The Liberal Brain

I was flipping through the channels and found an interesting program on the brain.  It was an episode in the Charlie Rose series, which features a panel of scientists discussing some newly identified brain mechanisms and how they  relate to social behaviors.  They were primarily concerned with autism as it relates to the deficient development of those brain mechanisms.   I missed the beginning of the program, and since these scientists were not identified in the closing credits, I have no idea who I am disagreeing with.  Perhaps that is for the best.  However, they most likely represent prevailing attitudes toward autism, which are quite liberal indeed.

I am prone to agree with Michael Savage, who says that autism is over-diagnosed.   In his often misquoted and misrepresented statements made about a year ago, Savage said that many children today are diagnosed as autistic with minimal symptoms and treated with drugs that can actually induce psychosis.  I heard his original broadcast on the subject, in addition to subsequent broadcasts in which a pediatric psychiatrist backed up this position with factual data.

It is their opinion, and mine, that the huge upswing in the numbers of children diagnosed with autism (The rate of occurrence has exploded.) is due to the decline of parental discipline and the increased role of schools and other government institutions in child-rearing responsibilities.  More and more parents have left the vital role of raising their children up to the schools.  And increasingly the schools and the government are expanding their authority over that of parents.  What the kids eat, what kind of medical care they get, what they are taught about religion, sex, you name it — it’s all being wrested out of the hands of parents and coming under the control of government run institutions.

One of the reasons parents are going easy on discipline is that current wisdom teaches them they must not damage the precious potential of children by being stern or disciplinary.  Parents are now supposed to be their child’s big buddy, so as to elicit voluntarily the desired behaviors.  Forcefulness in insisting a child do what he or she is told is seen as destructive.  Spanking is viewed as “violence”.  And of course, all violence is considered bad.  In fact most aggressive behavior on the part of a parent is seen as inappropriate.  Today, enforced “obedience” is seen as a certain kind of enslavement that will destroy a child’s sense of self-worth.

This attitude stems from a very basic assumption, which interestingly was succinctly stated by at least two of the scientific panelists on the Charlie Rose brain show.  According to these highly-educated, forward-looking scientists, humans are “born to be good but capable of evil”.  And it is “society” (human interaction) that teaches them to be bad.  These scientists think that it is the responsibility (and capability) of society to raise its children to “be good”.  That is why they study and research human development and human behavior: to make a better “society”.  And putting all those children on drugs is one way of reaching that goal.

I find this self-confessed assumption to be quite revealing.  If you haven’t picked up on it yet, please observe that this assumption is the exact opposite of Biblical teaching.  The moral underpinnings of western civilization, which produced scientific thought, is grounded in Christianity, which in turn inherited its moral underpinnings from the Jews and their Bible.  (That is why the Ten Commandments are seen — at least symbolically — as the foundation of American jurisprudence.  But that’s another story.)

We, in the west, have always seen human nature as sinful.  Humans are born in sin and must acknowledge and obey the almighty God in order to be good.  The righteousness of society is only reflected to the degree that enough individuals are being obedient to God.  It therefore has been traditional that the raising of children be highly focused on obedience, respect for authority and punishment for disobedience and disrespect.

I also find it interesting that these scientists assume the role of improving the moral condition of humans through the study of biological mechanisms and drug treatments  .  But that is only because they have devalued and discarded the traditional institutions of morality, i.e.  Biblical religions.  But more than simply declaring religion a “crutch” or something akin to superstition, these ungodly scientists have made a major paradigm shift in how they think about the brain.  A geneticist on the panel said that the brain is not just a calculator but a whole “psychological system” that is our “self”.

Those of us who hang onto traditional teachings see the “self” as something more than mere brain functions.  The “mind” is something more than just the mechanistic brain.  The “self” includes a spirit, a soul, a will, a faith.  These Godless scientists have declared themselves authorities over something they can not measure.  If they cannot measure it, they say it does not exist or call it a poetic expression — no more substantive than evaporating mists.  But when you know God, you know you are a spirit, and the true “self” is not to be found in the dark shadows of the brain.

