This article addresses some contemporary issues between science, philosophy and religion, and more specifically, issues of right and wrong, or in the more spiced-up version, good and evil; human consciousness; the body/mind and mind/soul debates; the nature of knowledge (epistemology); free will versus determinism; and an initial consideration of the question of God.
But I want to start with a statement from a prominent physicist, which puts the issues in perspective.
In his book The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg said that “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless” (Weinberg, The First Three Minutes 1977, 154). He clarified that remark in Dreams of a Final Theory, by saying that what he really meant is “that the universe itself suggests no point.” However, he went on to insist that human beings could still “invent a point” to their own lives, “including trying to understand the universe” (Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory 1994, 255).
It is a rather curious suggestion that we can find some purpose to life by dedicating our lives to proving that there is no purpose to life, especially since most people have neither the intellectual aptitude to undertake such an endeavor, nor the appetite. But the sentiment that science has already ‘proved’ there is no point to life, and therefore no God, has taken root in the public consciousness. That perception has led to a mentality that the pursuit of pleasure is the highest ‘virtue’, and vanity the greatest ‘happiness’. It has given us the hedonistic ‘culture’ of the ‘modern’ world.
This article will challenge that misconception by addressing those contemporary issues in the debate (or what some more optimistically describe as a dialogue) between science, philosophy and religion. However, it will show that we don’t need to venture into the mystical to explain these issues. The physical (neurological) structure of the brain adequately accounts for them. So that is where I’ll start.
What follows is based on the evidence and arguments that have been advanced in previous articles in the series, and in my latest book, A ‘Final Theory’ of God. However, for those unfamiliar with the articles and book, a short summary is provided in Part XI-B of this article.
Scientific evidence increasingly supports the proposition that the brain has three distinct but interrelated neurological faculties – instincts, reason and morality. It is the interaction of these faculties that gives rise to the phenomena that currently defy scientific, philosophical and religious consensus.
The instincts faculty comprises a number of neurological networks that give us the instinct to reproduce; the instinct to nurture and protect our offspring as a means of perpetuating the species and our own genetic lineage; the instincts for survival and security as a means to enhance the prospects of perpetuating the species and our genetic lineage; the instinct to subdue and control our environment (including, regrettably, others of our own species) in order to eliminate or reduce any threats to our survival and security; and the instinct to acquire knowledge of how our environment, and indeed we as human beings, function, so as to more effectively subdue and exercise control over our environment. This latter instinct accounts for the quest for scientific knowledge.
Instincts are activated by the prospect of the pleasure to be had by indulging them, or the fear aroused by perceived threats – that is, they are activated by the prospect of pleasure and the fear of pain, and the experience of pleasure and pain are the ‘by-products’ of the realization of our instincts.
The morality faculty comprises a neurological moral network that acts as a restraint and counterbalance against the instinct networks. It compels us to recognize that certain indulgences of our instincts are wrong, and that other actions, even if apparently contrary to our instincts, are right, or good. The neurological moral network speaks to us of moral imperatives as fundamental obligations. It drives the human quest for justice, and finds expression in the search for a Supreme Law and a Supreme Lawmaker.
The reason faculty comprises a neurological network that is entirely neutral, and thus morally ambivalent. It mediates between the competing demands of the instinct and morality networks, and is free to choose which to serve. When in service to instincts, it is also adept at justifying its choices so as to evade responsibility for the consequences of its actions.
That the brain has a neurological moral network is now widely accepted by neuroscientists. In 2009, Dr Mendez reviewed all the neurological research up to that point, and concluded that “humans have an innate moral sense based in a neuromoral network centered in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and its connections” (Mendez 2009). Subsequent research has reinforced that conclusion (see Yoder and Decety 2014 and Heinrichs, Oser and Lovat 2013).
The research also confirms that actions not moderated by the neurological moral network, and thus based on the instinct networks, are what we call psychopathic. That is because instincts are amoral, so the application of a morally ambivalent capacity to reason in order to service amoral instincts cannot produce moral outcomes, although it can imitate them (Stockley 2011-2012). A 2015 study defined psychopathy as “a personality disorder associated with a constellation of traits including a lack of guilt and empathy, narcissism, superficial charm, dishonesty, reckless risk-taking and impulsive antisocial behaviour” (K. J. Yoder 2015). All these characteristics are indicative of reason in the service of primitive instincts. That is confirmed by Yoder’s study, which concluded that “hemodynamic activity and neural coupling within the salience network are disrupted in psychopathy, and that the effects of psychopathy on moral evaluation are influenced by attentional demands.”
