Friday, May 15, 2020

Bishop excoriated for free will belief

I often attack physicists who preach some mystical view of the world, but I should also credit non-scientists who are completely rational. Here is evolution professor Jerry Coyne's latest rant:
Yesterday, reader Neil called my attention to a particularly galling homily given yesterday by the Right Reverend Dr. David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester. It especially irked me because it was about free will—his idea that we have it in the libertarian form. ...

Walker rejects determinism, claiming that if we have no “choice” whether or not to commit an offense (i.e., the future is preordained), then humans beings “have no moral responsibility for what we do.” ...

Now you may try to tortuously parse the good Reverend’s words to say what he really means is a compatibilistic free will that, deep down, accept determinism of our actions. But I think you’d be dead wrong, for Walker states at the outset that he clearly rejects the mathematically-based determinism of science. No, he’s talking about pure libertarian free will—the kind that his sheep accept.

I’m surprised that, in a country where—although there’s a state church—Christianity is on a precipitous decline, the BBC still emits a “thought for the day” that is invariably religious. Seriously, my UK friends, why does this persist? ...

Sorry, but I can’t happily ignore it. Broadcasting it would be illegal in the U.S. You can happily ignore it, but I’m afraid that I’m not in that boat with you. It enables faith and religion and stupidity. It’s just as if they had an “astrology of the day” thought!
I listened to the podcast, and I cannot find any fault with it. It is consistent with our best scientific theories.

Free will is a philosophical question, so I don't mind if Coyne has a different opinion from mine. But he goes farther, and seeks to censor alternate views, under the guise of purging unscientific thought.

I believe in free will, as I believe that personal experience in favor of it is compelling. If science had somehow proved determinism, I would have to reconsider, but the evidence is just the opposite. All the scientific evidence is against determinism.

Free will is essential to Christian ideas about moral responsibility, and to scientific underpinnings of experimentalism.

The determinist objectors to free will tend to degenerate into discussions like this:
{Responsive comment] To be fair to him, it’s not as though the Bishop could have chosen NOT to believe in libertarian free will.

[Coyne] And I could not have chosen not to excoriate him.

[Another comment] cannot argue with that…even if I so desired.
In my opinion, this is just philosophical silliness, and doesn't address what the Bishop said.

1 comment:

  1. 1. Funny, but here is how Scott's class on QC at Waterloo had voted, back in 2006:

    Free Will: 6. Machines: 5. Abstained \approx Both (but their numbers were not reported).

    In the same lecture, Scott also reported that earlier in Preskill's group at CalTech, the Machine had won, seven-to-five.

    Recently, Scott also said (at

    ``Let’s put it this way: do you find it plausible that the quantum computer from `Devs,' had you booted it up six months ago, would've known the exact state of every nucleotide in every virus in every bat in Wuhan? No? Then it wouldn’t have known our future.''

    But he was talking about the *unpredictability* of machines, not about the free-will as such.

    Scott, I think, has been searching for the right way to put it, a *positive* statement about free-will.


    2. Let me repeat what I said in a comment at your blog recently. (Guess this time, the words are coming out in a slightly better form. Happens.):

    Free-Will = Determination by a living, conscious individual.

    Determinism = Determination by laws governing the physical aspects of things (inanimate as well as animate).

    Both obey the law of identity.


    3. All in all, it's unfortunate that (i) so many STEM people *today* can deny free-will so easily (which was not always the case), and (ii) so few outside of religion are willing to defend it.

    I do appreciate the fact that many religious people are quick to point out or uphold free-will. A good action, but it does not always provide for great grounds, to be used in the debates, because religions differ from each other on so many other points (including relatively minor ones such as the prescribed diet, superiority of one religion over others, and all that). Further, positions of religions are not very consistent. Religions only are consistent to the extent that they have allowed themselves to be informed by better intellectual positions.

    So, the trouble here is, since atheists are often vocal intellectuals, and since they also tend to be *against* *any* thing coming from *any* religion, it only worsens the situation, esp. for the newbies.

    Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to jot down thoughts.