August 30, 2005

DETERMINED TO ESCAPE RESPONSIBILITY:

Prof Denies Human Free Will (Julie Geng, 8/30/05, Cornell Daily Sun)

In the midst of a heated national debate about intelligent design and evolution, Prof. William Provine, ecology and evolutionary biology, tackled the question head-on in a discussion attended by over 60 students, faculty and Ithacan community members last night. Sponsored by the Bioethics Society of Cornell, the lecture, titled “Evolution and Intelligent Design: The Implications for Human Free Will” covered topics including Darwinism, the origin of moral responsibility, the social need to assign blame and reductionism.

“I was a vocal opponent to I.D. [intelligent design] even before [the movement] began,” Provine said at the opening. [...]

“Choosing doesn’t imply free will,” he said. “Choices are not made freely — there are all kinds of constraints on it.” In an attempt to discredit the view that lack of free will would “lead society into a downward spiral,” Provine argued that without free will there would be no means of blaming people for their actions. “Blame is useless,” he said. “It just creates a horrible system of criminal justice.”

He added that if society recognized the absence of free will, society would ultimately be much kinder to its less fortunate.

“I hated the idea of human free will,” Provine added. He also argued that humans mostly provide their own moral guidance, and that “ultimate moral responsibility is nonexistent.” He admitted, “Free will is the hardest [preconception] … to give up.”
Though it's always implicit, you rarely hear Darwinists be so explicit that their philosophy is just an attempt to escape morality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 30, 2005 11:26 AM
Comments

Meme theory proponents like Blackmore have been on about this for ages but nobody really believes that free will dosen't exist - if I were an immoral man I could prove to them that they don't really believe it - nothing new here.

Posted by: Shelton at August 30, 2005 11:51 AM

I guess the good professor does not have any children, because anyone who has had regular contact with a two-year-old knows that there is too such a thing as free will, big time.

/high pitched voice/ NOOOOOO!!!!!! /high pitched voice/

Posted by: Mikey at August 30, 2005 12:00 PM

Once more we see another product on the road to bankruptcy in the marketplace of ideas. The vast majority of human beings intuitively grasp the existence of free will. Among the tiny minority who assert that they do not so hold, another vast majority behave as though free will were true.

We should welcome the opportunities presented when pagan thoughts crawl out from under the rocks, for they cannot stand the light of day. Go ahead, pagans, keep telling people that we should not punish criminals becauase there is no free will.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 30, 2005 12:18 PM

Fate is so cruel. Professor Provine can't help himself play the fool.

Posted by: at August 30, 2005 12:20 PM

Yes, but Free Will is irreconcilable with Darwinism.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 12:21 PM

OJ: What was it you were saying yesterday about authors being the prototype they decry?

Posted by: David Cohen at August 30, 2005 12:34 PM

Human free will is central to Christianity.

Posted by: Gideon at August 30, 2005 12:41 PM

He added that if society recognized the absence of free will, society would ultimately be much kinder to its less fortunate.

You can argue what you want about free will, it is an unprovable philosophical question. But you have to be truly ignorant to give any creedence to the above statement. By equating criminals with the "less fortunate", he is ignoring all of those less fortunate who abide by the laws in spite of their condition. These are the less fortunate who will suffer terribly under a blanket amnesty program for criminals.

Every college professor should be required to ride in a police car for at least one summer.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 30, 2005 12:45 PM

Robert:

Willfully ignorant.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 12:50 PM

Robert: Not to mention that he is absolutely clueless about what we would do to criminals if we were convinced that they had no choice, and thus no chance of rehabilitation.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 30, 2005 1:08 PM

He wouldn't "do" anything--it would be done.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 1:15 PM

If we are totally free, does that mean that God did not, and does not, interfere in the evolutionary process? If all life is free, than how do you explain divine intervention?

Posted by: Keith at August 30, 2005 1:27 PM

The only rational opinion to have about free will is that it exists. It is a necessary assumption, you can't function without it. He can deny it in theory, but he makes decisions everyday based on it's assumed existence.

