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Professor Coyne issues a challenge that’s too easy to resist

Now and again, over at Why Evolution Is True, Professor Jerry Coyne issues challenges that are too easy to resist. In a recent post entitled, “Zeuglodon” on free will at the RDF site, Professor Coyne issued one such challenge relating to the notion of responsibility, when he wrote:

I’m not aware of any incompatibilist—those who claim that determinism and free will are incompatible (I’d add that the indeterminism of quantum mechanics may not do much to give us free will)—who claims that determinism absolves us of responsibility. Though it absolves us, I think, of moral responsibility, we still must hold people responsible for their actions for the good of society. For holding people responsible can deter others from actions we think are bad for society, or stimulate others to do good.

Famous last words.

May I politely suggest that Professor Coyne needs to acquaint himself better with the writings of Professor Richard Dawkins. In a 2006 article at www.edge.org, entitled, “Let’s all stop beating Basil’s car”, Dawkins ridiculed “the very idea of responsibility,” criticized the notion of deterrence as well as retribution, and looked forward with anticipation to the day when “we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car.” And in case anyone should accuse me of selective quotation, I have decided to reproduce Dawkins’ article in full:

Ask people why they support the death penalty or prolonged incarceration for serious crimes, and the reasons they give will usually involve retribution. There may be passing mention of deterrence or rehabilitation, but the surrounding rhetoric gives the game away. People want to kill a criminal as payback for the horrible things he did. Or they want to give “satisfaction’ to the victims of the crime or their relatives. An especially warped and disgusting application of the flawed concept of retribution is Christian crucifixion as “atonement’ for “sin’.

Retribution as a moral principle is incompatible with a scientific view of human behaviour. As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software.

Basil Fawlty, British television’s hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn’t start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. “Right! I warned you. You’ve had this coming to you!” He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality. Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem. Is the carburettor flooded? Are the sparking plugs or distributor points damp? Has it simply run out of gas? Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don’t we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal, just as heartily as we laugh at Basil Fawlty? Or at King Xerxes who, in 480 BC, sentenced the rough sea to 300 lashes for wrecking his bridge of ships? Isn’t the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?

Concepts like blame and responsibility are bandied about freely where human wrongdoers are concerned. When a child robs an old lady, should we blame the child himself or his parents? Or his school? Negligent social workers? In a court of law, feeble-mindedness is an accepted defence, as is insanity. Diminished responsibility is argued by the defence lawyer, who may also try to absolve his client of blame by pointing to his unhappy childhood, abuse by his father, or even unpropitious genes (not, so far as I am aware, unpropitious planetary conjunctions, though it wouldn’t surprise me).

But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment. Don’t judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.

It gets worse. In a radio interview with Justin Brierley, after his debate with John Lennox in London a few years ago, the following exchange took place between Dawkins and Brierley (starting at 4:57):

Brierley: “But if we had evolved into a society in which rape was considered fine, would that mean that rape is fine?

Dawkins responded, “I don’t want to answer that question…it’s enough for me to say that we live in a society where it’s not considered fine. We live in a society where selfishness, where failure to pay your debts, failure to reciprocate favors is regarded askance. Ah, that is the society in which we live. I’m very glad…that’s a value judgment, I’m very glad that I live in such a society.”

Brierley: “It is …. But when you make a value judgment don’t you immediately step yourself outside of this evolutionary process and say … the reason this is good is because it’s good, and you don’t have any way to stand on that statement.”

Dawkins: “But my value judgment itself could come from my evolutionary past.”

Brierley: “So, therefore it’s just as random as any product of evolution.”

Dawkins: “Well, you could say that…uh, but it doesn’t in any case…nothing about it makes it more probable that there is anything supernatural.”

Brierley: “OK, but ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we’ve evolved five fingers rather than six.”

Dawkins: “You could say that, yes.

Would Professor Coyne care to comment?

H/t Paul Nelson, P. Rupple

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31 Responses to Professor Coyne issues a challenge that’s too easy to resist

  1. 1

    checkmate ;-)

  2. “I choose to not believe in free will”. If that is not one of the most foolish statements ever, I don’t know what is. Again you just have to admit that the Psalmist knew what he was talking about when he penned, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God”.

    What I really want to know is why? What is so scary about the concept of free will, that drives these fools to come up with such a position as “no free will”? It can’t be that they have thought it through. Maybe its a blind spot I have, but it just seems to me that any amount of actual thought into the “free will/no free will” debate, MUST come to the conclusion that the “no free will” position is hopelessly self contradictory. I really feel sorry for the fools who follow these blind guides.

