Jump to content

Free Will


GeorgeW
 Share

Recommended Posts

I am interested in the idea of free will. This is often cited as the basis for holding a person responsible for their behavior in various contexts, most notably religion and criminal justice.

 

I do not completely rule out the existence of some measure of free will, but I also think that it is highly constrained by one’s genetic inheritance, culture, social factors, personal experiences, psychological factors, etc.

 

These are factors over which a person has little or no control. And, in judging someone’s behavior, I don’t think it is not possible to know what factors led to their behavior.

 

I would be interested in others thoughts.

 

George

  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry, I am new to the forum and was not aware that this had been previously discussed.

 

George

 

George,

Tthat is quite alright. You may want to read that thread and then continue this one. You are free to re-discuss an interest. I just provided the link to give you some background on a past discussion i thought was applicable and that you might not be aware of.

 

Joseph

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am interested in the idea of free will. This is often cited as the basis for holding a person responsible for their behavior in various contexts, most notably religion and criminal justice.

 

I do not completely rule out the existence of some measure of free will, but I also think that it is highly constrained by one’s genetic inheritance, culture, social factors, personal experiences, psychological factors, etc.

 

These are factors over which a person has little or no control. And, in judging someone’s behavior, I don’t think it is not possible to know what factors led to their behavior.

 

I would be interested in others thoughts.

 

George

 

It seems that we can only live "as if" we are free, irrespective of whether we are or not. The arguments flow back and forth concerning destiny, fate, God's will, God's foreknowing, predestination etc etc, both philosophical arguments and theological arguments. Some I have real trouble getting my head around!

 

I think we are constrained by our conditioning - in all its myriad forms - and to attain some sort of "freedom of the spirit" we must needs break through this conditioning. As far as society goes - irrespective of free will, conditioning, even the recognition that in some ways we are ALL implicated in each and every act - I think the individual must be held accountable for their acts, though obviously whether or not the judicial system is at heart draconian or fundamenatlly humanitarian and founded on mutual empathy is another matter. We can all have our part to play in this.

 

Sadly, I feel many never break through their conditioning. I often feel that many of the wars of religion are fought between people who, had they been born in another time or place, could easily exchange sides. Yet I seek not to be negative and strive not to judge........... :rolleyes:

 

In my own view, true freedom.........."where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom"........is - at least for Christianity - to love God and do what you will Fundamentally, to act spontaenously, yet totally in tune with a reality that is ultimately gracious, merciful and loving.

 

And, again, for Christianity, this is outlined in the words of Thomas Merton........

 

The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.

 

To the extent that you are free to choose evil, you are not free. An evil choice destroys freedom.

 

We can never choose evil as evil: only as an apparent good. But when we decide to do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so, we are doing something that we do not really want to do, and therefore we are not really free.

 

Perfect spiritual freedom is a total inability to make any evil choice. When everything you desire is truly good and every choice not only aspires to that good but attains it, then you are free because you do everything that you want, every act of your will ends in perfect fulfillment.

 

Freedom therefore does not consist in an equal balance between good and evil choices but in the perfect love and acceptance of what is really good and the perfect hatred and rejection of what is evil, so that everything you do is good and makes you happy, and you refuse and deny and ignore every possibility that might lead to unhappiness and self-deception and grief. Only the man who has rejected all evil so completely that he is unable to desire it at all, is truly free. God, in whom there is absolutely no shadow or possibility of evil or of sin, is infinitely free. In fact, he is Freedom.

 

from "New Seeds of Contemplation"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tariki, Thanks for you comments.

 

You say,"It seems that we can only live "as if" we are free, irrespective of whether we are or not."

 

Should society structure its rules of behavior and accountabilities as if we are free or should we consider the possibility that we are not free and may be subject to factors beyond our control? (I am thinking particularly of criminal justice.)

 

 

"I think we are constrained by our conditioning - in all its myriad forms - and to attain some sort of "freedom of the spirit" we must needs break through this conditioning."

 

I would agree that we can attempt to overcome constraining factors, but I don't think it is possible to become a person different from our genetic limitations and social enculturation.

 

 

The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.

 

Are good and evil polar opposites or are they scalar with degrees of difference? If the latter, it seems to me that it would be possible for reasonable people to make different determinations in the gray areas.

