Here he quibbles with physicist Sean M. Carroll over free will:
Lack of information simply means we cannot perfectly predict how we or anybody else will do, but it doesn’t say that what we’ll do isn’t determined in advance by physical laws. Unpredictability does not undermine determinism. And therefore, if you realize that, I don’t know how you can assert that “it’s completely conceivable that we could have acted differently.” ...So why is he saying what ppl should do if no one has any choice about it?
What I would have added to this is that nobody who downloads child pornography is in control of his actions, at least in the sense that they could have avoided downloading the pornography. I’m sure Sean would agree. Whether you have a brain tumor, some other cause of hypersexuality, were abused yourself as a child, were mentally ill in a way with no clear physical diagnosis, or simply have been resistant to social pressures to avoid that kind of stuff — all of this is determined by your genes and your environment. ...
But what does predictability have to do with this? We already know that people are not freely acting agents in the sense that they are free from deterministic control by their brains. We already know that people are predestined. ...
I’ve already given my solution to this issue. We recognize that, at bottom, nobody could have done otherwise. If they are accused of something that society deems to be a crime, you find out if they really did commit that crime. If they’re found guilty, then a group of experts — scientists, psychologists, sociologists criminologists, etc. — determine what the “punishment” should be based on the person’s history (a brain tumor would mandate an operation, for instance), malleability to persuasion, likelihood of recidivism, danger to society, and deterrent effects. None of that needs the assumption that someone is a “freely acting agent.”
I know many of you will disagree on that, or on the ramifications of determinism for our punishment and reward system. But at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that Sean agrees with me on this: if science shows the way our behaviors are determined, that knowledge should affect the way we punish and reward people.
How can he distinguish between predictability and determinism, if no science experiment can make that distinction? What sense does it make to say something is determined, if there is no conceivable empirical way of making that prediction?
Coyne is pretty good on some evolution-related science that is closer to his expertise, but on subjects like this, I do not see how he is any more scientific than the religious believers he attacks.
Our most fundamental laws of physics are not deterministic. And even if they were, they would not be so predictable as to predict ppl's free choices.
Many theists believe in a God that is all-knowing. Most Christians believe that God gives us free will to make our own choices. Coyne mocks all of this, but he believes in some unobservable force or system that determines everything we do.
I am beginning to think that if a man says that he is driven by voices in his head, I should just believe him. Ditto for demons in his head, or any other equivalent. That is, I choose to believe him.
For more from Carroll, listen to this recent lecture:
Sean Carroll discusses whether space and gravity could emerge from quantum entanglement -- and rewrites physics in terms of quantum circuits.