  3. 3
    Chance Ratcliff

    If a people have no free will, then they are ultimately not responsible for the choices they make – no sin, no guilt. In other words, it’s a lie.

  4. What these idiots, excuse me, these distinguished scientists don’t understand is that every time they have a rational thought (granted, that seems to be the exception) or express said thoughts orally or in writing they use free will. What law of physics explains why “dog” means Rover and “cat” means Felix? Um, that would be none of them. Since the laws of physics describe or govern the behavior of matter/energy and thought/information/communication requires language which is the manipulation of symbols. Hello??? Anybody out there? IN PRINCIPLE, physics cannot account for thought/information. Only a MIND can freely AND purposefully arrange symbols according to the rules of logic and a language in order to think. These people are pinheads. There’s no getting around that. I am writing a paper on this.

  5. For what it’s worth, Dawkins is right in his analysis in the first quote of him. That said though, “the surrounding rhetoric gives the game away” in the second set of quotes.

    In which he states: “But my value judgment itself could come from my evolutionary past.”

    First flag for the weasel word “could” and the second for attaching blame to “evolution”. After all, if he actually believed his dangerous idea then it would be the case that it is simply the way the universe is, him included. But then, even if that is the case he couldn’t believe it or not unless the current particle exchange of the universe dictated it of him as an Atheistic mimicry of Calvinist puppets. So no harm, no foul, and blame the Big Bang. Or something larger.

  6. Someone please explain to me, exactly, what is the definition of free will. You all seem to care so much about philosophy. You’re all horrified at the idea this “free will” might not exist. So what is it, exactly?

    It seems to me that free will is the intuitive sense of an inability to predict one’s own actions by a law-like means. e.g. There is no law nor mathematical formulation which permits my mind to predict my own actions, given as input all the information available to my mind.

    But then how does it apply to other people? It might be that we cannot predict our own actions, but maybe, with sufficient data, we could predict other people’s.

    So what’s a better definition then?

  7. Diogenes,

    In the context of vjtorley’s post, I will paraphrase Plantinga in attempt to answer your question.

    What does it mean when we say that people are or may be free? It is the idea of being free in respect to an action. If we are free in respect to an action, we are free to perform that action or refrain from it. No preexisting conditions determine that we will or will not perform the action. It is within our power to perform (or not to perform) the action.

    Though, I am not sure how (un)predictability of the particular action has anything to do with us having or not having free will?

  8. No preexisting conditions determine that we will or will not perform the action.

    Ugh, what a terrible definition. Do you see the paradox?

    1. Man has free will. That means that our behavior is not determined by preexisting conditions.

    2. If atheist Darwinists say that free will is an illusion, our children will become criminals. If they say free will is real, our children will not become criminals. Our behavior is determined by a preexisting condition: What atheist darwinists say in the newspaper.

    These two appear to contradict. The only way they do not contradict is if free will is not real, but a necessary illusion we must teach children for moral behavior. Otherwise it’s self-contradicting.

    Why do we hear the loudest “yelps” for liberty from right-wing social engineers?

    These people all intend to “determine” our behavior. They have a “science” by which they can “control” us and improve us and make us better.

    Step one: lie to kids and tell them spooks are real, and they’ve got free will. Meaning their behavior is not determined.

    Why? Because their behavior IS determined… by right-wing social planners.

    So, you’re against biological determinism: the belief that human morality is determined by, uh, nerve cells and stuff.

    And you will cure it with… theological determinism: the belief that human morality is determined by what you believe about invisible, intangible spooks.

  9. Diogenes,

    Demonstrable fact is that free will is real and in the sense that I described it, is not compatible with determinism of any kind, biological, social or religious.

    If I know you very well, I may be able to predict what action you will take in a certain situation. It does not follow that you are not free in respect to that action.

    Morally significant actions resulting from our free will is relevant but entirely different subject.

  10. I’m not aware of any incompatibilist—those who claim that determinism and free will are incompatible (I’d add that the indeterminism of quantum mechanics may not do much to give us free will)—who claims that determinism absolves us of responsibility

    I likewise am not aware of any free-will deniers who are rational enough to acknowledge and follow the obvious logical implications of their own position (which makes sense, I guess, since one of the logical implications of their position is that nobody is rational ever).

  11. Diogenes, if that’s your real name… your reasoning could use a little help here… There is no paradox. Let’s take that man has free will first. And before I get started, it’s not the ID/Theists/Christians who are stroking out over the idea of free will. Most everyone in all times naturally presumes that they have free will. They can choose pepsi or coke and there isn’t some physical force compelling them to do so. This common sense truth, sadly lacking in many allegedly smart philosophers and scientists, clashes with their materialist world view. (I can draw that out if you need to. For now I’ll assume that you can connect those dots.) It’s not that they WANT to argue against free will (or so I guess) but they HAVE to argue against it because of their materialist ontology. “We” are merely responding to the prima facie insanity of people expressing their free will by saying that they have no free will. Just like we are responding to the prima facie insanity of claiming that the most complex technologies and structures in the universe arose by accident. Yeah, like that’s a regular occurrence.

