I'm not sure what names Phil wants me to name, but if he is referring to mocking dismissals of biological papers on this list he need only consult the archives. I do recall one particularly interesting (to me anyway) exchange with Maurice a while back about a paper that was very carefully done.

I think that "free will" is the wrong concept to be discussing here. A better one is that humans make choices between alternative course of action, and those choices may well represent in some cases a certain balancing of cultural/social versus biological factors. The decision whether to make war or peace could be looked at this way, because aggression is a biological phenomenon which is known in many, many animals (even some plants!) but humans channel it in cultural ways.

I think that Phil would be better at discussing these issues if he tried to be less of an ideologue and more of a truth seeker...


On Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 5:06 PM, Phil Gasper <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

On Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 8:54 AM, Michael Balter <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
In other words, many left critics of EP are strict social/cultural determinists and I don't think that viewpoint fits the evidence either. We see that viewpoint on this list when any and all attempts to understand the biological basis of behavior are automatically mocked and dismissed often without taking a serious look at the study in question ("another attempt to..." is a common beginning of such posts here.)

I think Jon Beckwith is right that given the sorry history of these ideas, it is perfectly reasonable to be skeptical of the flavor of the day. The burden of proof is on those who think these hypotheses should be taken seriously. But do name names Michael, and provide some evidence for your claims.
Dawkins himself has stated many times that just because there is a biological basis for certain behaviors does not mean they can be excused or accepted, because we are social creatures capable of inhibiting,  modifying, and perhaps most importantly reinterpreting biological "drives" (and I don't mean in the Freudian sense.)

This is standard boilerplate from Pinker, Dawkins, etc., but unless we think that free will is some kind of deus ex machina, how does it coherently fit with anything else they say without undermining their whole approach? Apart from the occasional throw away line, Dawkins et al. have never attempted to theorize this claim, and I don't think they can without throwing out much else of what they say.


Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
Boston University

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