Research also shows that utilitarian arguments for ‘morality’ are a consequence of reason in the service of instinct, and thus psychopathic. A 2012 study found that participants who showed “greater endorsement of utilitarian solutions had higher scores on measures of Psychopathy, machiavellianism, and life meaninglessness” (Bartels DM 2011). Another study confirms that reason is a morally ambivalent faculty which can justify behavior that the neurological moral network tells us is wrong. In this particular study, arguments were put forward to justify incestuous behavior between consenting adult siblings. The study demonstrated that a persuasive argument justified the behavior “when increased deliberation time encouraged subjects to reflect” (Paxton, Ungar and Greene 2012).
Research has also concluded that “empathy may not be necessary for judging moral actions as right or wrong” (Will and Klapwijk 2014). That empathy is not a factor, or at least a driving factor, in moral judgment, confirms that the neurological moral network speaks of moral imperatives as fundamental principles, and are not a consequence of ‘reasoning’ about how we may ‘feel’ about certain actions and behavior.
As Mendez notes, “most moral judgments are rapid, involuntary, and intuitive; whereas, deliberate rational reasoning is often post hoc rationalization for judgments which have already occurred” (Mendez 2009).
The studies to date demonstrate that the reason network “mediates” between the demands of the instinct networks and the neurological moral network (see Kelly, et al. 2008 and Menon and Uddin 2010). However, research also shows that the “morality network can be over-ridden by DLPFC-mediated reasoning processes, resulting in utilitarianism, ie, the greatest good for the greatest many” (Mendez 2009). But as already noted, utilitarian ‘judgment’ is based on instinct, and thus psychopathic, rather than moral.
On the content of the neurological moral network, I should refer again to Mendez, who notes that the “neuromoral network works through moral emotions and moral drives, such as the avoidance of harm to others and the need for fairness and punishment of violators” (Mendez 2009). This points to freedom as the basis of the neurological moral network, which makes freedom the fundamental principle of morality and justice. The evidence for that will be adduced in Part XII.
On a final note, Will and Klapwijk make an important observation on how the brain makes the choice between serving morality or instinct. They note that although “neuroscience has increased our understanding of the contributions of neural systems involved in emotion and cognition to judgments of right and wrong, it is time to further investigate how activation in these systems can influence why some people decide to act on a moral judgment and others do not” (Will and Klapwijk 2014).
That is something I shall now consider by addressing those issues between science, philosophy and religion that still defy consensus.
In order to do so, however, we need to establish how these neurological faculties came to be in the brain.
Origin of the neurological faculties of the human brain
The evidence is fairly conclusive that these neurological faculties are the natural, physical consequence on the laws of physics. In science, this is called reductionism.
Weinberg says that physicists “believe that atoms behave the way they do in chemical reactions because the physical principles that govern the electrons and electric forces inside atoms leave no freedom for the atoms to behave in any other way” (Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory 1994, 9-10). And he goes even further by stating that physicists study fundamental particles like quarks and electrons not only because all matter is made up of such particles, but that by studying them they hope to discover “something about the principles that govern everything” (Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory 1994, 61).
Martin Rees makes the same point when he says that “Mathematical laws underpin the fabric of our universe – not just atoms, but galaxies, stars and people” (Rees 2000, 1).
Weinberg insists that although the properties of molecules and DNA create life, they are only able to do so because of the “properties of electrons and atomic nuclei and electric forces” of which molecules and DNA are composed (Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory 1994, 57-58).
What seems to be important, according to the physicists, is that the properties, or laws, that govern sub-atomic particles determine how they can combine with other sub-atomic particles which, in turn, create ‘structures’ dependent on the properties of their constituent sub-atomic particles, yet having their own distinct ‘identities’, so to speak. These combined sub-atomic particles we call atoms, and atoms, although dictated in their ‘behavior’ by their constituent sub-atomic particles, have properties unique to themselves. The uniqueness of certain atoms in turn ‘permits’ them to interact with other atoms to ‘create’ more complex structures such as molecules. But we must constantly keep in mind that although these more complex structures appear to have their very own and very unique properties, they are still the product of the properties of the sub-atomic particles of which they are composed, and the properties of these more complex structures are an extension of the fundamental properties that govern their constituent parts, that is, their sub-atomic particles.
