But I'm really not that fussed about the use of the term. I've previously discussed how contra causal free will makes little sense whether determinism is true or false. But rather than rescuing free will, I do think it's worth rescuing the point of free will; or why responsibility is worth laying.
In another piece Coyne says this:
I still see myself as a meat robot, and I don’t accept free will as meaning “I could have done something different had circumstances been different.” For in that sense computers and nearly all living organisms also have “free will”.
This strikes me as a slightly strange thing to say; the first part seems to contradict the second, since if he's a 'meat robot' then obviously robots too can have free will, and we surely treat many living organisms as if they too have free will. I treat my cats as if they have causal influence over their own behaviour, for example. And there's a sense in which Coyne is suggesting some kind of human exceptionalism; if we allow free will then I see no reason to deny it to computers and living organisms a priori.
I suppose he means something more, that any computer or any living organism would have free will under the definition offered - it's too liberal. But I think this gives a clue to the point of free will; if a computer or living organism is sufficiently complex that it can change its behaviour because it has an internal guiding mechanism that responds in a certain way to external prompts, then we have a reason to talk about the machine having something like 'free will'. We aren't puppeteers in these circumstances, but nudge button operators.
What difference does this make? If we want to affect our futures, and I assume we all do, we need to differentiate between objects that can be remonstrated with and those that can't. Now, although I do remonstrate with my computer, I understand it's pointless: I could change how it operates, but it could not reflect on its actions. However, a more complicated computer, like Marvin, might be worth remonstrating with, if it has an internal guidance and reflection system open to external prompts and information. Similarly, experience shows that my cat is worth remonstrating with too, even if it's less effective than with fellow humans; she doesn't have all the tools or understanding available to most humans. But notice, there are humans who also can't be remonstrated with, so membership of homo sapiens does not determine who is in this group.
When Russell says “I could, indeed, have chosen to do otherwise,” he seems to mean only, “had I been somebody other than Russell Blackford at that moment, I might have done otherwise.” And in what sense is that free will? It’s one thing for people to chastise somebody for making a “bad choice” (an emotion that feels natural but is at bottom irrational), but it’s a different thing to think that somebody actually can act in different ways at a single time.
To me, this highlights the very point of free will; to identify the nature of particular agencies, so we can take an appropriate course of action in the light of that nature. I don't think Russell, or anyone, would have behaved differently under the same circumstances (that would just make us randomly-acting beings) - but the difference between how Russell behaves and how another person behaves under the same circumstances reflects a freedom to act differently which is open to all agencies. So we can then apply a 'blame' in proportion to the 'culpability' of each agency going back in the causal chain. I use scare quotes to recognise that the agencies weren't 'free' from their own causal determinism, but we can now usefully employ this information to address any problems caused, or reward any benefits resulting, in the knowledge that the responsibility reflects an agency's ability to self-regulate. We wouldn't allocate moral responsibility to the snow in deadly avalanches, but we might to folk who detonate charges setting off deadly avalanches, because the former has no agency that would respond to remonstration, but the latter has. And such allocation would actually require determinism, or, at least, if there are any indeterminate events, these would be irrelevant to any such moral calculation.
So, in summary, I'm happy to jettison free will; I'm just not so happy to jettison the point of free will, if this is what it is. It does appear that Sam Harris, at least, agrees:
...I argue that people are mistaken in believing that they are free in the usual sense. I claim that this realization has consequences—good ones, for the most part—and for that reason we should not gloss over it by revising our definition of “free will” too quickly. Dan believes that his adjustment of the concept has allowed him to provide a description of human agency and moral responsibility that preserves many of our intuitions about ourselves and still fits the facts. I agree, for the most part, but I think that other problems need to be solved.