We simply don’t like to think that we’re molecular automatons, and so we adopt a definition of free will that makes us think we’re free. But as far as I can see, I, like everyone else, am just a molecular puppet. I don’t like that much, but that’s how it is. I don’t like the fact that I’m going to die, either, but you don’t see me redefining the notion of “death” to pretend I’m immortal.
In other words, philosophical attempts to reconcile strict naturalism with free will are, to Jerry Coyne’s mind, sophistry. Truth be told, libertarian free will is illusory. We are molecular puppets: slaves of blind quantum random or determinate material forces.
But wait. Within six months of writing this, Jerry Coyne has just made an appeal to his blog readers to exercise self-control, and to give a favorable hearing to Sam Harris’s call for the rich to also exercise self-control through a new year’s resolution:
All you readers who can’t resist going after Sam Harris—back off a tick. He has a nice new piece on HufPo: “A new year’s resolution for the rich,” which highlights the growing financial inequality between Americans.
Are you confused? Apparently, so is Jerry Coyne, for if people are molecular puppets how can they ever really exercise anything like mental-to-physical causation (such as willing their minds to command their brains and bodies to back off a tick from deconstructing Sam Harris)? And how could the rich ever freely exercise their wills in a resolution to help the poor—at the inauguration of a new year or at any other time?
Surely Jerry Coyne does not believe in spooks, ghosts, or souls in any machines. Surely he must know that he is speaking metaphorically, and that, really, people cannot arrest the course of their molecules. Free will is an artifact of an archaic religious language surrounding souls; it is a delusion. He said so himself just half-a-year earlier.
But if he is fully aware of these things, why is he continuing to type out new blog posts that contain persuasive appeals?
If Jerry Coyne is any indication, it appears that living out the consequences of one’s strict materialist beliefs is simply too much of a psychological pretzel twist to sustain for even half a year. It reminds me of what Christopher Hitchens once said in response to whether he believed in free will:
I have no choice.
Really, it’s too glib a response. If you say you believe that something is false, yet you live as if it were true, you don’t really believe it’s false, do you?