That is what Weinberg means when he says that by studying sub-atomic particles we may be able to discover “something about the principles that govern everything.”
Recent evidence supports that position.
- On 8th August 2011, it was reported that “NASA-funded researchers have evidence that some building blocks of DNA, the molecule that carries the genetic instructions for life, found in meteorites were likely created in space”(NASA Researchers: DNA Building Blocks Can Be Made in Space 2011).
- On October 27, 2011, Science Daily reported the results of research by Professor Sun Kwok and Dr. Yong Zhang of the University of Hong Kong: “Astronomers report in the journal Nature that organic compounds of unexpected complexity exist throughout the Universe. The results suggest that complex organic compounds are not the sole domain of life, but can be made naturally by stars … in extremely short timescales of weeks. Not only are stars producing this complex organic matter, they are also ejecting it into the general interstellar space, the region between stars” (Kwok and Zhang 2011).
- In 2013, Jeremy England of MIT published a theory which proposed that entropy (the second law of thermodynamics) appeared to arrange particles and atoms in such a way that the creation of life is inevitable under certain conditions, and not a question of luck(England 2013). England suggested that this process is the basis of reproduction. If the theory is correct, it will provide evidence that the instinct to reproduce is a product of the fundamental laws of physics which are ‘imprinted’ into the human brain. But it will also provide evidence that all the instinct networks are likewise a consequence of the physical laws that determine how the universe functions, and indeed a neurological image of those fundamental laws.
- Dr Kelly Smith, a physicist and philosopher, has also suggested that the laws of physics may naturally produce organisms with a capacity for moral judgment(Smith 2015).
Philosophy has its own version of this physical-based explanation of the human brain; it’s called reductive physicalism, although mostly replaced today with supervenience. For a summary of the philosophical account, see (Stoljar 2015).
The incredible abilities of the savants is compelling evidence that the human brain is ‘programmed’ with the raw mathematical data of the fundamental laws that govern the universe (see Part X). In his book Islands of Genius, Treffert notes that savants show that we can “know things we never learned.” Even babies have inbuilt data giving them “specialized innate abilities” (Treffert 2012, 55-57). This ‘knowledge’ cannot come from experience, because savants who are born with the condition mostly exhibit these extraordinary abilities at an early age, long before they could have had the opportunity to ‘learn’ them (Treffert 2012, 12).
Regarding the neurological moral network, the San people of southern Africa are compelling evidence that it was the neurological moral network itself that created the first of what we would recognize as a human brain (see Parts VIII and IX). The recent discovery of Naledi man in South Africa may well be the remains of these first human beings with fully functioning neurological moral networks. As Lee Berger, the head of the team that discovered Naledi man said, the fact that they buried their dead indicates “that naledi individuals recognised their own mortality and the other self that comes with death” (Barras 2015).
The reductionist explanation of the origin of the structure of the human brain is, therefore, supported by compelling evidence. It shows not only that the human organism, including the neurological structure of the human brain, is in every respect a manifestation of the fundamental laws that govern the universe, but also that those laws are ‘programmed’ into the brain in mathematical form as neurological networks. And the fact that one of those networks is moral tells us that there is a moral dimension to the fundamental laws of physics, both the quantum and Classical laws.
Weinberg’s reductionist argument is itself evidence of the moral dimension of the laws of physics. If the human organism is an inevitable consequence of the fundamental laws of physics when matter encounters certain conditions, and that manifestation of those laws is a conscious human being with the capacity for moral judgment, then the laws that govern the universe must likewise possess those properties. In other words, if the human brain is a “self-aware mathematical sub-structure” of the universe, and a miniature replica of the mathematical superstructure of the universe, then the universe itself must necessarily be a conscious, moral structure (reference to ‘self-aware mathematical substructure’ is from Tegmark 2014, 323)
If that is the case, the dilemma of how the “fundamental laws of quantum physics morph into the Classical (Newtonian) laws” would be resolved (Greene 2005, 199 and Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory 1994, 84). The observation necessary to effect the transformation is made by a conscious universe with a moral dimension. But that doesn’t account for how the original matter, subject to quantum laws, tranformed into a universe subject to laws that create consciousness. That is something I shall deal with in the final article.
