Dr. Jerry Coyne: The Nutty Professor

January 16, 2012 4:05 pm 206 comments

This is not an easy time for Dr. Jerry Coyne, our favorite atheistic biologist at the University of Chicago. First: Some very bad news from the world of cosmology. On 1/11/12, Lisa Grossman posted an article on New Scientist entitled, “Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event.” The opening paragraph is roughly the equivalent of a Doctor calmly requesting a patient to sit down before he tells him he has six weeks to live. (Jerry, I hope you’re sitting):

You could call them the worst birthday presents ever. At the meeting of minds convened last week to honor Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday – loftily titled “State of the Universe” – two bold proposals posed serious threats to our existing understanding of the cosmos.”

What was the terrible news that Grossman felt would ruin the birthday-boy’s big day? It seems that new research by physicists suggests there is no way to avoid the conclusion that the universe is not eternal, “resurrecting the thorny question of how to kick-start the cosmos without the hand of a supernatural creator.”  Oy vey! As cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University explained: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.” You see, Stephen Hawking is one of those scientists who does everything possible to avoid having to believe in God. Grossman describes Hawking as one who “shies away” from any type of cosmic beginning and quotes him as saying, “A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God.” Personally, I can think of many things a lot worse than that, but we all have our problems don’t we? Jerry, it’s not that terrible; you could become a deist like Antony Flew and that means you still don’t have to worry about keeping kosher.

Second – and I must admit I feel really bad about this – on 1/8/12, Jerry wrote in his Why Evolution is True-blog that, “Rabbi Moshe Averick has been a royal pain in the tuchus, [Yiddish for “tushy”], spreading his creationist views all over the internet, most shamefully at the Algemeiner Journal, a Jewish weekly newspaper whose chairman of the board is, of all people, the renowned Elie Wiesel…Wiesel is, of course a Nobel Laureate…he doesn’t deserve the Averick albatross around his neck, and I wonder if he knows he’s harboring a creationist.” (In Jerry’s eyes “creationist” is  one notch below “Nazi”)

Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel. Could SOMEBODY please tell him he's harboring a creationist!

If any of the readers know Wiesel personally please let him know; I just hope he can take the shocking news without breaking down completely. Jerry, I apologize, because deep down I really like you, and the thought that I am causing you pain, even if it’s just your tuchus, disturbs me to no end. I did hold out the peace-pipe to you in one of my recent columns on Algemeiner.com where I suggested we meet and discuss our differences about Origin of Life in an adult forum at the lovely Hyde Park campus of the University of Chicago, but you have made it clear in several of your posts at Why Evolution is True that you prefer to have women do your fighting for you. That includes both Terri-Lynne McCormick (the wife of Origin of Life researcher Dr. Jack Szostak), and Faye Flam the Planet of the Apes columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Although Ms. McCormick was mistaken about her accusations against me, I certainly admire a woman who “stands by her man,” as she felt she was defending her husband against unfair representation; and while Faye Flam’s arguments against my position were rather weak, to say the least, I do give her credit for (a) being polite and civil in both her public and private communication with me and (b) at least having the courage to write out some form of measured, coherent argument explaining why the utter cluelessness of scientists regarding a naturalistic origin of life does not imply the existence of a Creator.  It is worth noting that both of these women spoke on behalf of Dr. Jack Szostak. It would be interesting to hear what Szostak himself has to say about the ignorance of science about origin of life and the challenges that ID theorists present to his position. You, on the other hand, had only this lame statement to back your faith in the coming of the Darwinian-Origin-of-Life-Messiah:

“Nope, we don’t yet understand how life originated on Earth… and we may never understand how life originated on Earth, because the traces of early life have vanished. We know it happened at least once, but not how. I’m pretty confident that within, say, 50 years we’ll be able to create life in a laboratory under the conditions of primitive Earth, but that, too, won’t tell us exactly how it did happen – only that it could.”

I repeat what I wrote to you in April, 2011: Imagine a District Attorney going before a judge with a petition to deny bail because he “knows” the defendant is guilty. When asked for some evidence to that effect, he replies, “Oh your honor, I’m confident that within 50 years we’ll have all the evidence we need!” The impotence of your argument, Dr. Coyne, and the weakness of your position speaks for itself.

Terri-Lynne McCormick and Dr. Jack Szostak

Third: This one is the clearest indication that Jerry is really having a bad hair day (I’m jealous, at least he has hair). On New Years Day, 2012, in an op-ed piece in USA Today, Coyne informed us that free will is an illusion. “[none of our choices] results from a free and conscious decision on our part. There is no freedom of choice; no free will…free will is a complete illusion.” In other words, in a world that consists of nothing but atoms, molecules, and chemicals, all causes and effects are governed by, and are the result of, the immutable laws of physics and chemistry. There is no such thing as a “will” that changes things. Everything that happens is like a series of billiard balls hitting each other and bouncing around. The notion that we can alter reality with our “will” is as absurd as suggesting that the billiard balls can control their speed, velocity, and which balls they hit next. Of course, if there is no free will that means that it was inevitable that Jerry Coyne would be an atheist and write an article about not having free will in USA Today. It has nothing to do with his own thoughts, weighing of the evidence, and decision making. All of those would involve “will.”  According to him, it was inevitable that I would be a rabbi and a believer in God. If that is true it would the height of absurdity on his part to engage in arguments or try to present evidence to support his position. His magnum-opus Why Evolution is True is an exercise in utter futility. Everything he says he must say. He has now joined the ranks of other hard-core materialist loonies like Dr. Susan Blackmore: “The self is not the initiator of actions, it does not “have” consciousness and it does not “do” the deliberating…it is a false idea that there is someone inside who is in charge…free will, like the self who “has” it, is an illusion.” Imagine if Coyne was married to Blackmore and they went to the local hardware store to choose which color paint to use for their living room:

  • Coyne: Honey, which color do you want, the peach or off-white?
  • Blackmore: I must choose the peach.
  • Coyne: Are you sure?
  • Blackmore: Now I must change my mind.
  • Coyne: Now I must start getting annoyed, because every time we go shopping together you can never make up your mind. I told you I didn’t want to come in the first place.
  • Blackmore: You are so predictable, you always want to be in control!
  • Coyne: You are so predictable, you never can make up your mind! Besides you are really predictable, not only can you never make up your mind, but you don’t even have any free will to begin with. All your decisions are just illusions. They had to be that way!
  • Blackmore: Don’t start with that no free-will crap, you always use it to your advantage! I must see some other color options.
  • Coyne: But the only colors that match our living-room furniture are peach and off-white!
  • Blackmore: Then we must buy new furniture.
  • Coyne: But we can’t afford new furniture!
  • Blackmore: You are so predictable, it obviously was inevitable that you would be a cheapskate!! And to think, back in college I had a chance to marry Jack Szostak…..

Dr. Susan Blackmore, hard-core materialist. Guess what? She THINKS it was her own decision to make her hair the color of a multipack of Play-Dough, but that's an illusion!

Coyne tells us: “True free will would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works. Science hasn’t shown any way we can do this because “we” are simply constructs of our brain. [Gee, I wonder “who” figured all this out, who "chose" to examine the evidence, and “decided” it was true?] We can’t impose a nebulous “will” on the inputs to our brain that can affect its output of decisions and actions, any more than a programmed computer can somehow reach inside itself and change its program.” Translation: True free will would mean a component of our being that is separate from the deterministic/materialistic brain, which would imply a non-material, spiritual reality, which would imply a soul, which might actually lead to, dare I say it…..God. Coyne and many of his fellow atheists are prepared to embrace the completely absurd reality of an existence without free will or real decision making rather than consider the possibility of a non-material soul or God. I leave Jerry to his absurdities, whatever they may be.  However, there is perhaps one cosmic consolation for Dr. Coyne in all this.

Just meditate on the following: From the very moment of the Big Bang some 15,000,000,000 years ago; from the instant that time, space, matter, and energy came into being, when free photons uncoupled from the primordial mass, when the first atoms of our universe’s elements began to form, when the hot gases coalesced into great stars and massive quasars, when the milky-way galaxy began to glow and our own solar system formed; it was already inevitable, “written in the stars” as it were, that billions of years later on a small planet we call Earth, in a lovely neighborhood in Chicago called Hyde Park, that the University of Chicago would have in the person of Jerry Coyne, its very own…..Nutty Professor!  Awesome dude, just awesome!

If you wish to be notified when Rabbi Averick’s new columns appear, send an email to moe.david@hotmail.com and simply write the word Subscribe in the subject bar.  Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website. .

206 Comments

  • Of course the “Big Bang” was not the origin of the universe,, but still, by all accounts, it was pretty hot stuff.

  • Well, the theists and determinists have been blown away, so what’s going to happen next? Blowing away the Big Bang might not be so easy.

  • Kevin Bjornson

    Unfortunately in this modern world, people specialize too much.
    PhDs are churned out, focusing on narrow (often trivial) issues,
    and professor focus more on careerism than the objective pursuit
    of truth. One consequence, is that scientists cannot be trusted
    to understand the big picture in their own profession, much less
    make informed statements on philosophy.

    A “creation” of something from nothing goes against classical
    western thinking, as well as the law of conservation of energy/matter.
    Substance cannot become void, and void cannot become substance.
    Energy/matter simply changes form.

    The fact our universe is expanding (in a big bang) from a singularity
    does not mean that the singularity came from nothing. Because the
    singularity was something, it had to come from something. Perhaps
    a big implosion.

    The Big Bang propelled everything from the singularity,
    but not in straight lines; because of the tremendous gravity
    of the singularity, even while exploding this gravity warped
    space/time. Thus particles were propelled in curved lines,
    which necessarily must converge at their common point of origin.

    I’m surprised that an allegedly learned Rabbi does not appear
    familiar with the cyclical theory of reality so prevalent in
    Kabbalah thinking.

    • “Unfortunately in this modern world, people specialize too much.”

      Are there some specialists you would like to eliminate? Surgeons, for instance, or pilots? How about math teachers, or orchestra conductors? Camera makers, or fiction writers? Firefighters, or watchmakers? Accountants, bakers, or cosmologists?

      Which specialties are “too much”?

      Do you believe that people can choose their specialties, or are they predestined to follow them?

      Should we give up the benefits of the division of labor? Why (or why not)?

  • The “determinists” appear to have bailed out (perhaps they felt that they had no choice), but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking up questions on the subject.

    For instance, consider a couple of example:

    Do Al and jp consider that when Steve Jobs believed he could sell iPads, he never decided to do it, it was just predestined that lots of iPads would get sold (and Jobs would get richer)?

    Or when Truman believed it would be a good idea to shorten the war and save lives by dropping the atom bombs on Japan, he never decided to do it, that it was merely predestined that those bombs would get dropped and those lives would be saved?

  • We should revisit this statement from Al West: “My belief that I have two legs was never decided.

    Doesn’t that mean that he never decided whether it was true or false? How can he know that it is true, rather than, say, simply a belief in the illusion that he has two legs?

    What if he feels like he experiences free will, but believes it is an illusion? How would he know without checking it out to decide whether such a belief is true or not?

    Should people go by blind faith in random beliefs (without ever checking anything against reality)?

  • jp asked, “Reading your comments changed my actions. See how that works?”

