You Can’t Trust a New Atheist Determinist

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?

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to You Can’t Trust a New Atheist Determinist

  1. Dhay says:

    There’s a great deal in Sam Harris’ latest blog, entitled, “The Limits of Discourse”, that is worthy of comment.

    One aspect that I expect others will deal with more fully is Harris’ obsession with insisting that “good intentions” matter:

    If we want to draw conclusions about ethics—as well as make predictions about what a given person or society will do in the future—we cannot ignore human intentions. Where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything.

    This seems strange coming from Harris, who is a “self”-denying and free-will denying extreme determinist, and who wrote in his blog entry, “The Marionette’s Lament” (replying to Dennetts strongly-worded criticisms, reproduced in Harris’ earlier “Reflections on FREE WILL” blog, of Harris’ book, “Free Will”):

    We [Harris and Dan Dennett] agree that human thought and behavior are determined by prior states of the universe and its laws …

    Get that, human thought and behavior — that’s intentions too — are determined by prior states of the universe and its laws, and are not within our power to choose. Harris should instead be saying, Where ethics are concerned, intentions are quite irrelevant, they are nothing.

    Another aspect is that Harris, having chased eagerly after Noam Chomsky but made the claim that Chomsky will “look like the dog who caught the car” to readers of Harris’ blog — oh, the arrogance and hubris that Harris displays — adds a sort-of apologetic postscript, evidently in response to those readers who thought Harris was the dog who caught Chomsky’s car. (“Certain readers saw my focus on Chomsky’s tone as an abject attempt to dodge hard questions.”) Not that Harris does apologies at all well.

    And in that postscript Harris makes this very interesting admission:

    I can now see that I was using rather rhetorical language in my book and that Chomsky was entitled to reject my characterization of him on literal (if pedantic) grounds. He had asked the questions I said he hadn’t; I just didn’t like the answers. Conceding this doesn’t render the views he expressed in 9/11 easier to digest. But given the umbrage that Chomsky took over the offending phrases, it would have been helpful if I had admitted that they were sloppily written and, in a narrow sense, untrue.

    Here we have the key to Harris’ intentions, and Harris’ problems: Harris, I judge, wanted to fly into empty rhetoric; instead, Chomsky pinned Harris to accuracy and to truth. Harris would have liked to launch in a full-flow Gish gallop of rhetoric, in a recorded verbal debate, something he could use to show off his rhetorical skills to his fans; instead, Chomsky pinned Harris to accuracy and to truth, and with attention to the detail of the written word; wasn’t Harris sore.

    A further lesson: Harris thinks that untruth is not untruth if is rhetoric, and that he can thereby get away with untruth,scot-free, by claiming it is “rhetoric”. Even his “in a narrow sense, untrue” is rhetoric — the offending phrases were untrue. Full. Stop. As Chomsky was at pains to insist upon.

    I reckon that “in a narrow sense, untrue” is a misdirection, misdirecting the reader to suppose it was not in any real sense untrue; and that “sloppily written” is also a misdirection, misdirecting the reader to suppose that the rhetoric is not carefully worded precisely in order to misdirect.

    > 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?

    I see “sloppily written” rhetoric (I would call it “sophistry”) in just about everything Harris writes and says. Perhaps, as the old joke goes, “Now I know about confirmation bias, I see it everywhere”; or perhaps I see patterns of rhetoric, sophistry and misdirection which actually are there, and are there by intention to deceive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s