Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Don't Understand What Jerry Coyne Means by "Free Will"

 Jerry Coyne just castigated someone for profanely accusing him of denying free will. Jerry labeled his post Someone Doesn't Understand Free Will. He responds,

 "Jane, if you’re going to troll here, at least try to understand what I’m saying, which is that of course there is blame for what one does, and punishment must be meted out for bad deeds."

I certainly don't endorse Jane's choice of language, but I'm afraid I share her lack of understanding in regard to Coyne's views.  We don't blame a rock for falling down instead of up, since we do not think a rock has free will.  It must obey the law of gravity.  It could not do otherwise.  If we do not have free will, then we cannot do otherwise than what we do.  No doubt we can be conditioned to do otherwise, the way one conditions animals to do otherwise.  But we do not blame animals for their actions, because we believe that animals cannot do other than how they are genetically and environmentally "programmed" to behave.  We do not think they have free will.  To say that there is blame for what a human being does is to say that we are different from rocks or animals.  It is to say that we have free will and that we can do other than how we have been genetically or environmentally "programmed" to behave.  To try to say that we have blame but don't have free will is to do a terrible disservice to the meaning of both terms.  Jerry might as well use a few cuss words, since at least they would have more meaning than the nonsense he insists on spewing.

Since I'm banned from Jerry's blog (even though I never came close to using profanity), I'm not able to ask him directly to defend his view.  Perhaps someone else could explain it to me.

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