Saturday, January 19, 2013

Defining contra-causal free will

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
when I assert that one doesn’t have free will, I am arguing about classical dualistic free will. So when I ask whether we have free will, I am adhering to Anthony Cashmore’s definition (in bold):
I believe that free will is better defined as a belief that there is a component to biological behavior that is something more than the unavoidable consequences of the genetic and environmental history of the individual and the possible stochastic laws of nature. ...
And yes, I know you can define free will so that we have it by definition—it’s our ability to make apparent choices without having a gun to our head, or our evolved ability to consider many factors before “deciding” on a course of action, or the fact that a mammal named Jerry is seen to make decisions, and so on. Hell, I could define free will as simply “it looks to an outsider as if we’re making choices,” and then everyone has it!

To me, the important task of philosophers should not be finding some new definition of free will so that the masses can think that they have it and thus be reassured (after all, false reassurance is what theologians do), but letting people know that our decisions are behavioral outcomes of physical processes in our brain, determined by the laws of physics or indeterminate according to quantum mechanics. Either way, dualism is dead, and educating people about this is the most important thing philosophers can do vis-à-vis the free will question. ...

Sam Harris is right. We are puppets of our genes and environments, and it’s bloody well time we admitted that.
His argument is essentially to say that if you define free will to mean a conscious ability to violate scientific laws, then there is no free will because nothing can violate scientific laws. From this he wants to deny individual responsibility.

Fine. There is no contra-causal free will. There is only the kind of free will that allows us to make choices and decisions. For this to be a scientific matter, there needs to be some experiments that are strong enough to imply his conclusions. I do not see any.

The LA Times reports:
Pedophilia once was thought to stem from psychological influences early in life. Now, many experts view it as a deep-rooted predisposition that does not change.

Like many forms of sexual deviance, pedophilia once was thought to stem from psychological influences early in life. Now, many experts view it as a sexual orientation as immutable as heterosexuality or homosexuality. It is a deep-rooted predisposition — limited almost entirely to men — that becomes clear during puberty and does not change.

The best estimates are that between 1% and 5% of men are pedophiles, meaning that they have a dominant attraction to prepubescent children.

Not all pedophiles molest children. Nor are all child molesters pedophiles. Studies show that about half of all molesters are not sexually attracted to their victims. They often have personality disorders or violent streaks, and their victims are typically family members.

By contrast, pedophiles tend to think of children as romantic partners and look beyond immediate relatives. They include chronic abusers familiar from the headlines — Catholic priests, coaches and generations of Boy Scout leaders.
So do pedophiles really not have any free choice to do what they do? I do not believe it. I believe that people do have the free will to make choices, unless I see some very convincing evidence otherwise.

The UK BBC reports on a new study of mouse genes influencing behavior:
Researchers reporting in Nature crossed mouse breeds and measured the burrows the resulting mice made.

The study has behaivoural implications of many animals, including humans.

"Modular" genetic regions even relate to specific burrow parts, it suggests.

The findings bear out an idea first put forward by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, called "the extended phenotype".

It suggests that our view of genes as controlling only proteins in an individual is tremendously limited, and that genes "express" themselves in a rich variety of behaviours - or in this case, homes.
Human behavior is influenced by genes also, but this is nowhere close to denying free will.

Update: Coyne complains that no one should criticize him anonymously. Okay, I use my real name here. He banned me from his blog (that he does not like to call a blog), so I don't post there.


Johan Mathiesen said...

"So do pedophiles really not have any free choice to do what they do? I do not believe it. I believe that people do have the free will to make choices, unless I see some very convincing evidence otherwise."

But what do you mean "free will to make choices"? What is free about any choice? For one thing, you're assuming that the conscious mind is actually doing the choosing, something which is not proved. But conscious or unconscious, making a choice, by definition, requires entering data into a formula and then abiding by the result. This is not free will.

Ignore the result, you say? But ignoring is a choice, so the decision to ignore or not ignore would have to be put through another formula, consciously or otherwise. One can't change a decision without making a decision.

Does the pedophile have a choice? Not really. He has to follow the dictates of his formulas/algorithm just like everyone else. Your statement that he has a choice to harm or not harm your daughter is not a valid assessment of the situation. Those are two possible scenarios but not necessarily two possible options. Unless you know of another way to make decisions, answers are determined by the algorithms.

Roger said...

Maybe our minds are unconsciously applying algorithms, but we still seem to be making choices.

Johan Mathiesen said...


Exactly. We have to be seem to be making the choices in order to function in real time; but that doesn't mean we're actually making the choices. "Seeming to" and doing are two different things.

The problem, in my crude level of understanding, is that I don't know of any way to get anything done other than through the normal laws of physics. I don't see choice as an option in the universe. I see events unfolding, but I don't see choice.