Curing the Human Condition
Regis NicollRegis Nicoll's weblog
- 2010 Nov 19
Albert Einstein, a man who was often ambiguous about his religious views, once admitted that he rejected the God of his Jewish heritage for that of Spinoza, the 17th-century philosopher.
For Spinoza, "God" was not a supernatural Being but an omnipresent principle of cosmic order and harmony. His universe was one of matter and motion in which every outcome was pre-determined according to that primal physical essence. It was a thoroughly naturalistic worldview, leaving no room for free will.
Enamored of the ideas of Spinoza, Einstein rejected the notion of free will in favor of the belief that everything obeys the deterministic laws of nature. For folks who similarly take naturalism seriously, a human being is not an autonomous agent acting upon nature, but a biochemical machine ruled by Nature.
The machine view
With Nature as master, human thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors follow predictable patterns amenable to scientific investigation and intervention. Richard Dawkins has gone as far as to claim that we are genetic robots mechanically responding to the "desires" of selfish genes. Such thinking motivates the ongoing efforts to discover the bio-physical "causes" for sexual preferences, religious beliefs, anti-social behaviors, and mental illness.
For example, education advocate Stacey DeWitt credits Darwinian processes for child bullying, as does psychologist David Buss for adultery. Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, attributes "faulty circuits" in the brain for depression and various mood disorders.
Insel muses that treating mental illness may be "akin to ‘rebooting' a computer that has become frozen." His expectation is that our "science-based understanding of mental illness very likely will revolutionize prevention and treatment."
In the "machine view" of human nature, improving the human condition is a matter of treating defective parts, scientifically and impersonally.
Against that view are a couple of Duke University neuroscientists. In October, Drs. Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi received an award (and will receive another one in December) for their research on the influences of genes and environment on human behavior. The summary of their key finding, according to Dr. Moffitt, is "you can't choose your genes, but you face many choices in life which can determine how those genes will play out." (Emphasis added.)
The late Bill Wilson would agree... Continue reading