Free Will and Naturalism

Jerry Coyne continues to obsess about free will, as he responds to a short book entitled, Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will.

What’s clear to me is that Coyne’s version of naturalistic atheism is incompatible with libertarian free will, thus he rejects the latter. You can see the incompatibility at work in Coyne’s mind:

If you are going to promulgate the idea that at a given point in time you can really make “alternative decisions”—decisions that you (rather than an errant electron) decide, then you are suggesting that humans can flout the laws of physics. This is magic.

While some people punt and say that you can have contracausal free will without flouting those laws, I don’t see how that’s possible. Such an attitude is profoundly anti-naturalistic given that are brains are made of molecules.


But Mele’s “ambitious free will” does flout the laws of physics, and in that sense the jury, which is physics, has already decided against it.

Of course, if naturalism/atheism are incompatible with libertarian free will, then that means my life-long, massive, direct experience with libertarian free will is evidence against naturalism/atheism.

Coyne is constantly flustered by the existence of the compatibilists. Yet perhaps our experience with free will is so strong that compatibilists exist mainly to prevent people from reaching the conclusion that naturalism/atheism are incompatible with free will. Take away the compatibilists and people will have to choose between the abstract, cloudy position of naturalism or their concrete experience with free will.

Anyway, Coyne’s response to the book is interesting:

I wasn’t impressed with the book. Mele does point out a few alternative interpretations to experiments like Benjamin Libet’s which apparently show that some decisions can be predicted with accuracy of up to 80% by brain-scanning as far as ten seconds before the actor is conscious of having made a decision. Some of Mele’s criticisms are useful, while others are not. Mele’s main objection is that the real decisions we make are based on rational pondering and consideration, and these decisions are very different from the simple binary choices predicted by brain-scanning studies. To that I reply “so what”?

What a weak reply. So what? It means that such studies don’t measure what they claim to be measuring. A simply binary choice is not the essence of reason. For example, when social justice actvists assert that a hate crime has been committed, I will have to rely on reason to assess the claim and reach a judgment about the liklihood of its veracity. In doing so, my brain behaves differently than when I choose heads or tails during a coin flip.

Take me writing this blog post about this topic instead of something else and posting it when I did using the words that I chose to make the points I chose to highlight. According to determinists like Coyne, if we were to replay the tape of life a million times, in each and every one of those million playbacks, I would choose to write and post the identical thing.   In other words, I would not be responsible for this posting and its claims/words.
Sorry, but that does not strike me as a true or enlightened position.


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12 Responses to Free Will and Naturalism

  1. John Branyan says:

    “I wasn’t impressed with the book.”
    To that I reply, “So what?”

    If we replayed Coyne’s life tape a million times, the result would be the same. Do you suppose he reasons his blog contains any significance whatsoever? If so, I’m impressed by his ability to ignore the staggering weight of a hypocrisy that would crush ordinary men.

  2. RobertM says:

    My electrons don’t believe Coyne’s electrons. Simple physics.

  3. Dhay says:

    The book, Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will was published several years ago, and Jerry Coyne is late on the scene. Earlier on the scene, as a genuine philosopher reviewing that philosophy book, was Dan Dennett, whose 2014 review was in Prospect. It’s a long and interesting article, but in the context of Coyne’s simplistic thinking about genes-and-environment-only, this sentence jumped out at me:

    A curious fact about these forays into philosophy is that almost invariably the scientists concentrate on the least scientifically informed, most simplistic conceptions of free will, as if to say they can’t be bothered considering the subtleties of alternative views worked out by mere philosophers.

    Quite. Coyne to a T. (And about this time Dennett was engaging in that well-publicised spat with Sam Harris over free will.)

    Oh, and Libet’s experiments (and some famous others that likewise purported to demonstrate no-free-will) were flawed because fundamentally misconceived:

    Mele provides accurate, jargon-free accounts of the experiments and what they do and don’t show. And in each case he locates what, in my opinion, are the most fundamental flaws in the reasoning by those scientists. The mistakes are so obvious that one sometimes wonders how serious scientists could make them.

