Dr. Jerry Coyne, Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, might have proved to be an excellent defense witness for Ariel Castro. Who is Ariel Castro? Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight “had been held captive for more than 10 years by Ariel Castro. Castro kidnapped each of the women between 2002 and 2004. For years, the women endured unimaginable abuse, as they were chained, starved and tortured by Castro.” (ABC News)
Was Castro morally responsible for his actions or was he himself held captive by a set of programmed genes that resulted in a “predetermined output” of behavior?
Coyne is an atheist and a critic of all anti-evolution belief systems, including creationism, theistic evolution, and intelligent design, which he calls “the latest pseudoscientific incarnation of religious creationism, cleverly crafted by a new group of enthusiasts to circumvent recent legal restrictions.”
For The Chronicle of Higher Education, Coyne wrote, “You Don’t Have Free Will.” He wrote a similar article that was published as an opinion piece for USA Today with a similar title: “Why You Don’t Really Have Free Will.” It’s in the USA Today article that Coyne describes our brains as “simply meat computers that, like real computers, are programmed by our genes and experiences to convert an array of inputs into a predetermined output.”
Who or what programmed our genes? Coyne does not say because, given his atheistic and evolutionary assumptions, he does not know. His analogy of our brains being like computers is incompatible with how computers are made and programmed. Computers made of metal, plastic, silicon, and carbon have to be designed, built, and programmed. Coyne does believe in intelligent design when it comes to computers, but he does not believe in intelligent design when it comes to the brain (mind) that designed, built, and programmed the computer. Computers do not evolve.
So, the question is, How did our genes get programmed to do anything, and how do we know if they have been programmed to do the right things?
Because Coyne is a physicalist, he is left with only physics as a determiner of all that we are and do:
[F]ree 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.
If I had been the Cleveland kidnapper who held women, themselves nothing but bags of meat and bones animated by electricity (like their captor)1 as sex slaves for more than 10 years, I would have called on Dr. Coyne to testify for me at my trial. Since Castro was a captive to his genes, his genes eventually drove him to kill himself.
Computers don’t know anything about morality. So how does a meat computer of a brain know the difference between right and wrong? Actually, how does a “meat computer” conceptualize the categories of right and wrong? How does an atheist like Coyne account for morality given the fact that the only things (which aren’t really things) we must obey are the “laws of physics”?