    Yes, I know how that works: you exercised your free will. So what else is new?

    • These determinists have a very strange way of telling you you have no choice about what you believe and how you act — then they accuse you of not listening to them, as if you had some choice in the matter!

      Then, after they’ve gotten their self-contradiction right out the in the middle of the table, sometimes they just disappear.

      • Flooded out of home, so not on the net so much…

        But anyway, nobody has suggested that (since you lack the ability to inspect all your atoms and interpret the neurochemical consequences of that information) you don’t feel like you have free will. You’re just continuing to misrepresent the position you’re attacking.

        • Condolences on the flooding, but it still doesn’t make any difference whether you feel like you have free will or not. You’ve got it whether you want it or not — just like you are alive and conscious whether you like it or not.

          But you need to notice that free will is not some goofy ability to believe anything regardless of experience — free will is essentially your ability to think about things clearly or not, i.e., to pay attention to experience and facts, or not to stick to reality when fantasy feels better.

  • jp made the observation that “I think that it’s clear you are the sort of person who argues a particular way.”

    Yes, that is clear. I argue from facts and evidence, using logical connections, inferences, and implications.

    jp also remarked that “… you’re arguing from what seems to be a position of shallow understanding,…”

    Well, I do take the position that it takes very little effort to grasp the fact of one’s volitional consciousness. Pointing out that free will is practically axiomatic may indeed strike you as “shallow understanding” — but that’s what it takes.

    All argumentation against free will sinks itself by running into the iceberg-fact that no argument can be taken seriously if the arguer does not make it of his own free will. If you are simply spouting something that you were compelled (predestined, billiard-balled, etc.) to say, then, logically, you are saying nothing.

    • Though logically they’ve never said anything, the determinists have chosen to literally say nothing, for the moment. Not to worry, though, in my experience arguing with them over the years, they always resurface with their illogical propositions.

      The truth that always goes over their heads is that self-contradictory to offer propositions against free will, since, by their claim, they not only have never tried to verify any such propositions, but all such propositions are utterly unverifiable — because people’s beliefs are “never decided”.

  • The human brain is a necessary step in the evolution of volitional consciousness (i.e., free will), and that brain is definitely involved when we think, perceive, make choices, etc.

    But (and to put the point poetically): God only knows how it all works — but it sure does work!

    It is clear that humans have free will. We know it through direct experience (without needing to have it explained to us). Practically speaking, free will is directly observable and axiomatic.

    That we do not know how to explain precisely the way it works is irrelevant to the fact that it does work. We do not need to wait for an explanation of it to start using our free will — not any more than we had to first have Harvey explain blood circulation before our hearts could start beating.

  • Somehow this question from Moshe came via email rather than on the blog: ‘Could you briefly describe how in a materialistic world, “will” can override physical, deterministic forces?

    Of course, that is a trick question, since by “materialistic world,” Rabbi Averick means “a world ruled entirely by deterministic forces where ‘will’ does not exist.” For him, “free will” is a gift from his otherworldly “IDOL.”

    In Moshe-speak — as it effectively is in determinism-speak — “free will” means “supernatural soul.”

    Meanwhile, in the real — natural — world:

    Nobody knows how abiogenesis happened, and nobody knows how consciousness evolved and works — especially on the volitional level that showed up in humans.

    It may be a long time before we learn it. We may even never figure it out. But that doesn’t mean none of it ever happened. (Reality doesn’t decide what to be based on what humans can explain.)

  • moshe averick

    To All:

    I just wanted to post something I received by private email commenting on this article:

    “Great article, Moshe. It’s amazing how many commenters are using their free will to prove they don’t have free will.”

    • This is a curious situation, Moshe, because superficially it appears that you and I agree on the existence of “free will.” Except that I reject your notion of “free will” as being essentially the same “transcendent/not-of-this-world” nonsense that the deniers of “free will” claim about it.

      In short, free will certainly exists — but it is not at all like what you and the deniers misrepresent it as.

    • I feel like I’m conversing with a five-year-old when you comment, Rabbi. Why won’t you answer the relevant questions here and stick to the science at hand? It seems like you answer the questions you *wish* were asked instead of the questions that are *actually* asked. It just shows how weak your scientific position is, I think.

    • Moshe, like Steve, you ignore the argument that even if free will does not exist, the illusion of it must. Are you (and Steve) really that poorly read on the subject, because your killer blow that it feels like we have free will is something your opponents agree with, and have answers to. To post as if that idea is unfamiliar is symtomatic of the most ridiculously shallow knowledge of the subject you claim expertise on. I’m almost (but not quite) embarrased for you.

      • Why do you think the “illusion of free will” must exist, while the real thing somehow cannot?

        Do you think that all of reality is an illusion, or only certain parts? How do you tell the difference?

        Further, where is the evidence that “free will” is an illusion. Granted, you have a certain theory (though it is not exactly a clear one), but where is your evidence and the logic and the proof?

  • jp asked, “So, Steve, could you just choose, tight now, to believe in God, or choose to believe that Obama is a great president?

    Apparently this question was meant to imply that “free will” must entail the ability to switch any belief to its opposite at any time for any reason, or for no reason whatsoever, by a sheer act of will.

    But that is a gross misrepresentation of free will (aka volition). It’s like taking Moshe’s notion of “free will” (as being in “the Image of God”) and using it as a straw man to argue against instead of trying to deal with and understand the real thing, viz., the volitional nature of our conceptual capabilities (and therefore the foundations of our characters and philosophies).

    It is an interesting irony that the opponents of “free will” like to argue against it — even though argumentation, per se, is logically dependent on the acceptance (at least implicitly) of free will.

  • I think free will is a bit like Schrödinger’s cat; two states of opposites exitsing at the same time and place.

    I suspect that sometime in the future there will be a connection between quantum mechanics and sentient consciousness as we can only seem to see the dim outlines that define it and the more we look the less we know.

    • The “Schrödinger’s cat” fallacy does not help in trying to understand free will. It is a contradiction to believe in “two states of opposites exitsing at the same time and place.” That is simply another version of belief in the supernatural/unnatural/not-of-this-world sort of stuff.

      • Well you explain that to a photon that is both a particle and a wave at the same time.

        Quantum weirdness is real, measured and far from supernatural.

  • Al West said, “I don’t think you know what ‘free will’ means. It means that actions are not determined by anything – that even the laws of physics are irrelevant in determining human actions.

    That is not what “free will” (aka human volition) really means, but I get that it makes denying free will seem more plausible when you misrepresent it like that.

    Conceptual thinking is not easy, not automatic, and not infallible. Free will is the capacity of human consciousness to engage in conceptual thinking in spite of those limitations. That in no way implies that the laws of physics are irrelevant to human action.

    • Al West said, “I don’t think you know what ‘free will’ means. It means that actions are not determined by anything – that even the laws of physics are irrelevant in determining human actions.

      This formulation sets up a strawman version of “free will” — basically conforming to the religionist (supernaturalist) vision pushed by Rabbi Averick. It is easy to argue against this strawman version of free will, since nothing can be reasonably argued to be supernatural and yet still exist anyhow.

      And the arguments for “Creationism” and against “free will” boil down to very much the same error, viz., since we don’t know how to explain how either free will or abiogenesis actually works, then they both must be illusory.

  • Al West explains his belief that ‘You do not will to act on your beliefs.’

    Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, you are free to choose, to decide what you will do, or not do.

    ‘You keep on making fatal flaws in your argumentation. In this case, it is a logical error known as Ryle’s regress. If thought requires an act of will, then surely that act of will, itself a mental event, requires an act of will. And that too requires an act of will. And that one, and that one too. And so on, ad infinitum.’

    The fatal flaw in the notion of “Ryle’s regress” is the invalid assumption that if some mental actions require and act of will, then all mental actions necessarily require an act of will.

    If Ryle were paying attention, he would see that acts of will are very limited in scope — and cannot possibly depend on an infinite regress.

  • “It’s perfectly possible to have a reasoned argument about free will,…”

    Certainly it is — if the argument is about how it works. But it is no more reasonable to try to argue that free will is impossible than it is to try to argue that abiogenesis is impossible.

    Somehow it all works, but — to coin a phrase — “God knows how!”

  • ‘It is not necessary to have free will in order to be able to think.’

    In real life, it is.

    If what you are doing is merely accepting whatever pops into your head when you encounter “sense data”, look at books or TV or blogs, or hear somebody say something, etc., then what you are doing is absolutely NOT thinking.

    You must perform conceptual decision-making in order to think. That means you have to choose what to think about and when to think about it, how clearly (or vaguely) to focus on it, what is the relevant evidence, and how much you care to pursue the truth about the world around you. If you cannot control your own focus and attention, if you feel that your mind is under the control of outside forces and you are unable to decide anything — then you will never get around to thinking.

    Fortunately, humans do have volition. We are not the helpless playthings of “sense data” and predestination.

    • OK Steve, one last shot.

      Yes you do all those things when you think. But what’s at the root of that? What’s the “you” that does all those things? Is it a product of the naturalistic processes of neurochemistry? Or is it some transcendental “you” that inhabits some non-physical realm?

      Normally, you seem to go with naturalistic processes as explanations for natural phenomena. But when it comes to consciousness and choice, you seem hell-bent on saying “there must be something more!”.

      I’d just ask you whether you think the answer that you’ve given for so many other cases “It has to be a naturalistic process because that the only thing that actually exists.” applies here. I think it does, and I’m not sure why you don’t.

      • ‘What’s the “you” that does all [that thinking]? Is it a product of the naturalistic processes of neurochemistry?’

        Well, of course it is. There is no other possibility than nature.

        Or is it some transcendental “you” that inhabits some non-physical realm?

        Naturally not. There is no “transcendental” not-of-this-world “non-physical realm.” That’s Moshe-type nonsense.

        That thinking involves neurochemical processes doesn’t make free will any more supernatural than life depending on neurochemical processes proves that there was a supernatural creator.

        I just don’t see why you assume that neurochemistry proves predestination. Your position seems like claiming that “just as rocks can’t choose to move because they are inanimate, people can’t choose to think because they have a brain!”

  • Wow, Al, you wrote a lot; I don’t know if I can get to every point in every one of those posts you didn’t decide to make, although I’ve covered a bunch of them so far.

  • Al West wrote, ‘My belief that I have two legs was never decided.’

    Okay, that seems obvious enough.

    How about your belief in either theism or atheism?

    How about your belief in voting for President — was that never decided, so therefore you didn’t vote? Or was it never decided, yet you went ahead and voted anyway?

    How about your belief in determinism? Was that never decided, no reasoning or alternatives ever considered?

    • Oh look, yet more straw.

      • Which part do you see as being “straw”? How do you decide?

        • When you mock Al’s support of determinism by saying that implies that he never considered alternatives, then you are misrepresenting his position on how beliefs are arrived at, and showing your own ignorance (or incredibly shallow understanding) of the subject matter.

          By then arguing against (or in this case not even that, but just mocking) a misrepresented form for Al’s position, you are committing a Strawman fallacy.

          You keep telling Al what his position is, and keep getting it wrong, but you don’t listen when he sets you straight. It’s getting dull, just like it does with Moshe.