    The experimenters didn’t show no-free-will; their experiments were not designed such that they could.

  4. Dhay says:

    Spotted at the beginning of Jerry Coyne’s 16 May 2019 blog post entitled “Oy! : A completely incoherent defense of free will”:

    I almost never listen to podcasts or podcast-style videos simply because I can read faster than I can listen to people talk, and because podcasts are invariably about 1.5 hours long, which is TL:DL for me. But I didn’t listen to nearly all of the following video (the beginning isn’t relevant) as Michael Shermer sent it to me touting it as a pretty convincing argument for free will.

    Intriguing, that: if I understand Coyne right, he himself thinks Christian List (with whom Shermer discusses free will) makes a completely incoherent defense of free will; and Shermer considers List makes a pretty convincing argument for free will.

    The rest of Coyne’s post is uninteresting, being the usual mix of assertion and incomprehension; for example Coyne pooh-poohs:

    List gives three criteria for true free will: intentional agency; causal control over one’s actions, so that you have alternative possibilities to choose from and could have chosen otherwise; and there are higher-level aspects of human behavior, including “choice”, that are not reducible to physics and chemistry.

    Funny how Coyne is unable to understand this. I note that Yuval Noah Harari (in his book, Sapiens) points out that Peugeot is one of those higher-level aspects of human behavior — like choice — that are not reducible to physics-and-chemistry. But Coyne, locked into physics-and-chemistry determinism, cannot conceive of anything that isn’t reducible to physics-and-chemistry.

    What else isn’t reducible to physics-and-chemistry? Ah yes, that ‘free speech’ which Coyne so obsesses over. He’s not very reflective, is he.

  5. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne’s 04 May 2019 blog post entitled “Saturday: Hili dialogue” includes not just the usual inanity of a talking cat …:

    Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is exploring leisurely:
    Cyrus: Come on, we have to see the other part of the orchard.
    Hili: There is no hurry.

    … but also gives a pointer to Coyne’s mentality:

    Puttering around in my empty lab yesterday, I found … the first research paper in genetics, the identification of an unknown white-eye mutant … in Drosophila melanogaster. This was a project for my genetics class in my second year in college. …

    50/50: a perfect score! It was actually this paper, and my amazement at being able to map the mutations cleanly, and identify how they acted, that made me want to go into genetics. Many thanks to my professor, Bruce Grant at the College of William and Mary.

    It is to Coyne’s credit that he got 100%. That 100% started him on his lifelong academic career working with mutations in fruit flies (vinegar flies.) It’s a very specialised career, and it’s evidently one in which there are wholly determined answers — get your data, apply the algorithm, the answer you get is 100% correct. No greys, no colours, just black-and-white — which I’m sure suits his mentality very well.

    What else could Coyne have taken up as a career? In the Social Sciences every damn thing is correlated with every other damn thing, causation multi-faceted and blurred; in Economics and Business Studies, the same, and knowledge of how the system works feeds back to change how it works; Politics is … don’t mention politics; Philosophy is … well Coyne plainly cannot cope with the subtleties and complications of philosophy (let alone sophisticated™ theology or unsophisticated theology); Accounting seems to be whatever result the client would like and the boundary-pushing will bear; Mathematics looks at first sight like a 100% deterministic subject, until you realise there are lies, damn lies and statistics, and that mathematical discoveries require considerable creativity and novel approaches rather than schoolchild level algorithms or formula-plugging; Engineering is precise calculations based on simplifications and a safety factor of … oh let’s use two; Physics and Cosmology use measurements at high precision and high (five alpha) certainty, but nobody knows which theoretical model to use, whether string theory, loop quantum gravity, or whatever they can dream up; staying within Biology, Coyne could have chosen Ecology, but would studying complex interactions have suited him? No, Coyne chose a subject with no greys, no colours, just black-and-white with 100% correct answers; and I’m sure that indicates he has a black-and-white mentality.

