Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Having been critical ...

.. of posts on the First Things site in the past, I'm happy to be able to acknowledge an absolutely brilliant post there today. If you read only one thing today, make it the post at this link.


  1. Well, he's very angry to say the least. I think its more of the same, two polar opposites digging their heels in while the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Of course Dawkins is wrong, but so is this guy (I'm assuming its a guy). He exalts culture but whose culture? There's an old saying, "until the lion learns how to write the tale of the hunt can only be told by the hunter."

  2. I see anger in some of the language and the tone of the piece. I think that's the problem with most of the right wing arguments. They vigorously defend tradition and orthodoxy against what they consider post-modern heresy, and refuse to acknowledge even a grain of truth because they're afraid that if they do their whole belief system will fall apart.

    I think the quote I gave should read "the tale of the hunt can only be told from the perspective of the hunter."

  3. I'm sorry but I don't see any angry language at all in that piece. I think you may have misread it if you do.

    I'll have some more to say about tradition in an upcoming post.

  4. I had to run out to work this afternoon or I would have elaborated more on my original response.

    Lets leave the anger issue aside for now. The author is disputing the view of Dawkins et al that free will does not exist because our minds are just neural networks that function according to physical laws. He continues that the reason for the view of Dawkins et al is because they want to deny the reality and the authority of culture. Lets leave "whose culture" aside for now also.

    I'm not willing to rule out Dawkins theory at this point. The neurosciences have shown us empirically that biology plays a major role in the way humans behave, our emotions, and the choices we make. This can be seen in the most extreme examples in people who are born with a developmental disability (mental retardation, autism spectrum disorder), people with an aqcuired brain injury, and those who have various forms of dementia, from Alzheimer's to acute vascular dementia caused by a series of almost imperceptible mini strokes. The field of Neurobiology has also shown us that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until the early '20s, and the part that develops last is the frontal lobe which governs judgement, impulsivity, and the ability to project potential consequences for one's actions. The frontal lobe is also the site of most acquired brain injuries. People with dementia often have to be placed on round the clock supervision because they are no longer capable of making wise and rational choices, and can do harm to themselves and others, and complete personality changes are often noted. That is biology, not a character issue. People with acquired brain injury often become hypersexual and lose impulse control along with changes in personality, again an issue of biology not character.

    As I see it, all of the above beg the question, to what degree do other brain functions that we're not yet aware of influence our ability to make totally free choices, perhaps not as extreme as the examples I have cited above? I can think of one right off the top of my head, ADHD. I'm among the large number of people who went to school before anyone knew there was such a thing as ADHD, so I was undiagnosed until about two years ago. I suspected it after working with two male clients, one about my age and the other much younger who were both diagnosed with it. I did extensive research and consulted with more than one colleague, and we all reached the conclusion that I have ADHD and have always had it. Like others my age who are undiagnosed, I made accomodations to it which I was completely unaware of but which enabled me to lead a fairly normal life. But I never did as well as I thought I was capable of, especially pre-grad school, and didn't know why. It came as a relief to know that it wasn't a character issue after all but biology and chemistry.

    Consequently, it seems to me that to dismiss Dawkins et al as heretics who want to tear down culture is foolish and ignores what has now been proven empirically. Maybe Dawkins is right, and maybe the burden should be on the traditionlists to reconcile what we know empirically to be true with tradition and orthodoxy. I would like not to believe that biology is destiny, and maybe if the appropriate interventions are available it might not be. But biology is destiny for the person with Down Syndrome, and my mother's aunt who lives in the locked unit of a nursing home since her stroke where she will remain until the day she dies.