Monday, April 12, 2010

Honest Science

Scientific American: Scientists say free will probably doesn't exist, but urge: "Don't stop believing!"

Silly scientists.
(a) Telling us to believe in something that they cannot demonstrate or explain and
(b) actually do not think is even real.

That's worse than theists! At most we are guilty of (a), but not (b).

Of all the things with which you could fill in the blank: Without God there is no [blank], one of the hardest things for atheists to address is free will.

Morality? Altruism? Evolved, evolved, next question?

Free will?

<<crickets chirping>>

There is no scientific explanation possible for free will. True free will, if it exists, is inherently supernatural. By its very definition it involves circumventing nature. The universe's differential equation is leading you to perform action A, but you rise up against nature's next time-step and choose B instead.

Hey nature, you didn't see that one coming didja?, you dumb old broad!

There is no way out for science. Free will is supernatural. All science can ever say is that there is no free will, it is only an illusion. And they are are usually loath to admit it.

Which leads them into quagmires of Vietnam proportions. Consider this blurb from the Scientific American article.
A middle-aged man hires a prostitute, knowingly exposing his wife to a sexually transmitted infection and exploiting a young drug addict for his own pleasure. Should the man be punished somehow for his transgression? Should we hold him accountable? Most people, I’d wager, wouldn’t hesitate to say “yes” to both questions.

But what if you thought about it in the following slightly different, scientific terms? The man’s decision to have sex with this woman was in accordance with his physiology at that time, which had arisen as a consequence of his unique developmental experiences, which occurred within a particular cultural environment in interaction with a particular genotype, which he inherited from his particular parents, who inherited genetic variants of similar traits from their own particular parents, ad infinitum. Even his ability to inhibit or “override” these forces, or to understand his own behavior, is the product itself of these forces! What’s more, this man’s brain acted without first consulting his self-consciousness; rather, his neurocognitive system enacted evolved behavioral algorithms that responded, either normally or in error, in ways that had favored genetic success in the ancestral past.

Given the combination of these deterministic factors, could the man have responded any other way to the stimuli that he was confronted with? Attributing personal responsibility to this sap becomes merely a social convention that reflects only a naive understanding of the causes of his behaviors.

It is even worse. The man could not choose otherwise, so we should not judge him. But we who judge him must judge him, in accordance with our physiology, which has arisen as a consequence of our unique developmental experiences, which occurred within our particular cultural environment in interaction with our particular genotype. Not only that, the writer had to question whether we should judge him, and the editors of Scientific American had to publish his paper, and I had to write about it, and you had to read about it.

After all is said and done what does science say? There is no free will, but don't stop believing. The incongruity of such a position is mind boggling.

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