 

 

"from "New Seeds of Contemplation"

 

Sorry, I am not familiar with this book(?)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tariki, Thanks for you comments.

 

You say,"It seems that we can only live "as if" we are free, irrespective of whether we are or not."

 

Should society structure its rules of behavior and accountabilities as if we are free or should we consider the possibility that we are not free and may be subject to factors beyond our control? (I am thinking particularly of criminal justice.)

 

 

"I think we are constrained by our conditioning - in all its myriad forms - and to attain some sort of "freedom of the spirit" we must needs break through this conditioning."

 

I would agree that we can attempt to overcome constraining factors, but I don't think it is possible to become a person different from our genetic limitations and social enculturation.

 

 

The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.

 

Are good and evil polar opposites or are they scalar with degrees of difference? If the latter, it seems to me that it would be possible for reasonable people to make different determinations in the gray areas.

 

 

"from "New Seeds of Contemplation"

 

Sorry, I am not familiar with this book(?)

 

George, I'm not particularly good at answering direct questions.........I prefer answering by going of on tangents and generally waffling.... :D

 

However....1.

 

As I indicated, in my view the individual must be accounted resposible for their own acts (irrespective of the other things I mentioned.

 

2. Sorry, I really know nothing about genetics and what constraints they may or may not put upon us. I have read that they more represent possible inclinations rather than actually determine them, but really, I would not know. Existentially, I know it is possible to begin to SEE our conditioning, and in SEEING it, to go beyond it, how far I have no idea. I never really consider what may or may not be possible.

 

3. For me, the reality we live in arises from "Being", ontologically seen to be beyond and prior to any subject-object division, or divisions between "good" and "evil". Therefore such divisions and categories, for me, do not "exist" in the exact same sense as the Divine, which is the Ground (empty or not!) So in a sense they are opposites, yet within the "embrace" of a fundamental non-duality. Relatively speaking, there can obviously be degrees of each.

 

"New Seeds of Contemplation" is just one of the many books written by the Catholic Trappist monk Thomas Merton. I believe those on this forum more familiar with my posts would smile benignly each time I quote him...... :D

 

All the best

Derek

Link to comment
Share on other sites

George, I'm not particularly good at answering direct questions.........I prefer answering by going of on tangents and generally waffling.... :D

 

However....1.

 

As I indicated, in my view the individual must be accounted resposible for their own acts (irrespective of the other things I mentioned.

 

2. Sorry, I really know nothing about genetics and what constraints they may or may not put upon us. I have read that they more represent possible inclinations rather than actually determine them, but really, I would not know. Existentially, I know it is possible to begin to SEE our conditioning, and in SEEING it, to go beyond it, how far I have no idea. I never really consider what may or may not be possible.

 

3. For me, the reality we live in arises from "Being", ontologically seen to be beyond and prior to any subject-object division, or divisions between "good" and "evil". Therefore such divisions and categories, for me, do not "exist" in the exact same sense as the Divine, which is the Ground (empty or not!) So in a sense they are opposites, yet within the "embrace" of a fundamental non-duality. Relatively speaking, there can obviously be degrees of each.

 

"New Seeds of Contemplation" is just one of the many books written by the Catholic Trappist monk Thomas Merton. I believe those on this forum more familiar with my posts would smile benignly each time I quote him...... :D

 

All the best

Derek

 

Derek,

 

I would not pretend to be an expert on genetics. But, I know it is a major factor in our intelligence and that is a factor in how we live our lives. I think we can say that the higher the intelligence, the greater the opportunity to be aware of alternatives and behave more rationally. But, there are the many other factors as well. So, this would not be determinative.

 

Further, genetics can determine mental illness which is a major contributor, IMO, to aberrant behavior. Every year, in the U.S. we execute people with mental illness. There are thousands (millions?) of homeless people who suffer mental illness. We hold them accountable for actions over which, IMO, they have little or no control. Free will?

 

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow! a lot of topics were laid out in just a few posts.

 

And, in judging someone’s behavior, I don’t think it is not possible to know what factors led to their behavior.

These are factors over which a person has little or no control.

 

The criminal justice system struggles to take various factors into consideration. Not always forward progress. But over the years there have gradual changes in our common understanding in what affects our judgments and our actions. Yes, there must always be accountability. There is always a teachable moment at the appropriate level for individual. Sometimes containment is the best we can do. Those who care for the severely emotionally disabled are taught "holds" to use as a last resort so that no one is hurt.