I shall now consider how the interaction of the three neurological networks, and in particular the competing demands of the moral and instinct networks on the otherwise neutral faculty of reason, relates to those unresolved issues between science, philosophy and religion.
Right and Wrong; Good and Evil
Actions (and thoughts) we call wrong, or evil, are a consequence of reason in the service of human instinct, while actions we recognize as right, or good, are a consequence of reason in service of the neurological moral network.
However, since instincts are necessary for our survival, just as they are in animals, instincts are not in themselves ‘evil’; they only attract reprobation when they become the deliberate objective of our actions. That being so, if there is such a thing as God, then He does not in fact ‘create’ evil. Evil is a consequence of our own decisions.
When the neurological moral network is active, but subconscious, human beings act on its moral impulses without question, and adapt their behavior accordingly. The San people of southern Africa are evidence of that (or at least those who have not yet been ‘civilized’). They are the direct descendants of the ancestors of the whole human race (Choi 2012). They simply ‘know’ what is right and wrong, so they do not indulge their instincts with the primary purpose of maximizing pleasure, nor do they excessively respond to the fears aroused by their instincts. They do not fence-off land to provide for greater security; they do not build castles to protect themselves from their fellow human beings; they do not subdue others of the species as a means of enhancing their security, or to allay the fear of threats to their survival; they do not need courts of law to tell them what is right and wrong, because they know what is right and wrong, and they know that such systems of law would simply be a justification for violating the universal law that applies everywhere and to everyone. War and conflict are alien to them, as is deceit, deception and dishonesty.
However, the neurological moral network was consciously activated when a number of these first humans committed some act that offended against it. That would have happened when they succumbed to the temptations of the pleasures to be had by indulging in actions the neurological moral network told them were wrong, or undertook actions to allay the fears aroused by their instincts which offended against their morality networks.
The evidence shows that the branch of those first human beings who did succumb to the pleasures and fears aroused by their instincts, consciously activated their own neurological moral networks, and those of their descendants. That suggests that offending against the neurological moral network caused a genetic change to the DNA of that branch of the species, and it was not a positive one.
It led to what we call today ‘civilized’ human beings. Activation of the morality network caused these human beings to relentlessly toil to enhance their security and allay fears for their survival. It led to conflict, war, crime, exploitation of resources to excess, even at the expense of the ability of others of the species to have access to those resources for their own survival, and it gave rise to institutions as mechanisms for one person or group of people to impose their authority on others. Institutions also cater to the instinct for security that is fired by the fear of insecurity. Being part of an institution appeals to the ‘herd’ instinct in human beings, because it provides a sense of security and ‘identity’.
Once those first of the species that would become ‘civilized’ human beings had activated their neurological moral networks, the genie was out the bottle. Thereafter, great effort would be required to model behavior on the demands of the neurological moral network. But there have always been those human beings who had stronger conscious impulses from their morality networks, and they have always sought to encourage and persuade others to forsake servicing their instincts, and make the effort to listen to the demands of their morality networks. That gave rise to religion and philosophy, and more importantly, the human quest for justice. But despite the intentions of the originators of these efforts, the ‘movements’ that their teachings inspired were corrupted by those in bondage to their primitive instincts, because they recognized that these ‘movements’ could be exploited to their own advantage as vehicles to subvert others to their authority and control.
There can be no doubt, therefore, that the so-called ‘modern’, or ‘civilized’ world, is a consequence of human beings in bondage to their primitive instincts, not in service to their morality networks. And that is leading us inexorably towards our own destruction.
To see what a world would look like if we were all in service to the demands of our morality networks, we need look no further than the San people. They automatically comply with the demands of their morality networks, and so live in harmony with the universal law, and thus in harmony with each other and their environment.
Artificial intelligence (a robot) was first shown to have acquired a degree of self-awareness in 2015. The process by which it was created was a variation of the “wise men” logic puzzle (MacDonald 2015). Essentially, self-awareness is a consequence of one part of an integrated structure having to evaluate competing demands from other parts of the same structure, and make a decision on how to resolve the dilemma. The ‘degree’ of consciousness depends on the extent and type of data that the ‘decision’ part of the structure has to evaluate.