          • Come on — he says his belief was “NEVER DECIDED.” How can that imply anything about considering alternatives — other than that no alternatives to his belief were ever considered?

            How in the world is anyone supposed to believe that a person who already holds a “never decided” belief ever weighed any alternatives and decided against them?

            As a determinist, Al has himself boxed in with an impossible theory — one he never could have logically reached by reasoning about evidence and alternatives. He has arbitrarily blocked out non-determinism as “wrong, wrong, wrong” (even though he feels he never decided on that belief).

          • “…you are misrepresenting his [Al West's] position on how beliefs are arrived at,…”

            He says they are “never decided.” How did I allegedly misrepresent his position?

          • By the way, jp, it seems I missed the obvious question, to wit: Are you implying that I have some choice in the matter of how I argue?

            If you are, then where does that leave any argument against volition?

        • I think that it’s clear you are the sort of person who argues a particular way. I was sort of hoping that given some extra data, namely that you’re arguing from what seems to be a position of shallow understanding, that you may go and read some more, or at least listen to what you’re being told, and that that might lead to a different style of argument in the future.

          • You need to ask yourself “What is it I’m basing this hope on?” If you believe that I have no free will, what mechanism are you “sort of hoping” will do the job of giving me a “different style of argument”? Magic? Brainwashing? Random chance? Just what do you consider the actual possibilities to be?

          • You don’t listen at all, do you Steve? It’s right there in the post: I hope that you would gain extra data (knowledge).

            And now, I am getting more data about whether you prefer to argue or to listen, and I’m going to stop arguing with you because it’s dull arguing with people who don’t listen. But you’d better believe there’s data (and plenty of it, in this case) that’s making me act differently today to yesterday. Reading your comments changed my actions. See how that works? See ya!

          • Well, jp, for whatever reason, you missed the point of the question (and thus you merely repeated yourself rather than answering).

            So, I will repeat the question (even though you have declared that you are dropping out): What is the basis for your “sort of hoping” that “gain[ing] extra data” could possibly make a difference?”

            If you believe that I have no free will, why would you expect “extra data” to have any effect on me? Through some magical process? Through some random, bouncing-billiard-ball happenstance? What in the world do you consider the actual possibilities to be?

            Are you claiming that there is “data” that is making you act differently against your will? Or do you want to act differently because you willingly decided to make a change?

            The overall problem here is that discussions (arguments, etc.) like this would be impossible if people did not have free will (in the actual sense, and not “free will” as misrepresented by Al and Moshe).

          • “I think that it’s clear you are the sort of person who argues a particular way.”

            Yes, that is clear. I argue from facts and evidence, using logical connections, inferences, and implications.

            “… you’re arguing from what seems to be a position of shallow understanding,…”

            Well, I do take the position that it takes very little effort to grasp the fact of one’s volitional consciousness. Pointing out that it is practically axiomatic may indeed strike you as “shallow understanding” — but that’s what it takes.

            All argumentation against free will sinks itself by running into the iceberg-fact that no argument can be taken seriously if the arguer does not make it of his own free will. If you are simply spouting something that you were compelled (predestined, billiard-balled, etc.) to say, then, logically, you are saying nothing.

  • Al West asked ‘Can you seriously believe that you choose your beliefs?’

    Naturally I do, since choosing between right and wrong (and true and false) is a very serious matter.

    Can you seriously believe it is better not to choose? Are you and jp on Moshe’s side in the belief that blind faith is the road to happiness and contentment?

    • And again, more straw for the pile.

      • What makes you think so? Can you say specifically what you are talking about?

        • Yes. Al asked whether you think you simply choose to believe. For example, you could not choose to believe in God. Then you distorted his question to imply that he’s saying that it’s better not to decide between right and wrong, and then you attacked that, rather than what he did say. I’m not sure how you don’t see that even after it’s been pointed out to you.

          • Al asked whether you think you simply choose to believe.

            Believe what?

            Believe my eyes, for instance, when I see black coffee. Sure I do — and some people don’t (they’d rather claim that perception is an illusion).

            Believe Obama that raising tax rates is a good idea? Nope, I’d never choose to believe that.

            For example, you could not choose to believe in God.

            Lot’s of people do. What is supposed to be so impossible about it? (Even I believed in God when I was a kid — adults said to do it, and I figured they must know something I didn’t.)

          • “Then you distorted his [Al's] question to imply that he’s saying that it’s better not to decide between right and wrong,…”

            How is that a distortion rather than a logical extension?

            Since his view is that people cannot decide what to believe — how does that NOT mean that his view is that people cannot decide to believe that something is right rather than wrong?

          • So, Steve, could you just choose, tight now, to believe in God, or choose to believe that Obama is a great president?

          • Based on what evidence?

          • The assertion that I distorted Al West’s position is not supported by the available evidence (since all I did was draw out some logical implications — which wasn’t that easy since Al wasn’t all that clear about what he was trying to say).

            At any rate, why would Al or jp be interested in learning any “extra data,” since they have already ruled out volitional consciousness and will power as impossible and illusory?

  • Another reply to another reply by Al West, this time to the one where he wrote: ‘And yes, I do say things because I must say them …’

    And you feel that you must say things regardless of whether they are true or false, correct? You write as if truth were irrelevant to you, that nothing counts but predestination (“truth and consequences be damned!”).

    • Steve, you really need to read more about this subject.

      You might not end up agreeing with Al West, but at least you might understand his position well enough to stop misrepresenting it with ignorant strawman arguments that make you look like you just don’t have the skills to engage in debate on this subject, let alone with the smug certainty that you do.

      In that regard, you remind me of our gracious host.

      • jp, I would be interested to know where you’ve seen “ignorant strawman arguments.”

        Or did that post just tippy-tap automatically out of your fingers without you having to think about its truth-value because you had no choice in the matter and were predestined (by an immensely complex concatenation of events and atoms) to type it?

        If you had no choice, why would you think it is relevant?

        However, if you did have a choice, then it would be interesting to read your ideas on the requisite skills to engage in debate on this subject. Do conceptual thinking, logic (non-contradiction), and sticking to real life make it onto your list?

        • You’re doing it again, Steve.

          If you can’t keep ignorant strawman arguments out of a post saying “show me where I’m made ignorant strawman arguments”, then there’s no point discussing this with you.

          The sort of determinism proposed by Al West (and others) does not suggest that people disregard the truth-value of their claims – quite the opposite. As long as you keep misrepresenting what you’re arguing against, then the only result is that you’ll keep feeling smugly victorious, and everyone else will wish you did some more reading.

          It was a snarky throwaway, but my line about you reminding me of Moshe on this subject was true. If you want to know how you’re coming across, then just think of how Moshe comes across to you when talks about intelligent design, because that’s my reaction to a T.

          It’s perfectly possible to have a reasoned argument about free will, but not if one side is erecting an impenetrable wall of “wrong”.

          • ‘The sort of determinism proposed by Al West (and others) does not suggest that people disregard the truth-value of their claims – quite the opposite.’

            How so? If people cannot decide what to believe, then how are they supposed to consider truth-value?

          • What is supposed to be the utility of truth-value if, as Al says, it is “wrong, wrong, wrong,” to think that people can choose to make judgments between true and false? (Al West January 18, 2012 4:42 am “Wrong, wrong, wrong. A judgement does not consist of a choice.“)

          • … just think of how Moshe comes across …

            Yes, I get what you mean. But to me, you and Al come across more like Moshe, because you keep saying, “Go read something, I’m not going to explain it.”

            You also overlook the seemingly obvious point that if I don’t have the volitional capability of changing my mind, then reading is not going to have any effect. (Unless you feel that books have some mysterious power to take over people’s minds and rejigger them into believing the same things you do.)

          • Reading books gives you more information to run a action-determining algorithm over. That’s all. If you don’t get that, then you need to go read more, ironically.

          • jp, what is an “action-determining algorithm” other than a method for deciding what belief to accept and act on?

            Isn’t Al’s position that his beliefs do not ever go through any “action-determining” (i.e., decision-making) processes?

            Or are you saying that the book determines your actions, not you?

          • “Isn’t Al’s position that his beliefs do not ever go through any “action-determining” (i.e., decision-making) processes?”
            I’ll let Al have his own say if he hasn’t given up, but that seems like a gross misrepresentation to me.

          • How does it misrepresent his position?

  • Wake up and smell the coffee!

    Al West wrote ‘I don’t have a choice between two logical beliefs – “this coffee is black” and “this coffee is not black”, and then I choose to believe the former after considering the issue in terms of formal logic. No; I simply see the coffee,…’

    People need to grow up and realize that not everything can be adequately understood on the sensory-perceptual level, that you need to learn to think outside the box, and that you need to learn to understand and utilize concepts and conceptual thinking.

    Yes, you can look at a cup of coffee and see whether it has been served black or white. But you cannot look at a picture of a President (like Bush/Obama) and automatically understand that increasing government spending is an immoral disaster. Some hard thinking needs to be done to understand that (which, unfortunately, the great majority of voters and politicians steadfastly refuse to do).

  • Al West,

    You wrote, “You are claiming that people choose to think, and that they choose to think rationally.

    Not exactly.

    My position is that people are capable of being rational — not that everybody always does think everything through clearly and logically.

    If I wasn’t clear before, my position is that your free will is your ability to choose to think or not.

    You further wrote, “There is, however, a major problem with this, known as Ryle’s regress. If thinking, and mental events, require volition, then so does the willing itself. If I require will to perform any mental event, then I require will to perform the mental event of willing. I will also require will to perform the mental event of willing to will to will to think.

    “And so on.

    That is a fallacy sort of like Zeno’s Paradox.

    Or you might propose a similar “major problem” to be known as the “parent regress”: if you were born, then your parents had to be born, and their parents, and so on through an infinite regress of parenting.

    “Ryle’s regress” ignores the law of causality that things act according to their nature — substituting an infinite regress for actual facts of human nature.

  • ‘Free will … is the view that any decision you make is decided not by your beliefs, but by you – undetermined by anything natural or physical – as if there is a “you” that is different to your body and mental states.’

    Moshe Averick and Al West share that bogus view of “free will.”

    I don’t share it. Human volition is actually something quite different from what they feel it has to be.

    To put it broadly, your free will is simply your choice to think or not. It involves such steps as choosing to focus your attention on something, choosing how clearly to focus, how long, how narrowly or widely, etc. If you think about it, you can get the idea.

    It has nothing to do with feeling yourself to be in “the Image of God” or “the image of a billiard ball”. It’s your mind in your body — not some outside “spiritual/deterministic” (“simple or complex”) force controlling you.

  • And Averick,
    if it’s too much trouble to respond to explicit lies, misrepresentations, or your radically reactionary and fundamentalist opinions, maybe you can enlighten us to some personal stories.

    How did your failed artistic ambitions inform your pathology?

    How much do you resent the world for not noticing your music?

    And what percentage of your distaste for truth and knowledge comes from this resentment?

    Also,

    I was about 12 or 13 by the time I realized that rabbis were silly men wearing serious clothing. How old were you when you decided to turn off all critical faculties and accepted a life with blinders subservient to fairy tales?

    When you acquiesce to imaginary authorities, where exactly does ones dignity go? Is it also transformed into some malignancy or does it simply disappear?

