Monday, January 31, 2022

Your Life may be Determined by Luck

Anyone who writes on human genetics gets accused of eugenics, as it is hard to avoid the fact that some genes are associated with favorable outcomes. Kathryn Paige Harden wrote a book last year on the subject, and tried to insulate herself from criticism by filling it with arguments about working towards greater equity.

Evolutionist Jerry Coyne reviewed it, but now regrets that he skipped his view that determinism negates much of what she says.

He prefers the term "naturalism" to mean that we have no free will, with all our choices being determined by genetics, physics, and other external causes. Once he accepted naturalism, there is no point in debating choices, as it is all determined like clockwork.

Here is what he meant to write:

Harden’s motivation for using genetic differences to engineer equality comes from the fact that those differences are a matter of luck: the vagaries of how genes sort themselves out during egg and sperm formation. It’s unfair, she says, to base social justice on randomly distributed genes: “People are in fact more likely to support [wealth] redistribution when they see inequalities as stemming from lucky factors over which people have no control than when they see inequalities as stemming from choice.” [p. 206]

But is there really “choice”? Like many scientists and philosophers, I’m a determinist who rejects the idea of free will—at least the kind that maintains that there is something more to behavior than the inescapable consequences of your genetic and environmental history as well the possible indeterminate (quantum) laws of nature. In this pervasive view, at any one moment you could have chosen to do something other than what you did.

But there’s no evidence for this kind of free will, which would defy the laws of physics by enabling us to mystically control the workings of our neurons.  No inequalities stem from “free choice” and so everyone’s life results from factors over which they have no control, be they genetic or environmental.

Harden actually admits this dilemma: “If you think the universe is deterministic, and the existence of free will is incompatible with a deterministic outcome, and free will is an illusion, then genetics doesn’t have anything to add to the conversation. Genetics is just a tiny corner of the universe where we have worked out a little bit of the larger deterministic chain.”  [p. 200] And with that statement she pushes her whole program into that tiny corner.

But then Harden adds something like “I’m not going to get into the issue of free will.” By doing that, she punts on the most important issue of her book. ...

If you think that your genes, which partly determine your success in life, are the result of “luck” (I guess Harden means by “luck” those factors over which we have no conscious control), then so is everything else that determines your success in life.

It is hard to see how he could really believe this, as he often talks about making preferences and choices, such as in his review where he says:
I agree with Harden wholeheartedly here: We need as much information as possible, genetic or otherwise, if we’re to make truly informed choices.
I am not questioning his sincerity. He believes that he has no free will, so he is just doing what the voices in his head tell him to do, or however he rationalizes it. If the voices tell him to say he is making choices for the good of humanity, then that is what he will say, regardless of how it contradicts his other stated beliefs.

He does point out a fundamental problem with Leftism and naturalism, as he calls it. If you believe in naturalism, then there are fundamental inequities, and nobody can do anything about them.

Leftists look at inequities, and try to blame them on systemic policies, luck, and bigotry. Just looking at the physics of this, there is no way to say what is luck and what is not. And Coyne's rejection of free will is peculiar, I would say, but he denies it to a commenter:

I don’t appreciate your characterizing this idea that you FEEL and act as though you have free will – even if you don’t – as “eccentric’.
Okay, but he attacks religious folks all the time for living as if certain theological beliefs are true, and yet he uses the language of free will even though he denies that any such thing is possible.

Pop psychology guru Jordan Peterson hates being asked whether he believes in God, and now says that he does, and by that he merely means that he acts as if God exists.

Likewise, someone believes in free will if he acts as if he can make his own choices over his life. With this definition, it appears to me that Coyne and almost everyone believes in free will. Maybe not some schizophrenics. Denying free will is a constrived intellectual argument that is only accepted by philosophical zombies.

If you are wealthy, maybe you were lucky enough to have talents inherited in your genes. Or you were lucky enough to live in a rich country and have opportunities. Or you worked hard and earned everything, but then you were still lucky to have genes for hard work and perserverance. Regardless, a poor man might complain that your wealth is undeserved because it was based on luck. And if he does not believe in free will, then he will certainly think that you did nothing to deserve your wealth because you are incapable of making any decisions over your life anyway.

This is all foolishness, as a true determinist would say that no one can make a policy decision to correct whatever perceived inequities there are. You just have to accept your fate.

The laws of physics do not preclude free will. It is probably also true that more things are determined than we realize.

No comments:

Post a Comment