Animals have more limited instincts than human beings, and an ability to reason limited to servicing those instincts. To what extent animals have some neurological network that relates to morality is unclear, but any such network in animals is clearly not to the same level of sophistication as humans. Animal consciousness is limited to the task of servicing primitive instincts. It should be noted, however, that humans share many of the same instincts with animals, notably the instincts to reproduce, and to protect and nurture their young, the instinct for survival, and a limited instinct to provide for their security.
So consciousness in animals is a consequence of the limited choices their limited capacity for reason has to resolve in order to most effectively cater to the demands of their instincts, like the most effective method for securing food and water.
In humans, however, the activation (even subconsciously) of the neurological moral network presents reason with a choice between the conflicting demands from the neurological moral network and instinct networks. This challenge compels reason to recognize that certain actions, thoughts and behavior are wrong, irrespective of whether there is a declared law that prohibits them, or whether there will be a consequence (in this life) for indulging them. The realization that certain actions are wrong, irrespective of the prospect of punishment in this life for a transgression, compels reason to recognize the possibility that the consequence may be visited upon us after death. The prospect of an after-life thus causes a consciousness of our own mortality, and thus a consciousness of our own existence. Berger’s comments on Naledi man burying their dead is evidence of that (Barras 2015).
However, it is also clear that those who have no connection to their neurological moral networks are also conscious. But their consciousness is of a different complexion to consciousness that is based on the morality network. It derives from their primitive instincts, which accounts for the characteristics they exhibit, such as “lack of guilt and empathy, narcissism, superficial charm, dishonesty, reckless risk-taking and impulsive antisocial behaviour” (K. J. Yoder 2015). More importantly, however, the fact that they are wholly or partially disconnected from their morality networks means that they are incapable of recognizing that right and wrong are not concepts of human invention, but universal concepts that exist independently of human existence, just like the laws of physics. That is why such people have difficulty recognizing that there could be a God, except in so far as they see such belief as something to be employed to their own advantage.
The question then is, does consciousness exist independently of the physical structure of the brain, or is it simply a chemical process in the brain? In other words, when the chemical processes in the brain cease, does human consciousness cease as well?
That leads to the mind/body and mind/soul debates.
The Mind/Body Debate
The first point to make here is that when I refer to ‘body,’ I mean the physical brain as the ‘control center’ of the integrated system that is the human organism.
The brain is composed of these three distinct but interrelated faculties. The reason faculty is neutral. Consciousness is a consequence of the reason network being compelled to ‘mediate’ between competing demands either from the instinct networks themselves (as in animals, and those disconnected from their morality networks), or from the instinct and morality networks (in those who have some connection with their neurological moral networks).
These competing demands create a ‘polarity’ in the reason network, which creates an electromagnetic structure that is ‘independent’ of the reason network itself, just as any other electromagnetic field is ‘independent’ of the physical materials that create it. Most of us will recall the experiments done in school when iron filings placed on a piece of paper over a magnet are arranged in the shape of the magnetic field of the magnet. We could then ‘interfere’ with the pattern of that field by introducing an electrical current at one end of the magnet which changed the pattern of the iron filings by concentrating them on the other side of the magnet.
We have known about electromagnetic fields even since James Clerk Maxwell discovered the relationship between magnetic and electric fields in the 1860s (Maxwell 1865). Amongst many other things, electromagnetic fields give us light, both natural and artificial. We know that artificial light is created when a negative current and a positive current are applied to a lightbulb. Until the current is switched on, the light bulb is ‘neutral’. But once the switch is thrown, the bulb fills the room with light. But the bulb itself is not the light, it is simply the device through which the light is created.
The reason network is like the bulb, the neurological networks within the brain are like the negative and positive currents that feed it, and the mind is like the light.
That would mean that the mind is something independent of the reason network in the brain, but structured on it. Consciousness must reside in this independent structure that we call the mind, not in the physical (chemical) processes in the brain itself. But if that were the case, why can we not detect or measure it in some way, for example in fMRI scans.
