Some recent posts by Jerry Coyne brought back memories of this article:
So if we don’t have free will, what can we do? One possibility is to give in to a despairing nihilism and just stop doing anything. But that’s impossible, for our feeling of personal agency is so overwhelming that we have no choice but to pretend that we do choose,
Pretend? As in “make believe”? As in live one’s life according to a presumed falsehood? A religious person at least has some conviction (even a mistaken conviction) he is following the truth, but Coyne “knows” what he is following is false, but still does it.
Nuclear physicist Dave Heddle offers another criticism:
Jerry, if all actions are predetermined then you cannot act as if you have choices. Acting is a volitional process of the very type you are denying. In your model there is no acting, there is only a differential equation of the universe cranking out its next time step.
He is so close! He admits that in his world-view everything is predetermined, but in the next breath he obfuscates that unsavory factoid by claiming that he can “act” as though he has free choices. He can freely chose, he believes, to pretend that he can freely choose.
But these facts don’t stop Jerry Coyne for arguing for what is just and unjust:
Even without free will then, we can still use punishment to deter bad behavior, protect society from criminals, and figure out better ways to rehabilitate them. What is not justified is revenge or retribution — the idea of punishing criminals for making the “wrong choice.”
The desire to seek justice or retribution is itself unjustified? But that makes little sense. If the desire to serve justice to people like Jodi Arias is predetermined, then Coyne has no logical reason to say the desire for justice is unjustified. It would be like saying Newton’s law:
F = ma
According to Coyne criminals can’t be viewed ultimately as doing wrong since they have no free will. But with respect to society, he suspends his own assumptions by arguing people who seek justice are unjustified. But the only way to say a seeker of justice is unjustified is to assume that the seeker of justice has free will. So when it comes to society, Coyne will treat those seeking justice as having free will, but then treat criminals as if they have no free will. Where is the logic there, Jerry?
Coyne echoes the same illogic of Clarence Darrow (of Scope Monkey fame). John West observes:
Darrow once told prisoners in a county jail that there was no difference whatever in the moral condition between themselves and those still in society. “I do not believe people are in jail because they deserve to be,” he declared. “They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it, on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control, and for which they are in no way responsible.” According to Darrow, “there ought to be no jails, and if it were not for the fact that the people on the outside are so grasping and heartless in their dealing with the people on the inside, there would be no such institutions as jails.” He added that he knew why “every one” of the prisoners committed their crimes, even if they did not know the reason themselves: “You did these things because you were bound to do them.” Those prisoners who thought they made a choice to commit a crime were simply deluded. “It looked to you at the time as if you had a chance to do them or not, as you saw fit; but still, after all, you had no choice.”
Darrow even suggested that police were the real criminals,
Jerry Coyne, Clarence Darrow, Will Provine, etc. say the justice system is unjust because criminals have no free will. By that same standard however, they can’t logically argue the justice system is unjust since the justice system does not have the free will to be just or unjust. Nevertheless, the illogic of their views doesn’t stop them from promoting their views!
Not only is Coyne logically challenged, in the end he could be wrong about his physics. There is one evolutionary biologist by the name of Ken Miller who disagrees with Coyne about determinism:
This [quantum uncertainty] is something biologists, almost universally, have not yet come to grips with. And its consequences are enormous. It certainly means that we should wonder more than we currently do about the saying that life is made of “mere” matter….
This means that absolute materialism, a view that control and predictability and ultimate explanation are possible, breaks down in a way that is biologically significant. It means that after we have obtained understanding of so much of the world around us, the ultimate mastery of even the tiniest bit of matter in the universe will always elude us….
[Thus] The core assumptions supporting the “scientific” disbelief [atheism] of the absolute materialist are wrong, even by the terms of science itself…
What matters is the straightforward, factual, strictly scientific recognition that matter in the universe behaves in such a way that we can never achieve complete knowledge of any fragment of it, and that life itself is structured in a way that allows biological history to pivot directly on these tiny uncertainties. That ought to allow even the most critical scientist to admit that the breaks in causality at the atomic level make it fundamentally impossible to exclude the idea that what we have really caught a glimpse of might indeed reflect the mind of God.
In the final analysis, absolute materialism does not triumph because it cannot fully explain the nature of reality.
Quantum reality is strange, troublesome, and downright illogical, but its unexpected discovery solves one of the key philosophical problems faced by any religious person: How can a world governed by precise physical law escape a strictly deterministic future?…
The indeterminate nature of quantum behavior means that the details of the future are not strictly determined by present reality….few theologians appreciate the degree to which physics has rescued religion from the dangers of Newtonian predictability. I suspect that they do not know (at least not yet) who their true friends are!
Coyne advocates we “make believe” . For the reader’s entertainment, there is a song by the title: “Make Believe” which speaks of the “peace of mind in pretending”:
HT: Mike Gene, Dave Heddle, Evolution News Blog