 

act as if we had free will ...

 

As someone with a disorder I do not underestimate the power of our DNA. But I am at my best when I do all those things in the self care list. As I have mentioned in other threads, Andrew Newberg in his study of brain scans and religious practices observes that what we believe changes our brain chemistry. Whatever our condition is, what we say, what we believe, and what we do changes us not just superficially but deep within. No miracles. It will not vanquish disorders and disease. But acting as if... can have miraculous outcomes.

 

Good and evil are human constructs used in an attempt to understand pain, death, life. They are only useful for conversation. No single real event can be placed correctly in one or the other category. All events, good or evil, if we must, are the result of a dynamic universe.

 

Maybe that's the way it is.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

 

P.S.

 

I offer two ways in which our genetic make-up is changed by our actions, our words, our beliefs, and to give credit where credit is due, by the environment.

 

1. epigenesis: genes are not changed but the expression of them is changed by events in one's life. These changes can then be inherited.

 

2. co-evolution of gene and culture. There is an interaction between our culture and genetic changes. You and I are half of this equation. Genetic drift, mutation and natural selection are the other half. Together we can change the future.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dutch,

 

Thanks for your input. I would like to comment on one of your comments.

 

You say, "Sometimes containment is the best we can do."

 

Yes, I think our attitude about criminal justice should be less punitive (for exercising bad free will) and more on "containing" and rehabilitating those who are a menace. I don't think anyone would argue that those who are dangerous -- even if due to conditions not of their making -- should be allowed to roam free.

 

With regard to capital punishment, it seems the opposite is true. The more heinous the crime, the more likely (IMO) the person is mentally deranged. However, the heinous the crime, the more likely they will be executed rather than confined and treated.

 

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello, Dutch~

 

Please forgive my inability to use this new forum system just yet. I will take the time later to master it. Until then, I'd like to add my opinion, if that's okay with you. You wrote:

"...The criminal justice system struggles to take various factors into consideration. Not always forward progress. But over the years there have gradual changes in our common understanding in what affects our judgments and our actions. Yes, there must always be accountability. There is always a teachable moment at the appropriate level for individual. Sometimes containment is the best we can do. Those who care for the severely emotionally disabled are taught "holds" to use as a last resort so that no one is hurt..."

 

 

There is always a teachable moment at the appropriate level for individual? Can you please tell how that moment is determined? How can you say there is a teachable moment? Wouldn't the determiner have to have known that individual every day of his or her life in order to determine that?

 

 

 

As someone with a disorder I do not underestimate the power of our DNA. But I am at my best when I do all those things in the self care list. As I have mentioned in other threads, Andrew Newberg in his study of brain scans and religious practices observes that what we believe changes our brain chemistry. Whatever our condition is, what we say, what we believe, and what we do changes us not just superficially but deep within. No miracles. It will not vanquish disorders and disease. But acting as if... can have miraculous outcomes.

What we belive can change our brain chemistry. No doubt about it. It can, in fact vanquish disorders and possibly disease, contrary to your statement. However, what if our brain chemistry does not allow us to understand that we can belive something in order to affect change? You've got to have the ability to think in order to make the decision that your thoughts will affect change. It also works the opposite way, does it not? If a person whose brain chemistry, and therefore thought process is altered so that s/he is unable to think things clearly, and all thoughts are demented, that would prohibit them from being able to create a miraculous change.

 

"...Good and evil are human constructs used in an attempt to understand pain, death, life. They are only useful for conversation. No single real event can be placed correctly in one or the other category. All events, good or evil, if we must, are the result of a dynamic universe..."

This makes no sense to me at all. It is so easy to place life's situations and the actions of humans in either category, contrary to your opinion. Killing or torturing another person is clearly in the evil category and acts of kindness are in the good category. How can that not be placed correctly? The intent might not be evil, but the act clearly is.

 

You say, " all events, good or evil, are the result of a dynamic universe". No sense. What does a dynamic universe have to do with this specifically? Can you explain in more detail?

 

 

 

 

 

P.S.

 

I offer two ways in which our genetic make-up is changed by our actions, our words, our beliefs, and to give credit where credit is due, by the environment.

