His genes made him do it

Shorter Jerry Coyne: Chris Mooney, evolution, and politics:

We haven’t got free will, except when it comes to politics.

Like Coyne, I’ve yet to read Chris Mooney’s book, and like Coyne, I’m not up on the latest research on the determinants of political and ideological orientation. Unlike Coyne, I’m not going to make grand declarations about what the science does or doesn’t say. But it’s not immediately obvious that genetics wouldn’t play a role in political orientation (especially via the risk-averse:conservative::novelty-seeking:liberal mechanism Mooney lays out), so it isn’t clear why Coyne should feel obliged to savage Mooney’s book without having read it.

This is doubly so since Coyne has devoted himself wholeheartedly to the proposition that free will doesn’t exist. I’d think he’d feel validated by the discovery that political ideology is at least partly controlled by the deterministic forces of genetics. I guess the laws of the universe force Coyne to prioritize hating Chris Mooney over opposing free will.

Comments

  1. #1 Jeremy Stangroom
    February 14, 2012

    “I guess the laws of the universe force Coyne to prioritize hating Chris Mooney over opposing free will.”

    It is also shows that despite the complexity of the causal nexus driving human behaviour, outcomes are sometimes utterly predictable… ;)

  2. #2 Matti K..
    February 14, 2012

    In what way did Dr. Coyne “savage” Mr. Mooney’s book? In my opinion, the critique was based on the views presented in the HuffPo article. Dr. Coyne has the acacdemic qualifications to discuss evolutionary arguments presented in the article. He is most likely aware of all the literature the far less qualified Mr. Mooney is using to make his point. So where is the problem? The polemic style of Dr. Coyne?

    You imply that someone discarding the idea of free will is a hypocrite if he critisizes naive hypotheses of genetic determinism. Why is that?

    You see Dr. Coyne’s critique as an expression of hate. I guess you do not consider your contribution above to be an expression of collegial solidarity, either.

  3. #3 NickMatzke
    February 14, 2012

    Matti — you haven’t followed Coyne’s feud against Mooney long enough. Mooney could say the sky is blue and Coyne would go after him. This all derives from the Gnu Atheism-bash-not-just-religion-but-even-nice-religious-people-and-even-bash-skeptics-who-advocate-having-a-sense-of-proportion-about-the-religion-thing which was at its peak a few years back.

    And you missed Coyne’s first line:

    “Chris Mooney is back with a new book, The Republican Brain, and that means we’re going to be subject to the hard sell: loud self-aggrandizement in every possible venue. ”

    Josh — I noticed the same very weird internal contradiction in Coyne’s views here. There are perhaps ways to reconcile the contradictions, but only if by “choices and chosen attitudes could determine behavior and physiological reactions to political matters” (paraphrase) Coyne has a concept of predetermined human behavior so complex that it amounts to what most people are thinking of when they discuss free will. No more comparing normal decisions to the decisions of someone who’s actions are determined by a brain tumor, then.

    I posted a comment to this effect on his blog, but I think I’m banned, alas.

  4. #4 robertm
    February 14, 2012

    It seems like Jerry Coyne’s objection to Chris Mooney’s article is that the papers he cites first show correlation and not causation, and second don’t establish evolutionary reasons for differences in belief. Nor is suggesting politics is a place where people have free will.

    From following Mooney’s blog it seems like he is justified in saying research suggests that political differences are due to deeper psychological and neuroligical differences. If he wants to argue that these differences are the cause of the political divide based on the opinions of experts he’s spoken to, thats fine.

    The problem is Mooney ties them to genetics and evolution without real evidence. Over the past few years I’ve read numerous biologists criticize evolutionary psychology papers making the following argument. A few experiments establish X phenomena exists, therefore X evolved because Y happened in caveman times and then, ya know, evolution. Mooney’s article follows the same reasoning, based on a few disputed studies showing genetic differences.

    Jerry Coyne may be an ass, and at times unfairly attack Chris Mooney, but I don’t think his criticisms of this article are unwarranted.

  5. #5 TB
    February 14, 2012

    Mooney doesn’t tie them to genetics, he cites studies that do. From Coyne’s own post:

    “To back this up, I listed seven published studies showing a consistent set of physiological, brain, and “attentional” differences between liberals and conservatives. Later on my blog, I listed no less than eleven studies showing genetic differences as well.”

    Right now, the point of the dispute seems to be everything is controlled by genes and is predetermined, or genes may be one part of the complexity equation.

    Time will tell whether the “disputed” studies are right or wrong – I think we should let scientists do the science instead of cherry-picking to fit our metaphysical bias. Nor should we be relying on snide arguments from authority.

  6. #6 Anthony McCarthy
    February 14, 2012

    If everything is controlled by genes then that applies to ideas we have about science and disbelief, as William James pointed out more than a century ago. Only he didn’t know about genes, he talked about it as biological determinism.

    If that idea is true the idea that we have an unmitigated, objective view of the universe is obviously an illusion.

    Free will would have to be independent of causality or it would be determined and not free. If it exists, it would not be possible to address it with science because of that. Science wouldn’t be able to find it because science is dependent on relationships within causality.

  7. #7 Anthony McCarthy
    February 14, 2012

    If everything is controlled by genes then that applies to ideas we have about science and disbelief, as William James pointed out more than a century ago. Only he didn’t know about genes, he talked about it as biological determinism.

    If that idea is true the idea that we have an unmitigated, objective view of the universe is obviously an illusion.

    Free will would have to be independent of causality or it would be determined and not free. If it exists, it would not be possible to address it with science because of that. Science wouldn’t be able to find it because science is dependent on relationships within causality.

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