Evolutionist, Jerry Coyne, has written an article in USA Today promoting the idea that free will is an illusion. After several paragraphs of attempting to convince his readers that they have no free will, Coyne raises the question of justice: Why punish people if they did not freely choose to do bad? His answer: “But we should continue to mete out punishments because those are environmental factors that can influence the brains of not only the criminal himself, but of other people as well. Seeing someone put in jail, or being put in jail yourself, can change you in a way that makes it less likely you’ll behave badly in the future. Even without free will then, we can still use punishment to deter bad behavior, protect society from criminals, and figure out better ways to rehabilitate them.” But wait, what is this talk of “should”? That presumes some sort of rational or moral obligation, but both are impossible in Coyne’s world since we have no ability to choose, and obligations cannot be met by those who lack the ability to choose to fulfill them. We can’t decide how we will respond to criminal behavior. Physics determines that for us. I may be determined to respond by refusing to punish anyone’s bad behavior or rewarding anyone’s good behavior. It’s not within my control, nor Coyne’s. We are just puppets on the strings of physics.
And just how exactly does seeing someone get put in jail affect other people in such a way so as to deter them from doing the things that caused those people to go to jail? Coyne does not explain. As I explained elsewhere, materialism cannot explain such phenomena because there is no physical interaction sufficient to cause one’s own physical machinery to experience change in any way at all.
Coyne concludes his article by saying once we recognize free will to be an illusion “we can go about building a kinder world” because jettisoning the concept of free will makes us realize that all people—whether good or bad—are just a product of their genes and environment, and such a realization creates in us a sense of empathy for all people. Really? Couldn’t the recognition that all people are determined to do what they do make us uncaring toward them? If people who act badly do so because their hardware is broken, why not respond by killing them? Isn’t that what we do to broken machinery—discard it? The only way to build a kinder world is if we choose to do so. But if Coyne is right, we can’t choose anything, and we don’t know whether physics will determine that we build a kinder or a crueler world. Coyne wants us to do the very thing he says is impossible: to choose. And that is the fundamental flaw in his thinking: He invokes the very thing he is trying to eliminate.