The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Yet Another Attempt At Postmodern Materialistic Reductionism

Posted on | January 8, 2012 | 28 Comments

by Smitty

That the scientific method is a great tool isn’t much in doubt. Where we run into challenge is when someone assumes the current scope of that tool’s descriptive power can encompass reality.
Jerry Coyne offers yet another purely materialistic, neurological argument for Free Will being something more of a Chemically Constrained Will, concluding, emphasis mine:

There’s not much downside to abandoning the notion of free will. It’s impossible, anyway, to act as though we don’t have it: you’ll pretend to choose your New Year’s resolutions, and the laws of physics will determine whether you keep them. And there are two upsides. The first is realizing the great wonder and mystery of our evolved brains, and contemplating the notion that things like consciousness, free choice, and even the idea of “me” are but convincing illusions fashioned by natural selection. Further, by losing free will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance — of the genes we’re bequeathed and the environments we encounter. With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.
Jerry A. Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago. His latest book is Why Evolution is True, and his website is

I find the first bolded point laughable. If life is reduced to variations on the theme of the periodic table of elements, what is this ‘great wonder’ nonsense? In other words, if you have no soul, you have no context in which to evaluate ‘great wonder’, and should just await the drab dust of your existence to rejoin the rest of the dust.

The second point is also absurd. How, if we have reduced existence to pure materialism (i.e. atoms and neurons, not bling) do we feel anything like human empathy? Should not humanity also be reduced to 6 billion-plus relatively hairless monkeys, and we just set about reliving Quest for Fire? Why is that not the ‘logical’ conclusion of Coyne’s drivel, if, indeed, we are permitted logic still.

And finally, Coyne: your book and web site are a joke. When you have a re-produceable experiment going from the periodic table of elements to replicating life, the Theory of Evolution will be more than a plausible sounding bucket of silly putty. No, I’m not explicitly endorsing Intelligent Design or a 144-hour Creation roll-out here, either–frankly, I don’t care much about the unknowable origins of the universe.

What I do reject is these lousy Arguments From Authority from people who, when all the layers are removed from the onion, have nothing. Yet you insist on polluting our culture with your Postmodern drivel. Get bent.

via Eternity Matters


28 Responses to “Yet Another Attempt At Postmodern Materialistic Reductionism”

  1. Charles G Hill
    January 8th, 2012 @ 7:41 pm

    Should we conclude from this, therefore, that Jerry Coyne is a tool?

  2. ThePaganTemple
    January 8th, 2012 @ 8:11 pm

    Come on Smitty, why should you be bothered that much by a scientific theory? You’re supposed to be challenged, and you’re supposed to challenge in turn. But, “get bent”?

  3. smitty
    January 8th, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

    Why should I be bothered? Oh, it’s just one of the worms gnawing at the heart of our culture, that’s all.
    As far as I’m concerned, as when I was reviewing Hick’s ‘Explaining Postmodernism’, these sorts of fools would be more honest if they just barked like dogs.

  4. Anonymous
    January 8th, 2012 @ 8:47 pm

    I know this is not scientific…but is this a sign?

  5. richard mcenroe
    January 8th, 2012 @ 9:25 pm

    This is, like atheism, another case where, if your theory is valid, there’s no point in formulating because it’s just one more random freak of chemistry on top of all the others.

  6. ThePaganTemple
    January 8th, 2012 @ 10:41 pm

    One of the worms gnawing at the heart of our culture? Oh come on! People want answers, that’s all. As long as that’s true, there are going to be people that try to provide them. Your faith must not be that strong to allow it to be threatened by what is nothing more than a natural aspect of human nature. This is one of the great unfathomable mysteries of existence, arguably one that will never be solved. But who’s to say?

    Whether you believe in God or not, haven’t you ever wondered how he pulled it off, the mechanics behind it? Or for that matter, haven’t you ever played devil’s advocate enough to consider how it might have happened without a supernatural agency involved? You’re getting pissed off about one of the most fundamental aspects of human nature that most separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

    I bet if you had been born in the  1860’s by the time you were in your sixties and seventies you’d be going around saying “If God had meant for man to fly he would have given him wings.” If there is a God, do you think it’s possible he might have created man to ponder these things?