  • Al West proposes the theory that “You do not will to act on your beliefs.

    Now I suppose it is possible, Al, that you never do (though I’m skeptical). But you are clearly not in a position to speak for everyone — because some people sometimes do choose to act on their beliefs (and sometimes they choose not to act on their beliefs). This latter point is especially clear in the all too frequent cases where people have conflicting beliefs and/or desires and have to choose between them.

    Al, you also stated that “And no, caring about things is not irrelevant,…”

    Can you explain what you mean by that? If people have no volition, what difference could it possibly make what they care about? (Or are you trying to say that caring is “not irrelevant” because caring is just an illusion?)

  • Averick,
    In response to a comment made by Amelie you stated “At no point in the article did I even remotely suggest that Ms. McCormick and Ms. Flam were doing the “bidding for men.”

    Two quotes from your latest article:

    -”…but you have made it clear in several of your posts at Why Evolution is True that you prefer to have women do your fighting for you.”

    -’I certainly admire a woman who “stands by her man”’

    OF COURSE YOU DID! Remotely? No you stated it EXPLICITLY. I am always stunned by the orthodox jewish man’s capacity for misogyny. To then suggest that Amelie’s comments were based on some trauma rather then your own clear woman-hatred is proof again that your disease is malignant and pathological.

    You are a pathetic, disgusting fool, truly deserving of the life of self-inflicted lies in which you live.

    • Jason,

      Please email me privately, I have some good therapists that I would like to recommend.

      • Staniding up for another human being is not cause for therapy, Rabbi. Being obsessed with Dr. Coyne, on the other hand, is.

      • Averick,
        Please respond publicly to the numerous lies quoted in you articles and comments.

      • Calling someone crazy to avoid addressing their clearly sensible points is beyond pathetic and into the arena of pathological.

        But to be fair you can’t help being a sexist moron; your upbringing and vocation leave you with little choice in the matter. Small wonder you can’t even recognize it.

        Have you ever actually talked with a woman who wasn’t a Jew of your sect?

        It’s a shame that you were born in this time and place. You should be in the Bronze Age, living in terror of your god and its capricious creation scratching a living out of the dirt.

        You don’t deserve the fruits of the Enlightenment, you shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from science, you should live in a world as primitive, ignorant and grotesque as your beliefs are.

        Who knows? Maybe you’d be happier there, surrounded by fools of equal blindness only you’ll have no excuse.

    • I’m pretty sure he picked up that “feminists are just abused men-haters” from listening to conservative radio. They tend to attract a pretty juvenile audience.

  • I am so pleased that someone is finally voicing the TRUTH about creation! Bacteria are too complex to have just formed by chance.

    LIFE WAS CREATED BY ALIENS FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION!

    More people are realizing this obvious TRUTH with each of the Rabbi’s articles. Thank you, Moshe.

  • There is a logical argument against freewill which is unassailable:

    Assume there is freewill.
    How does it work?
    If the brain is nothing but cause and effect relations, where is freewill.
    If freewill is based on, but not determined by, the cause and effect relations in the brain, how is the decision made by freewill arrived at?
    If freewill is a veto on the deterministic output of the brain, how does freewill decide whether to veto or not to veto?
    Is it a coin flip?
    But then how is a coin flip freewill?
    What else could it possibly be?
    If freewill is a coin flip on the deterministic output of the brain where is the evolutionary advantage of freewill. Indeed, how could coin flip freewill not severely compromise survival.

    The whole concept of freewill is illogical.

    And if anyone is wondering how we can function without freewill, it’s because the “illusion of freewill” feels real. When an optical illusion is explained it is still an optical illusion and feels just as real as when first observed.

    • Billy Joe,

      If there is no free will, your entire line of reasoning is also an illusion.

      In truth, that is the whole point. Free will implies a spiritual reality, that is, a reality separate from our physical being. That is why Coyne is prepared to assert such a ridiculous and absurd notion, the alternative is to believe in the soul.

      • If there is no free will, your entire line of reasoning is also an illusion.

        You have yet to provide a reason for this.

        • If you really didn’t have free will, then you would not care about (or ask for) reasons — since the function of reasons (and reasoning) is to help you decide what to believe.

      • Rabbi Averick believes that “Free will implies a spiritual reality, that is, a reality separate from our physical being.

        That is a fantastic implication, Moshe. That is, the notion that there is a “spiritual reality separate from our physical being” is a total fantasy — there is nothing in reality on which to base such a supernaturalist belief.

        If people somehow accept your version of “free will,” no wonder they want to claim that it doesn’t exist — because in your version, it doesn’t.

        Of course, you are simply wrong about what free will (aka human volition) is and implies. In reality, free will is the choice that people can make to think about something (including choosing what to think about, how clearly to focus on the subject and the relevant facts and evidence, when to decide there is enough understanding to guide action, etc.) This is all perfectly natural — there is nothing the slightest bit miraculous or otherworldly about it.

        Now, you may feel that you cannot choose anything without supernatural help, as Al feels he cannot choose anything, period, but you guys are confusing feelings with facts.

    • How is an illusion (whether of “freewill” or of “God”) supposed to be of any practical use?

    • Billy Joe,

      I hope you are not offended, but even though everthing you say makes sense I have CHOSEN to ignore your logic and instead I CHOOSE to believe that I have free will even though I really don’t.

  • Come on Moshe, you’re so certain that an immaterial intelligence created the first bacterium, so tell us how that works.

    How did the immaterial intelligence move the atoms into position?

    You’ve set the standard that we have to know how a naturalistic process assembled that bacterium. So show us that your own theory can meet your own standard.

    [BINGO card: "I don't need to meet my own standard", "Complexity implies design", "The burden is on science to prove my fantasy wrong."]

    • JP,

      The same way he created time, space, matter, and energy out of nothing.

      • There is another of your fantastic notions, Moshe.

        In fact, nobody ever created anything out of nothing. No way for that to happen. You are simply fantasizing that such a thing is possible.

        You’ve never seen it (admit it) — nobody ever has, or ever could.

        Creation always and everywhere depends on there first being something to create something from, i.e., on nature — actual physical existence.

      • So you have no idea, then? The only idea you have is that it happened in a way that we know things don’t happen, that is by violating the laws of thermodynamics. (I know, I know, God don’t need no stinking laws, but so we don’t find him he never violates them when we’re looking. God = Best, Hide. And. Seek. Player. Ever!!!1!)

        But in a sense you’re right. God DID do it in the same way: fictionally.

  • Al West (and not Larry Lamb) wrote: ‘people have the capacity to act on the basis of the best information or evidence available without the intervention of some “free will”‘.

    The contradiction involved is that Al’s statement reduces to “people have the capacity to choose the best evidence available without having the capacity to choose the best evidence available.” Alternatively: “people have free will without having free will.”

    The problem with any such deterministic position is that it is only free will (i.e., the human capacity to choose thinking over non-thinking) which makes the concept of “the best information or evidence available” possible and practical.

    Al’s contradiction appears something like this: “… people have the capacity to act on the basis of the best information or evidence available …. you have no control over what you actually believe [and act on] …”

    So, according to Al West, people do have the capacity to act on evidence and at the same time they don’t. Well, you can’t have it both ways, can you?

    • Again, you’re clearly not thinking about this, and you’re stuck in the same kind of easy thinking as Moshe. Perhaps you do not understand the idea of causal over-determination.

      People perform actions. Those actions result from judgements that those actions are the best thing to do, or else they would not be done. These judgements are formed on the basis of beliefs, which come from perceptions and ratiocination – both entirely natural processes, and ones that involve no choice on the part of the brain at all. You don’t choose to think; it just happens. And you certainly don’t choose to believe; you simply do. As your actions result from your beliefs, saying that humans have some other way of acting adds nothing to the explanation, and is an unnecessary, unnaturalistic, and nonsensical way of looking at human thought and action.

      So, people have the capacity to act on the basis of the best evidence because once they have that best evidence, they can do no other than to act on it. I cannot act on the belief that my sister has five legs when I know very well that she has two. I do not choose to believe that she has two. She just does, and I know that as a result of ingrained sense data. That inevitably generates actions in an entirely deterministic way without reducing my ability to act in the world.

      The same applies to all humans and all actions.

      But feel free to continue to find simplistic contradictions.

      • I do not choose to believe that she has two. She just does, and I know that as a result of ingrained sense data…. The same applies to all humans and all actions.

        In other words, you do not choose to believe that Obama is a great President; he just is. And somebody else does not choose to believe that Obama is a rotten President; he just is.

        That certainly clears that up!

      • “People perform actions.”

        True.

        “Those actions result from judgements that those actions are the best thing to do, or else they would not be done.”

        Not so true.

        Sometimes, for instance, people act out of panic rather than judgment.

        And sometimes people act against their judgment — either doing things they know they shouldn’t do — or even going against their judgment for fear of being called “selfish” or “heartless.”

        In real life, people aren’t the billiard balls you portray them as being. You and Moshe are both running from reality, albeit in opposite directions: he toward the “Image of God,” you toward the “image of a billiard ball.”

        Moshe’s ideal is a mind without a body, and yours is a body without a mind. Neither of you is able to handle real life with real people.

      • Al West advises: ‘But feel free to continue to find simplistic contradictions.’

        Now not only is Al free to do that, he is also free to look for logical explanations for things, based on actual evidence. In fact, we are all free to do that. We are not constrained to blindly obeying either “the God of Creation” or “the god of billiard balls.”

      • “Perhaps you do not understand the idea of causal over-determination.”

        Is that like “too many cooks spoil the broth”?

  • Rabbi Averick states: “There is no scientist alive today who has a remotely plausible scenario for the emergence of life from non-life through an undirected process. There are only two possibilities, creation or naturalistic.

    In fact, there is only one possibility: the emergence of life was perfectly natural. “Supernatural creation” is NOT a possibility — it’s a fantasy.

    “Creation by God!” not only fails to be a “remotely plausible scenario,” it is literally impossible.

  • Thanks for knocking out some of that christian love. Except that you, Rabbi, don’t believe in any of the christian Gods so maybe your loving is better too. Except it appears to be about the same. Well, there couldn’t be just one God because people with completely conflicting views each claim there is one God and their God is It. In fact, isn’t it true, Rabbi, that each person that believes in a higher power worships their own personal God that is unique to that individual. Yes, it is true isn’t it Rabbi, there are millions of Gods but, not one God, so to speak of God in the singular is at least deceptive isn’t it. The believer is in fact the very God that they each speak of and each God exists only in that individual’s mind.

    However, society in the United States wastes billions upon billions of dollars on these several Gods but, they deny a responsibility to treat people respectfully and insure that they receive adequate healthcare. Yeah, give me some of that good old christian God love, Rabbi.

  • Rabbi,

    This has to be one of the most sexist, scummiest blog posts I have ever seen. Why would you suggest MCormick and Flam were doing the bidding for the men, but you would not suggest the men were doing it for Coyne and Dr. McCormick? Because they were trying to “get some”? Because women bow down to their men? You are clearly an insecure man who is intimidated by females and you bring shame to your religion.

    I can name hundreds of female scientist who would tell you flat out you are wrong about everything you have said. I came here of my own volition and so did every other woman, to prevent you from spreading mistruths. You are clearly an immature coward. you refuse to answer a few basic questions.