My theory is very practical. If you act like you have free will, then you have free will.

I find it doubtful that Prof Provine would forgive George W Bush or Donald Rumsfeld for their unwilled actions.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 30, 2005 1:28 PM

First, define "free will." Then you'll know if you have it. I think of it as moral responsibility for my actions, and I wasn't so much born with it as it was thrust upon me.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 30, 2005 1:49 PM

The vaunted scientific mind at work, I hated the idea of human free will, Provine added." so he naturally declared that it doesn't exist.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 30, 2005 1:54 PM

Keith:

Evolution stopped with us.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 2:16 PM

Robert:

That's not rational, but irrational. Though true.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 2:21 PM

Broccoloi doesn't exist - and neither do squash and spinach.

Posted by: obc at August 30, 2005 2:32 PM

David: Not only that, but if there's no free will, then I have no choice but to punish those whom I punish, whether it was their fault or not.

If there's no free will, I have no choice but to believe as I do that there is free will.

Posted by: John Newquist at August 30, 2005 2:36 PM

It's pragmatic, which is not the same as rationalistic but not oj's truculent antirationalism either. You've dipped a toe in some deep chilly waters, Robert.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 30, 2005 2:44 PM

Joe:

Pragmatism is irrational as well--each of us has his own version.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 2:51 PM

No, it's antirationalistic but not irrational. It makes use of the tool but neither worships it or demonises it.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 30, 2005 3:03 PM

Note that Provine is a friendly sparring partner of Phil Johnson, the law professor-cum-antievolutionist. Until Johnson's stroke a few years back, they'd have debates at university symposia, etc. - but always on a friendly level.

As far as free will goes, simply asking if Provine freely chose his belief in Determinism should be enough to give him pause, if he has any respect for logic.

Clarence Darrow defended thrill-killers Leopold & Loeb on the grounds they were products of evolution and determinism, and not responsible for their crimes. That defense contains a subtle asymmetry, because it asks the jury (actually judge, in that particular case) to assume *it* has free will and can be persuaded by Darrow's arguments, but the defendant does not have free will.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at August 30, 2005 3:07 PM

Funny then how the pragmatic application of reason always arrives at personal preference.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 3:08 PM

I see John Newquist anticipated my Clarence Darrow critique...

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at August 30, 2005 3:08 PM

It is pre-rational. It is a basic assumption upon which to conduct rational thought, a pre-condition. Rational thought is not possible without it.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 30, 2005 3:13 PM

ERP/OJ -

Regarding the personal preference:

"I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning, consequently assumed it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption . . The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do . .."

Julian Huxley

Not coincidentally, grandson of Thomas Huxley.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at August 30, 2005 3:13 PM

Robert:

Yes, by making certain assumptions we premise rationalism on irrational grounds. It's an exquisite irony, though not to putative rationalists.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 3:33 PM

As always, Dawkins puts the Darwinian position honestly:

God's Utility Function (Richard Dawkins, Scientific American)

http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/2002/12/darwinists_vs_free_will.html

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A. E. Housman put it:

For nature, heartless, witless nature
Will neither care not know

DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 3:39 PM

OJ - You didnt answer my question. I agree evolution stopped with us, but if we are truly free, then the whole God shaping natural history sorta flies out the window? Unless you think 'he' kind of pulled his hands back as soon as he saw he created humans?

And the rest of you guys are really missing the point. If you aren't aware of the forces that shape your actions, then you might go through your whole life thinking you're free. Most people don't stop to question what they believe, they merely take their preconceived notions of their culture as definite conclusions from which they act. People are free, but to choose amongst a limited number of choices.
Philosophers like Foucault have worked to show how modern power is based on selling people the myth of freedom while disciplining them into controlling themselves. Of course, I know that names like Foucault should not be mentioned in these parts lest I chance the same kind of insults that comes with dropping names like Chomsky, Zinn, Roy, Said, Derrida.

Posted by: Keith at August 30, 2005 3:43 PM

Darwin too was forthright about his philosophy being a mere reaction to the presence of evil in the world:

With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.--I am bewildered.--I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me .... But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I have probably shown by this letter.

