Friday, August 30, 2013

I have to answer Jerry Coyne's silly blog post. I have no choice.

Jerry Coyne, with my commentary:

When did morality and moral responsibility begin?
Readers here will know that, being a determinist, I’d prefer to dispense with the term “moral responsibility,” replacing it with the simply idea of “responsibility.” That’s because I don’t think we have dualistic free will that would allow us to decide between doing “right” and “wrong”. If that’s the case, then why add the adjective “moral,” which implies that one does have a choice? 
If we have no free will, we can't choose our acts. If Jerry Coyne has no free will, he didn't choose to write his blog post. Jerry's blog post was determined by natural history and physical laws, not by anything intelligent.
And, as most of you know, I don’t think this omission would overthrow society.
Right. Morality has noting to do with the social order.
We’d still put people in prison for bad behavior (but for sequestration, rehabilitation, and as deterrence, but not for retribution), and could also praise them for good behavior—for praise is an environmental effect that can change someone’s behavior or impel others to act well—but we would be less likely to see people as good or bad by “choice”.
The problem with Jerry's plan to suppress bad behavior by sequestration and rehabilitation, rather than by retribution, is that being sequestered and rehabilitated have nothing to do with having actually committed a crime.

You can be sequestered and rehabilitated for all sorts of things, including for the suspicion that you might commit a crime, or because it suits the ends of the people who sequester and rehabilitate.

Retribution at least has the virtue that it is a punishment for a crime actually committed.

If there is no moral responsibility, not only is there no guilt. There is no innocence.
And the prison system would be run more humanely, involving studies about the best way to change people’s behavior or the best way to deter other people’s latent criminality. 
Changing behavior and deterring latent criminality doesn't depend on conviction for an actual crime. Lots of folks behave badly and have latent criminality, yet they've committed no crime. Jerry has a (humane) prison cell waiting for them.
What I’d like to ask here, though, is when humans supposedly became morally responsible—if that’s what you believe. 
We always hear that “unlike humans, nature is amoral.” You can’t say that the actions of animals are moral or immoral—they just are. When a male lion invades another group and kills the cubs, when a chimp tears another chimp to bits, those are just bits of nature, and aren’t seen as wrong. And the amorality of nature is touted even by those who realize that our primate relatives show rudiments of morality, making it likely that some of our moral instincts were inherited from our pre-hominin ancestors. So why, when a stepfather kills his stepchild (something that, presumably is not something he decides to do “freely”), that is morallywrong, but when a lion does it, or a chimp kills an infant, it’s just nature, Jake.
Jerry's atheism and materialism leaves him no way to distinguish behavior in animals from morality in man. This upsets Jerry.
Now the idea of ethics—a codified set of rules to which we adhere for various reasons, usually as a form of societal glue—clearly was concomitant with the rise of human society and language. But much of our morality is surely based on evolution.
None of our morality was based on evolution.
I’m not saying that those evolved principles are the right ones to use today: clearly in many cases, as with xenophobia, they aren’t. But some of them remain salubrious, including reciprocal altruism, shame, guilt, and so on.
Evolution explains xenophobia, altruism, shame, guilt and salubriousness. And it explains their opposites. It's flexible.
So why can we do wrong but chimps can’t? 
If a chimp wrote Jerry's silly blog post, the chimp would be doing wrong.
In other words, is it really true that all of nature, including primate societies, must be seen as amoral, while human actions must be judged by this thing called “morality”?...

Jerry's confusions are the result of his silly assumptions. Jerry is wrong about man. Man has a spiritual soul, created by God. Man has free will.

So why does Jerry, who freely asserts that he lacks free will, suffer such pointless confusion?

Jerry is suffering from the consequences of his presuppositions. He assumes that man lacks free will and is nothing more than an evolved animal. This view leads to all sorts of contradictions and nonsense, which leaves Jerry with no choice but to be upset.

(Cross-posted at Evolution News and Views)


  1. Michael,

    'Free will' has nothing to do with writing a blog (or a comment in answer to the blog, or even getting up in the morning to go to work, otherwise one won't have the money to eat).

    'Free will' refers to the idea that all decisions are made consciously and rationally.

