This blog has been more public than I expected. so I have toned down the heading to this post. Also I have deleted two posts I didn't want further responses to.


Every so often I venture out into the public sphere to see how anti-darwinism is responded to. The last time, at the science cafe, my posts were moved from "science" to "paranormal" or some such section then I was subjected to withering personal abuse. This time the issue is raised by someone else, in the science section, and the responses have been very moderate and quite engaged. Interesting.

Yesterday I posted a provocative response here, making a case for evolution being intelligent. I expected a storm of fury. Instead, one very moderate and interesting response. I have responded to that with another provocative (though rational) response, questioning the basis for the modern synthesis.

Maybe everyone's just bored with the issue of origins.

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Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 13, 2013 at 3:13pm

Yes, I am very wishful. And it works!

"it feeling like we are choosing does not change anything" What is doing the "feeling"? Does it have any rights? Is there some law that says it isn't allowed to believe what it feels? To which part of you is it submitting when it agrees to deny the reality of what it is feeling? Reason? Is reason superior to the part doing the feeling? I thought people now felt reason was driven by feelings.

"if we have free will so do other animals." Yes. So if we can drive our evolution ourselves using free will, as it seems we do (eugenics, education, public health initiatives etc), all of nature can drive its evolution. Then Darwinism must share with free will the direction of evolution.

OK, I'm not serious, I like to play with this stuff, though I know sometimes it doesn't make sense.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on April 13, 2013 at 2:48pm

I think you are a wishful thinker. But I was always going to have that opinion, wasn't I? If the universe is mechanical hominids are not exempt from those mechanics. Neither would dolphins, chimps or ants be exempt.

The bins does not shine a light on free will. If we are free to choose it is our volition or decision to choose the appropriate bin. If we are determined then we are going to do what we were always going to do and it feeling like we are choosing does not change anything.

By the way if we have free will so do other animals. Contrary thinking is akin to sentiments underlying special creation.

Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 13, 2013 at 2:21pm

Glen, "determinism is for science to solve"--" Free will is a philosophical issue." Which is it, scientific or philosophical? I'll go for "philosophical."

"to the extent [the world] is not mechanistic we lack control of it and it is therefore not free." Not so--unless we too are mechanistic. You may choose to think you and the world are mechanistic, I choose to think I am not. To the extend I am not mechanistic I am free to change the world, even if the world itself (apart from me) is mechanistic, no matter what physics says. You, on the other hand, are not free to change it. I'd rather think of myself my way, than your way.

Who's to say which of us is right? Who is competent to judge the issue? There are only people who believe they have free will, or those who don't. There is no principle by which the issue can be resolved to the satisfaction of us both.

Question: You are given two bins, one labeled "free" the other "determined." You are to put everything in the universe into one or another bin. When you've finished with everything else, in which bin do you put yourself? If in the "determined" bin, what made you free to decide in which bin everything else should go?

I guess you won't answer that. You didn't answer any of my other questions. Maybe you're a robot, that can deliver pre-determined statements but not judge how to answer someone else's questions? I don't think so, but I'm not sure how I'm telling.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on April 13, 2013 at 1:59pm

Shaun, I do not see the logical inconsistency in you're example.

For my money issue of determinism is for science to solve. Not sure if it will be solved. Free will is a philosophical issue. And the science experiment in which the subjects have revealed to the brain monitor their answer before they are aware of their answer demonstrates the absence of free will.

And even if the universe is not completely mechanistic, to the extent it is not mechanistic we lack control of it and it is therefore not free.

No nothing too awful bad in your approach I suppose. Just that accuracy can suffer.

Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 13, 2013 at 1:54pm

To explain why I don't seem to know what's what I've posted two new blog posts. Start here.

Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 13, 2013 at 1:48pm

Luara, I read Dennet's book. Generally, he's a very good writer. All that book is written simply and clearly. Except for one small passage, which all the rest of the book refers to. In that small passage he seems to be comparing human existence with a game played out according to fixed rules. Finding that game determined, he therefore concludes that our existence is too.