    You exhibited free will in making your post – what compelled you to assemble the symbols/letters that you did in the order that you did in order to communicate your thought? Was it some material cause? No. Because material causes (physics) apply to material events (matter and energy). Symbols, although instantiated in a material substrate, this is a finite universe after all, are manipulated by something other than physical laws. They have to be. How can something that only has causal power (and that causal force is ALSO abstract, at least the description of it is) in the material world, by definition, cause the movement of abstract symbols?? That other thing, by convention, we call a mind.

    A mind freely and purposefully (the materialists also deny the existence of REAL purpose in the universe – pretty funny, huh? as they purposefully put thoughts together to communicate them) manipulates the symbols of a language, which is made possible by the law of identity, THE FIRST PRINCIPLE of rational thought, in accordance with the vocabulary and rules of the language, in order to generate abstract thought about whatever it is they are thinking about. These thoughts are encoded into a physical substrate by means of said language. This process, called thinking, cannot, in principle, be explained by material causes because thought involves symbols. This is where materialism ultimately founders. Not only is it not true, it’s impossible for it to be true.

    Your second statement is full of non sequiturs. Why does it follow that if free will is an illusion that children will become criminals? Or that if they have free will they won’t? That misses the whole point. The other error that you make is called equivocation. You use terms loosely. For example, to say that my behavior is influenced by my experiences and my environment is different from saying that it is DETERMINED by those things. In the end, the coke/pepsi (coke for me) decision doesn’t reduce to the standard model or some fairy tale of natural selection concocted by some nitwit desperately trying to figure a way out of the impossible intellectual bind they have created for themselves.

  12. What these idiots, excuse me, these distinguished scientists don’t understand is that every time they have a rational thought…

    They are not speaking as scientists. They are speaking as philosophers, and very poor ones. The shame here is that in the eyes of many, their status as scientists gives a cloak of credibility to their sophomoric philosophical ramblings.

  13. Diogenes,

    “What’s free will?” you ask. Good question. If you’re talking about libertarian free will (which is the kind I believe in), then I’d say it means the following:

    the capacity to make a non-arbitrary selection between two or more options,

    while pursuing some good,

    and while in a state where:
    (a) nothing hinders the exercise of one’s reason;
    (b) nothing (external or internal) over-rides one’s reason; and
    (c) nothing (external or internal) determines the exercise of one’s reason, or one’s final choice;

    and finally,
    where one’s act of choice,
    as well as any acts of reasoning involved in arriving at that choice,
    are construed as actions performed by the whole person, which are irreducible to lower-level actions or events taking place in a specific part of one’s body, at a specific location.

    Belief in libertarian free will is also perfectly compatible with the belief that children need to be schooled in good habits, especially when it comes to performing tasks which are (from a limited, short-term perspective) somewhat disagreeable. After all, we don’t ask our children whether they want to go to school or not; we tell them that they will go.

    Telling kids that they’re machines will (a) massively demoralize them; (b) breed fatalism and ennui; and (c) make them less inclined to help other human beings. Disbelief in free will, once it takes hold, tends to be unconducive to its proper exercise: when one does make choices, they are likely to be bad ones, simply because they reflect a distorted view of oneself. That it the harm that determinism inflicts: it warps one’s view of oneself.

    I’m not a theological determinist, by the way.

  14. Vjtorley-
    your libertarianism has a bit of Kantianism. Which I don’t consider a compliment. Your definition is filled with words which, themselves, need defining. The words you use, like “choice”, “select”, and “determined” and “internal”, are so fuzzy that we’re left with tautology. People have choice. What’s choice? Well, the capacity to choose… And what’s choose? Making a choice.

    libertarian free will [is] the capacity to make a non-arbitrary selection between two or more options,
    while pursuing some good,
    and while in a state where:
    [snip]
    (c) nothing (external or internal) determines the exercise of one’s reason, or one’s final choice;

    So their behavior is not “determined.” Got it. (This bit sounds like Kant’s definition of freedom.)

    Telling kids that they’re machines will (a) massively demoralize them; (b) breed fatalism and ennui; and (c) make them less inclined to help other human beings.

    So their behavior is determined. I got it… No wait, I don’t. Their behavior is determined, but it’s not determined.

