Jerry Coyne is once again peddling free will denialism. Coyne writes:
As I always say, it’s easier to convince a diehard creationist of the truth of evolution than to convince a diehard atheist of the fact that our behaviors are determined, and that we can’t make alternative choices at a given moment.
Yet there are some enlightened folk who not only accept determinism but deny that a version of “free will” can be confected that preserves our notion of that term while accepting determinism. There are some enlightened folk who realize that accepting behavioral determinism mandates a severe reform of the criminal justice system, including adopting the view that criminals, like malfunctioning machines, need to be treated rather than punished.
One of those enlightened people is neurobiologist and author Robert Sapolsky, a professor at Stanford.
Great. The same enlightened crowd that gave us postmodernism and the social justice movement now wants to mandate a severe reform of the criminal justice system. What could possibly go wrong?
Before we go to the extreme of adding even more radical changes to our culture, why can’t the enlightened crowd pause, take a breath, and address some basic questions.
- If we have no free will, how can we have free speech? It would seem clear to me that without free will, there is no such thing as free speech. Thus, determinism seems to strengthen the social justice case against free speech. If speech is simply the deterministic output of one’s culture, environment, and genes, then why not censor it and regulate it in terms of its perceived consequential outcomes?
- Before tackling the issue of criminals, why don’t free will denialist professors test out their approach in the classroom? That is, if a student commits plagiarism, or cheats on an exam, shouldn’t that teacher treat the student like malfunctioning machine, needing to be treated rather than punished with a failed grade?
- Why the focus on punishment? If there is no free will, rewards are just as nonsensical. Why are these professors rewarding students with high grades when the student did not truly accomplish them? The student could not help but get high grades because of his/her culture, environment, and genes.
What’s more, don’t you think it time for these enlightened professors to do away with all their awards and honors they give each other? For example, on the Amazon page for Sapolsky’s book, we find:
He is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant.
While he may have received the MacArthur Foundation genius grant, he didn’t truly earn it. He didn’t make any decisions or come up with any arguments other than the decisions/arguments his environment and biology forced upon him.
Hmmm. If you think about it, points 2 and 3 would also nicely fold into a social justice outlook. Since everyone’s failure and success is something that was determined to happen by forces apart from the agent, why not just find a way to treat everyone the same? Afterall, we are all the same give none of us have ever failed or accomplished anything.
There are many, many problems with free will denialism, but it is interesting to me how such a worldview fits so nicely into the social justice mentality that the enlightened atheists have already given us.