Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Critical Reflections on When Science Meets Religion - Part 4 of 5

With a mere month left of classes things are about to start heating up. Two ten page term papers due within a month (one in Political Science, one in Interpersonal Communications), a final big multimedia convergence project, not to mention final exams and the mountains of reading assignments and studying in between.

We're heading into the final chapter today, and it's pretty exciting to be close to the finish line on this one. Only one more book left to read for this particular class (Next on the docket is True To Life: Why Truth Matters by Michael P. Lynch) and it's kind of unfortunate. This class is pretty much the highlight of the week.

Next week the final entry for this book will be posted. So far nobody has had any negative comments on any of them, so one can only assume that the handful of people who have been reading this series of reflection papers agrees with everything. Implicit agreement by silence. 

Maybe we just want an argument.

This chapter got a little hairy, since it involved multiple scientific disciplines, but it was no less fun to play around with.

Here ya go.

Critical Reflection on ‘When Science Meets Religion’ by Ian G. Barbour
Chapter 5: Genetics, Neuroscience, and Human Nature

Overall, this chapter presented more vague and varied concepts that previous chapters. This made it difficult to hold onto a common thread in the theme of scientific versus religious views on human nature and the evolution of morality. This can probably be explained by the general infancy of the fields of genetics and neuroscience when compared to the much older history of study in the fields of astronomy, quantum physics, and evolution.

In the study of consciousness, understanding becomes influenced by the observer, or as Crick says, interpretation of what is observed depends on “symbolism by each conscious organism” (122), so meaning of the observer is applied to the outcome. Past that, further theories of reductive materialism in relation to consciousness appear ridiculous. The way in which Dennett describes self and consciousness, disembodied from each other, leaves an image of a floating brain that is simply generating environments, events, images, and “multiple draft scenarios” in which we are entirely unaware. This almost makes it appear as if the brain has intention, which Dennett then goes on to reject in his theory of the intentional stance of human action. Once again, the brain becomes the master, and we are merely a blindfolded puppet - or, worse, as Dennett proposes, “robots made of robots”. (123)

Curiously, in the summary of a Times story by Wright, supporting the sociobiology and human morality stance, Wright claims that there are genetic basis for both infidelity and criminality, and that they are part of all human genetics. Barbour posits that according to Wright, the belief in free will leads to “deterrents to criminal behavior”, deterrents such as an understanding of “responsibility and punishment”, but conveniently leaves out how that same belief in free will can deter infidelity. (125) It seems completely overlooked in that brief section that much of what maintains order in society, in overcoming (or expressing) genetic base-animal instincts and behavior, is done through reward/punishment systems, not just infidelity and criminal behavior, but also violence, compassion and altruism, and love. Even further, similar systems exist in “low-level” organisms of nature, both in the wild and in domesticated animals and house pets. So then, the responsibility felt through free will does not necessarily account for the suppression of the genetic drive, but rather becomes determined by the perceivable reward systems of nature1 and/or culture.

In arguments for behavioral genetics, Barbour recognizes that studies such as reports that “the percent of Afro-Americans in prison is nine times that of the white population” (127) which conclude that it’s due to genetic differences, are erroneous. Interpretation of these reports are subject to cultural bias and views, and the ignoring of other aspects involved (such as various social factors) are perpetuated by media preference for publicizing incomplete reports, in lieu of publicizing later reports that contradict the social bias paradigm. This is a good illustration of how concepts of human behavior, perceived as genetically determined, can be historically influenced by persistent culturally constructed archetypes.

Humans are not machines, or “passive stimulus-response mechanisms”, but beings capable of creativity, deliberation, choice (even if choice is limited by laws of nature) and responsibility. The influence of environment and experience on human freedom creates symbiotic environments, which influences human behavior; but within that influence lies freedom over determinism. The sum of experiences influence behavior, it is true that “we cannot choose the cards we have been dealt, but we can to some extent choose what we do with them”. Freedom is the “result of our motives, intentions, and choices and are not externally coerced” and therefore “freedom is self-determination at the level of the person.” (127) Science says that we are animals with genetically wired behaviors, many of which work in congruence with maintaining balance; culturally constructed religion says that we are sinful and must be controlled through religious ideology. There is much conflict between the concept of freedom within the dichotomy of natural science and religion, in which one acts as a clear cohort in behavioral choices, and the other allows for natural expressions.

