Science and the Human Mind, Part 3

Science and the Human Mind, Part 3

Psychologist B. F. Skinner argued half a century ago that behavior is nothing more than an endless stream of stimuli and responses. The stimulus determines the response, he claimed, so the one who controls the stimuli of a whole people controls their behavior. His novel Walden II portrays such a society.

We have much greater knowledge of the brain now and can give much more sophisticated arguments against such ideas as free will, dignity, even ideas themselves. The brain, we are told by some, is just an extremely complex network of neurons and synapses transmitting electro-chemical signals.

There is no such thing as a mind and certainly nothing like a “spirit.” In fact, they say, our very sense of identity, our “selfhood” as persons is illusion. We are de-humanized into mere computers with agile bodies. Our DNA has been programed by evolution to determine our responses to stimuli.

One of the many problems with such thinking is that it leaves us with no way to escape this illusory world of selfhood, free will, and dignity to live with the greatly reduced view of reality. Like it or not, we must live as free and responsible individuals.

There are some scientists who are working to articulate a scientific (i.e. materialist) basis for ethics, just as Enlightenment philosophers such as Kant and Hume and Mill tried to give a philosophical foundation more than two centuries ago. “Scientific” morality seems to me an even more impossible dream than philosophical morality.

In the first place, there is no way to persuade the whole human population to accept the idea – even if we could describe it in seemingly logical terms – that there are no ideas, no minds, no freedom, no choices.

More fundamentally, there can be no moral responsibility without accountability. We are to be morally responsible to whom? Accountable to whom? Answerable to whom? These are tough questions for anyone who believes there is no “whom” in the universe, only objects.

If, as they hope, we all accept and live by whatever is deemed to be scientific morality, it will be because we are choosing to do so as free, responsible persons. Wouldn’t that drive the neuro-scientists crazy?

It makes far, far more sense to me that we are responsible to our Creator who has revealed himself to us in many ways but centrally in Jesus Christ. It is to my Lord that I am held accountable.


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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