Bright Wednesday 2012

“When the women arrived at the tomb early in the morning, they were perplexed, not knowing what to make of it being empty; they required an angel to explain what had happened. The Christian faith is not based on the empty tomb, for this ‘bare fact’ requires interpretation: was the body perhaps stolen?  The same holds true for the resurrection appearances: when he appears, not only do they recognize him, but they also start telling him about this Jesus who was put to death, and that the tomb was found empty (Lk. 24:22-24).

So, the Christian faith is not based on the appearances of the risen Lord. Only when the crucified and risen Christ opens the Scriptures to them, to show how it was necessary for him to have gone to his passion to enter his glory, do the disciples’ hearts began to burn, so that they are prepared to recognize him in the breaking of bread (Lk. 24:28-35). Yet once finally recognized, he disappears: ‘and their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight’ (Lk 24:31). At the very moment that the disciples finally encounter Christ knowingly, he passes out of their sight.”   (John Behr in Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pg. 72)

A Test Case – Applying Neuroscience to Law

This is the 15th blog in the series which began with The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self and is exploring ideas about free will, the mind, the brain and the self. The previous blog is Implications of the Free Will Debate.   This blog series is based on the recent books of two scientists who are considering some claims from neuroscience about consciousness and free will:  Michael S. Gazzaniga’s  WHO’S IN CHARGE?:  FREE WILL AND THE SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN and Raymond Tallis’  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.

Arguments about whether or not humans have free will are not abstract debates with no practical implications.  As Tallis makes perfectly clear those he labels as the ideologues of Darwinitis and neuromania are intent on reshaping all of human culture according to their philosophical presuppositions.  Tallis warns that we all should be paying attention to this debate and not allowing ourselves to be deceived by scientism which pretends to be science.  Gazzaniga is not so confrontational and rather wants us all to recognize that there are different realms of knowledge and that questions about free well, consciousness and self are after all philosophical debates and not scientific ones since they are dealing with immaterial concepts and science by definition is limited to the study of the material world.   We can look at one issue which Gazzaniga spends some time on: the legal implications of the free will debate.  Both Tallis and Gazzaniga see the neuroscientific technology of the fMRI being brought ever more frequently into the courts as evidence and neuroscientists being called upon to offer their expert opinions on behaviors and free will.  Since the modern Western  sense of justice requires that a person must be capable of making a choice before being found guilty of having committed a crime, the neuromaniac’s claims that there is no such thing as free will has absolute implications for justice of any kind.

Leaving aside the ideological claims of the neo-atheist’s faith in scientism, we can see wherein there are problems.  Gazzaniga outlines the judicial problem in the following way:

“Justice is a concept of moral rightness, but there has never been an agreement as to what moral rightness is based on: ethics (should the punishment fit the crime, retribution, or be for the greater good of the population, utilitarian?), reason (will punishment or treatment lead to a better outcome?), law (a system of rules that one agrees to live by in order to maintain a place in society), natural law (actions results in consequences), fairness (based on rights? based on equality or merit? based on the individual or society?), religion (based on which one?), or equity (allowing the court to use some discretion over sentencing)? Nonetheless, the judge tries to come up with a just disposition.”   (Gazzaniga, Kindle Loc. 3270-75)

First, Gazzaniga may overstate the problem – there was a fair amount of broad social agreement on dealing with issues of justice that governed Western civilization for some time.  It is the case that as modern Western society has moved away from a purely modernist view point and relied more on human reason than divine revelation that more diverse viewpoints have come to the forefront.  Multiple perspectives on any issue have become increasingly accepted in our totally individualistic and autonomous based thinking.  The seeds of the Enlightenment’s fight for the absolute rights of the individual have taken root.  Post-modernism and its rejection of any meta-narrative tying together individuals is a fruit of this evolution in thinking.   So under the influence of several very prominent current philosophical trends, agreements about morality and normality and what is acceptable have eroded.  This is the cause of the very partisan and divisive politics in our country.  Some would also say it is simply the nature of modern democracy.