    1. How does the incomplete evidence for evolution and abiogenesis by default prove creationism?

    2. If we see a bicycle designed by a creator, we can track down the bicycle factory. Where is the human being factory?

    3. Abiogenesis and evolution have evidence. Cite one experiment or tangible piece of evidence for either, like the Mann experiment, and explain why it is not credible.

    • I’ll start a Bingo card for Moshe’s answers:

      1) “It just does. Read the article again. How many times do I have to repeat myself?” (Followed by Others:”But what about the fact that evidence for creation or even a creator is not just incomplete but totally absent?” followed by Moshe: “There’s lots of evidence but I’m not going to post it here. Look, what’s that over there?”)

      2) “It was a one-off on the earth 3.5 billion years ago.” (Followed by Others: “Can you provide evidence of that?” and “Can you explain the mechanism by which a non-material intelligence moved the atoms into place?” followed by silence, or Moshe: “Look, what’s that over there?”)

      3) “Lots of famous scientists far more qualified than me say the have no idea, so I don’t need to address particular experiments. (Followed by Others: “That’s not answering the question.” followed by Moshe: “Yes it is. How many times do I have to repeat myself? Look, what’s that over there?”)

      Or cowardly silence, or

    • [oops, accidently hit submit]

      … or blantant lies or ad hominem attacks.

    • Amelie,

      No offense, but you obviously have a big chip on your shoulder. At no point in the article did I even remotely suggest that Ms. McCormick and Ms. Flam were doing the “bidding for men.” Perhaps you have been abused by men and you immediately project this onto any man you disagree with. By your vulgar remark about “getting some” I assume that is the case. If men have abused you I’m sorry, but please dump it somehwhere else, not on me.

      I simply stated the simple fact, both McCormick and Flam spoke for Dr. Jack Szostak; the fact that they are female was incidental.

      Please read and consider carefully before you unload your feminist fury.

      I don’t consider it significant if those scientists who disagree with me are male or female. I don’t quite understand what your point is by stating that many female scientists disagree, many male scientists disagree also. There are also male and female scientists who agree with everything I write.

      RE: Evolution and abiogenesis. I never speak about Evolution except in passing. (see article on this site entitled “Sever Weather Warning…”) Evolution and Origin of Life are two completely separate scientific issues. The investigation of how (if) non-living chemicals made the jump to a living bacterium is not the same as investigating how that first bacterium evolved once the machinery of life was already in place. My interest here is not specifically the science, it is the existence or non-existence of a Creator. The subject of Darwinian Evolution is irrelevant to the question of a Creator. As I said, Evolution proceeds once the machinery of life is in place. The essential question is where did the machinery come from in the first place? As Dr. Koonin stated, Origin of Life research is a failure. (see article on this site “FAye Flam…”) There is no scientist alive today who has a remotely plausible scenario for the emergence of life from non-life through an undirected process. There are only two possibilities, creation or naturalistic. The simplest living organism bears the clear imprimatur of an intelligent designer. It displays stupendous functional complexity and contains and encyclopedic amount of digitally encoded information. The extraordinary claim is not that it was the result of intelligent design, the extraordinary claim is that it could happen by itself! For that extraordinary claim you are going to need some extraordinary evidence, and you have exactly zero evidence that such a thing is possible. The rationalist goes to the option that makes the most sense. The factory for a human being, and for all life, for that matter, is the genetic machinery, it is the most fantastic information processing system in existence. I don’t have enough faith to believe that it happened by itself.

      • Rabbi Averick states his belief that “The simplest living organism bears the clear imprimatur of an intelligent designer.”

        Rabbi Averick is indulging in wishful thinking on this point (and “magical thinking,” into the bargain). Moshe’s “IDOL” — the so-called “Intelligent Designer Of Life” — is a literal impossibility (though it could make for an interesting literary character).

        There is nothing in the world (living, non-living, simple, complex, or whatever) that bears the imprimatur of a supernatural designer. Basically that is because everything in the world is part of nature — and nothing supernatural exists (since it would have to be a contradiction of nature — and therefore impossible).

      • Rabbi Averick believes that “The simplest living organism … contains an encyclopedic amount of digitally encoded information.”

        That is manifestly, bizarrely false.

        The simplest living organisms long pre-date humans and their invention of encyclopedias and digital encoding. Moshe is trying to take an analogy and pretend that it must be taken literally.

      • Woohoo!

        1) “The simplest living organism bears the clear imprimatur of an intelligent designer.”

        2) “The factory for a human being, and for all life, for that matter, is the genetic machinery, it is the most fantastic information processing system in existence. I don’t have enough faith to believe that it happened by itself.”

        3) No mention of any experiments, plus “As Dr. Koonin stated, Origin of Life research is a failure. … There is no scientist alive today who has a remotely plausible scenario for the emergence of life from non-life through an undirected process.”

        BINGO!!

        • Nope, no danger of him actually answering the questions on this blog. We’re too busy worrying about who needs therapy and who has had an unfair past. It’s like some creepy daytime talk show!

          By the way did you know that genetic machinery has opened factories apparently? The cylons have taken over. Run!

      • By the way, Moshe, I should just add that I find your assertion that Amelie was abused to be utterly vile. What a poor excuse for a human being you are.

        • Damn, I overlooked that, jp — but I think you’ve got the call right on that foul.

          I just took it as yet another lazy attempt at distraction — but I was giving him way too much benefit of the doubt. The Rabbi certainly doesn’t seem to have any faith in himself.

        • It is a classic comment by sexist men ala Rush Limbaugh and others. The Rabbi can’t even be bothered to use original material.

      • Rabbi –

        What? Are you seriously trying to lie after what you just said? Dr. Coyne is a man. Here is your quote:

        “you have made it clear in several of your posts at Why Evolution is True that you prefer to have women do your fighting for you. That includes both Terri-Lynne McCormick (the wife of Origin of Life researcher Dr. Jack Szostak), and Faye Flam”

        My question was, and see if you can follow along here, why did you not insist that men AND women were doing the bidding for Coyne instead of just including 2 women? Both genders showed up to tell you you’re wrong about Creationism.

        “Perhaps you have been abused by men and you immediately project this onto any man you disagree with. By your vulgar remark about “getting some” I assume that is the case. If men have abused you I’m sorry, but please dump it somehwhere else, not on me.”

        “Getting some” is a euphamism. And I have been accused many times of being too polite, so I don’t think that is vulgar. I was just trying to imagine your twisted motivation for your blithe sexism.

        Women and men who find your comments outrageously offensive are not reacting that way because of “abuse”. We are reacting this way because you are so clearly an immature child who cannot let this thing between you and Jerry go.

        I’d expect better from a religious leader. Much better. In my life I have met many priests and rabbis who are good models in their communities and know how to handle conflict beautifully. You are just the opposite. You are a disgrace.

        I’ll save the science for my next argument. I think you should seriously ponder what your goals are in life, Rabbi. You seem to have gotten off track.

        • Amelie,

          I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the problem here is that you have come in the middle of the movie and don’t quite understand what is going on. If you will read the original statements by McCormick and Flam it will be absolutely clear that they never were speaking FOR Jerry Coyne. They were speaking for themselves. It will also be clear that both of them spoke on behalf of, or in defense of Dr. Jack Szostak. Those are simply the facts. Jerry Coyne USED their statements that they made on their own to attack me. That is what I meant when I said that Coyne prefers to have women do his fighting for him. Instead of offering his own arguments against my position, he used their statements. If you review the history of this conflict everything will become clear.

          I do ask you again, please take your feminist baggage and drop it somewhere else. If you want to discuss the issues, by all means.

          • Hillarious. You keep insisting that I am a feminist (I am not) yet you have not handed out that label to any of the men here who say the exact same thing. Count how many people have told you that your post is sexist, Rabbi. Then get back to me.

          • Yep, Moshe’s just being blind to his own sexism, and explaining it in small words to you because to him you need it explained in small words because you’re a woman.

            He hasn’t done that to me. I bet he assumes I’m male, even though my screenname is neutral. Silly Moshe. Because if he called ME a feminist, he’d actually be right.

      • “It displays stupendous functional complexity and contains and encyclopedic amount of digitally encoded information”

        You clearly don’t understand Biology. “Digital” refers to voltage or magetism. Living creatures do not have such things in their bodies. You’re thinking of computers.

        Comparing bodies to machines falls short in every way imaginable. Aside from the electron transport chain, bodies do not have machine parts. They have soft, squishy organs and organelles composed of cells.

        Cells are not complex except in the mind of humans. Abiogenesis happened due to extraordinary circumstances, but evolved quite nicely without humans. The fact that we can replicate it in a lab simply demonstrates that it is not as complex as we thought.

        Now, answer the question or be a coward: where is your tangible evidence for Intelligent Design.

        • Sorry, that should have read “aside from the electron transport chain, bodies do not have anything in common with stuff that you plug in”.

          *Runs to get coffee*

        • Amelie,

          “After Watson and Crick we know that genes themselves…are living strings of pure digital inforamtion. What is more they are truly digital, in the full and strong sense of computers and compact discs…The genetic code is not a binary code as in computers…but a quaternary code, with four symbols. The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal. Our genetic system, which is the universal system for all life on the planet is digital to the core…DNA characters are copied with an aaccuracy that rivals anything modern engineers can do…DNA messages…are…pure digital code”
          from RIVER OUT OF EDEN BY RICHARD DAWKINS

          you can now write Dawkins at his website and argue with him

    • “1. How does the incomplete evidence for evolution and abiogenesis by default prove creationism?”

      There is no way it to “prove creationism” — because “creationism” is a religious fantasy, not an actual possibility.

      Nothing can prove creationism. Ever.

      “2. If we see a bicycle designed by a creator, we can track down the bicycle factory. Where is the human being factory?”

      There are maternity wards all around us. You could easily find some.

  • Jonathan Duran

    So you basically spent all this time writing a convoluted, but thinly veiled, attack on Coyne. You’ve paraded out your sexism and ignorance for us to gawk at and you’ve dragged innocent parties into the fight. Brilliant…if this is what your belief in your god compels you to do, you’ve just convinced a bunch of us to have nothing to do with that nonsense.

    • moshe averick

      Jonathan,

      It was not thinly veiled at all. How did you react to Jerry’s attack on me? Does it compel you to reject atheism and evolutionary biology?

      • Moshe,

        You have this annoying habit of responding to the less relevant and sensible criticisms you can find — while ignoring the more relevant and sensible ones.

        I assume that is a deliberate obfuscatory tactic, rather than just laziness.

        Also note that while it might appear superficially like we agree on the existence of free will, that is not a reasonable conclusion — since you look upon free will as an unnatural capability while I see it as a completely natural attribute.

      • My reaction to Coyne’s attack on you was that was sticking it to a nudnik who deserved it, and credibly backing his arguments for doing so.

      • Jonathan Duran

        I didn’t bother to read whatever Coyne said and don’t really care, that’s not really my point…I guess I just expected something more dignified from someone who claims be a “rabbi” and representative of God whereas I expect very little from an immoral atheist like Coyne, but then again I’m pretty naive…maybe all rabbis are shmucks just to get their point across?

