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Jerry Coyne: “Reason Is No Different from a Kick”


Atheist free will denier Jerry Coyne has a bizarre take on justice. He believes that there is no free will, and therefore that there is no moral culpability. Thus, he believes that no one is ever guilty or innocent of wrongdoing. We are, in his view, meat robots controlled by our genes and our environment.

Despite Coyne’s denial of justice as a meaningful principle, he believes in social engineering to accomplish goals he deems desirable. But he sees no fundamental difference between the use of force and the use of reason. Coyne:

My own example is that you can alter the behavior of a dog by kicking it when it does something you don’t like. (I am NOT recommending this!). After a while the dog, whose onboard computer gets reprogrammed to anticipate pain, will no longer engage in the unwanted behavior… The dog behaved badly before, it had an environmental intervention, it behaved better afterwards. That is an alteration, even if what you do is programmed… Reason is no different from a kick: it’s words that people can take on board to see if doing what the words say gives a result that’s adaptive — that they like. For some reason you think that a kick (which tells a dog what to expect if you do X) is somehow different from a “reason” (which tells people what you think will happen if they do X).

“Reason is no different from a kick…” My goodness. Could you ask for a clearer example of the intellectual and moral depravity that ensues from atheism and materialism? I do credit Coyne for his consistency. If you are an atheist and a materialist, denial of objective moral standards and denial of free will are a part of your ideology, if you take your metaphysical commitments seriously.

To be candid, the boundary between free will denial and impairment of reality-testing is difficult to discern. Coyne’s denial of free will and his embrace of “kicks” as equivalent to rational discourse leads inexorably to an irony that was noted by one of his commenters. Coyne claims the power to change everyone’s mind but his own.

Photo: Girl kicks ball (not dog) as dog watches, by “Mike” Michael L. Baird [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.