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At Mind Matters News: Mike Egnor to Jerry Coyne: If evil exists, so must good — and real choices!

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In a podcast (partially transcribed) with Casey Luskin, Michael Egnor explains, denial of free will doesn’t mean that there is no guilt but rather that there is no innocence:

Michael Egnor: I should point out that the argument that free will does not exist, and that we are all sort of following instructions, perhaps our chemical instructions, was actually very much an argument used by defense counsel at Nuremberg [the trials of Nazi war criminals]. That is, that when the Nazis themselves were asked, “Why did you do this?” The answer was, “Well, we were compelled to. We were following instructions. We weren’t really morally accountable.” So when you find that your metaphysics was shared by the defense counsel at the Nazi war crime trials, you ought to reconsider your metaphysics. And I think Coyne should reconsider.

Casey Luskin: … Of course, Dr. Egnor, all of this flows out of Jerry Coyne’s scientism. If you can’t scientifically prove that something is good or evil, then scientism dictates he can’t condemn it as good or evil. Obviously we have ways of determining whether things are good or evil that go beyond science. Jerry Coyne has to reject those ways of knowing because of his scientism.

But there’s another way that I think Jerry Coyne’s scientism leads him astray. You wrote in a post “If Jerry Coyne believes, as Dawkins does, that we can upset the design of our selfish genes and practice genuine generosity and altruism, then Coyne presupposes strong free will, an idea he has repeatedly rejected up until now. Cognitive dissonance is inherent to materialism.”

News, “Michael Egnor: If evil exists, so must good — and real choices!” at Mind Matters News

Takehome: Denial of free will means, when dealing with crime, identifying those who, statistically, “might” commit a crime rather than those who have actually done so.

Also, here’s a writeup of an earlier podcast with Casey Luskin as Dr. Egnor’s host: Why free will is philosophically and scientifically sound. It has been nearly a century since determinism ruled unchallenged in physics. Though free will may be unpopular with atheist thinkers, science doesn’t refute it.

You may also wish to read: Can AI really predict crime a week in advance? That’s the claim. University of Chicago data scientists claims 90% accuracy for their algorithm using past data — but it’s hard to evaluate. The scary part: Intelligent, well-meaning people think that bail, sentencing, and parole decisions should be based on what may well be statistical coincidences. (Gary Smith)

2 Replies to “At Mind Matters News: Mike Egnor to Jerry Coyne: If evil exists, so must good — and real choices!

  1. 1
    BobRyan says:

    Without God, there is no morality of man. Animals do not do anything from a moral standpoint. There are no laws that govern animal behavior, beyond what they are designed to do. Only man puts laws in place. Why? If there is no God and man is nothing more than another animal, laws mean nothing.

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Provine, and consequences:

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent

    [==> key theses of nihilism. Citing the just linked IEP: “Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. While few philosophers would claim to be nihilists, nihilism is most often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history.” As without rational, responsible freedom, rationality collapses, Provine implies self referential incoherence. Similarly, ethical foundations include our self evident, pervasive first duties of reason: to truth, right reason, warrant and wider prudence, fairness and justice etc. Provine has given a recipe for gross (and all too common) intellectual irresponsibility.]

    . . . . The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will [–> without responsible freedom, mind, reason and morality alike disintegrate into grand delusion, hence self-referential incoherence and self-refutation. But that does not make such fallacies any less effective in the hands of clever manipulators] . . . [1998 Darwin Day Keynote Address, U of Tenn — and yes, that is significant i/l/o the Scopes Trial, 1925]

    This is of course self referential and self defeating.

    Not, that that bothers ever so many who are all starry eyed over what they imagine science has somehow proved.


    PS, a sounder look at knowledge of morality would ponder the following algebra:

    Objective, so know-able moral truth is widely denied in our day, for many it isn’t even a remotely plausible possibility. And yet, as we will shortly see, it is undeniably true; as is so for other reasonably identifiable fields of discussion. This marginalisation of moral knowledge, in extreme form, is a key thesis of the nihilism that haunts our civilisation, which we must detect, expose to the light of day, correct and dispel, in defence of civilisation and human dignity.

    Let a proposition be represented by x
    M = x is a proposition asserting that some state of affairs regarding right conduct, duty/ought, virtue/honour, good/evil etc (i.e. the subject is morality) is the case [–> truth claim]
    O = x is objective and generally knowable, being adequately warranted as credibly true [–> notice, generally knowable per adequate warrant, as opposed to widely acknowledged]

    It is claimed, cultural relativism thesis: S= ~[O*M] = 1

    [ NB: Plato, The Laws, Bk X, c 360 BC, in the voice of Athenian Stranger: “[Thus, the Sophists and other opinion leaders etc — c 430 BC on, hold] that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.” This IMPLIES the Cultural Relativism Thesis, by highlighting disputes (among an error-prone and quarrelsome race!), changing/varied opinions, suggesting that dominance of a view in a place/time is a matter of balance of factions/rulings, and denying that there is an intelligible, warranted natural law. Of course, subjectivism then reduces the scale of “community” to one individual. He continues, “These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might . . . ” [–> door opened to nihilistic factionalism]]

