Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Debating a Determinist

Or more accurately, the futility of debating a determinist.

Jerry A. Coyne has an article in USA Today entitled "Why you don't really have free will"

The above article is not an exhaustive defense of hard determinism but it covers some of the high points. In essence, the determinist denies that you can actually make a choice between alternatives. The basic argument usually goes something like this:

  1. For any event there are antecedent causes that ensure the occurrence of the event in accordance with impersonal, mechanical causal laws.
  2. If an event must occur then it is not free.
  3. Therefore, no action is free.

If no action is free then every thought I have and every conclusion I reach was determined when the first hydrogen atom bumped into the second. There is no reasoning required. In fact no reasoning or thought is even involved. It is simply computation. One plus one equals two. Determinism means that the ability to reason is nothing more than an illusion. This leaves me with the curious problem of how to reason with someone who effectively denies the possibility of reason.

Imagine I conduct an experiment demonstrating that determinism is probably false. Because determinism requires that both the determinist and the non-determinist have no choice in what they do, the determinist can simply claim that my evidence is the result of a long chain of causal events and was itself determined. Within the constraints imposed by determinism, no rational argument can be made that determinism is false because reason cannot happen in a determined universe. Only computation is possible. In short, determinism cannot be falsified making it more akin to a religious belief -- or a conspiracy -- than anything else.

1 comment:

  1. I figure anyone who's on the blogroll of the guy who wrote the Final Word on the 2nd Amendment, can't be all bad.

    There's compatabilism too, you know. It could be the case that the universe is wholly deterministic and yet you still have free will. Indeed, all the evidence supports that and none denies it.

    Just because some super-intelligent being could figure out what you're going to think, doesn't mean that you're not thinking. You might find this interesting, or you might not...



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