    (I have left aside the absurd equation that disbelief in free will is the same as telling kids they’re machines.) In effect, you are the one telling kids they are machines, because you say their behavior is determined by what authorities say. Does some kid shoot another kid? Dawkins is to blame. Dawkins determined their behavior.

    What does “internal” mean? Does “internal” mean brain cells? Molecules? Or feelings and desires?

    What does “determined” mean?

    I think of “determined” as a math equation. Consider a set of observable quantities Q1,X1,Y1,Z1, which can be measured or are available to person 1. (Say I’m person 1.) Call the vector Obs1 for short, Obs1=[Q1,X1,Y1,Z1].

    Now the question of determinism is, is there any mathematical or logical function F(Obs) such that F(Obs) = B where B is some person’s behavior?

    But this is actually two questions:

    1. Does my behavior appear determined to me? That is,
    is there any mathematical or logical function F(Obs1) such that F(Obs1) = B1 where B1 is my own behavior?

    2. Does someone else’s behavior appear determined to me? That is, is there any mathematical or logical function F(Obs1) such that F(Obs1) = B2 where B2 is another person’s behavior?

    I think these questions are separate, that is, even if 2 were yes, 1 might still be no.

    I want us all to be on the same boat about the meaning of “determined.” And I want “determined” to be defined entirely in terms of observable quantities and math or logic, no hypothetical things, no terms that turn it into tautology, like “choice” or “free.” If you define “free choice” using any word variants of “free” or “choice” or “choose” or “select”, it’s tautology.

    Now do you agree with my definition of “determined”?

  15. I’d just like to return to the OP for a moment, because I find it interesting.

    Coyne: I’m not aware of any incompatibilist—those who claim that determinism and free will are incompatible (I’d add that the indeterminism of quantum mechanics may not do much to give us free will)—who claims that determinism absolves us of responsibility. Though it absolves us, I think, of moral responsibility, we still must hold people responsible for their actions for the good of society.

    Dawkins: But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment. Don’t judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car? [...] Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.

    So, out and out, apparently Coyne isn’t aware of what Dawkins has to say on this matter. Or maybe Coyne thinks Dawkins is full of crap. Whatever the case, Coyne’s ignorance has been lifted – VJTorley should be thanked for highlighting this.

    Also, regarding this…

    And I want “determined” to be defined entirely in terms of observable quantities and math or logic, no hypothetical things,

    If such a restraint is meant to exclude philosophy and metaphysics from the conversation, that’s ridiculous. Free will is, like it or not, a philosophical topic. If that’s not what’s meant, so be it.

  16. Nullusalus:

    If such a restraint is meant to exclude philosophy and metaphysics from the conversation, that’s ridiculous. Free will is, like it or not, a philosophical topic.

    So far all I’ve seen are definitions of free will that are tautologies. Free choice means you are freely choose.

    That’s the best you’ve got. You can’t complain that you’re intellectually superior to Dawkins. You’re obviously not. All you people have delivered so far are tautologies.

    Like tgpeeler. Here’re tgpeeler’s comments.

    “We” are merely responding to the prima facie insanity of people

    If anyone points out that tgpeeler has no evidence, no problem, that person is insane. All “sensible” people agree with tgpeeler’s belief in a thing he can’t even define. Circular logic. Those who ask for evidence are insane.

    Most everyone in all times naturally presumes that they have free will…This common sense truth…

    Argumentum ad populem. People presume this thing tgpeeler can’t even define, so it must be true. “Sensible” people presume it, anyway. If you ask for evidence, you’re not a “sensible” person. Circular logic.

    This common sense truth, sadly lacking in many allegedly smart philosophers and scientists, clashes with their materialist world view. (I can draw that out if you need to…) …they HAVE to argue against it because of their materialist ontology.

    Accusation of bias is not evidence. This is just Bulverism (google that). Tgpeeler has no definition of free will, cannot prove it exists, so instead he switches to pop psychoanalysis of those who point out (accurately) he has no evidence of free will.

    “We” are merely responding to the prima facie insanity of people expressing their free will by saying that they have no free will… You exhibited free will in making your post…

    Tgpeeler here assumes what he needs to prove, without even defining what “free will” is in the first place.

    What is the definition of free will?

    What is tgpeeler’s evidence that Dawkins et al. employ free will when denying it exists?

    What is tgpeeler’s evidence that I employed free will when writing my post?

    I’m not claiming I have no free will. I’m saying:

    1. You feel that you have free will. Fine. That’s a feeling. I feel I’m smarter than you. Are all feelings objectively true?