 

1. epigenesis: genes are not changed but the expression of them is changed by events in one's life. These changes can then be inherited.

 

What do you mean by the "expression of genes"?

 

2. co-evolution of gene and culture. There is an interaction between our culture and genetic changes. You and I are half of this equation. Genetic drift, mutation and natural selection are the other half. Together we can change the future.

 

Could you please explain that in more detail? From what statistics do you derive your ratios? How can we change the future specifically?

 

Best regards,

 

Kath

Edited by Kath
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What do you mean by the "expression of genes"?

 

<SNIP>

 

Could you please explain that in more detail? From what statistics do you derive your ratios? How can we change the future specifically?

 

Best regards,

 

Kath

 

Hi Kath

 

I'm not Dutch, but I'd like to take a stab at those.

 

In terms of "expression of genes," let's take something basic like aggression. I'm not a biologist, but I suspect it would be a relatively safe statement to say that humanity has a potential for aggression and violence that is encouraged by our genetic makeup. So, the question then becomes what is the expression of that potential? What forms of aggression does a society accept and what forms are viewed as criminal? What are various ways that society attempts to redirect violent impulses for positive benefit? The answers to those questions aren't to be found within humanity's genetic code. They're found within the societies we develop, and one doesn't need to try hard to see that humanity has a great diversity in how it relates to violence. And while societies can persist, and socialization of new generations can occur, that social information doesn't get encoded in our DNA.

 

 

Also, on another point, I like Merton's definition of spiritual freedom, as it retains a notion of freedom (choices to make, etc.) while putting the individual in harmony with God. At the same time, it strikes me the spiritual freedom Merton speaks of is not the same thing as a more material (for lack of a better quick term off the top of my head) form of free will. When I say material free will, I'm talking about the degree one's actions, identity, etc. are determined other factors. One set of influences would be biological, as GeorgeW has mentioned. Another is the sociological literature on structure vs. agency. I know sociology much better than biology, but as far as I know the same basic point is reached: Influencing behavior is easy, but determining it is very difficult. Too many factors, too much contextual variation, and too many things the observer inevitably doesn't know about. Anyone who claims one's DNA or social position guarantees a specific set of actions is making a claim that is difficult to support at the very least.

 

I'm personally very hesitant about unifying these categories. How much does your soul have freedom independent of the will of God is a completely different question than, say, how likely will someone with a certain gene become an alcoholic or what are the consequences of various parenting practices. Those two questions are also extremely different from one another, but at least they are fully within the world. The degree God or something divine/supernatural is also guiding/controlling us is a whole different kettle of fish. I don't think anyone in this thread has done this yet, so I am over-reacting to posts that don't exist, but I felt it was a point worth babbling about.

  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nick,

 

Although we have nevermet, you make some interesting points.

 

I am neither a biologist nor a sociologist, but I have read a little in both fields. It is my understanding that gene expression is essentially the difference between the genotype (the actual set of genes in the organism) and phenotype (the traits "expressed" as a result of interaction with the environment). As an example, a child may have the genetic potential of having the height to play in the NBA, but if nutritionally starved, will never achieve that potential height.

 

I think this is a good analogy for the interaction of socialization, culture, personal experiences, etc. with one's genetic makeup. A set of identical twins separated at birth and exposed to very different social environments and experiences will later exhibit some similar traits but potentially very different worldviews, attitudes, values, etc.

 

I think it is Dawkins who proposed the idea of 'meme' which would be the social equivalent of gene. I haven't read his argument, but I have read some refutations (refudiations?). But, there can be no doubt that culture generally is passed on to us. And, to the extent that culture is passed on, our 'free will' is constrained. The difference in worldviews between conservative Americans of Scandinavian descent and progressive Danes would be hard to explain with genetics. And, I don't think it can be explained by 'free will' as well.

 

 

You say, "The degree God or something divine/supernatural is also guiding/controlling us is a whole different kettle of fish. I don't think anyone in this thread has done this yet, so I am over-reacting to posts that don't exist, but I felt it was a point worth babbling about."

 

I will leave this point for others as well, although I reserve the right to respond to any claims.

 

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hiya George :)

 

I am neither a biologist nor a sociologist, but I have read a little in both fields. It is my understanding that gene expression is essentially the difference between the genotype (the actual set of genes in the organism) and phenotype (the traits "expressed" as a result of interaction with the environment). As an example, a child may have the genetic potential of having the height to play in the NBA, but if nutritionally starved, will never achieve that potential height.