    'Lack of free will' refers to the idea that decisions are actually made subconsciously, based on nature and nurture - the person's genetics, development, past experiences, emotional values etc - and the decision is then passed to the conscious brain, the mind, with the illusion that the mind has made the decision, and rationalises the decision.

    As Benjamin Libet puts it from his research, individuals have "free won't" (they're able to cancel decisions before putting them into effect) but not 'free will'.

    But that will probably go over the head of someone who was stupid enough to think that Libet had posited that the brain backdates awareness of touch sensations to the time the peripheral nerve fibre was stimulated (as evidence that the peripheral nervous system is 'aware'). Whereas he demonstrated that a touch sensation, if it persists for half a second, is backdated to the time the touch stimulus reaches the brain (ie the brain, not the peripheral nervous system, is 'aware', mainly because it contains billions of neurons with trillions of connections).

    Regardless of whether there's free will or not. The law (and society) assumes that there is, and treats malefactors accordingly. Society can't cope with ignoring malefactors, in the absence of cures for psychological disorders such as psychopathic personality types. And even if cures were available, it's arguable that they wouldn't be ethical.

  2. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyAugust 30, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    I don't doubt Coyne's claim that he is a meat machine, programmed by genetic routines and environmental contingencies. Consequently, I am no more interested in reading his conditioned responses (loosely called "thoughts" for literary purposes) than I would be interested in reviewing videotapes of Skinner's dancing pigeons or reading novels "written" by Scott French's AI algorithms.

    On a completely different front, however, an amusing article popped up in my news feed recently. In a recent tax case, the DoJ has ruled that atheism is a religion:

    [T]he Justice Department argued leaders of an atheist group may qualify for [a religious tax] exemption...

    Belief in a deity is not required.

    "Plaintiffs may not presume that a law's reference to religion necessarily excludes beliefs that are specifically non-theistic in nature," the government argued in a motion to dismiss the suit.

    -- USA Today

    I've always said that Dawkins, Hitchens, et al were evangelical atheists, committed to spreading the Gospel of Null. Looks like the lawyers in Holder's DoJ agree.

  3. Coyne (like Dawkins) is a liar -- it's not just that what he's saying is false, it's that doesn't believe it himself and knows it to be false.

    One can easily show these moral anti-realists to be liars by "insulting" them (*) -- their response will always be to take moral umbrage.

    (*) for instance, simply *call* them liars; or to get a tad more edgy, say that they eat puppies for breakfast.

    1. Ilion,

      Whenever you make one of your unfounded statements, I briefly consider it, wonder if it's possibly true and usually reject it almost immediately. Your calling atheists liars I usually excuse as a difference of opinion based on different world views. Your claim that atheists eat puppies for breakfast I just regard as delusional hyperbole - not even an ad hominem attack, because it's not true. An ad hominem attack has to be true, but irrelevant.

      My calling Egnor stupid could be an ad hominem attack, if I weren't noting that Libet's research indicates 'free won't' not 'free will' - and I'd noted that Egnor wouldn't understand Libet's position on 'free will' since he continually gets Libet's research on backdating of sensory perceptions so wrong. Repeatedly. Despite being corrected on multiple occasions.

    2. But, Dewd, you're a liar ... and we all know it.

      Your post here is made in the spirit of lying ... and it is a confirmation of what I said.

      You atheists do not believe what you assert, and demand that others must believe.

  4. You are a hilarious nutter, Ilion! Somehow you know what other people actually think.


  5. I don't know if Coyne has free will or not but he sure suffers from an extreme case of ailurophilia!

  6. the 'Hoo' who Horton never heard, because Horton can't hear lies: "You are a hilarious nutter, Ilion! Somehow you know what other people actually think."

    Look at this! But his very act of "objecting" in the name og Coyne, the fool confirms that *he* doesn't believe what Coyne is asserting ... and that he doesn't believe that Coyne does, either.

    As for Dawkins, I showed, in his own words that he is a self-admitted liar about this matter.

    1. Ya gotta slow down, Ilion. Otherwise you type gibberish that no one can understand. What the hell does it mean to object in the name og Coyne?