    2. It’s a poorly defined feeling

    3. Neither science nor philosophy can prove or disprove feelings are true, if they are poorly defined.

    4. The belief that “materialism” undermines morality is a deterministic belief, just right-wing social engineering that assumes environment determines behavior. This sort of social engineering assumes human free will is highly constrained by theological, or at best metaphysical, beliefs, which are determined or highly constrained by what authorities say.

  17. Diogenes,

    So far all I’ve seen are definitions of free will that are tautologies. Free choice means you are freely choose.

    That’s the best you’ve got. You can’t complain that you’re intellectually superior to Dawkins. You’re obviously not.

    Who here made the claim that I, or anyone else, is “intellectually superior to Dawkins”? What the OP claimed was that Coyne made a statement about a given metaphysical/philosophical view of free will having an effect on responsibility, and Dawkins’ words were quoted in response. This doesn’t even show that the view is incorrect, much less that Dawkins is an idiot. That clearly wasn’t the point of the OP.

    I mean, it’s not like Dawkins rolled up and denied the Law of Non-Contradiction or anything. That’s out in flat-out moron mouthbreather territory. I’m sure you’d agree.

    Again: the point was that Coyne was complaining about an implied consequence of his view of free will re: responsibility, and that he was unaware of anyone taking the given position. Dawkins was quoted taking that position. It’s really as simple as that. No tricks here, quite easy to follow. This part is non-controversial and established.

    Now, you want to talk about free will. You laid down your standards: “And I want “determined” to be defined entirely in terms of observable quantities and math or logic, no hypothetical things, no terms that turn it into tautology, like “choice” or “free.”” I pointed out that if this standard is meant to eliminate, from the outset, any philosophical or metaphysical arguments or commitments – I would add, other than materialist ones (which are themselves philosophical / metaphysical commitments) – that this was a ridiculous standard to lay down. A conversation about free will which stipulates that only mechanistic explanations or comparisons are valid is no conversation at all.

    By the way, would you agree with Dawkins on this subject?

  18. Diogenes: So far all I’ve seen are definitions of free will that are tautologies. Free choice means you are freely choose.

    Nope. The definition of free will is the ability produce effects independent of prior causation. A “first cause” in a series of causation. And the fact that you know what this means is a clue that it’s real. Otherwise, how would merely evolved molecules in motion even come up with the concept?

  19. mike1962 -

    The definition of free will is the ability produce effects independent of prior causation.

    By your definition, quantum systems have free will. Consider 10 atoms, with a probability a half will undergo nuclear decay in an hour. #3,#7,#9 decay and the rest don’t. Is that “independent of prior causation”? What is the causation of #3,#7,#9 decaying? What does causation even mean in that case?

  20. mike1962 -

    And the fact that you know what this means is a clue that it’s real.

    The fact that I don’t know what it means is proof it’s fake.

  21. Nullusalus-

    I pointed out that if this standard is meant to eliminate, from the outset, any philosophical or metaphysical arguments or commitments – I would add, other than materialist ones (which are themselves philosophical / metaphysical commitments) – that this was a ridiculous standard to lay down. A conversation about free will which stipulates that only mechanistic explanations or comparisons are valid is no conversation at all.

    And yet you still have no definition that is not tautology. OK, so I’ll let you hypothesize spooks. Does hypothesizing spooks give us a “better” definition?

    Nobody even responded to my attempt to define “determine.”

    By the way, would you agree with Dawkins on this subject?

    Dawkins says a lot of stuff, do I have to parse it all?

    Under color of scientific authority, we can only decide on things that are well-defined. Under color of scientific authority, we cannot decide on feelings, if feelings are poorly defined.

    And it’s clear that everyone on this forum defines “free will” as a feeling! You all insist “sensible people” feel it, so it must be real! That’s the best you’ve got.

    Well, I feel my wife is prettier than yours, and you feel your wife is prettier than mine. Are we both right?

  22. Diogenes,

    And yet you still have no definition that is not tautology. OK, so I’ll let you hypothesize spooks.

    I haven’t been trying to give a definition at all. I made a criticism of what standards you were laying down, and pointed out that the OP was entirely on target. That’s been the extent of my involvement here.

    Nobody even responded to my attempt to define “determine.”

    Uh, your request was posted at 10am. Your reply, just now – a shade before 1pm. Don’t you think you’re being something of a freaking nitwit by screaming how no one has responded to you yet?

    And this before pointing out that your terms of a definition/conversation were wildly flawed, and you’ve made it clear you’re going to refer to anything but materialism as “spooks!” without even understanding what’s being said. Between this and your denial of the LCD, you should consider yourself lucky if anyone bothers to interact with you. Me? I’ve got my hands full just pointing out your mistakes. Actually discussing things with you would be a waste of time. ;)

    Dawkins says a lot of stuff, do I have to parse it all?