  7. ThePaganTemple
    January 8th, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

    Yes, its a sign the Broncos will probably be slaughtered by the Patriots next week and that you should never bet money based on Rick Santorum’s sports analysis.

  8. smitty
    January 8th, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

    Your response is predicated upon the idea that Postmodernism is a philosophy in the literal sense of “loving knowledge”.
    It is not. It is either misosophy or necrophilia, but not philosophy.
    It’s one thing to ponder in a genuine way that seeks knowledge, and quite another to pretend to have answers while lacking them. As stated in the post, ” When you have a re-produceable experiment going from the periodic table of elements to replicating life, the Theory of Evolution will be more than a plausible sounding bucket of silly putty.”
    These guys need to put up, shut up, or at least stop denigrating other ideas when their own are so lacking.

  9. smitty
    January 8th, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

    Well said.

  10. ThePaganTemple
    January 8th, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

    No the main thing is, you might arguably posit a theory that is feasible and possible, but its impossible to prove it. Even if it is possible and feasible, or even probable, it doesn’t constitute proof. A possible answer isn’t necessarily the right answer, or the only possible right answer. But before you can arrive at even one possible right answer, you have to ask the right question, something nobody that I know of has ever done.

  11. Rightklik
    January 8th, 2012 @ 11:43 pm

    That’s right. Committed nihilists shouldn’t have much to contribute if they really believe what they say they believe.

  12. Tennwriter
    January 9th, 2012 @ 12:05 am

    A lot of Bad Stuff can be traced to Darwin’s influence.

  13. Adjoran
    January 9th, 2012 @ 12:21 am

    Just remember that most of this guy’s salary, and the other tenured professors’, stems directly or indirectly from the federal taxpayers.

    Want something to cut?  Start with the “Departments of Ecology and Evolution,” Veejayjay Studies, and the Diversity Directors.

  14. K-Bob
    January 9th, 2012 @ 4:14 am

    People want answers, sure.  That’s the first action-layer in the con game.  (The base layer is that people want stuff they don’t really think they can get.  Such as certainty about the origin of life, or a million dollars.)

    Coyne and his ilk are operating a con.  They may call it science, but they aren’t operating scientifically.

    One of the factors these clowns rely on is a totally unscientific assumption that neurons and genes function with little regard to chance, like a light switch or computer.  This flies in the face of the entire science of quantum electrodynamics, and also ignores the fact that many physical processes  involve elements of chance.  (Like thermal variance, decay intervals, and noise.)

    This is how they arrive at the unremarkable determinism required to believe in perfectable societies, utopias, and the “miracle” of centrally-planned socialism.

  15. ThePaganTemple
    January 9th, 2012 @ 6:43 am

    Is this your way of saying Newt For President? You know of course this would never happen under a Romney Administration any more than it would miraculously happen under a second Obama term, right?

  16. Bruce
    January 9th, 2012 @ 7:01 am

    Smitty, I think its modernism you are attacking here. Modernism, materialistic reductionism, beginning with Newton’s discoveries, was first opposed by the Romantic philosophers, then by Existentialists like Kierkegarde – who I think you’d like. Then came postmodernism (Germans and French), which is defined as rejecting progressive modernism. If postmodernists were materialistic reductionists they’d be modernists. In fact that’s what they are trying to go beyond: POST-modern. 

    If Hicks didn’t make that clear then he’s confused you.  I was trying to warn this back when you were summarising the book.

    For centuries, materialistic reductionism has seemed inevitable, which I think is why the Founding Fathers were Deists.

    I think you’d like Kierkegarde (hope I spelled it right). 

  17. Bob Belvedere
    January 9th, 2012 @ 8:00 am

    Very well put.

    If they are running a con, however, it is on themselves.

    These people are, at their core, Nihilists who hate Life and, therefore, reject transcendence.

    In many ways they’re like bratty children throwing a tantrum and ruining the party for everyone else because they don’t know how to have fun.

  18. Bob Belvedere
    January 9th, 2012 @ 8:01 am

    You surprise me, Richard, with your lucidity.  Did you right this after the three beers?

  19. Bob Belvedere
    January 9th, 2012 @ 8:05 am

    Nor would it happen under Newton Leroy, TPT, because for him banging around ideas, no matter how foolish [such as Coyne’s are], is the equivalent of a good session of onanism.