    This was foreshadowed by his adolescent conversion to atheism while listening to the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album while lying on his parents’ couch in Arlington, Virginia: there were no years nor even days or mere hours of intellectual inquiry leading up to it, it just “dawned on him at that moment that there was no God, and he wasn’t going anywhere when he died.” Yep, 100% certainty, so for Coyne evidently Sgt. Pepper’s a good enough authority for his 100% certainty — or something was (what? LSD?) that 100% good enough, 100% certain authority — no need to question that mysterious source of authority or think the issue and circumstances through once you have your 100% black-and-white certainty.


    Faith is believing on insufficient evidence, Coyne tells us. That’s rich from him.

  6. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne’s 11 June 2019 blog post entitled “Tuesday: Hili dialog” includes the information that the TED Talks people have published their last book, and that Coyne’s contribution is:

    Jerry A. Coyne asks his Final Question in “The Last Unknowns:

    ” if science does in fact confirm that we lack free will, what are the implications for our notions of blame, punishment, reward and moral responsibility? ”

    I’ve been saying all along that although Coyne repeatedly hand-waves the benefits of everybody acknowledging we have no free will, he doesn’t actually have a clue what those benefits are.

  7. Dhay says:

    Coyne continues to puzzle me; in his 27 June 2019 blog post, “Discovery Institute puts out video purporting to refute materialiam and atheism”, he lays into the video. I’ve no comments on the video, which I haven’t watched, limiting myself to Coyne’s comments triggered in reaction to it:

    4.) According to the video, scientists are stupid to claim that we have no (libertarian) free will. If that’s the case, say the dupes, “how can we be responsible for our actions?” I’ve already explained why determinism is still compatible with personal responsibility for our actions—and for punishment and reward—but not moral responsibility in the sense of “we could have done otherwise.”

    Well, I think he’s answered his Final Question (see immediately above): if “determinism is still compatible with personal responsibility for our actions—and for punishment and reward”, and if, as seems very probable, he’s talking about that Coynian variety of Determinism which rules out free will — if so, there are no implications for our notions of blame, punishment, and reward.

    Coyne here claims to have “already explained” how personal responsibility and moral responsibility are different, so very different that the first is compatible with Determinism while the second isn’t; but I can but say that whenever or wherever he did so, I missed it, or I completely misunderstood him, or I blanked what looked like yet another piece of Coyne incoherency. For example, if “we could[n’t] have done otherwise” (which completely rules out ‘moral responsibility’, or so Coyne tells us) what ‘personal responsibility’ or responsibility of any kind can there be. Would anyone — even Coyne — would anyone claim a marionette is responsible for its actions? In any sense?

    If anyone knows where he “already explained” it (preferably satisfactorily), would they please link.

    To me, ‘personal responsibility’ vs ‘moral responsibility’ looks like a distinction without a difference.


    6.) Our consciousness and a sense of self are illusory, say people like Dan Dennett and Sam Harris. This, claim the benighted, is not only incompatible with materialism, but conflicts with the claim that consciousness and self have real consequences. Well, these people don’t understand what “illusory” means, which is, in the Harrisian and Dennettian senses, “These things aren’t what they seem to be.” Further, if you’re a determinist, then consciousness and self are themselves the byproducts of natural processes—epiphenomena, if you will—and cannot exercise some non-deterministic, non-physical forces on our actions.

    Coyne tells us that “Our consciousness and a sense of self are illusory, say people like Dan Dennett and Sam Harris.” Yeah, yeah: I’ve insufficient knowledge to comment on Dennett’s views, but in and since Harris’ 11 October 2011 blog post entitled “The Mystery of Consciousness” Harris has several times repeated in identical wording — it’s the text of his December 2016 Meme #4, which is still there on his blog, he plainly still fully ‘owns’ his Meme #4 and its wording — that “Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion”; which flatly contradicts Coyne.

    What follows after that falsehood looks very confused, looks like a word salad he didn’t bother to read through before pressing Send. Try working out who Coyne claims is claiming what, and whether Coyne’s claims about who’s claiming what make sense. I won’t, life’s too short.

