Posted on Jan 3, 2012 by Tom Gilson
Predictably, at his own website the Thinking Christian says that the assumption of natural laws that absolutely determine our choices is an unjustified a priori conclusion, not supported by science itself. (Nope, it’s a conclusion based on experience.)
I’m disappointed that he didn’t notice what I wrote about that. I’ll try again. First, in a paragraph beginning “Now, certainly those laws,” I dispensed with the obvious. No one would claim that they have universal and exhaustive experience to support the claim that natural laws are absolutely determinative.
From there I moved on to conclude that he drew his conclusion by induction, and then I asked two questions, probing whether that inductive inference was justifiable. Coyne wrote today, “Nope, it’s a conclusion based on experience.” That’s exactly what I said it was: and then I said it was a conclusion that was not adequately supported by experience, which is to say (for this is virtually synonymous in this case) it’s not supported by science itself, to borrow Coyne’s terminology.
Coyne has no answer to that in today’s response, other than “Nope.” I find that, shall we say, somewhat lacking in cogency.
I did not use the terminology of “unjustified a priori conclusion.” The combination of terms there is oxymoronic: properly speaking, an a priori conclusion is one that is necessarily true. What I said instead was that Coyne had jumped to a conclusion based on something other than science and experience generally speaking, for science and experience generally speaking do not support the conclusion that natural law must be inviolable.
From there Coyne jumped to the end of my blog article, passing right by the the several fallacies in reasoning that I had identified in his USAToday column (not to mention others mentioned by commenters on that thread). I’m surprised that part didn’t bother him more. He’s an advisory board member at Project Reason. It seems to me that a project with that name ought to involve a commitment to sound reason. I didn’t see Coyne demonstrating that commitment in his USAToday piece, and I don’t see it in his answer today, either.
This is not the first time I’ve wondered whether Project Reason is more about PR than it is about reality. I would say the same about the New Atheists generally speaking: they talk about reason a lot, but they don’t pay much attention to how one moves validly through a rational argument from start to finish.
Dr. Coyne objects to my charge that he gives up humanness on the way to his denial of free will:
I’m not giving up humans: we exist, we have feelings, we interact with each other, and we act in the world, and those acts have effect. All I deny is that we can, at any moment, behave in any way different from what we did.
Of course we have existence, feelings, actions, effects. Nothing Coyne said puts that in doubt. Still, he denies free will, which goes straight to the heart of what I wrote yesterday, and which he seems not to have wanted to address today:
For a being who cannot choose is not, as Aristotle described us, a rational animal. Such a being bears no resemblance to anything the ages and the sages have considered human.
He closes his response to me with this:
If that makes me “sacrifice” humanness, then so be it. I doubt that anyone who knows me would suggest that I am less than human or treat others that way. And I deny free will—at least the contracausal form—on the basis of science, not atheism.
I categorically do not consider Jerry Coyne less than human. No belief of his, whether right or wrong, could change the essence of what and who he is. That wasn’t my point. My point was that his convictions are anti-human.
But he cannot live that way. He tells us he is convinced humans cannot make free choices, while insisting (correctly) that in his actions he is not “less than human.” All this means is that he remains incorrigibly, intractably human, even though actually being human in that way contradicts his convictions about humanness.
Thus Coyne demonstrates one consequence of deterministic naturalism as an ideology: one cannot live consistently with what one says one believes. The naturalists say that’s okay: we just need to accept that our apparent humanness, expressed in freedom to make decisions, is an illusion. I think it makes more sense to accept our humanness as real instead. That solves an awful lot of problems for us. There’s one major problem it doesn’t solve, however: humanness of that sort entails that deterministic naturalism be false. If deterministic naturalism is false, then theism might be true. For some people, that’s a problem. If only they understood how good God is.