  20. ThePaganTemple
    January 9th, 2012 @ 9:07 am

    I think you’re wrong there, education is one of the things that seem to get him genuinely fired up. I would love to see a Santorum-Gingrich ticket just for that reason. With the right amount of support in Congress that might be a chance for some real change. And let’s face it, one of the important things about education reform at all grade levels is its almost imperative before there’s any fundamental long-term change anywhere. Newt might be the only candidate who has ever discussed the problems in higher ed and the influence of Marxism, tenure system, etc., in any kind of meaningful level.

  21. Flyoversam
    January 9th, 2012 @ 10:03 am

    Bruce, you’re more correct about this not being postmodernism but associated with a modernist conception. In philosophy circles, this would be under the Anglo-American analytical philosophy tradition and probably be associated with what’s called by them “Theory of Mind.” Some claim that this area of philosophy, which attempts to tie to science much in the manner that earlier positivists attempted to prove philosophy by tying to math and logic, attempts to establish an objective philosophy.

    Most postmodernists (Lyotard for instance who writes specifically on postmodernism) would reject this kind of chemical predestination claim and actually tend to consistently reject arguments by the post-positivists that man is physically and chemically determined, chained to his atoms as a helpless prisoner. The opposite is much more the postmodern tradition, speaking to how thinking, identities, and societies are constructed by thinking and language.

    Smitty’s polemic claims are both remarkably incorrect and unfortunately unhelpful. These are theories of knowledge, knowledge construction, etc., even if he (and I) don’t agree with them.  Incidentally, postmodernism is quite useful and a area of thinking we use in global systemic risk to understand many of the risks that derive from the aspects of constructed frameworks, language, groupthink, etc. It’s unfortunate but true that we have many confused or willfully under-educated individuals who dismiss  that which they don’t understand, or worse, insult and attack that which is different from their tradition. Intellectual bigotry practiced by allegedly intelligent people is a remarkable disappointment.

  22. ThePaganTemple
    January 9th, 2012 @ 10:39 am

    How, if we have reduced existence to pure materialism (i.e. atoms and
    neurons, not bling) do we feel anything like human empathy?

    Different strikes for different folks. Most animals kill off their weakest members or just allow them to die in order to strengthen the bloodline, though this is an unconscious act. We’ve evolved beyond base instincts to where caring for the weak and afflicted has strengthened mankind. By being able to see potential outcomes beyond the immediate second we see tragedy inflicted on others as something that could happen to us. So we help each other because we hope we’ll get help if we need it. It’s one of the things that’s made us cooperative. It helps us balance out the competitive instincts, which on their own would make us just another animal.

    It probably has something to do with the unusual amount of time and care a mother has to give her infant child on up to the time its a toddler, and well on up past the time when most members of the animal kingdom have struck out on their own and are well able to fend for themselves.

  23. Quartermaster
    January 9th, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

    many (certainly not all) of the founders were Deists because of Freemasonry, not because of some idea that materialist reductionism was a fact.

    The book Smitty has been reading may not define what postmodernism is, but one facet of postmodernism is that there is no fixed truth. In that regard, Smitty is correct.

  24. Quartermaster
    January 9th, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

    Much of the trouble in higher ed could be solved by ending Federal Student Financial Aid, for which there is no authority anyway.

  25. Quartermaster
    January 9th, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

    Only barbaric societies intentionally allow the weak and inform to die without trying something to save their lives. Mankind has always been different in that regard.

  26. ThePaganTemple
    January 9th, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

    And also by ending research grants to universities who don’t reform their tenure systems.

  27. John Clifford
    January 10th, 2012 @ 3:47 am

    Me thinks Coyne hasn’t heard of quantum physics, and just like his Marxist heroes believes in determinism. That’s why all those Five Year Plans turned out so great… oh, wait.

  28. RC
    January 10th, 2012 @ 11:06 am

    The whole proposition is one ginormous cop out.  Why bother to do anything, why bother to work to excel, why bother to try to be good to your fellow man, etc. It’s all just the results of a flow chart kind of process.  Sheesh, are they trying to explain their mediocrity as not their fault?