    Yeah, we’ll just file this under “champ’s afraid of responding to the question directly, just as he was afraid of the focus remaining on Coyne’s mistake in the OP, so he’s going to spazz out a little more and change the subject”.

    I’d say “yes or no questions like these are easy to answer”, but c’mon. You deny the law of non-contradiction, so they’re actually quite tough. Maybe if I allow you to answer both yes AND no you can cope with them.

  23. Diogenes @ 16 – are you related to Mathgrrl? I’m having some sort of post traumatic stress reaction now…

    You say: If anyone points out that tgpeeler has no evidence, no problem, that person is insane. All “sensible” people agree with tgpeeler’s belief in a thing he can’t even define. Circular logic. Those who ask for evidence are insane.

    I guess you failed to actually read my post. Or if you did, you didn’t understand a word of it. Otherwise, you would have responded to my ARGUMENT instead of merely attempting to mock me. I didn’t just claim that free will existed, I made an argument that it did. If you don’t like my argument, then attack it. Just as patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel so is running away from an argument and hiding behind sarcasm. You understand arguments, right? Premises, conclusions, stuff like that.

  24. By your definition, quantum systems have free will. Consider 10 atoms, with a probability a half will undergo nuclear decay in an hour. #3,#7,#9 decay and the rest don’t. Is that “independent of prior causation”? What is the causation of #3,#7,#9 decaying? What does causation even mean in that case?

    Absolutely false. The statistical properties of, say, superpositions only say something about *our* ignorance of the state. It says *nothing* beyond that. Possible “mechanisms” underlying quantum superpositions could be entirely deterministic. This is unknown. Next.

    The fact that I don’t know what it means is proof it’s fake.

    Then you have no seat at the table of this discussion. Or else you’re a liar, which is what I suspect. Whatever. Have a nice day.

  25. mike1962 -

    Absolutely false. The statistical properties of, say, superpositions only say something about *our* ignorance of the state. It says *nothing* beyond that. Possible “mechanisms” underlying quantum superpositions could be entirely deterministic. This is unknown. Next.

    No, there are no possible “mechanisms” underlying quantum superpositions that are deterministic. Any such deterministic “mechanism” would depend on hidden variables, which were disproven by experimental verification of Bell’s inequality.

    Because you have no evidence of any hidden variables, no evidence of any deterministic mechanisms, and the necessary hidden variables have been disproven experimentally via Bell’s inequality, your definition of “free will” still applies to quantum systems.

    To distinguish your definition of “free will” from a quantum system, you would need evidence of such hypothetical determinism, and you would need to explain what’s wrong with the experiments proving Bell’s inequality.

    Note, however, that your hypothetical deterministic mechanism could as easily apply to human behavior. With a slight modification to your words, we could make this claim about human behavior:

    The statistical properties of, say, human behavior only says something about *our* ignorance of the human state. It says *nothing* beyond that. Possible “mechanisms” underlying human behavior could be entirely deterministic. This is unknown. Next.

    But such a statement, while hypothetical, is still better than what you said about quantum states. Because your statement about quantum states has been disproven via Bell’s inequality, whereas there’s no Bell’s inequality for human behavior.

    You are incapable of defining the terms which you assert are crucial. You make statements clearly contradicted by scientific experiments. Emotional blurts and pounding the sand in impotent fury are not evidence. Please find more constructive ways to handle your feelings of inadequacy.

  26. No, there are no possible “mechanisms” underlying quantum superpositions that are deterministic.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superdeterminism

    You’re absolutely wrong. If fact, the *only* thing that stands in the face of the plausibility of super-determinism is *free will*. (Which you claim to have to no clue about what that means.)

    You’re boring me with your ignorance.

  27. [O/T: Civility matter]

    Diogenes:

    You have made some gross errors and atmosphere poisoning insinuations in the ID Foundations, 16 thread. I have corrected. (I notice similar errors elsewhere.)

    You need, in all duties of care, to make amends there; or else you would prove yourself irresponsible.

    I draw this to your attention.

    KF

  28. F/N: Pardon, but the matter of freedom of the will of self-moved minded & intelligent, purposing and initiating “first” causes — notice the recursivity [i.e. feedback through memory and past decisions and consequences etc. can influence] — is at bottom the only credible way to resolve the fatal self referential incoherence that follows on assuming or asserting that our behaviour is driven and/or controlled — as opposed to influenced — by blind mechanical and/or random chance factors.