In the move to the independence of religion and science in human nature, Barbour looks to the various body/soul dualisms in religion. This section wasn’t as clear about the independence between the concepts, and I was left with the opinion that there is no more a disconnect between the body and soul that there is a disconnect from body and mind. They become the same thing. Consciousness, then, is your soul – your mind is your soul. Consciousness is what is gone when you die, the “light” that some may call a soul.

It was interesting to learn that many Catholics’ recognize primate and proto-human hominid evolution as legitimate, but what was more interesting was their theory of evolution of the human soul - that at some point between proto-human hominids and homo sapiens souls began to develop (131). If you consider the soul as a religious concept of human consciousness, this actually works - but in this there is integration, not independence, of science and religion.

Complimentary perspectives in body and soul dualism assert that humans are biological organisms with the obligation to treat other people with dignity and respect. In this perspective, there is no original sin, rather “we are born into a sinful social structure […] that perpetuates racism, oppression, and violence” (134). Ideally then, in this view, matters of the soul requires that there be an element of God. This supports biblical (human created) concepts of sin and redemption. Watts claims, in this dualism “we need to see science and religion as potentially complementary perspectives on the world.” (133). To which I disagree, as demonstrated thus far, perspectives of the world, particularly in the case of human nature, can easily be attained through understanding natural science.

In dialogue, Barbour turns to neuroscience, anthropology and computer science to seek the harmony between religion and science in aspects of human behavior. He speaks of emotions in cognition, which brings to mind a marriage of genetics and environment, nature and nurture, in human nature and behavior. In the embodied self, Arbib says, “actions are guided by perceptions, expectations, and goals” (136) – these expectations and goals are simply a refined understanding of punishments and rewards. If you act in this way, you can expect this outcome, which is the goal. This concept can be demonstrated in simple behavioral studies with lab animals.

The evolutionary role of emotions, such as adoration and fear, are important survival traits, such as when a mother animal protects its young, a lion protects its pride, or any animal senses danger and acts upon it to maintain survival. When created through a cultural (religious) social construction, human created emotions, such as guilt and shame, become an important role in social control (138) and control of behaviors which are perceived outside of normal bounds of cultural manufactured expectations – those emotions are not significant in survival, outside of social constructs.

To touch briefly on Barbour’s assessment of computer science and human nature, there is much development in Artificial Intelligence, in the last fourteen plus years, in which robots with “developmentally acquired capacities” programmed to learn have been created. I respect that there are vast differences between computers (robot brains) and (human) brains, but focusing on the similarities seems far more constructive. The main point I want to address, not having a vast understanding of robotic computer science, is related Barbour’s query as to whether or not it is possible to create a robot with the capacity to love, or to feel other emotions. If you look to the brain as a process computer, and acknowledge that love in humans is a chemical reaction, a response in the circuits, it is not beyond possibility to create a robot, already able to learn, that is capable of love. Even if their feelings of love were fundamentally different from ours, which Barbour supposes, I would argue that it would not make those feeling any less real. (142) For instance, emotions are subjective, you can only know how emotions feel in yourself, and cannot judge the legitimacy of that same emotion, felt differently by another person, based on your personal experience.

Finally, the way in which religion and science is presented to integrate in human nature/behavior is at odds with the general understanding of the role of God of creation. Phillip Hefner purposes that humans are evolutionary co-creators with God in forming “a new level of creation”. This is at odds with almost all biblical teachings, in which God created everything and it was “good”. The only part entirely agreeable is the claims of this section was that “we have a responsibility not only for our own future but also for the rest of the creatures on our planet” (143). There is an underlying responsibility in being a conscious human being. That responsibility comes from an understanding and awareness of the effects of our behaviors, whether genetically or culturally driven, on people and the environment, and that makes humans accountable for the health and well-being of the planet and all things on it.

Ian, Barbour G. When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners. N.p.: HarperCollins, 2000. N. pag. Print.

1. Barron, Andrew B., Eirik Søvik, and Jennifer L. Cornish. "The Roles of Dopamine and Related Compounds in Reward-Seeking Behavior Across Animal Phyla." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Oct. 2010. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.

...More From This Class:
- Critical Reflections on When Science Meets Religion
     Part 1 of 5 (http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2014/03/critical-reflections-on-when-science.html)

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