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2001/PSCF9-01Miles.html

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 3:46 PM

Keith:

He tossed us out into Creation after we biffed in the Garden.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 3:47 PM

No, the application of personal preference always arrives at personal preference. You're making the same mistake Huxley did -- ascribing magical powers to reason -- before he corrected himeself.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 30, 2005 3:51 PM

Exactly.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 3:57 PM

Keith--

But even Foucault acted as if he did have unlimited choice. Pretty hard to reconcile the interviews in Foucault Live with History of Sexuality.

Of course Foucault embarrassed himself also by his alliance with Khomeini, whose nature he completely misunderstood--just as his followers today are perfectly happy to provide intellectual justification for Islamism.

Posted by: at August 30, 2005 4:06 PM

Yes, the universe provides no justice or pity, that is why we have to provide these qualities. Justice is a human concern, the universe cares not whether we succeed or fail.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 30, 2005 4:12 PM

Anonymous - I don't understand you.

Oj and Joe - I don't understand your answer. Coulf you clarify?

Posted by: Keith at August 30, 2005 4:13 PM

Keith:

God doesn't shape history--He left it to us.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 4:16 PM

Robert:

We are point of the Universe.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 4:17 PM

So, why do you have objections to Natural Selection?

Posted by: Keith at August 30, 2005 4:20 PM

How do you explain variations in living organisms; which is essentially what Darwin was out to accomplish when he stumbled upon some greater ideas.

Posted by: Keith at August 30, 2005 4:23 PM

Keith:

Because it doesn't work and Creation isn't random.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 4:24 PM

Keith -

So we don't have free will because we aren't omnipotent and omniscient?

Its not your name dropping but rather your statements like this:

Most people don't stop to question what they believe...

that lead me to dismiss you quickly. Such condescension is the hallmark of leftist intellectual dishonesty. If you can't convince your opponents to abandon their beliefs, their traditions, their judgments, and understandings, its not because your ideas are failures, but because your opponents just arent smart enough or open minded enough to understand you. Everyone I have ever spoken with in depth has questioned their beliefs. Most of us are constantly grappling with our notions philosophy, religion, faith, and politics; and everyone changes. And Im well aware of what shapes my actions and molds my spirit. Why is it that the human condition is so constrictive that it assigns false beliefs to all of humanity except for leftist thinkers, who are somehow immune to all these invisible forces that shape human belief? Are they supermen? Or are their ideas just as arbitrary, shaped by forces that they have yet to fathom?

Leaving that aside didnt Foucault believe in total free will? It seems that you have missed the point of the article. Dr. Provine doesnt believe that free will exists at all I would think that Provine and Foucault have opposite beliefs about human free will.

Posted by: Shelton at August 30, 2005 4:43 PM

What Shelton said. Especially his distinction between "total free will" and "no free will at all." That very reasonable continuum opens up any number of plausible theories.

To deny the power of human consciousness, as Professor Provine seems inclined to do, is silly sophistry. Any number of "higher" mammals have more will-power ... more ability to choose ... than he is willing to ascribe to humans.

Posted by: ghostcat at August 30, 2005 5:24 PM

Keith: briefly, oj is a somewhat truculent antirationalist. He blames Reason, the modern political movement and fighting faith that comes down to us via the Enlightenment, French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, October Revolution and scientific revolution, for the modern world's lack of Christian faith, low birth rate, fallen arches and bad breath. This is an orthodox theoconservative view, and I do not dispute that where once was Christianity now there is Reason. We do disagree on cause and effect however. The quote from Huxley is Huxley realizing that reason really doesn't have as much power as he thought it did. OJ is Huxley before the clue bat.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 30, 2005 5:53 PM

joe:

It had enough power to ruin Europe. But who cares. Islam will restore its glory.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2005 7:28 PM

Islam restore glory? Like the glory that exemplifies the Muslim world today? You really see religion as a universal panacea, don't you?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 31, 2005 12:20 PM

No, Islam without the modernity that's ruined it as well as the West.

