Opinion

Atheist Says Your Brain is Just a ‘Meat Computer’ and You Don’t Have Free Will

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.

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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”?

Physics is not about morality. “Physics … involves the study of matter and its motion through space and time, along with related concepts such as energy and force.” Physics has nothing to say about whether it’s right to steal material things or how we should use “energy and force” in an ethical way. Physics can study the restraints Ariel Castro used to bind his kidnapped victims, but it can’t say that what he did with those restraints was moral or immoral.

“Everything that you think, say, or do,” Coyne claims, “must come down to molecules and physics.”

This could have been a perfect lead into preparing a defense for the man who had been charged with kidnapping and sexual abuse. What moral laws of physics did he violate? Not one, since moral laws are not physical in nature and therefore do not consist of molecules, and according to Coyne, only molecules must obey the laws of physics. Coyne again:

“Decisions” . . . aren’t conscious ones. And if our choices are unconscious, with some determined well before the moment we think we’ve made them, then we don’t have free will in any meaningful sense.

Castro was directed by his unconscious genetic mechanism to do what he did. His meat machine of a brain had determined what was going to happen before the action took place because of the physicality of his brain. Castro’s body followed the instructions of the agitation of molecules in his brain.

Sometimes those molecules agitated to feed the female meat machines and sometimes they were agitated to rape them. Physics can’t say that either one of those actions is moral or immoral.

A physics or biology teacher could make the case that both feeding and raping are ways to perpetuate the human species. Keep the female receptacles alive so their reproduction chambers can reproduce offspring.

Were the aliens in the Alien film trilogy really monsters that should have been exterminated? They were only doing what their genes had programmed them to do via evolutionary development that took a different course from human evolutionary development. Like Mr. Castro, the Aliens were using humans as receptacles for their offspring. Both species evolved according to the “laws of physics and biology.” Who’s to say that what they were doing with competing but inferior meat machines with meat computers for brains was morally wrong? Not only can’t anyone hear you scream in space, there’s no one anywhere in the cosmos to hear any question about morality.

Who’s really teaching pseudoscience? It’s Dr. Coyne. Who’s making it easier for people like Ariel Castro to justify or excuse their actions? It’s Dr. Coyne’s meat computer analogy.

The molecules in Ariel Castro’s brain made him kidnap, rape, and torture. Here’s how Coyne concludes his article:

[B]y losing free will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, [or the Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro] 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.”

Mindless molecules and the laws of physics don’t know a thing about “empathy” or kindness. Ariel Castro was just following his genetic makeup.

Dr. Leon Kass, the Addie Clark Harding Professor in the College and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, said the following:

We have paid some high prices for the technological conquest of nature, but none so high as the intellectual and spiritual costs of seeing nature as mere material for our manipulation, exploitation and transformation. With the powers of biological engineering gathering, there will be splendid new opportunities for similar degradation of our view of man…If we come to see ourselves as meat, then meat we shall become.”2.

If we are meat machines and our brains are meat computers, then it’s not illogical to conclude according to a partial birth abortion “doctor” that an unborn baby is like “meat in a Crock-Pot.”

In a covertly made tape-recording at a Nebraska abortion clinic, Dr. Leroy Carhart told a pregnant woman that aborting her late-term baby by subjecting the child to a lethal injection inside the womb was “like putting meat in a Crock-Pot.”

“It’s like putting meat in a Crock-Pot. Okay? It doesn’t get broke – it gets softer. It doesn’t get infected,” Carhart said in response to a question from a Live Action investigator who posed as a potential patient. (CNS News)

The long-term consequences of brains, bodies, and babies are that in the end that we are nothing more than meat machines that are only receptacles to perpetuate the species by passing our genetic makeup to future generations. If this is so, and a scientist like Jerry Coyne tells us as much, then in the future there will never be a valid moral argument against genocide.

  1. see “Kill Switch, X-Files (Season 5, Episode 11). []
  2. Leon Kass, “Making Babies — The New Biology and the ‘Old’ Morality,” Childbirth: Changing Ideas and Practices in Britain and America 1600 to the Present, ed. Phillip K. Wilson (Taylor & Francis Ltd., 1996), 147. []
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