    This becomes particularly evident when we take a pause to look at the too often un-acknowledged self referential absurdity at the heart of evolutionary materialism. That is, evo mat is not only actually false, but per reductio ad absurdum, is necessarily false. (In addition, ever since Plato it has been shown that it reduces to amorality, i.e. moral absurdity, opening the door wide to might and manipulation make ‘right’ nihilism, as 100 million ghosts from the century just past moan out to remind us.)

    No wonder, zealous adherents so often dismiss or suppress lines of thought that expose the fatal crack in the foundations.

    Let’s start with Haldane and Crick:

    HALDANE: >> “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” [["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. >>

    CRICK: >> “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing. [The Astonishing Hypothesis, 1994]>>

    No wonder, then, that seminal ID thinker Philip Johnson has replied that Sir Francis should have therefore been willing to preface his works thusly: “I, Francis Crick, my opinions and my science, and even the thoughts expressed in this book, consist of nothing more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” Johnson then acidly commented: “[[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.” [[Reason in the Balance, 1995.]

    The reason for the absurdity is patent: if characteristic acts of mind — familiar to us from our own internal experiences and observations of others around us that are as we are [notice, concept formation on our common experience as minded creatures is here prior to attempted precising definitions which seek to capture in words the reality familiar from experience so the attempt to object on imperfect definitions fails] — such as purposing, deciding/choosing, reasoning, evaluating, judging, envisioning and verbalising in speech, are driven and controlled by blind mechanical and/or chance forces and circumstances then our life of reasoning and knowing and choosing must reduce to such forces in action; through accidents of initial conditions of the cosmos, the origin and diversification of life and the formation of societies that come down to controlling the neural wiring of the matter between our ears. But, such claimed controlling forces at root owe little or nothing to purpose, truth, warrant and validity etc. That is reason has just evaporated and we are at the absurdity of trying to reason with instruments that have thus been fatally undermined.

    That is why Haldane and Johnson speak as they do. It is why Crick’s remarks are absurd. It is why Dawkins as cited in the OP is also absurd. And, it may well be why Coyne wishes to suggest that adherents of evo mat don’t see things as outlined, implying a strawman caricature.

    That is why VJT was entirely in order to correct by major current counter-example, and it is why, in the above linked discussion of evo mat’s reductio ad absurdum, I have noted:

    though materialists will often try to pointedly ignore or angrily brush aside the issue, we may freely argue: if such evolutionary materialism is true, then (i) our consciousness, (ii) the “thoughts” we have, (iii) the conceptualised beliefs we hold, (iv) the reasonings we attempt based on such and (v) the “conclusions” and “choices” (a.k.a. “decisions”) we reach — without residue — must be produced and controlled by blind forces of chance happenstance and mechanical necessity that are irrelevant to “mere” ill-defined abstractions such as: purpose or truth, or even logical validity . . . .

    And, if materialists then object: “But, we can always apply scientific tests, through observation, experiment and measurement,” then we must immediately note that — as the fate of Newtonian Dynamics between 1880 and 1930 shows — empirical support is not equivalent to establishing the truth of a scientific theory. For, at any time, one newly discovered countering fact can in principle overturn the hitherto most reliable of theories. (And as well, we must not lose sight of this: in science, one is relying on the legitimacy of the reasoning process to make the case that scientific evidence provides reasonable albeit provisional warrant for one’s beliefs etc. Scientific reasoning is not independent of reasoning.) . . .

    Let’s make it more direct:

    For instance, Marxists commonly derided opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismissed qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways? Should we not ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is little more than yet another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze? And — as we saw above — would the writings of a Crick be any more than the firing of neurons in networks in his own brain?

    For further instance, we may take the favourite whipping-boy of materialists: religion. Notoriously, they often hold that belief in God is not merely cognitive, conceptual error, but delusion. Borderline lunacy, in short. But, if such a patent “delusion” is so utterly widespread, even among the highly educated, then it “must” — by the principles of evolution — somehow be adaptive to survival, whether in nature or in society. And so, this would be a major illustration of the unreliability of our conceptual reasoning ability, on the assumption of evolutionary materialism.

    Turning the materialist dismissal of theism around, evolutionary materialism itself would be in the same leaky boat. For, the sauce for the goose is notoriously just as good a sauce for the gander, too.