At the end of the program, one of the panelists made a deprecating remark about “tribalism”.   I  can only assume what he meant, since he did not elaborate.  Now remember, this program was about the brain, its mechanisms of development and autism.  Any reference to “tribalism” would have to relate somehow to brain function.  When I think of tribalism, I think of the pride and significance that one’s tribe has to a Native American.  In the Bible, a great deal of importance was given to the twelve tribes in the history of Israel.  But I think this scientist views “tribalism” as a sort of small, exclusive group-think that tends to isolate them from others, and foments tension and violence with other small groups.

The reason I find this worthy of comment is because the New Age, politically correct attitude is “multi-cultural”.  We are supposed let everyone identify with whatever “culture” they wish, but not to be exclusive or defensive against other groups.  How there can be a universal acceptance of all groups with each group having its own pride of association and identity without inter-group conflicts is beyond me.  The social dynamics that serve to hold each small group together must be replaced with social dynamics that serve to hold a nation together.

Somehow, I think these scientists would define “tribalism” differently than I have, because I imagine they consider “nationalism” to be no different than “tribalism” on a larger scale.  Somehow, I imagine they would not cure “tribalism” by requiring all tribes accept the cultural/social norms of a nation; not by requiring all the tribes to speak the same language or obey the same laws.  Somehow, I see these scientists imagining a “good” or “better” society run not by free peoples, but by scientific fiat.  The scientists of the world would choose who the benevolent ruling panel of scientists would be, and they would make society better… probably by taking away all lines — no more borders, no more property.  Everyone would share everything and be each others’ buddies.  It all will be financed by the pharmaceutical companies who will keep everyone happily drugged.

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About retiredday

I am Michael D. Day, a regular, everyday guy -- retired. I stand for God-given freedom, which means I think for myself. I believe in being civil, because the Bible teaches that we should love our enemies. But I also believe in saying it how I see it, and explaining just why I see it that way, sort of like 2 Timothy 4:2.
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8 Responses to The Liberal Brain

  1. astrowright says:

    The notion that the “self” is merely the sum of a human’s physical parts, (brain, physiology, etc.,) was not simply “decided” by agnostic or atheistic scientists. It is a logical conclusion based, among other things, upon the reality that damaged brains can change and have been observed to change a given person’s personality and sense of self. I have yet to hear any sensible apologist address the obvious problems this poses.

    If a personality is defined by a soul and free will in addition to the brain, wouldn’t those additional components act as a buffer, reinforcing a person’s identity in the wake of physical brain trauma? Why, then, does the physical brain trump the soul in defining our identity? Why does the physical brain seem to trump everything else, in fact, in defining our sense of self?

    Furthermore, if the soul, free will, etc., are components of our “selves,” wouldn’t we expect to find anomalies when studying the brain that betray these other components’ existences? E.g., portions of “personality” or “identity,” such as memories, that are apparently unrelated to the brain? (i.e., missing brain activity associated with a person recalling memories, feeling alive, etc.) No such gaps appear to exist.

    I suppose the fundamental question I have is, if there is more to the self than the brain and body, and these components relate to us in some way in our reality, wouldn’t neuroscientists seem to find something missing that required their existence in order to understand how the brain works? Doesn’t this at the very least appear to diminish the importance of the soul in the sense of self from a physiological perspective?

    I find it interesting that the soul, which for the great majority of Christianity’s existence was believed to physically dwell in the human body until death (thereby defining self), has (like Heaven) in the face of science’s explanatory success been relocated to “elsewhere,” some place physically inaccessible to our reality. The soul is now no longer here, but rather in another dimension or plane of existence…? Someplace where measurements cannot be made…? Made of something that cannot be detected in any way, nor interact with our reality in any detectable way…?

    It seems as though this is an attempt to escape reality rather than explore its nature.