The neuroscience contribution to the fray is that in courts more appeals are being made to fMRI technology to excuse or defend individuals based on the notion that they have “abnormal brains” and thus cannot be held personally accountable for their behavior.  Gazzaniga points out some of the problems with the courts uncritically accepting fMRI scans as scientific proof for excusing behavior:

“There are other problems with the abnormal brain story, but the biggest one is that the law makes a false assumption. It does not follow that a person with an abnormal brain scan has abnormal behavior, nor is a person with an abnormal brain automatically incapable of responsible behavior. Responsibility is not located in the brain. The brain has no area or network for responsibility. As I said before, the way to think about responsibility is that it is an interaction between people, a social contract. Responsibility reflects a rule that emerges out of one or more agents interacting in a social context, and the hope that we share is that each person will follow certain rules. An abnormal brain does not mean that the person cannot follow rules.”   (Gazzaniga, Kindle Loc. 3078-83)

Gazzaniga in the above statement comes closer to the position and concerns that Tallis raises.  Personality responsibility like consciousness and free will do not reside only at the level of individuals but are part of the shared social space in which all humans participate.  Gazzaniga points out:

“Diagnosed with schizophrenia after the fact by a psychiatrist for his defense, John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity for his attempt to assassinate President Reagan. This attempt, however, was premeditated. He had planned it in advance, showing evidence of good executive functioning. He understood that it was against the law and concealed his weapon.”  (Gazzaniga, Kindle Loc. 3092-94)

Wisdom, Justice, Vice & Crime, Corruption, Slander, Deception, Despotic Power

The push by some neo-atheists to deny the existence of free will in humans carries with it an extensive agenda to reform society  based on the ideology of scientism, which is a system of belief which denies many of the ideals, aspirations and hopes that have traditionally guided society.  It calls into question the purpose of legal consequences by denying that a person has the ability to make the choices they do.  Gazzaniga counters:

“No matter what their condition, however, most humans can follow rules. Criminals can follow the rules. They don’t commit their crimes in front of policemen. They are able to inhibit their intentions when the cop walks by. They have made a choice based on their experience. This is what makes us responsible agents, or not.”   (Gazzaniga, Kindle Loc. 3432-34)

Lady Freedom

Thus the push for changing how human society has dealt with social problems based in the belief system of scientism is an effort to deceive for it claims to be based in pure science while it based in the philosophical beliefs of materialism.  This is why Tallis warns strongly that we should be afraid of those who believe they can scientifically engineer human morality.  Scientism may be a child of the Enlightenment but it intends to gut the very nature of American idealism which is based in human freedom and personal responsibility.

Next: Do We have the Brains to Deal with Ourselves?

Pascha: The Redemption of Creation

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice.

Let the whole world visible and invisible, keep the feast.

For Christ risen is our eternal joy.

(from Paschal Matins, Ode 1)

While some Christian traditions narrowly focus the salvific work of Christ to His death on the cross, the Orthodox tradition celebrates the very person of Jesus Christ as being the locus of salvation.  It is not just one event (His crucifixion) which brings about the salvation of the world, but His very being and entire life which transfigures and transforms the entire cosmos in the promised new creation.  It is not just human which needs to be forgiven, but also creation itself is in need of regeneration, which occurs in the person of Jesus Christ.  St. Paul makes this very clear in his Epistle to the Romans:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8:18-23)

All of creation is redeemed and freed from bondage to decay and death!  St. Paul writes of creation anthropomorphically as creation itself, the entire universe, longed for and eagerly awaited and anticipated the salvation of the fallen human race.  This is based in the notion that God made the created world for us human, and our fall through sin introduced death into the created world, thus disturbing the natural order as the world fell with us through separation, disintegration and alienation into death.

In the resurrection of Christ, creation itself begins to experience its own restoration and reunion with God our Creator.

Your resurrection, O Christ our Savior,

Has enlightened the whole universe,

Recalling Your creation.

Glory to You, O Almighty Lord!

(Apostikha of Paschal Vespers)

Pascha, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, means death is destroyed, and all the people of the world and even all creation can again make God the Lord of our lives and existence.  He is after all the Lord of the living (Luke 20:38) for He makes all to live!  Death no longer has dominion, it is defeated even though it continues to claim power over all the empirical world.  The faith and hope of Christianity is that death is shown to be the real temporary condition – life reigns and in Christ is made eternal.

Let creation rejoice!  Let all born on earth be glad!

For hateful hell has been despoiled.

Let the women with myrrh come to meet me;

for I am redeeming Adam and Eve and all their descendants,

and on the third day shall I arise!

(from Paschal Nocturnes, Ode 9)

[The photos in this blog were taken on Pascha Sunday, April 15,  or during  Bright week –  as walked around to see what creation was doing as we celebrated its redemption from the bondage to which it had been subjected.

You can see more of the photos on my Flickr site at April Day or an April Sunrise.]