As we have seen, New Atheists like Jerry Coyne are such extreme determinists that they believe terrorists cannot be held morally responsible for their terrorism. Needless to say, Coyne and other free will denialists neither think murderers, rapists, and human traffickers can be held morally responsible for their crimes. As Coyne proudly proclaims:
Tsarnaev was acting under the influence of his genes and his environment, of which Tamerlan was a part, and he had no choice other than to plant the bombs. [….] All criminals have the same extenuating circumstance: they had no choice. In what sense, then, are murderers “morally” responsible for what they did?
Determinists like Coyne would be quick to add that such criminals should still be held responsible for their actions and thus imprisoned. We can look at this reasoning in a future posting, but for now, I simply want to focus on the denial of moral reponsibility.
The first thing to note is that the denial of moral responsibility is just an opinion. The determinists don’t really know that moral responsibility is an illusion. It is simply their belief. They can try to support that belief with arguments and evidence, but none of this delivers certain knowledge. So in the end, the belief remains a belief.
But here is the key point. The belief in determinism is not just a belief about the world, it is a belief the determinist has about him/herself. In other words, the determinist is telling us something about himself – he is telling us that he does not believe he should be held morally responsible for his actions.
Second, let’s change the focus from terrorism and murder to something like….lying. If we cannot hold people morally responsible for murder, clearly we cannot hold them morally responsible for telling lies. And what this means is that the determinist believes he/she cannot be held morally responisible for lying. So what’s to stop the determinist from lying to you? Why would you trust a determinist?
In fact, this leads to the question as to whether or not morality can even exist without moral responsibility. If it is wrong to lie, but no one can be held morally responsible for lying, it would seem the notion it is “wrong to lie” has no teeth. If moral responsibility is an illusion, so too would morality be an illusion. The whole sense of “ought” would be an illusion. New Atheist determinism becomes incompatible with morality.
Look, if a New Atheist determinist could lie in such a way that the “threat of religion” would be thwarted, what’s to stop the New Atheist from lying?