    I encourage you to not fault scientists for departing from traditional teachings where said teachings do not appear to relate to physical reality. Quite a successful precedent has been set in this way; see discoveries of causes of illness (viruses, bacteria), causes of earthquakes, weather, comets, senses of taste, sight, sound, etc., which all had conflicting traditional teachings that were ultimately proven untrue. Whether or not this undermines a societal moral foundation is a separate issue, and likewise how successful spanking and drug treatments are perceived to be in instilling or crippling a sense of discipline and self-worth is also a separate issue. Opinions there are likely to shift with time. However, the idea that a person’s mind is neurological in nature, and that a person’s “self” is a result of his mind, brain, and physiology, (like earthquakes being caused by the tectonically-induced physical stress and strain of crustal rock,) is not likely to change with time. Two cents.

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    • retiredday says:

      I appreciate your reasoned comment. However, “a logical conclusion” is only as good as the basic assumptions that underly one’s logic. Apparently you assume that the definition of reality is whatever can be measured. And you seem to limit that to, or at the very least give highest priority to “physical reality” when you encourage me “to not fault scientists for departing from traditional teachings where said teachings do no appear to relate to physical reality.” That statement isn’t exactly scientific. “Appear” can mean anything. Come on.

      When you cite the example of damaged brains changing “personality and sense of self” you have concluded that what others see (personality) and what the individual himself can sense is what defines the self. You discard the possibility that the self is anything beyond what can be observed, measured or sensed. Of course that’s a logical conclusion for you. But that is only because of your basic assumption. Scientific predictability is one thing but what “we expect to find” is based on assumptions, in this case, which go to the very definition of reality.

      When you ask, “wouldn’t neuroscientists seem to find something missing …” I can only sigh and remind you that when scientists test for anything, they test within very narrow parameters. A neuroscientist cannot discover anything that isn’t specifically limited to neuroscience. The absence of “gaps” in his understanding translates to being exhaustive only within his own discipline. To insist that the physiology of the brain defines the totality of self requires you make that assumption in the first place.

      Another basic assumption of yours is that physical reality (either the most important reality or the only reality) can be scientifically measured. Your conclusion is that if it cannot be measured, it does not exist. Your only allowance for ignorance (or inability to understand) is that our knowledge (science) is incomplete, and always growing, so we don’t understand everything yet. You do not allow for the possibility that what humans perceive (measure) is only a part of reality because we do not have the capability to grasp reality in its entirety.

      Essentially, when someone believes that reality goes beyond his senses and even beyond his ability to theorize (the extension of those senses), he accepts that his brain is limited to understanding only part of reality. He is limited while reality is limitless. The ability to believe in spiritual reality, in spite of not being able to comprehend it or measure it allows us to believe in God and that he is real. This perspective humbles a person and tends to make him want to do things that are beneficial to all humanity, because he is answerable to a higher power.

      You say that the undermining of “a societal moral foundation is a separate issue”. But it was the stated purpose of the panel of scientists, themselves, on the show I discussed that they wanted to make the world better (through science) because man is “born to be good” and society makes people bad. It isn’t another issue. It’s the issue. Liberal scientists are redefining the self and in particular attacking religion in order to make the world a better place, all according to their own, limited, self-serving assumptions. And it’s all about control — in this case by drugs.

      Those who reject any reality they cannot measure have placed themselves above it all. They assume god-like attitudes because they believe that all reality is subject to them … maybe not today, but eventually, as they learn more and more. There is nothing higher than themselves and their aspirations. They see themselves as the masters of reality and hate religion because it threatens their highly vaunted opinions of themselves.

      Your comment concluding that “a person’s “self” is a result of his mind, brain, and physiology” gave me pause. You have differentiated “mind” from “brain”. (The panel of scientists on the Charlie Rose show did not). If you can say we have a mind in addition to our brain, aren’t you proving my point? Are you saying our mind isn’t in the brain? How do you measure it? And if you can allow for that higher function, why not a spirit?