    However, the subject of S is M,
    it therefore claims to be objectively true, O, and is about M
    where it forbids O-status to any claim of type-M
    so, ~[O*M] cannot be true per self referential incoherence [–> reductio ad absurdum]

    ~[O*M] = 0 [as self referential and incoherent cf above]
    ~[~[O*M]] = 1 [the negation is therefore true]
    O*M = 1 [condensing not of not]
    where, M [moral truth claim]
    So too, O [if an AND is true, each sub proposition is separately true]

    That is, there UNDENIABLY are objective moral truths; and a first, self-evident one is that ~[O*M] is false.

    The set is non empty, it is not vacuous and we cannot play empty set square of opposition games with it. That’s important.

    Nor are we left at a place where we just know that such objective truths on right conduct, the right, rights, virtue, justice etc exist, we can in fact identify powerful first duties and built in first law:

    We may readily identify at least seven branch- on- which- we- all- sit (so, inescapable, pervasive), readily knowable first principle . . .

    first duties of reason and first universally binding laws written into our rational, responsible nature and forming morally driven governing principles of reason, high and low alike:

    “Inescapable,” as they are so antecedent to and pervasive in our reasoning that even the objector implicitly appeals to their legitimate authority; inescapable, so first truths of reason, i.e. they are self-evidently true and binding.

    Namely, Ciceronian first duties,

    1st – to truth,
    2nd – to right reason,
    3rd – to prudence [including warrant],
    4th – to sound conscience,
    5th – to neighbour; so also,
    6th – to fairness and
    7th – to justice
    [ . . .]
    xth – etc

    Likewise, we observe again, that the objector to such duties cannot but appeal to them to give their objections rhetorical traction (i.e. s/he must imply or acknowledge what we are, morally governed, duty-bound creatures to gain any persuasive effect). While also those who try to prove such cannot but appeal to the said principles too. So, these principles are a branch on which we all must sit, including objectors and those who imagine they are to be proved and try. That is, these are manifestly first principles of rational, responsible, honest, conscience guided liberty and so too a built-in framework of law; yes, core natural law of human nature. Reason, inescapably, is morally governed.

    Of course, there is a linked but not equivalent pattern: bounded, error-prone rationality often tied to ill will and stubbornness or even closed mindedness; that’s why the study of right reason has a sub-study on fallacies and errors. That we sometimes seek to evade duties or may make inadvertent errors does not overthrow such first duties of reason, which instead help us to detect and correct errors, as well as to expose our follies.

    Perhaps, a negative form will help to clarify, for cause we find to be at best hopelessly error-riddled, those who are habitually untruthful, fallacious and/or irrational, imprudent, fail to soundly warrant claims, show a benumbed or dead conscience [i.e. sociopathy and/or highly machiavellian tendencies], dehumanise and abuse others, are unfair and unjust. At worst, such are utterly dangerous, destructive,or even ruthlessly, demonically lawless.

    Such built-in . . . thus, universal . . . law, then, is not invented by parliaments, kings or courts, nor can these principles and duties be abolished by such; they are recognised, often implicitly as an indelible part of our evident nature. Hence, “natural law,” coeval with our humanity, famously phrased in terms of “self-evident . . . rights . . . endowed by our Creator” in the US Declaration of Independence, 1776. (Cf. Cicero in De Legibus, c. 50 BC.) Indeed, it is on this framework that we can set out to soundly understand and duly balance rights, freedoms and duties; which is justice, the pivot of law. The legitimate main task of government, then, is to uphold and defend the civil peace of justice through sound community order reflecting the built in, intelligible law of our nature.

    Where, as my right implies your duty a true right is a binding moral claim to be respected in life, liberty, honestly aquired property, innocent reputation etc. To so justly claim a right, one must therefore demonstrably be in the right.

    Likewise, Aristotle long since anticipated Pilate’s cynical “what is truth?”: truth says of what is, that it is; and of what is not, that it is not. [Metaphysics, 1011b, C4 BC.] Simple in concept, but hard to establish on the ground; hence — in key part — the duties to right reason, prudence, fairness etc.

    Thus, too, we may compose sound civil law informed by that built-in law of our responsibly, rationally free morally governed nature; from such, we may identify what is unsound or false thus to be reformed or replaced even though enacted under the colour and solemn ceremonies of law.

    The first duties, also, are a framework for understanding and articulating the corpus of built-in law of our morally governed nature, antecedent to civil laws and manifest our roots in the Supreme Law-giver, the inherently good, utterly wise and just creator-God, the necessary (so, eternal), maximally great being at the root of reality.

    We need this to rebuild the fast eroding social capital that buttresses our civilisation and free, lawful self government through constitutional, rights-respecting democracy.

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