Jerry Coyne has yet another post on the topic of free will, which he thinks we do not have.
There are some points in that post that warrant a reply, so this will be my response.
Am I banned?
Normally, I would respond by posting a comment at Coyne’s site. However, my last few attempts to comment there have failed. It sure looks as if Coyne has banned me from commenting, though I have no idea why. Yes, I have disagreed with Coyne in the past, but I have never been belligerent or excessively argumentative in that disagreement. It is Coyne’s site, so within his rights to ban me. But it seems surprising.
A point of agreement
I’ll start with a point where I agree with Coyne. His opening paragraph reads:
One of the recurrent arguments made by free-will “compatibilists” (i.e., those who see free will as being compatible with physical determinism), is that those of us who are incompatibilists—in my case, I think people conceive of free will as reflecting a dualistic “ghost in the brain,” and find that incompatible with the determinism that governs our behavior—is this: “Nobody really believes in dualistic free will—the sense that one could have done otherwise. Thus, invoking your kind of incompatibilism is accepting a form of free will that nobody espouses. So why bother to beat a dead horse?”
Coyne disagrees with that claim that nobody believes in dualistic free will. And Coyne is right about that. I’ve seen many online discussions of free will. And there are always some folk to accept the compatibilist conception, and there seem to always be others who reject it. And of those who reject the compatibilist conception, some do believe that they have free will.
For myself, I think a lot of the disagreement between people, is just a disagreement on what they mean by “free will”. Neither “free will” nor “determinism” (is the sense used here) is well defined.
A point of disagreement
Now let’s move to a point where I believe Coyne has reached a wrong conclusion. He discusses a study where students were presented with two hypothetical universes, and asked which better describes our universe:
One of these studies, cited by Sarkissian et al., was done by Nichols and Knobe (2007, reference below). In the first part of their studies they presented the students with two different kinds of universes: Universe A is fully deterministic and Universe B is indeterministic insofar as decision-making occurs. That is, in Universe B, but not A, people could have chosen otherwise at any point when they must make a decision:
Please check Coyne’s post for a quote from the study. Coyne then describes the results, with:
Nearly all participants in that study (I haven’t read it, but presume they were American college students), chose “B”: the indeterminstic universe. In other words, the vast majority of people believed in dualistic free will and were indeterminists about decisions.
That’s just a wrong conclusion. I give you myself as an example. If I were asked which kind of universe, I would respond “B” (the non-deterministic universe). The best evidence from physics is that the world is not deterministic. So, for me “B” is the best answer. Nevertheless, I am a compatibilist. I take the compatibilist conception of free will to be the appropriate one.
According to Coyne, if I see “B” as the best answer, I must not be a compatibilist. He is clearly mistaken about that.