Tuesday, January 12, 2010

White Mice in a Maze

"Its not my fault." This seems to be the standard excuse today. It's all in how I was raised, my heredity, or the defects of society. This comes from thinking we are products of our environment and do not really make our own choices.

But if our thoughts are the result of our environmental conditioning, then none of our thinking reflects what is true, but is only what we are conditioned to believe. And if we cannot know anything to be true, we cannot prove we are determined by our environment. But the individuals who hold to this want to make a exception for their own reasoning. What is even more ironic, many would like to improve the race by better conditioning. As if "better" meant something different than what they happened to be conditioned to prefer.

But let's look at the evidence. It is clear that there is a close connection between our mind and our brain. But we are still far from being able to explain our total mental processes in terms of brain function. It is also true that our thinking is molded by our past experiences and probably our heredity. But this does not mean there is not a self that is making decisions based on these factors. It is frequently held that many forms of mental illness may be the results of chemical imbalances in the brain. But it is a known fact that the ingestion of certain substances (alcohol, marijuana etc.) can have an effect on the mind. Would it be surprising if the chemicals in the brain produced similar effects without an outside agent? What does this prove?

I own a device called an automobile. How it functions depends on its condition. Are the tires in good shape? Has the oil been changed recently? Do the brakes work? Also, it is affected by its environment, by the road conditions, the weather, the behavior of other motorists. All these things affect how the car goes down the road. But that does not mean there is not a driver steering the car. Also, how the car is performing can end up affecting the behavior and mental state of the driver. Could our mind and body work the same way?

But the main reason people hold to this deterministic view of human behavior is it fits in with the philosophy of Naturalism. This philosophy holds that all events can be explained by natural processes working through an unbroken chain of cause and effect. C. S. Lewis held (see, for example, his book Miracles) that the fact Naturalism consistently applied led to the conclusion we cannot know anything indicated Naturalism was false. I am forced to agree with him. And, if so, we are left with the conclusion we really are responsible for our own actions. We are not white mice in a maze, but moral agents who may just ultimately have to answer to a holy God.

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