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      • astrowright says:

        Thanks for your equally-measured reply. I think your issue with the word “appear” is a semantic one – that you were taking me a bit too literally there. I was being gentle. What I meant was a state when teachings simply don’t relate to physical reality. And you’re right – what we’re talking about here is the nature of reality and/or existence. What does it mean for something to exist if we cannot measure it?

        You’re right that I discarded the possibility of self beyond which an outside observer (or the person him/herself) can detect, because this goes back to the same question about the nature of existence. Sure, I can propose an infinity of things that “exist” but are not detectable… But then what is to stop us from believing in anything we can imagine, then? This is the danger that leads me to a personally cautionary stance w/ respect to these concepts. The Greeks believed in Olympus and their Gods with the fervor to live, love, and fight to the death – and we know these things today to be fantasies. The only truths they contributed to future humanity that endure as truths were the ones that were based on measurements or experience – geometry, math, explorations of democracy, music, etc. This sets a very powerful precedent to me.

        And yes, I agree that, “an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” so the fact that a neuroscientist doesn’t find a gap isn’t conclusive. However, it certainly makes a good point. For quite a while, the functions of organs were a mystery, and how they related to things like mood, digestion, health, etc., wasn’t clear. In those cases there were clear gaps in our understanding of function. My only point is that to them, there was no need for an immeasurable “soul” or “self” – it could have perfectly well physically resided within the human body and “ascend” to heaven after death. It was only after medical science systematically closed these understanding gaps, (I am reminded of the attempts to weigh the soul by measuring a person’s weight before and after death,) that the soul was chased out of measurable reality.

        Science has moved beyond what we can see, (for instance with higher-dimensional geometry explaining gravity, etc.,) However, in that case reality is still an extension of our perceptions, as you say. I did not say I do not allow for reality to extend beyond our understanding, but with so many historical examples of past beliefs in the existence of things beyond our reality that ultimately were shown to be untrue, doesn’t that lend considerable weight to the precautionary stance that there isn’t necessarily anything beyond our measurable reality until we have a detectable reason to suspect there is? And, being that a person’s sense of self does not measurably exist without the brain, and seems wholly contained by the brain, (i.e., people don’t appear to have thoughts and feelings while their brain is dormant,) doesn’t that seem to be satisfactory? Sure, I could say that Geology AND immeasurable demons cause earthquakes, but to do so is to invite something unnecessary…

        My point is saying morality was a separate issue is that I see our understanding of self as transcendent to the current liberal views of society and the attempted control of it. I think the latter will change and the former will not. Likewise, something that few consider is the equally humbling (and in my experience nearly incomprehensible reality) that sets in to many people with an atheistic viewpoint. The reality that “this is all there is” can engender a much greater sense of attachment to humanity – that we have to band together because nothing else is watching after us. In truth, some of the greatest altruism I have experienced has been from non-believers. In a way, this is the same practical effect that believing in a higher power can have on a person, one is reactive (due to being held accountable) and one is proactive (due to wanting to ensure our survival and create a life of meaning.)

        I wouldn’t agree that those who view measurable reality as the only reality feel that their “highly vaunted opinions of themselves” are threatened by religion. I think you’ve misidentified the antagonism there. It seems to me that the source of the antagonism is reversed – that those of a religious viewpoint feel that their (admittedly very personal) beliefs in immeasurable portions of reality are threatened by the scientific assertions that those immeasurable realities aren’t just immeasurable – they’re simply not there, just as prior incarnations of spiritual belief in past civilizations have turned out to be fiction. Let me put it this way, I have yet to set a picket line of angry, “threatened” scientists rallying outside a church. I have, however, personally experienced much of the reverse outside of science departments. I think this reality tends to galvanize scientists against open admissions of the possibilities of something more, even though logically I think most would agree the possibility exists.

        And for your last point, the difference between mind, brain, and physiology is I think one that is quite open for debate. I’m not sure if I’ve proven your point there, but I think it’s worth exploring. It’s the same question as, “does a thought exist”? Well, does it? Does a memory? Well, yes – we’ve linked memories to portions of the brain. Is the mind software in our hardware brain (as I like to see it, personally)? But what implication does that have for software? Does a computer program “exist”? Sure, the disk drive exists, the disk exists, the magnetic ones-and-zeroes exist, but does the actual application on your computer exist when it isn’t “running” or the computer is off?

        Food for thought…

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      • retiredday says:

        You’ve presented a decent discussion. Different basic assumptions, philosophies and world views will produce different conclusions. Since my viewpoint is all about freedom, I have concluded that as pure as science is in theory, it has become an agenda-driven tool in the hands of governments for wielding political power. And though I respect individual scientific researchers who are working hard to discover cures and solutions for humanity’s various ills, I loath the metastasis of political correctness that is killing the spirit of freedom in scientific inquiry and debate.

        In addition to the current medical view of controlling children with drugs (while ignoring discipline), I can think of two other scientific areas that are under the thumb of political correctness: climatology and evolution. The hoax of global warming is well-documented. Whether you ‘believe in’ global warming, or are a hated ‘denier’, it requires a devout faith to accept Al Gore’s statement that “The debate is over.” When scientists are cavalierly discredited simply on the basis of the politically incorrect position they hold, it no longer is a question of science, but of politics. And that is what it has become.

        I am particularly annoyed by the politically correct science of evolution. In 1925, the Scopes trial supposedly settled the issue of whether or not the theory of evolution could be taught (in addition to creationism). Back then it was decided that both evolution and creationism could be taught, because like it or not, they are both theories. Then came the ‘separation of church and state’ issue. Originally intended to keep the government out of the church, the doctrine was twisted into keeping the church out of government. So, creationism was kicked out of public schools. When I was in high school, religious students whose beliefs rejected evolution were allowed to study another related subject matter and still get credit for the class. I don’t think public schools are that tolerant any more. They insist their curricula be shoved down the throats of all students equally.

        But then something happened. In 1987 a court case involving the separation of church and state introduced the idea that it was possible to credit the origin of life to an ‘intelligent design’ without saying you believe in creationism. Many accredited scientists felt comfortable with this concept and began to develop it. However, with a religious zeal the evolution authoritarians moved to squelch this heresy and protect the sanctity of natural selection. Respected, qualified scientists lost positions, fellowships and standing in their scientific community because they dared to question the dogma of evolution. And of course, when you are out of favor, you don’t get your papers published or peer-reviewed. So, in effect, there is “no debate”.

        Ben Stein documented this situation in his movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Included in the movie is an animation of some of the highly intricate and complex functions inside a single cell. This animated scene dramatically demonstrates how much our scientific understanding of cellular structure and function has increased since Charles Darwin first posited the idea of natural selection. If you watch this movie, I recommend you buy or rent the DVD because it has additional animated material in the bonus features, which goes into detail about the engineering wonder of the bacterial flagellum. It demonstrates the irrational assumption that such a complex design, involving highly specialized, interactive parts could have evolved from a more primitive form, since its complexity already exists at the most primitive level.

        Finally, to readdress the original intent of your comment, the very existence of paradox confirms to me that reality (however one defines it) is beyond the scope of human understanding. When I think of what can be measured, I think numbers. Numbers allow us to quantify things beyond our natural experience. For instance, if I need to conceptualize a huge number of people, I can recall crowds in sports arenas numbering in the tens of thousands. And I suppose I could visualize one hundred thousand persons, since that is only ten groups of ten thousand. But even though I can write the number one million, I can’t visualize a group that large. It’s an abstraction. The 300,000,000 population of the US: an abstraction. The almost seven billion population of the earth: just an abstraction. But that doesn’t really matter, does it? If you have a million dollars, who cares if the number is abstract as long as the bank keeps it straight. In such a way science allows us to do lots of stuff we don’t understand. I think on the one hand you are looking at the fact that we can do all these things, while I am looking at the fact that we really don’t understand them.

        Granted, some brainiac has to understand the reality that enables him to invent what he invents, but nobody understands everything. Isaac Asimov made the point that at the rate new things were being discovered, no one had enough time in one lifetime to learn everything. Total knowledge is beyond the grasp of any one person. Even if someday we have enough ‘measuring’ ability to travel through worm holes and fiddle with the time-space continuum, no one will be able to grasp it all. In short, humanity’s aggregate understanding of reality is beyond the capacity of a human being. We all must specialize in certain areas of knowledge and abstract everything else.

        As finite creatures, the greatest thing we can abstract is infinity. That in itself appears to be a paradox. How can a finite being even conceive of infinity? Is infinity just a tool of abstraction that allows us to deal with something beyond our understanding or is it an unmeasurable aspect of reality? I choose to believe that infinity is real but that I can only think of it in the abstract. I choose to believe that I am incapable of understanding the sum total of reality. As to believing in God, I agree with Romans 1:19&20, “…what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”

        While your concept of reality is focused on “creation”, mine is focused on the Creator.

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  2. Pingback: Mental Disorders 101

  3. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. (2Timothy 4:3-4)

    SOLA FIDES… The Protestant Revolt had many causes including state politics. Also the worldly lifestyle of certain popes, bishops and priests of that time helped to fuel the fire.

    However, the doctrine,
    Justification by Faith Alone , was the spark.

    This heresy exaggerates the truth concerning salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

    Even though some members of the Church at that time, such as Tetzel and Erasmus, may not have fully understood the doctrine of salvation, this does not excuse this heresy.

    It claims that Christians are saved by faith alone. As biblical support, St. Paul is usually cited: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” [Romans 3:28]

    Now this verse does not contain the word “alone.” Martin Luther actually added “alone” to this verse in his Bibles in order to promote this new doctrine.

    According to the RSV and NAB Bible translations, the phrase, “by faith alone”, only occurs once in the Bible, and that verse condemns this doctrine: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” [James 2:24]

    The other error is interpreting the “works of law” in Romans 3:28 as all good works.

    From the context, it is obvious that St. Paul is referring to the Law of Moses, and the “works of law” are circumcision, eating kosher and other Jewish practices (Acts 15:1-21).

    St. Paul writes elsewhere in the Bible: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” [Galatians 5:6] St.

    Paul’s understanding of faith, as expressed in the Bible, includes more than a confident trust in God, but also obedience to God (Romans 1:5).

    Also according to Catholic understanding, good works are not what I do but what God does through me by grace (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Romans 2:7), so there is no reason to boast (Ephesians 2:9).

    Even though Martin Luther still understood salvation in terms of grace, some later Christians did not.

    With the loss of focus on grace, this heresy eventually led to a “faith-alone” version of Pelagianism.

    This is the reason that some (not all) Protestants reject some or all of the Sacraments, sometimes even Baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3; 1 Peter 3:21).

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    • retiredday says:

      (Michael Gormley’s comment should be located at the Faith vs Works article.) You obviously grasp the faith vs works issue, but my point is that this classical theological debate has clouded a greater spiritual reality, which is that authentic Biblical faith already contains (includes, embraces, produces) “works”. Those “works” are seen and judged by God, and are not subject to the scrutiny, approval or direction of men or religions of men.

      In practice, the faith vs works argument places one believer as a judge over another believer. This happens because someone must be in the position to observe and evaluate “works” of faith. But I ask, who has the right to judge another’s works? That is up to God. If we are to judge at all, it is for the purpose of correcting sin, not for grading each others’ faith. But we must be careful to remove the “logs” from our own eyes when we seek to remove specks from the eyes of others. The outworking of the faith of Christians often includes many small, unseen and even secret acts (such as prayer or giving). We don’t know the whole story of what our brothers are doing or not doing. Only God does.

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