Well, there are several possibilities. First, there is the ‘mathematical reality’ theory proposed by the physicist Max Tegmark. In his Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (MUH), Tegmark argues that “mathematical structure is our external reality, rather than being merely a description of it. This equivalence between physical and mathematical existence means that if a mathematical structure contains a self-aware substructure, it will perceive itself as existing in a physically real universe, just as you and I do” (Tegmark 2014, 323). Even if Tegmark is wrong about the universe itself being a purely mathematical structure, the concept may be an explanation for the mind. The mind would thus be a “self-aware (mathematical) substructure” that is modelled on the reason network, but independent of it, just like the light and bulb example.
An alternative, but perhaps related explanation, may be found in dark matter. Considering that the matter we know something about constitutes only some 5% of the universe, and dark matter some 27% (CERN n.d.), it may well be that the mind is composed of dark matter that is structured on the reason network. Although we know virtually nothing about dark matter, other than it must be there, CERN notes that “one idea is that it could contain “supersymmetric particles” – hypothesized particles that are partners to those already known in the Standard Model (ie, ordinary matter like electrons).”
If some of these theories are proved correct, then it would be entirely plausible that the mind is a model of the structure of the reason network, and composed of partner particles. That would also explain why we cannot physically detect the mind. As CERN notes, theories suggest that particles of dark matter may be so light that they would even be undetectable by the particle detectors of the Large Hadron Collider. The only reason they would know that they had discovered particles of dark matter, says CERN, is that the particles “would carry away energy and momentum, so physicists could infer their existence from the amount of energy and momentum ‘missing’ after a collision. Dark matter candidates arise frequently in theories … such as supersymmetry and extra dimensions. One theory suggests the existence of a ‘Hidden Valley’, a parallel world made of dark matter having very little in common with matter we know.”
So it seems most likely that the mind is a structure independent of the brain, but modelled on the reason network, whose structure, in turn, depends on whether it is in service to the instinct networks, or the neurological moral network.
It is the mind, therefore, that makes ‘decisions’, because it is conscious, and the reason network that ‘implements’ the decisions. The neurological phenomenon of insight confirms that, because it functions when reason is ‘muted’ (Stockley 2011-2012), which means that the decision made on the basis of insight must be taken elsewhere than in the reason network.
The Mind/Soul Debate
What this suggests is that if there is such a thing as a soul, it is in fact a description of what happens to the mind after physical death.
The ultimate ‘destiny’ of the mind will depend on whether the reason network on which it is structured is modelled on the neurological moral network, or on the servicing of the instinct networks. There are two alternative possibilities: one is that the mind survives physical death only if its structure is modelled on the neurological moral network, and if not, it dissipates after physical death because its structure is not sufficiently cohesive to exist independently of the brain; the other is that the mind survives, irrespective of whether it is modelled on the neurological moral network or on servicing the instinct networks, but that the ‘destiny’ of each is different.
If structured on serving the instinct networks, the mind may still survive physical death, but will be subject to the frustrations of still having powerful motivations to service those instincts after death, but without any physical body to indulge them.
If structured on the morality network, however, it will have detached itself from the need to satisfy physical appetites, so that after physical death it can integrate itself with the consciousness of the universe, or exist in some other dimension, or beyond. Most religions, whether more or less distinctly, focus on such a ‘detaching’ of the mind from instincts if it is to survive physical death.
The prospect of the mind surviving physical death has been around since human beings first became conscious of their own mortality. As we have already seen, the neurological moral network is the cause of that perception. It compels the mind to recognize that there must be a consequence for actions that are wrong, and if that consequence is not imposed in life, then it can only be imposed after death. And for that to occur, we must survive in some form after physical death.
That perception is what drives the human quest for justice. One philosopher who addresses the justice aspect as an explanation for God and an after-life is Professor Evan Fales of The University of Iowa.
In his essay Despair, Optimism and Rebellion, Fales suggests that Christian soteriology is a consequence of our “deep passion for justice” which requires injustices to be rectified if life is to have objective meaning (Fales 2007). He suggests, but does “not argue,” that there are two reasons for this:
“One is that justice is so fundamental to our conception of morality and of human well-being that a human existence in which the demands of justice are irredeemably unsatisfied appears to be a fundamentally defective, poor kind of existence. The other is that we think of justice as an objective demand, a demand that transcends the self-serving interests of partisans. Hence, we are satisfied with nothing less than that the universe be ordered in such a way that the principles of justice are woven into its very fabric.”