    And does Coyne really mean to imply that he thinks that whether “consciousness and self are themselves the byproducts of natural processes (etc)” is not objective but instead depends on whether or not one is a determinist?


    7.) … … It is, in fact, theism and faith that have been catastrophes for science, as evidenced by the large number of people on this planet who reject the existence of evolution on religious grounds.

    I looked online at that strange usage, and found that a catastrophe is “an event causing great and usually sudden damage or suffering; a disaster” — I used the first online dictionary presented, but they’re all similar. What great (and possibly sudden!) damage or great suffering has been caused by a “large number of people” rejecting “the existence of evolution”? The mere existence of evolution surely impacts very few peoples’ lives, neither when they reject it nor when they accept it. Evolution loomed large in Coyne’s life because acceptance or denial impacted his job; it was never more than a gee-whiz bit of information for me, and I feel sure the average Joe and Jane could happily live their lives in ignorance of it. Get real, Coyne.


    Coyne’s blog post ends:

    Pity that the cowards at the Evolution News site don’t accept comments, but you can “like” or “dislike” the YouTube videos

    Soon after I discovered S2L, hence Coyne’s blog, I tried to comment on one of Coyne’s blog posts. It was one where he reminisced fondly on his LSD experiences; I was carefully polite, totally non-confrontational, and with non-contentious content; I quoted Harris’ own words, both those advocating taking LSD and those describing the adverse effects taking LSD can have. It never appeared. Nor did I receive an e-mail of warning or explanation, despite Coyne’s ‘Da Roolz’ declaring that offensive commenters would do. I waited a week or so in expectation then astonishment and then tried making a bland-as-you-get cat appreciation comment, which also didn’t appear. Yep, I had been silent-banned for life on my first comment.

    Which makes that “Pity that the cowards at the Evolution News site don’t accept comments” very ironic, coming as it does from Coyne, the coward yelling “coward” who wouldn’t accept one carefully-written-to-be-innocuous comment from me.


    As Michael has said in another thread, “Given the weakness of Coyne’s crackpot views, is anyone surprised he so quickly needs to ban dissenters?”

  8. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne – see response above: 6.) Our consciousness and a sense of self are illusory, say people like Dan Dennett and Sam Harris. … [W]hat “illusory” means … is, in the Harrisian and Dennettian senses, “These things aren’t what they seem to be.”

    Everybody who knows the structure of an atom, with its tiny nucleus and far-flung even tinier electrons, knows that the solidity of a table is illusory; that, in the Harrisian and Dennettian senses, “The table isn’t what it seems to be” but is instead almost entirely empty space. Schoolboys are regularly to be overheard declaring the solidity of a table is an illusion, really it’s … as they seek to impress their girlfriends with their knowledge.

    But the ‘illusion of solidity’ is itself an illusion: despite its solidity being an illusion I can safely eat my breakfast on my table, I can lean on it, stand on it, jump up and down on it; it is solid in the everyday usage of “solid”; when a table cannot be jumped up and down on I do not say the table’s solidity was illusory, I say it is rickety or broken.

    Those who claim that a table is not solid because its atoms are almost entirely nothing but empty space ** are arguably equivocating “solid” as used in the ordinary everyday sense with some variant [insert your own here] of “stops a beam of eg neutrinos”. When some spotty schoolboy declares that the solidity of a table is illusory (or is not real) my reaction is, Yeah, yeah.

    ( ** Which questionably assumes there can be such a thing as empty space – my limited understanding of quantum-mechanics says otherwise.)