 

I think this is a good analogy for the interaction of socialization, culture, personal experiences, etc. with one's genetic makeup. A set of identical twins separated at birth and exposed to very different social environments and experiences will later exhibit some similar traits but potentially very different worldviews, attitudes, values, etc.

 

Being a sociologist, I have an aversion of referring to social phenomena as 'merely' the phenotype, but that's mainly my biases at work. Your basic point is well taken: social practices & institutions certainly have a relationship to human biology, though it's not one of simple determinism.

 

I think it is Dawkins who proposed the idea of 'meme' which would be the social equivalent of gene. I haven't read his argument, but I have read some refutations (refudiations?). But, there can be no doubt that culture generally is passed on to us. And, to the extent that culture is passed on, our 'free will' is constrained. The difference in worldviews between conservative Americans of Scandinavian descent and progressive Danes would be hard to explain with genetics. And, I don't think it can be explained by 'free will' as well.

 

The Selfish Gene kinda sorta reinvented the wheel, and made an inferior version. Society is absolutely reproduced (including, sadly, its inequalities), and studying how that works is fascinating. However, while evolution works well on a metaphorical level when applied to society, it's not the best mechanism to describe what's happening. To be clear: I'm a big fan of evolution as a scientific concept in biology. It just doesn't translate perfectly to other disciplines.

 

Also, don't forget that society both constrains and enables. Socialization gives people skills, teaches them concepts, etc. One could claim that making effective choices requires a degree of socialization.

 

As for free will as a theological concept... yeah, that's not something I know as much about. Though I do find it interesting that Barth comes within an inch of claiming that free will is original sin.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kath,

 

Please forgive my inability to use this new forum system just yet. I will take the time later to master it. Until then, I'd like to add my opinion, if that's okay with you.

 

Seems, to me , you are doing just fine.

 

My posts are characterized by leaps, at times over reaching statements and some times take on their own manic momentum. Fortunately this is an accepting community.

 

GeorgeW

I am neither a biologist nor a sociologist, but I have read a little in both fields

 

Me too, in every field of which I speak.

 

I prefer to use the word "harm/ful" or "pain/ful" but for the sake of this discussion - bad/evil.

 

 

Dynamic universe

-----------------------------------------

The universe is dynamic not static. If it were not we would still waiting for the big bang. There is a profound dynamism in the evolution of the universe. Only a few elements were present early in the big bang event. Tens of thousand of years in the birth and death and generation new stars created additional elements which were necessary for life as we know it. As in the generation of the elements, the evolution of organic life follows many cycles of birth and death and birth and change. One bacterium swallowed another and together they became the cells which eventually make up all plant and animal life. Some of the bacteria who remained single became the bacteria that inhabit our gut and keep it healthy so that we, the host, may live. These gut cells evolved with us as we changed our diet. I have read that only the Japanese have the correct gut bugs to digest seaweed which just passes thru the rest of us. In such dynamic and complex systems, processes allow, necessarily, for the evolution of what we, from our perspective, call good and bad. How many bacteria evolved in our guts and killed us until the right combination of gut and bug mutually benefited? These bugs had to evolve with us as we became meat eaters. Our larger brains required the nutrition density of meat. The complexity and fragility of the brain puts it at risk for malformation and dysfunction. In the case of the Ashkenazi Jews their intelligence may have co-evolved with several inheritable diseases. It is in this fragile and complex brain that we look for the origins of intention.

 

Evil

Where can we stand and view these dynamic processes that we may say, from a perspective larger than any individual's, that, categorically, any unique event is purely Evil?

We only recognize evil in the rear view mirror after it happens.

Bullying is only making headlines now because we have learned what it looks like and the damage it does. I spent a year trying to get parents of youth and the youth leader to understand that bullying was not just "good-natured teasing". We might call harm to ourselves or others painful but it isn't evil until we have learned it is evil. Then once we or our parents or our society have learned we can name the behavior evil, should we choose, and avoid or prevent it in the future.

 

It depends on the where the horizon is for the particular event.

In any of these events where do you draw the circle to enclose only evil?