Posted by: at August 31, 2005 12:59 PM

OJ: you wrote: "Free Will is irreconcilable with Darwinism."

It doesn't seem that way to me. Darwinism is based on random chance. This seems perfectly incompatable with fixed decrees, and more suited to free choice.

Keith: It was really Adorno, but who cares. As Shelton explained, false consciouness thgeories are mere leftist arrogance. The opinions of diseased froggie commies to the contrary notwithstanding, of course we have constraints, we are, after all, finite beings, but within those constrains we must make choices about how we treat each other. Those are the moral choices we make every day.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2005 2:36 PM

Robert:

Saying that makes you more likely to win a mate.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2005 2:51 PM

"Yes, but Free Will is irreconcilable with Darwinism."

True free will, sure, but then again true free will is also irreconcilable with you. Have you ever exercised true free will in your life? Or have all your actions been those one would expect of a standard issue homo sapiens, growing, learning, seeking to reproduce etc.?

Posted by: creeper at August 31, 2005 8:26 PM

"Evolution stopped with us."

No, it only happens to find us as we are at this point in time, because this is the present; time does not stand still and the future yet lies ahead. To believe that we are the pinnacle and even the goal of all creation is the height of arrogance.

Posted by: creeper at August 31, 2005 8:32 PM

Sure, it could be a coincidence that evolution became completely static only once Man got here, but God tells us otherwise and arguing with Him would be arrogant.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2005 8:56 PM

creeper:

Much of what we do demonstrates that exercise of the will trumps biological determinism.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2005 10:07 PM

We are looking at far too short a time span to be able to conclude that "evolution is completely stagnant".

"Much of what we do demonstrates that exercise of the will trumps biological determinism."

Yeah, right. You exercise free will only within a fairly narrow set of options, which just happen to fall under the behavior you would expect from your basic homo sapiens. Flatter yourself that you're above it all as much as you want, but you're not really breaking free from your human, biological self.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2005 2:53 AM

Free will is just about the trickiest, most maddeningly insoluble problem in philosophy. And that's the case whether you're an atheist darwinist, a Creationist Bible-basher or indeed, anything in between.

Posted by: Brit at September 1, 2005 4:29 AM

It's not tricky at all--no one disbelieves.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2005 8:20 AM

creeper:

Of course, the unique stasis is pure coincidence.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2005 8:32 AM

Nobody much disbelieves, true, but actually trying to show it really does exist is a devil of a job.

Posted by: Brit at September 1, 2005 10:12 AM

Only rationally and philosophy has never been ab;le to show that reason is anything more than a function of faith. You guys just have the cart before the ass.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2005 10:23 AM

Orrin,

what "unique stasis" are you talking about?

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2005 10:27 AM

Look around you.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2005 10:33 AM

"Look around you."

How on Earth do you think that amounts to "unique stasis"?

Do I take it that you haven't thought this through, and can't actually back up this "unique stasis" claim of yours? You might as well admit it now.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2005 11:12 AM

creeper:

Darwinism posits continual change, indeed requires it to get from one celled organisms to today. Yet nothing changes.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2005 12:01 PM

1. No, the theory of evolution does not posit a constant rate of change, which is where you consistently go wrong on this. I'm pretty sure this has been pointed out to you before, more than once.

2. How do you expect us to see, in the course of one human lifetime, whether humans are evolving right now? It takes quite a few generations for evolution to become perceptible.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2005 12:28 PM

not constant, but some. There's never been any observed in human history. A convenient pause that.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2005 12:31 PM

1. Where does the theory of evolution state that change has to occur in every generation? Especially large populations tend to evolve slowly or not at all, while change occurs quicker in smaller, isolated populations, which can then impact the larger population via the founder effect. Not seeing breakneck evolution from one generation to the next right now is hardly a suspicious pause - it is simply utterly unremarkable - nor is it unique. It is what we would expect to see according to the theory of evolution.

