Jerry Coyne Thinks No One Has Free Will, Except Nazis and Irishmen
Just when I thought that Jerry Coyne's views on free will couldn't get any dumber, he posted this on his blog, Why Evolution Is True:
Lots of Irish people admire Hitler
According to The Journal in Ireland, a man from Kilkenny, Larry Brennan, celebrated his 79th birthday with a cake featuring a picture of Adolf Hitler. Here's Brennan, his daughter, and his Nazi cake as shown on the KCLR 96fm website, a radio station on which he was later interviewed. Brennan was then dumb enough to go on the radio (KCLR) to talk about his Hitler cake and his feelings about der Führer; you can hear the interview here. It's summarized on the Journal website as well:
Coyne quotes from Brennan's interview, in which Brennan moronically rambles on about how much he admires Hitler's discipline, Hitler's army, etc. and about how there are two sides to every story.
Well, that's pretty distressing: "two sides to every story". Yes, ten million innocent people killed, including six million Jews, and that's balanced by the devaluation of the Deutschmark! Yes, he collects Nazi memorabilia, too: a gruesome hobby, but not nearly as bad as saying there's a good side of Nazism that balances its bad. You can read more about Brennan's statements on the Journal site.
To their credit, many listeners called in and expressed disgust with his sentiments; you can hear their comments here. But what distresses me is a pretty big selection of pro-Hitler comments on the Journal website; reader Grania provided a selection (and these links) below; you can see more written comments here.
Coyne cites 18 commenters on the newspaper's blog who make comments favorable to Nazism, and writes:
In response to this, I'll post just two pictures -- photos I took when I visited Auschwitz. They're from a room full of suitcases confiscated from Jews who were transported to the camp. They were told to put their names on the suitcases so they could reclaim them after they had their "showers." They were never reclaimed.
The showers, of course, were fake: the "shower" nozzles were props, and, once everyone was locked in the chambers, vents expelled cyanide gas, killing hundreds of men, women, and children within 20 minutes. While the bodies were burned in crematoria next door, the suitcases were plundered by Sonderkommando inmates who put the good stuff in warehouses to be sent to Germany. There are also rooms full of eyeglasses, children's toys, shaving brushes, pots, and hair shaved from the women (the hair is the one thing you're not allowed to photograph).
Every owner of these suitcases was gassed. The names and addresses are poignant, and you can't help being deeply moved when you read the names. These were people.
Coyne's revulsion for Nazi apologists and his horror at the Holocaust are shared by all normal people.
I take issue with Coyne's smarmy accusation that "lots of Irishmen" admire Hitler. Eighteen commenters are 0.000003 percent of the population of Ireland, yet Coyne feels free to slander the Irish in this sweeping way. Bigots love hyperbole. This should help put things in context the next time Coyne claims that there's "lots" of evidence for Darwin's theory; we can be sure that at least 0.000003 percent of the evidence supports it.
Speaking of context, you may recall that Coyne is a free-will denier. Coyne, from an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
You Don't Have Free Will
By Jerry A. Coyne
The term "free will" has so many diverse connotations that I'm obliged to define it before I explain why we don't have it. I construe free will the way I think most people do: At the moment when you have to decide among alternatives, you have free will if you could have chosen otherwise. To put it more technically, if you could rerun the tape of your life up to the moment you make a choice, with every aspect of the universe configured identically, free will means that your choice could have been different.
Although we can't really rerun that tape, this sort of free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics. Your brain and body, the vehicles that make "choices," are composed of molecules, and the arrangement of those molecules is entirely determined by your genes and your environment. Your decisions result from molecular-based electrical impulses and chemical substances transmitted from one brain cell to another. These molecules must obey the laws of physics, so the outputs of our brain -- our "choices" -- are dictated by those laws. (It's possible, though improbable, that the indeterminacy of quantum physics may tweak behavior a bit, but such random effects can't be part of free will.) And deliberating about your choices in advance doesn't help matters, for that deliberation also reflects brain activity that must obey physical laws.
To assert that we can freely choose among alternatives is to claim, then, that we can somehow step outside the physical structure of our brain and change its workings. That is impossible.
Does the "fact" that we have no free will have consequences? Sure does, says Coyne:
What [is] seriously affected is our idea of moral responsibility, which should be discarded along with the idea of free will. If whether we act well or badly is predetermined rather than a real choice, then there is no moral responsibility -- only actions that hurt or help others. That realization shouldn't seriously change the way we punish or reward people, because we still need to protect society from criminals, and observing punishment or reward can alter the brains of others, acting as a deterrent or stimulus. What we should discard is the idea of punishment as retribution, which rests on the false notion that people can choose to do wrong...
[W]e never had real choices in our past. No, we couldn't have had that V8, and Robert Frost couldn't have taken the other road.
And Hitler couldn't have treated Jews with respect, and Brennan couldn't have chosen someone else besides Hitler to adorn his birthday cake. If determinism is true, there is no moral responsibility, merely chemical reactions in neuropil and mutations in Paleocene apes. How can a meat robot be immoral?
So what's the point of Coyne's condemnation of Nazi sympathizers? In his view, they have no moral responsibility, and they couldn't have chosen to be anything but Nazi sympathizers. Perhaps Coyne merely intends to deter them, like he trains his cats.
According to Coyne, the Holocaust was more the result of Hitler's breakfast menu than Hitler's evil. And no one really does anything that is morally wrong, except of course lots of Irishmen.