Fales cites Segal’s Life After Death (Segal 2004) as confirmation that justice was “a primary motivation” of the ante-Nicene Fathers for “the idea of a disembodied post-mortem existence of the soul …” He identifies the human demand for justice as an objective moral (naturalist) human condition, but argues that this does not pre-suppose a supreme being:
“If it were true that human beings were designed by a supreme being to have by nature certain ends, then it would be true that, in giving us those ends, God would indirectly have determined the principles of action that properly guide human social behaviour. However, it would remain the case that the basis of morality is to be found in facts about human nature. It is a genetic fallacy of sorts to suppose that objective moral truths cannot be justified except by appeal to a divine will, even if the ultimate cause of the relevant natural facts is such a will.”
The problem with this argument is that Fales pre-judges what the “facts about human nature” may tell us about the principles of morality.
The neuroscience shows that the natural human condition is what is ‘programmed’ into the human brain as neurological networks, one of which is a morality network that speaks to us of a Supreme Law and a Supreme Lawmaker. That is what drives the human quest for justice (Yoder and Decety 2014).
However, precisely such ‘disagreements’ as to what these generally agreed natural or neurological conditions mean, can in fact be a basis for reconciliation and accommodation between science, philosophy and religion, as well as inter-religiously. That is because each could agree that the neuroscience confirms that certain fundamental moral principles are ‘programmed’ into the brain as a neurological moral network, and that they should form the basis for any system of justice. Any differences about how the brain came to be ‘programmed’ with such a network would not then constitute a barrier to agreement as to what moral principles should underpin such a system of justice. In other words, whether the principles were ascribed to a God, to natural forces, evolution, or otherwise, agreement as to the core principles and how they should be implemented here on Earth would attract general consensus.
That would at least constitute progress for the human race as a whole towards a more just and equitable world.
The evidence demonstrates that the principles (laws) that created and sustain the universe are ‘programmed’ into the human brain in mathematical form, which creates the instinct, morality and reason networks.
The instinct and morality networks process data from the senses and ‘feed’ it to the reason network in the form of words, images and concepts. The reason network then evaluates the data, formulates judgments as to what it means, then presents recommended responses to the mind for a decision.
The outcome of this process produces what we call ‘knowledge’. However, the pursuit of purely physical (scientific) knowledge is a human instinct, whilst pursuit of an understanding of the moral dimension of the physical laws is a response to the ‘voice’ of the neurological moral network.
‘Knowledge’ is thus both external and internal. External in the sense that the brain processes data from the outside world which is fed to it by the senses, and internal in the sense that the brain can access the mathematical laws that determine how it was created because they are ‘programmed’ into the brain itself. That is the point Einstein made when he said, “I am convinced that we can discover by means of purely mathematical construction the concepts and the laws … which furnish the key to the understanding of natural phenomena. Experience may suggest the appropriate mathematical concepts, but they most certainly cannot be deduced from it [experience] … In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed” (Einstein 1954, 274).
Free-will versus Determinism
The mind is ‘free’ to choose between servicing the demands of the instinct networks, or the demands of the neurological moral network.
The neurological networks themselves are entirely the product of the fundamental principles of the laws of physics, and as such entirely deterministic. How those networks process data through the senses is likewise deterministic. However, the decisions made by the mind as to how to respond to the data and options presented to it is not deterministic. The mind is free to choose how to respond, and that choice determines whether the decision is moral or not.
The choice is deterministic only to the extent that the reason network has been conditioned and accustomed to respond to such demands by its environmental circumstances, such as education, culture, upbringing, form of government and law, religion, and so on.
But even if the reason network, and thus the mind, has been accustomed to predominantly or wholly service the instinct networks, it still remains free to re-focus its attention to service the morality network. One way that can be done is through meditation (Simon-Thomas 2012). The other is through religious constructs such as repentance, or being ‘born again’ (see Part B). Another phenomenon relates to insight, in which the mind suddenly, and often inexplicably, ‘sees the light’ and rejects the demands of the instinct networks to follow the ‘voice’ of the morality network. The apostle Paul seeing the light on the road to Damascus is such an example, as is Asoka.
However, the best way to ensure that human beings act on the basis of the impulses we receive from the morality network, rather than the demands of the instinct networks, is to teach them how to do so from an early age. That is because research shows that the neurological moral network is activated at an early age, so nurturing it in a child’s early years is fundamental to a child’s moral development – discourage behavior based on instinct, and encourage moral behavior (Winston 2015).