2. Human history is an incredibly short time as regards the time scales that are dealt with in evolutionary biology. Still, we have observed evolution, say from Australopithecus to modern man. And don't come telling us again that short people or kids have skulls like Australopithecus.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2005 12:46 PM

"Where does the theory of evolution state that change has to occur in every generation?"

And before you jump on this: change here refers to the population, not the individual. Naturally we will see great variation in the phenotype.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2005 12:48 PM

So, we're agreed that it is a period of stasis. After that it's just a matter where some people have faith that the stasis is coincidental and some think it purposeful.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2005 12:56 PM

"So, we're agreed that it is a period of stasis."

Are we agreed that this is neither remarkable nor unique, and entirely what one would expect to see in a large interbreeding population according to the theory of evolution?

Coincidental has nothing to do with it, since it is so common.

Purposeful - well that is a matter of your faith, I suppose. If you insist on believing that you are the pinnacle of creation, knock yourself out.

To anyone else reading this, the links from my previous comment were not put there by me, but by Orrin, without being properly attributed.

Posted by: creeper at September 1, 2005 1:14 PM

No, of course it's unique. Indeed, if you read some of the philosophy of biology you'd see that the theory has nearly died out at least two or three times because the stasis is so deadly to it. Even Darwin despaired that he couldn't find any examples and Mayr just accepted that we wouldn't. The past couple times it was saved by hoaxes--Piltdown and Peppered Moths--but the zeitgeist has shifted so much that it seems unlikely to survive this one. A paradigm shift is underway and you guys are just unfortunate enough to be stranded riding the last one.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2005 4:08 PM

"No, of course it's unique."

Based on...? Zip. How on Earth can you state that it is unique?

"Indeed, if you read some of the philosophy of biology you'd see that the theory has nearly died out at least two or three times because the stasis is so deadly to it."

Why would I turn to reading about the philosophy of biology to find out about this? Do you still not get the distinction between biology and philosophy of biology?

What you call stasis is not deadly to the theory of evolution at all. It is part of the theory of evolution that large interbreeding populations will evolve slowly or not at all, while small, isolated populations will evolve faster, and may impact on the larger population later on via the founder effect.

"Even Darwin despaired that he couldn't find any examples and Mayr just accepted that we wouldn't."

Of what, stasis? Link?

"The past couple times it was saved by hoaxes--Piltdown and Peppered Moths--but the zeitgeist has shifted so much that it seems unlikely to survive this one."

As long as there is no actual challenge to the theory of evolution (either in the form of a falsification or an alternative scientific theory) and the theory finds itself confirmed by scientific work being done every day, there is no reason why the theory should not grow stronger all the time, let along "not survive".

Even you, who seems utterly determined to knock the theory, can't come up with any serious objection to it that doesn't rest on some fundamental misrepresentation or dishonesty.

"A paradigm shift is underway and you guys are just unfortunate enough to be stranded riding the last one."

There are no significant challenges to the theory of evolution, and the trend is toward increasing acceptance of the theory, not away from it.

Posted by: creeper at September 2, 2005 12:41 AM

creeper:

Yes, biology can be reproduced in the lab. Darwinism, a philosophy of biology, is a historical narrative based on cocepts and not subject to observation or experiment, which follows no laws, unlike the other kinds of science.

Darwinism won't be dirsproven nor will it change--people will just stop having faith in it and it will be because the ideas that dominate the culture have changed. That's how paradigms shift.

Posted by: oj at September 2, 2005 7:04 AM

"Darwinism, a philosophy of biology,"

Darwinism is not the same as "a philosophy of biology". Try to get that straight, will you?

"Darwinism won't be dirsproven nor will it change--people will just stop having faith in it and it will be because the ideas that dominate the culture have changed. That's how paradigms shift."

Like I said, there are no scientific challenges to the theory of evolution, it is being confirmed on an ongoing basis, and the trend is toward acceptance of the theory, not away from it.

Posted by: creeper at September 2, 2005 7:43 AM

It's a philosophy, not a science, so the challenges are philosophical.

Posted by: oj at September 2, 2005 8:29 AM
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