 


  •  
  • Indulgences paid for Michaelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel.
  • The Black Plague set the stage for the Renaissance by taking care of over-population and, perhaps, leaving the healthier lineages as survivors.
  • The Ashkenazi Jews, segregated and persecuted in Medieval Europe, came to have (some would say evolved) a higher intelligence which may be linked to various diseases generally found only in this population.

 

Can an individual be purely Evil?

No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks. Mary Wollstonecraft Quotes aren't arguments but I offer it anyway.

 

Can a moment be purely Evil?

Someone said that we come to evil a step at a time and by the time we recognize the evil, it is too late. So if this moment has all past moments (a process idea) rolled up in it, I think it is difficult to find "pure Evil" unless there was pure Evil before this moment, before this, before this. Is it the instant the bullet is shot through the brain? There is no intention without the person and no person. . .

 

The other problem with categories like Good and Evil is that, like all dichotomies, they are best described functionally as a continuum or spectrum not as categories.

 

 

Intention

 

My son tells me that Augustine made a distinction between natural catastrophes (evil caused by nature) and the "evil humans do". I would at least argue that there is not a distinction. I imagine that Augustine, like most of us, sees the reason for the distinction as one of intention. By intention we mean that there is a decision to act and then require an accountability for the harm done. God, did you really mean to do it? Neighbor, did you really mean to do it? The Bible chronicles some of our development and most of us have let God off the hook for natural disasters. While I am not willing to let all the prisoners go free, I believe that, although we humans are on the heavy end the "intention spectrum", we are part of the same dynamic nature and there certainty about good or evil.

 

As you have mentioned, we humans struggle with figuring out to what extent an individual meant to do harm, could conceive of harm, could choose whether to harm or not and then to decide what the perpetrator of the harm is expected to do to restore, repair, repay, rehabilitate, or just be restrained. We will continue to struggle to discern intent in our relationships, in raising children, in the criminal justice system.

 

The Holocaust

 

Whether we judge the Holocaust is categorically evil rests in whether we think a person can be categorically evil - - Actually the answer to that will have to wait. I read tonight that evil is found not in the individual but in the collective. I have to think about that.

 

Could you please explain that in more detail? From what statistics do you derive your ratios? How can we change the future specifically?

 

The ratios were a figure of speech. We change the future by acting "as if we can" and recognizing that we are indeed part of the creating flow of the universe. That is more mystical than I usually am. Human evolutionary biologists would say pick your mate well and have grandma live at home to help you raise the kids.

 

And, for some scientists, even some evolutionary biologists, culture and genes co-evolve. One view is that culture has it's own evolutionary track and doesn't really influence genetic evolution. Anthropolgist Walter Goldschmidt, whose book, Affinity Hunger, offers a counter or supplemental argument to The Selfish Gene, and theologian Xavier Le Pichon, who suggests there is an evolutinary benefit in selecting for empathy, believe that our culture influences the natural selection of our genes which influences our culture. Language and religion are said to have co-evolved. Religion depends heavily on language to provide group cohesion, particularly needed given the power of language to lie. So they say. There is also the suggestion that there are genetic inclinations towards religion. Obviously these would only be selected for if a culture continued to be religious.

 

On more certain ground is the observation that aggressive behavior in males isn't just culturally suppressed but has been selected out. In hunter-gatherers an aggressive male is beneficial and selected for because aggressive males get more matings and more children. There is fossil evidence for the change in aggressive behavior by following the decrease in the difference in size between males and females. In primates where the dimorphism is pronounced the aggressive behavior is in competing for mates. The smaller the difference the less competition there is for mating opportunities. This descrease in dimoprhism suggests a change in the relationship between men and women. When the hunter-gatherers settled down such aggressive behavior would be maladaptive and more cooperative males had fewer wives but more grandchildren.

 

Teachable moments

I don't think a life long acquaintance necessary for recognizing a teachable moments. I think that the Restorative Justice effort to bring perpetrators and victims into relationship is based on the expectation that there will be teachable moments.

 

too many hours on this i have to stop.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

As for free will as a theological concept... yeah, that's not something I know as much about. Though I do find it interesting that Barth comes within an inch of claiming that free will is original sin.