      • It was thinly veiled because you write this under the guise that you apologized and are trying to make amends, which you are clearly not doing. Personally I think you are both acting like spoiled children.

  • So far, the total effort of everyone involved in “Origin of Life” research has FAILED to discover said origin — and nobody currently “has a clue” to precisely how life originated. There is nothing the least bit mysterious about this situation — and there certainly is absolutely no implication that the yet-to-be-discovered process is somehow, miraculously unnatural!

    There is no getting around the fact that Moshe’s “IDOL” is an impossibility.

    And the notion that scientists somehow have “faith in science and nature” is hopelessly bizarre. Faith is precisely the rejection of reason and reality, i.e., the stuff of science. So “faith in science” means “rejecting science,” which is just plain nonsense.

  • True free will would mean a component of our being that is separate from the deterministic/materialistic brain, which would imply a non-material, spiritual reality, which would imply a soul, which might actually lead to, dare I say it…..God.

    Nonsense.

    Free will, like everything else, is perfectly natural. There is nothing unnatural (“supernatural,” “otherworldly,” “spirtually God-like,” etc.) about it in the least.

    • I don’t think you know what ‘free will’ means. It means that actions are not determined by anything – that even the laws of physics are irrelevant in determining human actions. That is not at all natural, and your protestations are simply absurdities. Look into the philosophy of action a little more (Davidson is a good place to begin) and hopefully you’ll see how free will is very silly idea that has no place in an understanding of humans, the universe, or anything.

      • Al,

        If there is nothing but a pure physical reality, you are correct. Of course, Consciousness makes no sense in a purely material world either, which is why atheistic scientists are baffled by the whole concept of consciousness and have no idea what it is or how it is possible.

        Free will is an act of creation, it is “something from nothing” – I choose not because anything caused me to choose, but because “I choose”
        Free will is one of the essential meanings of being in the “image of God”. Free will is beyond any physical laws, including of course the laws of physics.

        Human existence without free will leaves us with complete and absolute absurdities.

        • Free will is beyond any physical laws, including of course the laws of physics.

          So, Rabbi: can you think faster than the speed of light?

        • Free will is one of the essential meanings of being in the “image of God”.

          In other words, Rabbi, your claim is that free will is not of this world — in spite of the fact that it clearly is of this world (since this is where we are). You are fantasizing that you may have your cake, and eat it, too.

          Free will is a natural part of life (limited though it may be), and is no more supernatural than anything else — which is to say that, like life as such, it is perfectly natural (since otherwise it wouldn’t exist).

      • Al, what makes you hope that I might change my mind when you firmly declare that I have no control over what I think? Do you feel that reading a book by Davidson would automatically (somehow magically) make me think differently — whether I wanted to or not?

        What makes you feel that it is “silly” to think that people can think about things, and are able to make up their own minds?

        And how, by the way, would you try to explain why people can be confronted by the same fact, say Iran’s threat to wipe Israel off the map, and yet some of them can think that Iran should be free to do it, while some think that Iran should be stopped dead in its tracks? Is there anyone you know who believes your sister has five legs?

        • And how, by the way, would you try to explain why people can be confronted by the same fact, say Iran’s threat to wipe Israel off the map, and yet some of them can think that Iran should be free to do it, while some think that Iran should be stopped dead in its tracks? Is there anyone you know who believes your sister has five legs?

          That is a major anthropological question: how does the content of other beliefs affect a person’s response to the same stimulus? How do new perceptions influence beliefs?

          You do not know what free will is, yet you bandy around the word freely. Free will is not the ability to make decisions. It is the view that any decision you make is decided not by your beliefs, but by you – undetermined by anything natural or physical – as if there is a “you” that is different to your body and mental states.

          I know that if you read Davidson, you would think differently. This is not because your ideas are not determined by stimuli and other belief content, but precisely because they are. You get your beliefs and notions from an extremely complex set of experiences that extend back in time as long as your brain does. Saying to someone, “you have free will” is a stimulus that can affect their actions, – in particular, their belief in their ability to act unaffected by others, for example. We’re looking at an extremely complex phenomenon, and you’re trying to turn it into a simplistic debate between those who believe people can act and those who believe they are automatons. This is not the case.

          Reading Davidson’s work is a stimulus that can influence your beliefs. That much is true.

          And as for Iran versus Israel, the beliefs that people have about that are not decided or chosen – they are simply the natural consequence of the other beliefs that these people hold in addition to their perceptions of the situation between Iran and Israel. Why do Muslims tend to faovur Iran? Why do Jews favour Israel? Why do I not care very much? Because of our other beliefs, and because of ratiocination, not because of an unnaturalistic independent decider of belief that operates outside of mental events.

          Which, by the way, is the necessary consequence of your position on free will, whether you like it or not.

          • So your belief is that people are extremely complex automatons, not simple ones?

            ‘Free will is not the ability to make decisions. It is the view that any decision you make is decided not by your beliefs, but by you – undetermined by anything natural or physical – as if there is a “you” that is different to your body and mental states.’

            So you feel that your beliefs are determined by “something” that is outside of you(“different to your body and mental states”)? Rather, that is, than something you can handle with your own mind?

          • ‘…as if there is a “you” that is different to your body and mental states.’

            There is no such miraculous “you” that is not really you. Your free will is an attribute of the real you — not of that figment of the imagination you propose.

          • ‘I know that if you read Davidson, you would think differently.’

            How do you know that? What makes you feel that way?

            How would I think differently? Why would I think differently?

  • Has anyone noticed the similarity between this Rabbi’s nonsense, and the nonsense espoused by William Lane Craig? Do you think one of them is doing a spot of moonlighting…? Or are they one and the same person…!

    • Never heard of Craig. Of course, I’d never heard of Averick until I happened to notice him on JWR a few weeks ago. (Maybe he’s been there all along, but I’ve been reading JWR for years — and their stuff is usually so good that Averick seemed totally out of place.)

  • “Imagine a District Attorney going before a judge with a petition to deny bail because he “knows” the defendant is guilty.”

    Imagine a District Attorney going before a judge who says he “knows” the defendant is guilty because somebody wrote it down in a book thousands of years ago.

    Coyne is saying that we will go on looking for the truth. Your search for truth ended long before you were ever born.

  • I am having my own feud with Jerry Coyne because he deletes my comments to his blog. What follows is the URL of the blog I responded to and my response.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/head-of-faraday-institute-avers-his-christian-belief/

    Denis Alexander was clear and convincing about the Resurrection of Jesus being an historical event. However, he didn’t mention the testimony of Paul. He relied only on the four gospels.

    Alexander was also clear about God being a real being, and not just a mental being. He spoke of God being the “ground” of all being. He left out the cosmological argument for God’s existence: Humans are finite beings, finite beings need a cause, so an infinite being exists.

    My main objection was his list of “religious questions.” He left out the most important question: What is a human being? What is human consciousness? What is free will?

    His answer to the question of human consciousness and personhood was contradictory. First he said that these were “emergent properties” of the brain. Then he said that consciousness could not be defined. Which is it? The answer of Catholic philosophers and theologians is that the human mind is an unsolvable mystery, which means humans are embodied spirits. Like most Protestants, Alexander doesn’t understand the concept of the human soul.

    His comments about evolutionary biology were flat out wrong. He implied that natural selection explains the increase in the complexity of life. As a professional biologist, he should know natural selection only explains adaptation.

    Alexander is not qualified to explain to Richard Feynman why God exists. I mention Feynman because I posted a comment about the Feynman video on this blog. It was deleted, but I posted it also on my own blog. I’ll stop posting on Why Evolution Is True when I get an email from Jerry Coyne telling me not to.

    I keep a record of all of my conversations with atheists on my own blog at http://www.newevangelist.me.

    • re: Resurrection of Jesus

      Maybe you can answer the nagging questions about that, like:

      1) If Jesus died and then came back to life what was sacrificed? He didn’t die for humanity’s sins much less took a really long nap for them.

      2) If Jesus came back to life why did he disperse in the exact same way dead people do? Why didn’t he stick around and continue to do stuff?

      3) How does a god sacrificing himself to himself so it wouldn’t be wrathful to his creation for behaving how it created them / knew it would behave make any sort of sense?

      4) Why did it take thirty years or so for anyone to write down stuff about Jesus and then another 300 years or so for Christianity to spread?

      5) Why did that spreading of Christianity involve a lot of violent wars?

      6) Why did Jesus only reveal himself to a single culture and people? Why did he skip all the people in Australia, the Far East and the Americas and really the rest of the world?

      • 1) Jesus entered a new life with God after he died, he didn’t come back from the dead. All Western and Eastern religions believe this. That Jesus “died for our sins” is just a medieval idea.

        2)This is a good reason not to believe in Jesus. People who don’t believe in Jesus usually give bad reasons, for example, that God doesn’t exist.

        3)See my answer above.

        4)What difference does it make that ancient history is based on less written evidence than modern history? All historians agree that Jesus was a Jewish prophet that preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. He was an exorcist and a healer, and the followers of Jesus swore up and down that he appeared to them after he died.

        5)The really violent wars and genocide started in the 19th and 20th centuries when people stopped listening to their rabbis, priests, and ministers and started believing in Darwinism.

        6)Jesus saved all of mankind for meaning because he taught that our purpose in life is to get to Heaven.

    • In a sense, describing God as an “infinite being” is quite accurate — because that means that God is nothing in particular, i.e., that God does not actually exist.

      • Your comment shows that you understand the concept of an infinite being, but it shows poor judgment to say that an infinite being does not exist.

        You exist and I exist, but I am not you and you are not me. We are finite beings. A finite being needs a cause. From the achievements of science, we know that the universe is intelligible. If all beings in the universe needed a cause, the universe would not be intelligible. Hence, there is evidence that at least one infinite being exists.

        This raises the question that you express in a way I never heard before: “God is nothing in particular.” The formulations of this question that I have heard are: What motivated the infinite being to create finite beings? If there is an infinite being, there exists all that there is to exist so finite beings don’t exist.

        There is no solution to this mystery, just like there is no solution to the mystery: What is a human being?

        • Sorry to piss on your existential crisis, David, but there’s no mystery at all as to what a human being is.

        • Since an “infinite being” (your God) could not have any possible attributes or capabilities, then nothing could motivate it, and nothing could be caused by it.

          “God as an Infinite Being” would mean that God is nothing in particular, i.e., in real life, just plain nothing.

    • And you have no IDEA as to why someone like Jerry might bar you from his blog?

      Can you provide all of us with solid “natural” evidence that there is anything of the “person” left when the homo brain flat lines? Have you measured an independent force field hovering around/or leaving a homo body at the time of death?

      It’s nice that we seem to have imaginations, but when our imagined “supernatural” characters take over our entire life outlook, it just might be time to reconsider how we are using our imagination.

      • There is a difference between the mind-body problem and the concepts of body (matter) and soul (form). In the method of inquiry called metaphysics, the soul is the principle that makes humans equal to one another and the body is the principle that makes humans different from each other.

        There are four solutions to the mind-body problem: materialism (the mind is an illusion), dualism (spiritual substances exist), idealism (the brain is an illusion), and the insight that there is no solution (it is a mystery).

