Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Behold the Power of Free Thought!

From the Jerry Coyne's blog, with some emphasis added:

I’ve always tried to avoid thinking about free will, realizing that that way lies madness. As a materialist, I couldn’t see any way that our thoughts and behavior, which come from our neurons and muscles, which themselves result from the interaction between our genes and our environment, could truly be influenced by our “will.” Yes, there may be quantum uncertainties, but I don’t see how those can be influenced by our minds, or play any role in the notion that our decisions are freely taken. But if you don’t believe in free will, you might be tempted to stop thinking so hard about what you do, and start questioning the idea of moral responsibility. The end result is nihilism.

Although Pink gives a useful summary of the history of philosophical arguments about free will, he completely neglects science, eventually claiming that free will is a reality largely because we feel that we have it. Pink’s neglect of physics, chemistry, and biology—that is, the whole area of naturalism and determinism—is inexcusable.

And if you accept this definition, there’s no way to respond to the question of “Do we have free will?” except with a vigorous “No!” If you answer, “yes,” then you’re tacitly accepting a mind/body duality and a species of vitalism that has no part in science or naturalism. As I see it, you can no more be consistently scientific and believe in free will than you can be consistently scientific and believe in a theistic God.


What I find funny?

1) Coyne realizes that his metaphysical and philosophical commitments leave him in the position where all of his thoughts are predetermined. Predetermined, by the way, not by reason or any process that is deeply linked to reason, but by good ol' mechanistic operations that have zero innate correspondence with reason.

2) Coyne realizes that accepting this leads to moral nihilism, and undercuts reason itself. Coyne also realizes that the only way out of this is to alter his metaphysics - but the alteration would kick the door wide open to things he dislikes, and which he doesn't want as part of his worldview.

3) His solution? "Don't think about that stuff."

Behold! The power of atheistic, materialistic, scientific reason! Of free thought! Coyne has discovered the solution, the key to puzzles of thought and mind!

That solution? Cognitive dissonance!

The power of atheistic reason. Be still my freaking heart.

Edit: I should say "atheistic" reason. Coyne is on record as saying that deism is entirely compatible with science. Hence his curious qualification about a "theistic God". Sadly for Coyne, this amounts to the utter surrender of the principle claims of the now largely defunct New Atheist movement - grant that God, even a mere deistic God is compatible with science, and you've laid the foundation that just about every religious faith can build on. But, all this is talk for another time.

5 comments:

Ilíon said...

"1) Coyne realizes that his metaphysical and philosophical commitments leave him in the position where all of his thoughts are predetermined. Predetermined, by the way, not by reason or any process that is deeply linked to reason, but by good ol' mechanistic operations that have zero innate correspondence with reason."

If he *really* understood his metaphysical and philosophical commitments, he’d realize that according to what he asserts to be the truth about the nature reality and of human beings, he doesn’t even *have* thoughts in the first place.

Ilíon said...

Could you add a link to the original? Just in case I, or another of your minions, should want to read it?

Crude said...

If he *really* understood his metaphysical and philosophical commitments, he’d realize that according to what he asserts to be the truth about the nature reality and of human beings, he doesn’t even *have* thoughts in the first place.

Coyne has, I think, admitted he doesn't know all that much about philosophy and doesn't care to learn. Doesn't keep him from shutting up about it or taking philosophical positions, anyway. He's something of a train wreck.

And sure, I'll add the link to the original post.

Crude said...

I should add, "If he really understood his metaphysical commitments, it would serve as a refutation of them." You know the schtick. If we really do think about things, if we really do understand things, if we really do reason, then materialism is false.

But he's not about to think about it too deeply. I doubt it would matter too much either. Materialists don't mind absurdity all that much.

Ilíon said...

Exactly.