I smelt a fish somewhere.

The more usual critique of free will goes like this (Dennet uses this too): the tangle of circumstances leading up to our present moment is so inherently complex that it will never be possible to untangle it and prove that we're determined. So we've no reason to object to people saying we're determined since no one could ever prove it: we can just go on feeling and acting the same as we always did. Hidden away in this is the admission that it can't be proved that we are determined, that it's simply a belief in those who like determinism. The great mystery is, why do some people like to think of themselves, and everyone else, as being determined, when they admit it can't, even in principle, be proved? And if we're all determined, why do they feel their opinion is better than anyone else's?

Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 13, 2013 at 1:33pm

Glen, you say it feels like you have free will, but you judge that you don't. Is the feeling that you do have free will determined, but the judgment that you don't have free will not determined? Surely they're either both determined or both free? If they're both determined your opinion is no more valid than the throw of a dice, similarly determined. If I believed you spoke from conscious judgment I'd be more inclined to believe you, that you don't have free will, than if you spoke without really having free will, in which case I'd regard your remark as no more valid than the operation of a fruit machine.

Question: would you rather have a conversation with someone with free will, or someone whose behavior is determined? Do you feel as confident falling into conversation with an attractive stranger when you think of yourself as having free will, as when you believe you don't have free will, that you're robotic?

I think, free will is free to some extent, as free as evolution is to come up with novel species, which is quite a lot. Or do you think all species are determined by physics? Physics then can generate genuine novelties? I thought not.

I guess I'm not going about this in a scientific way. Actually, I prefer that. Is it bad, not being scientific, as long as my heart's in the right place?

Comment by Luara on April 13, 2013 at 12:25pm

Daniel Dennett wrote a book Freedom Evolves, about evolution of free will. 

Comment by Frankie Dapper on April 13, 2013 at 11:50am

Shaun I would not be shocked to learn that there are unknown drivers of evolution. 

However you are not going at it in scientific way. Read back your penultimate sentence from most recent post. Reminds me of geocentric perspective. 

Our will is not free either, feels like it but it is not.

Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 13, 2013 at 11:31am

Luara, I think I may be doing no more that popularizing a metaphor, as Dawkins did. I'd hope it would prompt new ways of thinking, as he, with that metaphor, did.

Darwinian natural selection abides by the constraints of Positivism, one of which is to exclude consideration of "volition," ie consciousness, creativity and free will. That is what makes darwinism so powerful, allowing it to draw on all of science's methods. But if we go from there to assume that Positivism reflects the actual world, then we must deny volition in ourselves, too--one can make a good case that volition cannot evolve through mechanisms that abide by Positivist/physicalist principles.

If, instead of taking for granted a set of methodologies (Positivism), you start with what needs to be accounted for--in us consciousness, creativity and free will--then you may be led to a different account of evolution, one that might provide us with a discourse helping us understand ourselves better. I believe, but I won't argue about it, that darwinism is similarly an unprovable metaphor for how evolution works (I will accept you disagreeing with that without protesting). I think of myself as simply adding a second or third or fourth or umpteenth metaphor to those already in use, but better at accounting for some parts of our experience than any of the others. While all we have is metaphors, the addition of another metaphor is not a problem. I believe we're far from being equipped with the concepts needed for a full comprehension of evolution, for me we're still at the metaphor stage.

Incredulity is not an issue for me, it's simply a matter of what aspect of evolution you want to talk about, and which metaphor is most appropriate for that aspect. As I say in another post, when talking about light 19th century physicists had to choose between their "particle" metaphor and their "wave" metaphor. No problem. We're still waiting for the equivalent of general relativity in the field of evolution.

I ask you to tolerate my finding darwinism inadequate as the mechanism of evolution. I've written about it at length elsewhere, I won't get into my reasons here. My focus here is on finding ways to think about having evolved that don't deny me my conscious experiences. And that is why I publish these ideas here--I think this issue is central, or should be, for atheists.

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