Recognition of a Supreme Law and a Supreme Lawmaker
As we have seen, the neurological moral network compels reason to recognize that there must be a consequence for actions that are wrong, and if that consequence is not imposed in life, then it can only be imposed after death. That causes a recognition that we must ‘survive’ in some form after physical death, at which time ‘perfect justice’ will be dispensed by a Supreme Lawmaker applying the principles of a Supreme Law.
It is this consequence of the interaction between the neurological networks of instinct and morality that points to freedom being the fundamental principle of morality and justice.
The mind can only recognize as objectively right and wrong, or good and evil, that which comes from the neurological moral network. That means that it cannot recognize the authority of other human beings as a source of right and wrong. And it cannot recognize as justice an authority imposed on it by other human beings.
We could thus state the principle of freedom as follows: No one person, group of people, or institution, however constituted, has any authority, natural or otherwise, over any other human being (see Part I).
That being the case, then the following propositions must follow:
- Freedom cannot recognize as law the commands and doctrines of other human beings;
- Freedom and law can only coexist under the auspices of a Supreme Law and a Supreme Lawmaker as a legitimate basis for justice.
As already mentioned, Part XII will deal with the evidence of the Principle of Freedom in more detail. But for now, we can deduce that these propositions suggest a Supreme Law that is ‘imprinted’ into the human brain as a neurological moral network, and that Law speaks to us of a Supreme Lawmaker.
As was demonstrated in Part X of this series, there is also a further neurological phenomenon that enables the mind to ‘bypass’ reason, so to speak, and gain direct access to the mathematical principles that make up the instinct and moral networks; that is the phenomenon of insight.
This is the phenomenon behind revelation, prophecy, religion in general, and some of the greatest scientific discoveries. Because this phenomenon is most common when reason is muted, it often occurs unexpectedly and inexplicably, giving the impression that it is of external origin, and thus mystical. However, on a theological level, if there is a God, and He did at times intervene in human affairs, it seems likely that it would be through the vehicle of such a neurological phenomenon, much like the adverts that pop up on computers in order to influence what we purchase. Unfortunately, insight can occur in support of primitive instinct as well, producing the more destructive ‘talents’ of military conquest, and exploitation of other human beings and the resources of the earth, even to our own detriment.
So we can conclude that Weinberg’s evaluation that the universe suggests no point to human existence, or indeed its own existence, is not borne out by the evidence. On the contrary, Weinberg’s reductionist theory of the universe and life means that conscious human beings with a capacity for moral judgment are the highest manifestation of the fundamental laws of physics, and indeed an ‘image’ of those fundamental laws. However, the human quest for justice reveals a moral dimension to those laws, which finds expression in the recognition of a Supreme Lawmaker as the author of the Supreme Law.
Furthermore, as already noted above, if conscious human beings with a capacity for moral judgment are a manifestation and an ‘image’ of the universe, then the universe itself must necessarily be a conscious, moral structure. And its purpose must then be to give expression to the will of a Supreme Lawmaker.
That being the case, then it must follow that human beings are themselves capable of discovering the will of the Supreme Lawmaker, and thus their own moral purpose and destiny on Earth. That was certainly the mission of the Prophets of the Old Testament. As Leon Wood says in his book The Prophets of Israel, the words used for prophets signify people who acquire “insight regarding God’s will” (Wood 1998, 63).
However, these neurological faculties and phenomena that are the motivations for religion and justice, and speak to us of a Supreme Law and a Supreme Lawmaker, are discovered within ourselves, not in formalized religion.
With its rituals, doctrines and hierarchies, formal religion violates the fundamental principles of the neurological moral network. It is a product of reason in service of human instinct, which facilitates the exercise of authority by one person, group of people, or institution, over others. And that violates the principle of freedom that is the fundamental principle of morality and justice. According to Wood, the objective of the prophets was to warn against just such rituals and pomp in seeking to discover and do God’s will (Wood 1998, 76).
In Part B of this article (posted separately), I shall demonstrate how the Scriptures support the arguments set out in this article, and how they tell us that we can only discover our true moral purpose and our true moral destiny within ourselves.
Joseph BH McMillan http://josephbhmcmillan.com
This article is based on the book A ‘Final Theory’ of God by Joseph BH McMillan.
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