    So it is with the ‘illusion of free will’; the ‘illusion of free will’ is itself an illusion: despite free will being (according to Coyne and Harris) an illusion, such that (like the Tibetan ‘windhorse’ prayer-flag’) I flap mindlessly and without any self-control in the winds of ‘genes and environment’ (Coyne) or ‘chance and necessity’ (Harris) I nonetheless can and do study and consider matters carefully, make judgements about them, make decisions and revisions based on those judgements, form intentions based on those decisions and act out those intentions. That is what free will, choice, intentionality, action and responsibility for my actions are; like the person who argues the table is not “really” solid and the solidity is an illusion, the person who argues I have no free will (etc) and that free will (etc) is an illusion is flying in the face of ordinary everyday English usage – a usage that has worked successfully in English, in most (all?) other modern languages and in their predecessors for millennia.

    I no more need to heed the proponent of the thesis that I have no free will (etc) than I need heed the proponent of the thesis that my table is not solid. I manage very well with free will and solid tables, and I wouldn’t know how to manage without. The proponent’s explanations why these are illusory and unreal because [genes and environment in a clockwork-like universe] are but interesting curiosities.

    When some spotty Coyne declares that free will (etc) is illusory or unreal my reaction is, Yeah, yeah.

  9. Dhay says:

    I was amused to find in Jerry Coyne’s 07 July 2019 blog post entitled “Quillette author advocates a new Pascal’s Wager: We should bet on libertarian free will because it makes us behave better” Coyne’s summary opinion that:

    In the end, Edwards [the author] advises us to believe in contracausal free will as a kind of “Pascal’s Wager”. The “win” here is not eternity in heaven, but the good behavior and better societies that Edwards thinks come from believing in free will. The implicit idea is that you can force yourself to accept free will even if you think evidence is against it, or if you’re a diehard determinist.

    It seems to me that this is a mirror image of Coyne’s own position and advice:

    In the end, Coyne advises us to believe in no-free-will as a kind of “Pascal’s Wager”. The “win” here is the good behavior and better societies that Coyne thinks come from believing in no-free-will. The implicit idea is that you can force yourself to accept no-free-will just because of its Coyne-alleged benefits, even if those benefits are never evidenced or if the benefits remain woolly implications and are never spelled out.

    To continue the mirror metaphor, Coyne is attacking his mirror image unaware it is his mirror image. Thoughtful writer Coyne isn’t; nor self-aware.


    It’s evidently yet another of those articles which trigger Coyne to paroxysms of outrage; he says “I’ll have a lot to say about this later, but probably not on this website”; so expect an article in Quillette.

  10. Dhay says:

    Yep, an article in Quillette, as announced on Jerry Coyne’s blog in the 19 July 2019 “My critique of a defense of free will in Quillette”, which article (also the initial and announcing blog posts) singles out two paragraphs to criticise:

    The first paragraph involves a lot of selective citation, since the data on whether belief in free will has salubrious personal effects is contradictory and complex. The second paragraph involves one forcing oneself to believe a proposition for which there’s no evidence, simply because the unevidenced belief is beneficial.

    I’m fine with Coyne’s claim that the data is contradictory and complex. That seems to be par for the course in the field of psychology experimentation, which often yields results which are as clear as mud **.

    And as I commented above, Coyne’s “forcing oneself to believe a proposition for which there’s no evidence, simply because the unevidenced belief is beneficial” mirrors his own insistence that we all of us should force ourselves to believe a proposition — no free will — simply because the belief is, he says, beneficial


    ** When someone hand-waves ‘Science and Reason’ at you, remember there’s (but a) sub-set of each which yields clear-cut answers, another sub-set which yields unclear or contradictory answers.


    The overview of Coyne’s Quillette article is that he opposes his own Incompatibilist Determinist ideas of free will to the libertarian free will (“Although he gives no explicit definition, Edwards apparently construes free will, as do most people, as “contracausal” or “dualistic””) he decides he sees in the article he’s replying to.

    Compatibilist Determinist ideas of free will don’t get discussed, nor the distinction between the Compatibilist and Incompatibilist variants of Determinism (such as had Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett publicly tearing at each other’s throats a few years back) which means Coyne skirts around a gaping hole — Determinism doesn’t necessarily lead (by ‘Reason’) to no-free-will.


