to be free’. Here he was using a blatant equivocation on the word ‘indifferent’ which may mean either non-determining or uncaring. John believes, wrongly I think, that if we are to be free nature must be indifferent in the sense of being non-deterministic; but even if he's right in that, it doesn't follow that nature must be uncaring if we are to be free. Many theologians have believed in a determinist1 God while believing that far from being indifferent to what his creatures did, he cared enough about it either to reward them with heaven or punish them with hell in consequence of it.


I'm saying it is not with a determinist God, but with a non-determinist God where issues of indifference rise. More generally, I think it would be perfectly fair to go very carefully over the use of the word ‘free’ which, like ‘necessary’, ‘reasonable’, ‘chance’, and ‘random’, is systematically ambiguous. I don't think I made the mistake that Tony thinks I have, but one wants to assure oneself of this independently of anything that I say. I didn't say that the doctrine of particular providence had been refuted. What I said was that one traditional argument for a version of this doctrine had been shown to be unnecessary; that is why I used the metaphor of redundancy which I first of all applied to the working man, the Humean artificer, and later to Lord Nuffield. But I also say that the doctrine under consideration was one whose passing we should not regret, because it was open not merely to logical, philosophical and scientific, objections, but to moral and theological objections too; and this comes out in the way Tony tries to gloss his position by smuggling in, as a special case of doctrine of particular providence, a doctrine of general providence, where he sees the deity as not determining each particular choice that a man may make, but only adopting an overall strategy which will, one way or another, produce certain rather generally specified results. This of course may very well be true. What actually happens with the pin-table (p. 10) is that there is a certain general overall strategy which, without determining the exact path of each particular ball, nevertheless, produces a general overall result; and it would be perfectly possible—in fact, Tony is probably right in suggesting that it is possible—in some ways at least to see a certain grain in the way that things happen; which is why we have ideas of poetic justice and the idea of certain values naturally working themselves out in the course of human life. This is stuff about which novelists are much better able to talk than I, and equally I shall leave it not so much to the novelists as to the poets and the prophets to persuade you that it is not just simply a cosy little dialogue of Jacques Monod and myself, each telling the other how lonely he feels, but a very common feeling. True, it doesn't logically follow that I've got to feel lonely; no doubt, many people do not have any sense of being separate from the whole of reality—and Wad approves. Nevertheless, loneliness is something which is, at least potentially, wrapped up in the concept of the first person singular. Not only is it logically necessary, but it is part of the elucidation of the concept of ‘I’, that I should have occasion to say, in the words of A. E. Housman:

I, a stranger, and afraid,

In a world I never made.

Now Wad, quite properly, thought that I was speaking rather ambiguously about freedom, and that this was a Hebrew notion which we don't find in all other cultures. This is true, and I shall leave it to be pressed a bit further tomorrow. At the moment I only want to say ‘Yes, there is an ambiguity’, and that if we have any notion of autonomy we find two further strains: one, an intense awareness both of oneself as an independent ego and of the egocentric predicament, which is what we should now see as the origin of sin—a sense of alienation, of being cut off from everything else; the other, a desire not to be cut off, a desire to merge one's purposes with that of the cosmos as a whole, as we heard yesterday, as well as, of course, joining up with other gypsies in our earthly pilgrimage. Both these, I think, are real intimations of our situation, both seem to be compatible; although as I have hinted, both can be reconciled only in a much wider world view.

I should, of course, have said ‘indeterminist’!

From the book: