Can an Evolved Brain Choose Good and Evil?
If the brain evolved, wouldn’t anything the mind does be determined by forces beyond one’s control?
Choose to disbelieve in determinism: “Humans are wired for prejudice but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story,” Caitlin Millett writes in The Conversation. A neuroscientist doctoral candidate at Penn State, Millett begins by telling her readers that their brains evolved:
Humans are highly social creatures. Our brains have evolved to allow us to survive and thrive in complex social environments. Accordingly, the behaviors and emotions that help us navigate our social sphere are entrenched in networks of neurons within our brains.
Yet at the end of her article, she preaches that we need to overcome our evolution by the power of free will:
In today’s world people are more connected than ever – from social media to Skype, to the never-ending news cycle – people are exposed to increasing diversity. Due to these advances, we as a global community are also faced with the knowledge that prejudice-based discrimination and violence still exist. It’s become a human imperative to transcend divisive impulses which no longer serve our survival. Neuroscience has started to educate us about innate human drives. It’s now up to all of us how to use this information.
This implies that we have an imperative (a command) to fight our evolution, and choose how to use the information that evolutionary neuroscience has revealed. Does it make sense to fight one’s own evolution? How does a being under the power of natural selection transcend one’s impulses?
Fight your bias: Conservatives might be glad to finally find one admission that bias applies to both sides of the political aisle, but Science Daily assumes everyone is capable of recognizing their bias and overcoming it. “Demonizing whole groups of people, saying that they are inherently incapable of understanding science, is not only false, it is not an effective communication strategy,” R. Kelly Garrett, a communications professor at Ohio State, said. “Everyone can be biased. Calling people names is not a solution.” This indicates how differently professors in the humanities and the sciences can view the mind, responsibility, and free will.
Convince, don’t fight: Along the same lines, Bliuc and McGarty in The Conversation advise global-warming believers (like themselves) not to bash global-warming skeptics. Their headline, “Overcoming the social barriers to climate consensus,” reveals that they support the human-caused global warming position. Yet the authors preach peace. “It can be tempting to think that people who disagree with you are mad, bad or simply stupid,” they say. “However, not only are such judgements usually wrong, but telling people that they are stupid is unlikely to convince them of the merit of your own view.” Their emphasis on social solutions to the political divide presupposes free will.
The downside of political coercion: The bitter fruit of treating a populace like robots to be manipulated can be seen in China’s backtracking on their decades-long “one-child policy.” Seeing that they have created a gender imbalance that threatens social unrest and other unintended consequences, they are now attempting to fix it by mandating a “two-child policy.” But it’s generating more unrest, Medical Xpress reports. A whole generation has grown up looking down on parents with more than one child, and seeing them severely punished; can they switch gears so easily? Outsiders are warning the leaders that a two-child policy cannot be forced on Chinese parents. In an op-ed for a leading Communist Party newspaper, Liu Zhun advised, “It is better to carry forward the new policy through encouragement and incentives, which will be more easily accepted by the people.”
That last story is tragic, but it illustrates the stark contrast between an evolution-based communist society and a creation-based free society. Communists built their system on Darwinian biology. Accordingly, they treated their people as animals to be manipulated. The document that launched America’s free society rests its propositions on the self-evident truth that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. Rights imply responsibilities, and responsibilities imply free will. A government that mandates a “one-child policy” runs roughshod over the rights of their people; is anyone surprised when “unintended consequences” follow?
John Stossel’s weekly TV program this week focuses on the differences between communism and capitalism. Stossel, a libertarian who believes in evolution, nevertheless argues for freedom on pragmatic grounds; freedom is good because it works. Government coercion brings waste, low quality and suffering. This shows that he really doesn’t believe in evolution; else why create a show trying to convince people to think and use reason?
All of these articles presuppose free will. If they didn’t why would a neuroscientist choose to write about the brain and tell readers how they should overcome prejudice? Why would supporters of a political persuasion choose to write about how to convince (not coerce or manipulate) others of the correctness of their views? Why should a communist write an op-ed to encourage leaders to switch from mandates to incentives?
These articles show that determinism is self-refuting. We all know our own consciousness. We all know the influences that tempt us, but understand that we have the freedom to choose against temptation and do the right thing.