    We do at least know Coyne’s motivations in promoting incompatibilism; the first one that rises in his mind is:

    I’m now used to the fact that most readers on this site don’t agree with me that compatibilism (the idea that physical determinism is still compatible with the idea of “free will”) is a largely useless philosophical exercise: an exercise in semantics that accomplishes nothing of substance. That’s fine with me; I’m comfortable in my opinion. But that leaves me with a question for those readers who do endorse compatibilism. The question is this:

    What do you think that the efforts of compatibilist philosophers have accomplished? And by “accomplished,” I mean accomplished for both academic scholarship and the welfare of humanity? And how do any social advantages of compatibilism differ from those that inhere in incompatibilism?

    Now I can see what incompatibilism has to offer: the explicit dispelling of dualism (something that some compatibilists do, but not often enough), which kicks the props from beneath religion.

    Good heavens, religion has had the props kicked out from under it by incompatibilism: I hadn’t noticed that in my church, who would have thought that; especially as — if incompatibilism is correct — we religious people have no choice in whether we are religious or not, have no free will that would allow us to choose atheism, so whether religion is propped or not is utterly irrelevant in theory and practice under incompatibilism; in a clockwork universe the cog teeth don’t get to make their own decisions; nor does — I have Sam Harris in the crosshairs here — a Tibetan ‘windhorse’ prayer flag get to decide it will stream out this way instead of that, or flap now instead of then.

    For Coyne, listening to the Sgt. Pepper album kicked the props from beneath religion (for him.) Sgt. Pepper said, “No” to religion, and the teenage Coyne believed on insufficient reason.

    But to get back to the point, Coyne’s prime reason to accept incompatibilism, the one first springing to mind, the one he first recommends to his readers, is not an objective reason, it’s the highly subjective reason that Coyne detests religion.

    The next reason is one that Coyne never tires of, but never makes explicit the “explicit lessons” — explicit: stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt — of:

    More important, incompatibilism, by arguing that our decisions are the products of the laws of physics, and are “decisions” over which we have no control, has explicit lessons for how we deal with reward and, especially, punishment. By emphasizing determinism over semantics, I think, incompatibilism leads us naturally to a reconsideration of how we treat social offenders. …

    Yep, Coyne plainly agrees with my assessment that according to incompatibilism “our decisions are the products of the laws of physics, and are “decisions” over which we have no control”; becoming an atheist ‘just happened’ choicelessly to a Coyne blown by the winds of The Beatles, but becoming an atheist is not something I myself can choose, I have to wait until Sgt. Pepper or some equivalent blows me helplessly that way.

    … Now compatibilists could make the same arguments—for punishment as deterrence, sequestration, and rehabilitation but not retribution, and for a more empathic treatment of offenders—but most of these arguments have come from incompatibilists, who simply dismiss the semantic bafflegab and get on to the determinism. I believe that’s because even though most compatibilists are determinists, their efforts still leave the average person with the idea that we have some kind of real choice about our actions; and this obstructs reform in, say, the criminal justice system.

    Compatibilists — who argue for a form of free will — certainly could argue for punishment as deterrence, sequestration, and rehabilitation but not retribution, and for a more empathic treatment of offenders, and many do; and so do many who argue for other forms of free will, such as religious people and many atheist philosophers; disliking and campaigning against punishment as mere retribution is not exclusive to all(?) incompatibilists and some incompatibilists, it’s common in Christians also. You don’t have to be an incompatibilist (or what Coyne thinks necessarily follows, an atheist) to reject retribution as a motive in selecting a suitable punishment — many religious people also reject retribution.

    (There will always be the distraught mother of any religion, or of none, or an incompatibilist or atheist — what’s the evidence these last are immune from the desire for retribution, it’s all in Coyne’s head in his imagination or lack of it — who will loudly protest that the monster who did that to my little girl [substitute your own example] should never ever be released, but the general concept of punishment right across the religious-atheist spectrum seems to be deterrence, sequestration, and (except there’s never the money) rehabilitation.)