 

Hi Nick,

 

I know little of Barth, but I find that interesting. I do know that he knew his Bible and wrote the monumental Church Dogmatics, published in several volumes (though I would not seek to equate the amount of words written - or spoken - with knowledge..... :D ) It seems, even after so many words, he was in the habit of just "coming within an inch" of making decisions regarding the actually truth. Perhaps something to be said in his favour.........

 

He also came "within an inch" of declaring the doctrine of "Universalism." He was recorded as saying once....."perculiar Christendom, whose most pressing problem seems to consist in this, that God's grace in this direction should be too free, that hell, instead of being amply populated, might one day be found to be empty."

 

All the best

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nick,

 

Being a sociologist, I have an aversion of referring to social phenomena as 'merely' the phenotype, but that's mainly my biases at work. Your basic point is well taken: social practices & institutions certainly have a relationship to human biology, though it's not one of simple determinism.

 

I think we are all are genetically endowed with an intuitive sense of moral values. As an example, no society to my knowledge sees killing or lying as morally neutral acts. This biological basis of morality has been demonstrated in a number of studies. Marc Hauser wrote about this in an excellent book, “Moral Minds.” (Unfortunately, his work on another, unrelated project has been since discredited).

 

These basic moral intuitions that are genetically inherited (genotype) are then culture mediated and elaborated like the phenotype. As an example, all cultures regulate killing but differ somewhat in specifying what is acceptable killing (like infanticide in some but not others). I see this as analogous (or another form of) the biological ‘genotype’ expressed as a ‘phenotype.’ Also, I suspect that culture determines the relative values which helps us in resolving moral dilemmas.

 

What is relevant to the notion of free will is that culture mediates and particularizes our basic intuitions. As a result ‘free will,’ IMO, is constrained by both our basic biological intuitions and our cultural specifications.

 

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Nick,

 

I know little of Barth, but I find that interesting. I do know that he knew his Bible and wrote the monumental Church Dogmatics, published in several volumes (though I would not seek to equate the amount of words written - or spoken - with knowledge..... :D ) It seems, even after so many words, he was in the habit of just "coming within an inch" of making decisions regarding the actually truth. Perhaps something to be said in his favour.........

 

I was hedging my bets because I haven't read a lot by him (Church Dogmatics is gigantic), only his commentary on Romans and a collection of lectures called Evangelical Theology. But in either case, after checking with Romans, I'm more confident in my portrayal. "Adam is the 'old' subject, the ego of the man of this world. This ego is fallen. It has appropriated to itself what is God's, in order that it may live in its own glory... But Christ is the 'new' subject, the ego of the coming world." (Commentary on Romans, p. 181) Barth's explicit definition of sin highlights this more:

 

In its non-concrete and nonhistorical aspect, sin is robbery, in the sense that it is the falling of men out of direct relationship with God, the rending asunder of the spiritual band which unites God with the world and with men, the Creator and His creation. It is an assumption of independence in which God is forgotten. It is the sophisticated, pretentious, unchildlike, wisdom of the serpent: Hath God Said? - a wisdom to which men attend, and which produces an unreal aloofness from God who is the Life of our life. In its concrete form sin is no more than the ever-widening appearance and expression and abounding in time of this Original Fall. It point to the Fall which lies beyond time (Page 168).

 

When humanity is operating under grace, we are reconciled with God, acting in harmony with God's will. Sin isn't just a choice or an act, it's our state of being along with the entire universe, where we do not have a direct relationship with God and are not reconciled. Even though he uses a lot of moralistic language, he discusses sin as ontological and being a consequence of humanity having (imperfect & distinct from God) consciousness.

 

Barth, then, is not a fan of a romanticized notion of free will as a theological category. Either we're living in harmony with God's will, or we're broken creatures with limited consciousness. Now the rub: we don't get to choose when we're under grace or under sin. God gives and withdraws grace as he sees fit, without explaining why. Barth is brilliant & fascinating, but blunt statements like that are why I'm not a complete fanboy.

 

He also came "within an inch" of declaring the doctrine of "Universalism." He was recorded as saying once....."perculiar Christendom, whose most pressing problem seems to consist in this, that God's grace in this direction should be too free, that hell, instead of being amply populated, might one day be found to be empty."

 

Yeah, I know that quote well. There are theological debates that go beyond my ability to follow, but as far as I can tell, he's basically a universalist: Jesus Christ reconciled the world with God, saving it. While it's possible in Barth's view that God could decide to damn some people, it doesn't really go with the rest of Barth's christology, which is about The Word of God unilaterally saving everyone/thing.