        The last solution is the one judged to be true by rational people. It means human beings are embodied spirits or indefinabilities. There is no evidence supporting materialism and dualism. There is some evidence supporting idealism. Rational people consider the human soul to be spiritual. Atheists think the human soul is just an idea.

  • Terri-Lynn McCormick

    I wonder if you even care how offensive the phrase “have women do your fighting for you?” The sexism reeks. Pardon me while I open windows and turn on fans. This aside from the fact that I wasn’t fighting for Prof. Coyne, who strikes me as completely capable of stating his own case and stating it well. Am I surprised that you are sexist or are misrepresenting me? Not one bit. As to the gratuitous use of the photo of myself and my husband from the Royal Dinner in Stockholm – pathetic. It adds nothing to your argument. But then, neither does the mention of me at all, as I had nothing to say about free will – only that you misrepresented my husband. Now you have misrepresented me. What next? Will you be misrepresenting my children? My cats?

    • >have women do your fighting for you

      Of course he’s sexist but to be fair he’s just doing what his angry god commands and we all know how much that thing hates women with your magic fruit eating paradise ruining ways!

      His religion teaches him not to even shake hands with the non-penis unclean for fear that you will awaken their libido beyond control / be at the time of month

      Oh and the photo of you and your husband is really the only thing of value in the whole article. If only Mushe would just post pictures and keep his blathering to himself algemeiner.com would be the better for it.

    • Terri-Lynne,

      If you read the article again, you will see that I never suggested you were speaking for Dr. Coyne, I don’t even know where that came from. I said Dr. Coyne used you to fight his battles, not that you were speaking on his behalf. Frankly, I’m getting a little fed up with your false accusations. I did not misrepresent you at all. First you falsely accuse me of trying to present your husband as a supporter of ID, which is, of course absurd, and now, instead of reading carefully what I wrote, you react and accuse me again. Please read carefully and think carefully before you make phony self-righteous accusations.

  • Jerry is right – free will is an illusion. The evidence for it is now overwhelming. Where is your reasoned argument? Instead you just call him the nutty professor and make jokes. No doubt the same way many people reacted to finding out the world is round and not at the centre of the universe? Do you still think the world is flat? I don’t mind if you want to put your own reasoned argument forward but you’re just insulting someone who is right because you don’t like the conclusion and can’t argue against it. Besides Jerry isn’t saying anything that out of the ordinary – very many great scientists and thinkers agree with the conclusion today and also in the past. Einstein, Darwin, Mark twain, Abraham Lincoln, Bertrand Russel etc…. Look it up and read about it google it – the same conclusion is everywhere.

    • “[F]ree will is an illusion. The evidence for it is now overwhelming.”

      Perhaps you are joking — or maybe you really don’t see the contradiction there.

      • As matter of fact, it is not a contradiction, Mr Stoddard. If people act on the basis of beliefs, and they appear to; if they derive those beliefs from interaction with the environment, and that too appears most likely; then people have the capacity to act on the basis of the best information or evidence available without the intervention of some “free will”. If there was such a thing as “free will” and the above two conditions held, as they appear to, then the ability to make decisions to act would be causally over-determined.

        It would also imply that people would be able to choose to act on the basis of not-beliefs, which is absurd. It would also imply that people would be able to choose their beliefs, which they cannot. Try it – try to choose to believe that human beings have five legs. You cannot do it. You can imagine it, but you can’t believe it. Since you have no control over what you actually believe, and since you act on the basis of beliefs, you do not control what you do in the sense required by free will.

        So perhaps you are joking – or maybe you don’t see that the contradiction you claim is illusory.

        • Okay, Al, I apologize for trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. You really weren’t joking.
          Your claim is that ‘people have the capacity to act on the basis of the best information or evidence available without the intervention of some “free will”‘.

          The contradiction involved is that your statement reduces to “people have the capacity to choose the best evidence available without having the capacity to choose the best evidence available.”

          The problem with your position is that it is only free will (i.e., the human capacity to choose thinking over non-thinking) which makes the concept of “the best information or evidence available” possible and practical.

          The contradiction appears thusly in your post: “… people have the capacity to act on the basis of the best information or evidence available …. you have no control over what you actually believe [and act on] …

          So, according to you, people do have the capacity to act on evidence and at the same time they don’t. You can’t have it both ways.

          • Let me put it like this.

            You are claiming that people choose to think, and that they choose to think rationally. There is, however, a major problem with this, known as Ryle’s regress. If thinking, and mental events, require volition, then so does the willing itself. If I require will to perform any mental event, then I require will to perform the mental event of willing. I will also require will to perform the mental event of willing to will to will to think.

            And so on.

            This is true if willing and choosing are mental events taking place in the brain, which is the only way in which they could be natural events.

            The only way to allow volitionism and destroy Ryle’s regress is to somehow view the will as non-mental, non-material, and essentially supernatural.

            But if it is part of the brain, then it requires the same kind of causation as other mental events.

            Which means that it is actually an unnecessary step, and one which cannot be naturalistically included as part of the causation of human action.

            Basically what I’m saying is that you need to read “The Concept of Mind”, amongst much else, and that is something you seem not to have done.

        • If people act on the basis of beliefs, and they appear to; if they derive those beliefs from interaction with the environment, and that too appears most likely; then people have the capacity to act on the basis of the best information or evidence available …

          In other words, if people act like human beings, then they have free will. Otherwise, people would be unable to consider the evidence and to act accordingly.

          • Steve Stoddard,

            People do not choose their beliefs. People act on their beliefs. Their beliefs result from neuronal activity plus sense data. These are natural, deterministic processes.

            As I said in another response to you, I do not choose to believe that my sister has two legs. I know she does, on the basis of the best available data. I don’t choose to assess the evidence for that belief, and I don’t choose to have that belief, but the evidence (ie, sense data) that I have prohibits any other belief on the matter. And it is a belief on which I act (sometimes, at least). I can’t choose to believe that my sister has five legs when I know she has two. This applies to all beliefs, and not just that one.

            And once I have that knowledge, I can’t not act on it. It will inevitably cause actions related to it, including these actions that I am performing now in relation to that knowledge. And that knowledge isn’t perfectly encoded or anything. I don’t have a choice between two logical beliefs – “this coffee is black” and “this coffee is not black”, and then I choose to believe the former after considering the issue in terms of formal logic. No; I simply see the coffee, and if required to act on the basis that it is black, then I will simply make the decision.

            Thinking doesn’t require an act of will. You do not will yourself to think anything (that would end up with Ryle’s regress anyway). So… Frankly, I’m concerned that perhaps you’re pontificating about a subject you have not considered in its fullness.

          • Wake up and smell the coffee! — A Reply To Al West’s Reply To A Reply:

            Al West wrote ‘I don’t have a choice between two logical beliefs – “this coffee is black” and “this coffee is not black”, and then I choose to believe the former after considering the issue in terms of formal logic. No; I simply see the coffee,…’

            People need to grow up and realize that not everything can be adequately understood on the sensory-perceptual level, that you need to learn to think outside the box, and that you need to learn to understand and utilize concepts and conceptual thinking.

            Yes, you can look at a cup of coffee and see whether it has been served black or white. But you cannot look at a picture of a President (like Bush/Obama) and automatically understand that increasing government spending is an immoral disaster. Some hard thinking needs to be done to understand that (which, unfortunately, the great majority of voters and politicians steadfastly refuse to do).

    • Moshe Averick

      Larry,

      As Sir Karl Popper pointed out, if what you say is true there is no way of proving it because no matter what you say, it is only because you have to say it.
      That is just another way of saying how absurd your position is. How did you find out that free will was an illuion in the first place? Was is it from scientific investigation? If your free will is an illusion, how do you know the entire scientific investigation was not an illusion? what is your point of fixed reality from which your knowledge flows, or upon which it is built? In order to avoid a belief in the soul, you have thrown all of reality into the toilet. Enjoy

      • “In order to avoid a belief in the soul, you have thrown all of reality into the toilet.”

        This is nonsense, and I know of no epistemologist who would agree with you. If you wish to understand how science and knowledge can function in the absence of “a fixed point of reality” (whatever that is supposed to mean*), then there are plenty of books out there to help you. You might try Susan Haack’s “Evidence and Inquiry”, for instance. There is no need to believe in supernatural mumbo jumbo, and nonsense about so-called “free will”, in order to believe that the universe can be comprehended in some way.

        *How, after all, does belief in souls constitute a “fixed point of reality”? And how does that belief actually provide a means for science? I see no connection, and you have yet to prove one. For instance, if I believe that the earth is approximately an oblate spheroid, and I believe that on the basis of scientific evidence, then what does believing that you have free will add to this belief? “I believe that the earth is approximately an oblate spheroid” and “I believe that I have a soul and that the earth is an oblate spheroid” – well, you only really need the former, and I don’t think the latter’s proviso bolsters the truth of the statement.

        • moshe averick

          Al,
          Briefly, if there is no free will, you and Susan Mack say what you do because you must say what you do. It was inevitable that it would turn out that way. No free will means that nobody does anything because of arguments or evidence but because of the billiard balls bouncing around in their head over which they have no control.

          • That is only so if you think of the person arguing, speaking, thinking, and doing as something other than the billiard balls bouncing around in their head. I say things because of evidence; that evidence is represented by an extremely complex nervous system, and does not require ‘free will’, which would also entail a number of impossible things – like the ability to choose the beliefs that you have (which you cannot do).

            And yes, I do say things because I must say them – they are an inevitable consequence of the beliefs that I hold at the moment I perform the action. They are the result of a judgement, on the basis of beliefs and perceptions that I have, that a certain action is the best thing to do (or else I would not do it). This is a line of argument that traces back to Plato’s Protagoras, through Aristotle, and best represented recently by Donald Davidson, Anscombe, Dennett, and others. That is why free will would create causal overdetermination – my actions result from my beliefs, and my beliefs come from a huge variety of natural processes. Your response is simply inadequate.

          • Spot on, Al.

            Moshe, do you understand that determinists (and compatabilists) argue that while our choices may be determined, our limited capacity to actually predict our determined choices necessitates that we feel as though we have free will?

            Saying “But I feel like I’m exercising my free will!!!” is not an argument against their position at all. Even Dennett would agree that his decisions FEEL free, regardless of whether they actually are.

          • Al said, “… like the ability to choose the beliefs that you have (which you cannot do).

            So it is your contention that people who believe Obama is a good President are simply helpless victims of bad information, with no ability to see sense? Do you really, really feel that you are simply a stupid, mindless zombie? If so, then why should anyone take anything you say or do the least bit seriously?

          • jp explains that “…determinists (and compatabilists) argue that while our choices may be determined, our limited capacity to actually predict our determined choices necessitates that we feel as though we have free will…

            Now it is true that there are people who argue that way — even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

            Such a “determinist” is saying that he feels that what he says is true, even though he has to say it whether it is true or not — and that he has no idea which it really is. He is just preaching that we should have faith in him and the Great God of Determinism. The “GGD” to go along with Moshe’s “IDOL.”

          • Al West propounds the nonsense that “I say things because of evidence;… And yes, I do say things because I must say them …”

            Is he trying to claim infallibility, here? Or is he merely trying to have his cake and eat it, too? While avoiding responsibility, either way ….