    Nor does incompatibilism necessarily lead to “a more empathic treatment of offenders”: how does one cog, puppet or flag have empathy for another? Sam Harris’ Buddhist incompatibilism tells him there’s nobody here to have empathy, and nobody there to have empathy for, the notion of “self” is empty. Under incompatibilism, especially under the ‘incompatibilism + atheism’ which Coyne thinks incompatibilism entails, why not burn the miscreant to death?

  11. Dhay says:

    In my last post above, I quote Jerry Coyne, harping on again about (no-)free will (because determinism) and the wonderful improvements that could be made in the criminal justice system if everybody believed — believed without evidence something that Coyne argues for using what appears to be argument by personal incredulity — if everybody believed that we have no free will whatsoever:

    … Now compatibilists could make the same arguments—for punishment as deterrence, sequestration, and rehabilitation but not retribution, and for a more empathic treatment of offenders—but most of these arguments have come from incompatibilists, who simply dismiss the semantic bafflegab and get on to the determinism. I believe that’s because even though most compatibilists are determinists, their efforts still leave the average person with the idea that we have some kind of real choice about our actions; and this obstructs reform in, say, the criminal justice system.

    So if there is an exceptional sheriff, “The most caring sheriff in town” as the i newspaper’s paper article headlines it, chances are he’s going to be someone like Coyne, a no-free-will missionary.

    If so, it’s not obvious: Tom Dart, sheriff of Cook County in Illinois — which includes Coyne’s hometown, Chicago, so how can Coyne not know of him, Dart was first elected in 2006 and his fame has now reached Britain — is not just an advocate of criminal justice system reform, he is a vigorous practitioner. Funny, I looked through the article, which online is …

    … yet failed to spot a single indication that Dart is a no-free-will hard determinist incompatibilist.

    Looks like you definitely don’t have to be an incompatibilist like Coyne to be a criminal justice system reformer. Incompatibilists like Coyne tend to be strident missionaries for their incompatibilist faith, which Dart isn’t.

    I find it hard to believe that Coyne could be unaware of such an excellent long-term sheriff of his County given Coyne’s oft-declared interest in the criminal justice system and its reform, and I find it equally hard to believe that if Coyne could possibly point to Dart as an example of how a no-free-will incompatibilist acts Coyne would fail to publicise it prominently and repeatedly on his blog and crow it from the rooftops. Coyne hasn’t.

  12. Dhay says:

    Browsing, I spot that in his February 2019 “Ask Me Anything #16” Sam Harris was asked by a subscriber:

    You’ve said that society would be better off if we recognized that we don’t have free will. What positive effects on society do you think would follow if people realized the self is an illusion?

    Jerry Coyne waffles to insinuate there are positive effects — see thread and replies above — but it’s always ‘jam tomorrow’ and there’s no sign that Coyne has a jam recipe, any recipe to make jam of any sort; the positive effects will happen because … magic? So, failure to answer on Coyne’s part.

    So what is Harris’ answer to this question of obvious importance to Coyne and Harris alike? The answer is, extremely brief. The start time for each Question and its Answer is given (presumably so that attention-challenged subscribers — those super-keen fans who are the only ones who can listen to these “Ask Me Anythings” because they’ve paid (subscribed) to do so — can skip the boring bits, ie other peoples’ questions and the answers, and go straight to hear their question (and name? and few seconds of fame?) and answer.

    The listed start time for the question is 00:39:11, the start time of the next question is 00:40:40, which I make a duration of one minute, 29 seconds. For interest, I timed myself reading out the question at my normal vocal reading speed — at least 18 seconds, but Harris is not known for quick-fire delivery so we can expect it took him more like 25 seconds. Add in pauses between sentences, possibly add in the time it takes to name the questioner, also possibly a brief between-questions pause, and that little over one minute has shrunk to very little indeed. I doubt Harris could read aloud to the end of the previous paragraph in the 01:29 he spent, and very much doubt he would have got to here.

    Looks like, like Coyne, Harris has very little if anything to say, few if any positive benefits to declare: jam-less waffle.

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