 

All of this goes actually to one of my current headaches: I don't really see a strong point to any spiritual practice from a Calvinist and especially a Barthian POV. But that's a different thread :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nick,

 

Being a sociologist, I have an aversion of referring to social phenomena as 'merely' the phenotype, but that's mainly my biases at work. Your basic point is well taken: social practices & institutions certainly have a relationship to human biology, though it's not one of simple determinism.

 

I think we are all are genetically endowed with an intuitive sense of moral values. As an example, no society to my knowledge sees killing or lying as morally neutral acts. This biological basis of morality has been demonstrated in a number of studies. Marc Hauser wrote about this in an excellent book, “Moral Minds.” (Unfortunately, his work on another, unrelated project has been since discredited).

 

These basic moral intuitions that are genetically inherited (genotype) are then culture mediated and elaborated like the phenotype. As an example, all cultures regulate killing but differ somewhat in specifying what is acceptable killing (like infanticide in some but not others). I see this as analogous (or another form of) the biological ‘genotype’ expressed as a ‘phenotype.’ Also, I suspect that culture determines the relative values which helps us in resolving moral dilemmas.

 

What is relevant to the notion of free will is that culture mediates and particularizes our basic intuitions. As a result ‘free will,’ IMO, is constrained by both our basic biological intuitions and our cultural specifications.

 

George

 

I see what you are saying, and I agree with it.

However, I still hold that biological and social impulses do more than constrain. Both give us impulses, as well as methods to strive for things. I think a lot is lost if we only think about this as constraint.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nick,

 

"I still hold that biological and social impulses do more than constrain. Both give us impulses, as well as methods to strive for things. I think a lot is lost if we only think about this as constrain"

 

Good points.

 

I think there is a tension between our individualistic impulses (that have a biological foundation) like greed, vengeance, ambition, etc. and our moral impulses (also with a biological foundation) like empathy, love, forgiveness and the like. Sometimes, one side wins and sometimes the other. And,IMO, both of these are socially conditioned.

 

One of the benefits, I think, of progressive Christianity is to appeal to and encourage our 'better angels,' (i.e. our moral impulses) to prevail over our individualistic desire for gratification.

 

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

All of this goes actually to one of my current headaches: I don't really see a strong point to any spiritual practice from a Calvinist and especially a Barthian POV. But that's a different thread :)

Nick,

 

Well, I've had plenty of headaches myself, but we'll leave that for the moment...... :D

 

Perhaps a few words from an essay by Alfred Bloom would be appropriate, if I understand you correctly. He is speaking of Shinran's vision of absolute compassion from a Pure Land Buddhist perspective. (Shinran was a Japenese guy of the 12th century who moved the Pure Land path along a bit from a futuristic perspective to one more of the NOW, but that is another story)

 

After speaking of the explicitly Universalist ideals of the Pure Land way, Bloom says....

 

Some one may ask then what is the point of being religious, if we are saved in any case.........This (question) reflects the virtually universal notion that religion is a means to an end. We get the benefit of salvation from being religious. For Shinran, however, religion becomes the way to express gratitude for the compassion that supports all our life. It is not a tool for ego advancement or gaining benefits. The point of being religious for Shinran is that when we come to have faith in the Original Vow (swap for "Cross" and Christ's saving atonement) and live in its light, we truly become free to live a full and meaningful existence in this life. Shinran's perspective permits a person to see deeply into their life to detect the springs of compassion which sustain it; it allows them to participate and associate with all types of people despite their unattractiveness or difficulty because they understand the potentiality that works in their very being. In perceiving the compassion that embraces all life, the person of faith can themselves become an expression of that compassion touching the lives of others.

 

There does seem to me to be a gulf of some sort between those who see the Love of the Divine as something that one must "accept" to appropriate, and that such acceptance changes the Divine's attitude towards them.............as opposed to those who see the Love of the Divine as that which eterally IS, and it is a question of realisation.

 

The point for me in "practice" is that until any sort of "realization" then the "Love of God" for many in this world is just a group of words that quite frankly would entitle them to spit in disgust.....that is, if they had the strength to spit.

 

From gratitude (not to justify ourselves) we seek to live for others, however imperfectly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

terms of service