    That is, on its own premises [[and following Dawkins in A Devil's Chaplain, 2004, p. 46], the cause of the belief system of evolutionary materialism, “must” also be reducible to forces of blind chance and mechanical necessity that are sufficiently adaptive to spread this “meme” in populations of jumped- up apes from the savannahs of East Africa scrambling for survival in a Malthusian world of struggle for existence. Reppert brings the underlying point sharply home, in commenting on the “internalised mouth-noise signals riding on the physical cause-effect chain in a cybernetic loop” view:

    . . . let us suppose that brain state A, which is token identical to the thought that all men are mortal, and brain state B, which is token identical to the thought that Socrates is a man, together cause the belief that Socrates is mortal. It isn’t enough for rational inference that these events be those beliefs, it is also necessary that the causal transaction be in virtue of the content of those thoughts . . . [[But] if naturalism is true, then the propositional content is irrelevant to the causal transaction that produces the conclusion, and [[so] we do not have a case of rational inference. In rational inference, as Lewis puts it, one thought causes another thought not by being, but by being seen to be, the ground for it. But causal transactions in the brain occur in virtue of the brain’s being in a particular type of state that is relevant to physical causal transactions.

    In short, evolutionary materialism, for all its scientific pretensions in our day is at root inescapably and utterly irrational and intellectually bankrupt by virtue of reduction to self-referential absurdity.

    Coming back to the main point, we can thus see that in the end the alternative is that either we accept the intuitive testimony of mind, heart and conscience alike that we are significantly free and responsible creatures [albeit influenced and constrained in the degree of choice we can make], or else we end up in a morass of self refuting self referential absurdities. This is not quite self-evident, as the self referential absurdities are not immediately obvious on attempted denial of freedom of heart, mind and conscience, but the arguments are not so abstruse that they can only be followed by a tiny elite.

    As a further consequence, the only credible worldviews are such as are consistent with our responsible, reasonable freedom and the linked reality of rights and correlate duties. (Cf discussion here on.)

    As to the onward question of how a minded, embodied creature is a possibility, I suggest the Eng Derek Smith two-tier controller MIMO cybernetic loop model as a point for initial discussion. Here, the first level controller works in the loop and the second tier one is a supervisory controller. Mind-brain interface is plausibly argued as a quantum-level influence process.

    KF

  29. PS: For those who prefer to listen, this WLC audio clip may be helpful.

  30. Diogenes,

    I see that what you wanted was not a definition of freedom but a definition of determinism. Here’s one from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (article Causal Determinism :

    Determinism requires a world that (a) has a well-defined state or description, at any given time, and (b) laws of nature that are true at all places and times. If we have all these, then if (a) and (b) together logically entail the state of the world at all other times (or, at least, all times later than that given in (b)), the world is deterministic. Logical entailment, in a sense broad enough to encompass mathematical consequence, is the modality behind the determination in “determinism.”

    Are you happy with that definition?

  31. VJT:

    This, from Websters 1828, on what liberty means, is also helpful:

    Liberty

    n. [L. libertas, from liber, free.]

    1. Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty, when not confined; the will or mind is at liberty, when not checked or controlled. A man enjoys liberty, when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions.

    2. Natural liberty, consists in the power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, except from the laws of nature. [--> Notice, strictly, this leaves open the question of determinism; however, the suggestion is that LON constrain rather than remove liberty] It is a state of exemption from the control of others, and from positive laws and the institutions of social life. This liberty is abridged by the establishment of government.

    3. Civil liberty, is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty, so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. [--> notice, how this suggests genuine freedom of self-moved, purposing creatures as constituting society] A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression. [--> Defines tyranny] civil liberty is an exemption from the arbitrary will of others, which exemption is secured by established laws, which restrain every man from injuring or controlling another. Hence the restraints of law are essential to civil liberty.

    The liberty of one depends not so much on the removal of all restraint from him, as on the due restraint upon the liberty of others.

    In this sentence, the latter word liberty denotes natural liberty.

    4. Political liberty, is sometimes used as synonymous with civil liberty. But it more properly designates the liberty of a nation, the freedom of a nation or state from all unjust abridgment of its rights and independence by another nation. [--> Hence, the extension of liberty in the context of moral issues to self determination and self government by a free people. The whole world of such just self government vs tyranny by tyrants domestic or foreign, lurks] Hence we often speak of the political liberties of Europe, or the nations of Europe.

    5. Religious liberty, is the free right of adopting and enjoying opinions on religious subjects, and of worshiping the Supreme Being according to the dictates of conscience, without external control. [--> Notice how religious liberty brings to bear the influence of conscience as an implanted testimony to duty to truth and right, Of course, conscience can be defied, befuddled or benumbed]

    6. Liberty, in metaphysics, as opposed to necessity, is the power of an agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to the determination or thought of the mind, by which either is preferred to the other. [--> The freedom of responsible, minded agents]

    Freedom of the will; exemption from compulsion or restraint in willing or volition . . .

    Such clarity and cogent force of thought have long since been muddied by the rise and influence of evolutionary materialism and its travelling-companions.

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