Posts tagged ‘free will’

May 2, 2015

Why I am not a materialist — take 2

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post (almost three years ago), I asserted that I am not a materialist.  I have had people argue with me about that, and suggest that I was being disingenuous.

In the debates between Rupert Sheldrake and Michael Shermer, Shedrake’s opening statement includes a bunch of questions related to materialism, that he poses to Shermer.  So I thought I would give my answers to those questions.  And then you can decide for yourself whether I should be considered a materialist.


Sheldrake’s first question: Is nature mechanical?

I have never thought so.  I take biological organisms to be an important part of what we mean by “nature”, and biology has always seemed very different from mechanics.  Rocks, earthquakes, etc — yes, I consider those to be mechanical.  But not living things.

March 19, 2015

Notes on free will

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at his blog site, Jerry Coyne writes:

Based on statements of some compatibilists, I realized that one reason philosophers spend so much time trying to define forms of free will compatible with determinism is because they see bad consequences of rejecting all free will.

Obviously, Jerry is a mindless mechanical moron, meaninglessly mimicking a memorized message.

Well, actually, I don’t believe that about Jerry.  Rather, I take it that Jerry has free will, in spite of his repeated insistence to the contrary.

I’m quite puzzled about what Jerry Coyne means by “free will”.  I take it to mean only that we are not mindless morons, that we do participate in making decisions.  I doubt that Jerry thinks he is a mindless moron, yet he seems to insist that he has no free will and that his decision making is illusory.

Jerry starts his post with:

I’ve long been puzzled by the many writings of “compatibilists”: those philosophers and laypeople who accept physical determinism of our choices and behaviors, but still maintain that we have a kind of “free will.”

I consider myself a compatibilist, but I do not accept physical determinism.  The evidence seems to be against it.  If there were physical determinism, then, as I see it, we would all be mindless mechanical morons.  Yet we don’t seem to be that, so I doubt physical determinism.

December 12, 2014

On free will

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a recent video, “The Dark Side of Free Will“, of a TEDx talk by philosopher Gregg Caruso (h/t Brian Leiter).

Caruso argues that we do not have free will.  However, the main point of his talk is to argue that belief in free will has undesirable consequences, so we would be better off dropping any such belief.

I don’t get it.  I do not see any substance to his argument.  But I suggest you watch the video and decide that for yourself.

Among the undesirable consequences that Caruso mentions, are a retributive system of justice, and a “blame the victim” mentality.

I agree with Caruso that there are problems with our current system of justice, and that we should get rid of that “blame the victim” mentality.  But I don’t see that this as anything much to do with a belief in free will.

Caruso mentions evidence to support his case.  But all he has is correlations.  I am left wondering why he called his talk “The Dark Side of Free Will.”  Why not, instead, “The Dark Side of Conservatism” or “The Dark Side of Religion”?  Either of those titles would seem a better fit to the evidence that he mentions.

But here’s what leaves me puzzled about these kinds of arguments.  Caruso wants us to make changes, which involves us making choices.  To me, that we have an ability to make such changes is a very typical example of free will.  So I see Caruso as implicitly endorsing the view that we have free will, while explicitly denying it.

Arguments against free will always seem to involve that kind of internal contradiction.

February 19, 2014

On Jerry Coyne on free will

by Neil Rickert

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.

January 19, 2013

The silliness of free will denial

by Neil Rickert

Over at his blogwebsite – Jerry Coyne has proposed a thought experment:

He starts by asserting that we have no free will.  And then Coyne asks his readers which of two options they would choose.

Then Coyne goes ahead and exercises his own free will, by choosing the first of those options.  Some of the commenters do likewise.  Other commenters exercise their free will to point out that the whole idea of making a choice is contrary to free will.

I guess I still have that quaint old fashioned idea that scientists are supposed to go by evidence.  And the evidence is that people spend much of their time making choices.


July 26, 2012

Answering some questions posed to athiests

by Neil Rickert

Yesterday, I responded to a series of questions for theists, answering as I would have back when I was a theist with growing doubt.  This post responds to some recent questions that matt (over at the Well Spent Journey blog) has posed for atheists: “Twelve Questions to Ask an Atheist.”  Some of these questions are actually relevant to the kind of issue that I often discuss here.  As before, I will quote the question or perhaps an abridged version, before answering.  I suggest that you also visit matt’s original post where he poses the questions.

April 13, 2012

More entertainment at the free will rodeo

by Neil Rickert

I was watching a fight over on the blogosphere, when all of a sudden, a discussion of free will broke out.

In the left corner, it is Jerry Coyne.  In the right corner, we find John Horgan.  Coyne accuses Horgan of a nasty and mean-spirited attack on Sam Harris.  And he suggests that Horgan gives his psychological motivations at the outset.

I don’t know how others see this.  But I see Horgan’s “mean-spirited attack” and list of “psychological motivations” as an attempt at self-deprecating humor.  Admittedly, humor often doesn’t carry very well in Internet postings, and perhaps John Horgan isn’t all that good at humor.  Still, I think Coyne might have considered the possibility that it was not intended to be a “mean-spirited attack.”

According to one way of describing history, at a time past a glob of molecules that went by the name “Jerry Coyne” made some completely involuntary tics, that resulted in meaningless ink marks on paper.  The first few of those meaningless ink marks looked a little like this:

Why Evolution is True

According to a different way of describing history, the biologist Jerry Coyne wrote an interesting book titled “Why Evolution is True”, a book filled with meaningful ideas.

Horgan seems to favor that second way of describing history.  Because of that Jerry Coyne accuses Horgan of being a dualist.

If I go by blind faith in the inerrancy of a highly literalistic reading of scientific laws, that favors Coyne’s position.  If I go by the evidence, that seems to support Horgan’s position.

I think I will go by the evidence.

March 4, 2012

What do we do next?

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post “Free will: what do we do next?“, Jerry Coyne wonders:

Given that we all agree on these issues, what comes next?

Well, it is really quite simple.  Nothing much comes next.  Given that it is all an illusion, you might as well set back and watch the illusion as it unfolds.  And, if we are unable to choose otherwise, then that is obviously what we shall do.

When thinking about this yesterday, …

Well you weren’t really thinking about it.  After all, thinking is that aspect of our lives where we consider ideas and make choices about them.  But if making choices is an illusion, as your view of “free will” asserts, then that thinking must also be an illusion.