          • Steve Stoddard,

            Not infallibility, no. Judgements can be mistaken. But they are made on the basis of beliefs. The question of how people can be incontinent – ie, how they could possibly perform actions that they do not believe are the right things to do – is an old one, and may be resolved by the view of the brain as divided. In fact, that is the only logical possibility given the evidence.

            Free will would imply that nothing – not even the beliefs we hold – would determine our actions. I could believe that I have two legs and yet act fully consciously on the basis that I have six if I had free will. I would be free to act on beliefs that I don’t even hold if there were such a thing as free will.

            As it happens, I can’t and don’t do that. And neither do you. You act on the basis of knowledge and beliefs that you hold, and while those themselves may be fallible (of course), to invoke free will is indulge in causal over-determination and an inability to fully understand the universe in which we live.

        • Al,

          You seem to have missed the point. A “judgement” between two positions, that is to say, “deciding” which one is true and which is false is an act of will. If you “decided” because it was inevitable, then it’s meaningless, it has nothing to do with the evidence. On the other hand, if you actually used your judgement to differentiate fact from fantasy or truth from falsehood, you clearly have free will.

          • Amen, Moshe. You got that point right (while Al is wildly wrong on that point).

            And you didn’t even go on to shoot yourself in the foot with some attempt at supernaturalistic soul saving. Nice restraint in this case.

          • Wrong, wrong, wrong. A judgement does not consist of a choice. My belief that I have two legs does not consist of a binary logic choice in my brain:

            A: I have two legs.

            B: I do not have two legs.

            My belief that I have two legs was never decided. It’s simply a result of multiple, ingrained perceptions. The idea that you choose your beliefs is an absurdity. You deduce them, perhaps, but even that involves no choice, and once you have made the deduction, unless you have some kind of new evidence (even in the form of old beliefs, dredged up), you cannot go back to your former belief.

            Seriously, have you chaps thought about this at all? Can you seriously believe that you choose your beliefs?

            Then, please, try this exercise: Believe that you have six legs.

          • “A “judgement” between two positions, that is to say, “deciding” which one is true and which is false is an act of will.”

            This is quite literally the opposite of the truth. There is no act of will involved in determining that it is raining; I simply observe that it is so and act accordingly. What you have said is so obviously the opposite of the truth that I am ashamed to have read it.

            Furthermore, as I have stated elsewhere, if an act of will is to be natural, as Steve Stoddard has claimed (although you, Rabbi, do not), and if it is a mental event as natural as others, then why is it not preceded by another act of will?

      • Moshe,

        You seem to be making the crucial error of believing that free will depends on your “IDOL” (God, the supernatural, etc.) somehow infusing an unnatural “soul” into our natural bodies.

        The reality is that nothing supernatural, whether “God,” the “soul,” or whatever, actually exists.

        Free will is simply a perfectly natural capability of 100% natural human beings. It makes no sense to follow your method for throwing out reality in order to “save your soul.”

      • What you don’t seem to get, Rabbi, is this: the idea of free will implies you can break free of your brain and make decisions independent of its firings. So yes, that has been disproven, with a brain scanner.

        • “the idea of free will implies you can break free of your brain and make decisions independent of its firings.”

          That is incorrect.

          The idea of free will means that you can choose to use your brain — or choose not to make the effort.

          It would have made as much sense if you claimed that “the idea of free will implies that you can break free of your heart and make decisions even if you are dead.”

          • I get what you’re saying, Steve, but claiming the brain does not make our decisions is part of what neuroscientists try to disprove when disucssing free will. I heard second-hand about a study on this, will try to track it down if you are interested.

          • Amalie,

            I don’t think there is any doubt that the human brain is a necessary step in the evolution of volitional consciousness (i.e., free will), and that the brain is definitely involved when we think, perceive, make choices, etc.

            And to put the point poetically: God only knows how it all works — but it sure does work!

        • Amelie,
          Based on what you wrote,
          I don’t think you even understand what the argument is all about.

          • satan augustine

            Steve, please demonstrate how Amelie is mistaken, and not with a poorly though out analogy. I’d like to point out here that your definition of “Free Will” differs from that of Jerry Coyne’s Averick’s definition is obviously based on outdated dualistic nonsense.

            And Moshe, your unnecessary condescension towards Amelie is merely an example of your inability to form and defend an argument. Perhaps if you didn’t have all the goddy nonsense polluting your brain you’d be able to engage Amelie and others without resorting to ad hominems and personal attacks. The fact that you cannot see the sexism on display in your post just shows how far from reality you are and how deeply intoxicated and addled by your religion you are. ‘Tis a shame, there have been many reform and secular Jews who have expanded the boundaries of science and freethought. I guess that Orthodox Judaism manages to keep your brain straitjacketed and hopped up on reality denying enkephalins and neurotransmitters.

            The again, there is the possibility that you would be an unempathic, self-unconscious, self-absorbed, and willfully ignorant anus even without the religion.

            And there is no need to point out that I am personally, verbally attacking you in all of your phenomenally pompous, hateful, and stupid splendor.

            Word to the wise: do research that does not simply verify what you already believe, be open to information that may feel uncomfortable despite it’s truth. Do these things and think, genuinely think, before you post.

          • Then tell me how I am wrong, Rabbi. Your hit-and-run arguments contain no science. Which seems odd considering the topic.

  • Also, for what it’s worth, Rabbi Averick asks us to “Just meditate on the following: From the very moment of the Big Bang some 15,000,000,000 years ago; from the instant that time, space, matter, and energy came into being,…”

    It should be pointed out that the nutty notion of “the Big Bang as the origin of the universe” is as senseless as the nutty notion of a supernatural “IDOL” (“Intelligent Designer Of Life”).

  • I’m not sure how strictly Rabbi Averick’s newer posts override older ones, and I want to give him a chance to respond to some comments of mine from last week (8 Jan).

    Rabbi Averick wrote: “All Jews are part of the same nation, we are connected and responsible for each other whether we like it or not. I happen to like it very much.
    But that means when Jews, particularly orthodox who purport to represent the Torah act like gangsters, it humiliates us all, they are our family.”

    After I responded about that by saying that “like so many religious doctrines, it does not represent the most reasonable way to deal with people, viz., on their own merits (or demerits) as self-responsible individuals” — and also mentioning the correspondingly reasonable practice of raising children to be independent thinkers — Rabbi Averick came back with this nutty nonsense: “As with many of your comments, I find them incomprehensible. What does what I said have to do with raising children to be independent thinkers?

    So, I patiently explained that collective humiliation and responsibility are incompatible with independent thinking and self-responsibility. Collective responsibility is a vice, while independence, in thinking and responsibility, is a virtue.

    Basically, the ideology of collectivism is morally wrong in all its manifestations — while independent thinking and self-responsibility are proper.

    Interestingly, this is all because humans have free will.

  • Human volition is another of those things that is inescapably obvious. No one can honestly claim not to have free will.

  • Coyne is right that we don’t have a free will. I’ve produced and written over 50 half-hour episodes on the matter. It all boils down to reality being either causal (which it is) or random (an incoherent concept if taken to mean uncaused). Either possibility, nonetheless, prohibits free will.

    • Coyne is right that we don’t have a free will.

      Coyne is wrong about that point. Humans clearly have free will — otherwise the entire concept of “being right or being wrong” would not even exist.

      Remember, it is only because of human volition that people ever have disagreements — or agreements. Free will boils down to the choice to think or not — and that’s where the whole issue of agreement and disagree arises. If people couldn’t think (i.e., didn’t have free will), then they could never think differently (or the same).

      • What absolute rubbish. Free will is the view that your views and opinions are not determined by anything. That not being the case has no impact on the ability of humans to have disagreements. People do not have free will, but they do have beliefs, and it is on the basis of beliefs that people act and have disagreements. Free will is simply an unnecessary, unnaturalistic way of looking at the extremely complex (but deterministic) process of acting.

        “If people couldn’t think (i.e., didn’t have free will), then they could never think differently (or the same).”

        Perhaps you haven’t thought much about this issue – that much seems apparent – but thinking is clearly not identical to free will. It is not necessary to have free will in order to be able to think. If you wish to pursue this bizarre line of argumentation, then perhaps you should try justifying your view that thinking requires free will first.

        • “It is not necessary to have free will in order to be able to think.”

          Try to think without choosing something to think about, how to think about it, what information to consider relevant and what information to consider not so relevant, without choosing to try hard for clear thinking, or not to bother to try too hard, etc.

          Absent free will, you would have to accept whatever ideas just happened to find their way mysteriously into your mind — and such a process is manifestly NOT thinking.

        • “People do not have free will, but they do have beliefs,…”

          What good do you suppose it does people to have “beliefs” if they cannot choose to think about them — and change them if the evidence warrants?

          If you were helpless about what you believed, why would you be willing to act on any of your beliefs without knowing whether or not they were appropriate to the circumstances? Do you believe that people are unable to care what happens when they act — or that caring about anything is simply irrelevant?

          • You do not will to act on your beliefs. You keep on making fatal flaws in your argumentation. In this case, it is a logical error known as Ryle’s regress. If thought requires an act of will, then surely that act of will, itself a mental event, requires an act of will. And that too requires an act of will. And that one, and that one too. And so on, ad infinitum.

            And once you have beliefs, you can’t not act on them. For instance, if I believe that it is raining on my head (see how the gap from perception to belief can be rather narrow?), and I also believe that it would be bad if my head were to get wet because of the date I’ve got this evening (for instance), then I will simply move out of the way of the rain, if possible. If I see a television falling from a window to land on my head, and I do not wish to die, then I will move. The gap between instinct and intention is not very wide at all; what matters is the sheer number of variables included in the judgement, that’s all. And that I can only use simplistic cases to illustrate it does not mean that it doesn’t apply when there are far more variables involved.

            And no, caring about things is not irrelevant, and clearly you need to do more reading on this subject. There are thousands of books and articles on the philosophy of action. You could make a start with Davidson, and also try Dennett’s “The Intentional Stance”. No, it’s not specifically about free will. Give it a try. You need it.

            Also, Gilbert Ryle. Just go forth and read, because your arguments are naive and ridiculous.

          • Al West explains his belief that ‘You do not will to act on your beliefs.’

            Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, you are free to choose, to decide what you will do.

            ‘You keep on making fatal flaws in your argumentation. In this case, it is a logical error known as Ryle’s regress. If thought requires an act of will, then surely that act of will, itself a mental event, requires an act of will. And that too requires an act of will. And that one, and that one too. And so on, ad infinitum.’

            The fatal flaw in the notion of “Ryle’s regress” is is invalid assumption that if some mental actions require and act of will, then all mental actions necessarily require an act of will.

            If Ryle were paying attention, he would see that acts of will are very limited in scope — and cannot possibly depend on an infinite regress.

        • Free will is the view that your views and opinions are not determined by anything.

          No, free will (aka volition) is the view that your views can be determined by you — if you choose to be rational (instead of a zombie).

  • Now we await Moshe’s explanation of free will.

    Somehow I think the wait will be as long as the wait for the ID “explanation” of all of the apparent evolutionary limitations of life.

  • Once again Mushe, you are not understanding science or how it works.

    On the good news front you’re finally starting to bore me.

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