Steven Pinker is even more cavalier. In his various books, he insists that the human brain is nothing more than an ingeniously assembled computer whose programming has been done by chance and natural selection. “The self… is just another network of brain systems…. The evidence is overwhelming that every aspect of our mental lives depends entirely on physiological events in the tissues of the brain.” Yet Pinker does not see why this view of man should threaten free will or purpose or morality in any way: “I can’t imagine how anything coming out of the laboratory… could possibly subtract from the meaning of life:’ In another book, he says that “happiness and virtue have nothing to do with what natural selection designed us to accomplish…. They are for us to determine.” Pinker writes that just because his genes are programmed for survival and reproduction doesn’t mean he has to act in this way. “Well into my procreating years I am, so far, voluntarily childless … ignoring the solemn imperative to spread my genes…. If my genes don’t like it, they can go jump in the lake.”
Notwithstanding Pinker’s rhetorical flourish, for him to say that we can declare ourselves independent of our selfish genes makes no sense. Pinker, like a lot of other people, has chosen not to have children. The key word here is “chosen,” which presumes free choice. Pinker has not explained where this free choice has come from.Moreover, he has not faced the Darwinian objection to the content of his choice. If our genes have built us to survive and reproduce, how has the human inclination to avoid having children survived the process of natural selection? It is not enough to say, “My genes say reproduce, but I say go to hell.” This kind of reasoning would destroy all Darwinian explanations of human behavior. Moreover, how can happiness and virtue be something “for us to determine”? Where is this “us” that emerges apart from the designs of our genetic programming? How do we get the ingenuity and strength to battle a foe as formidable as our own nature? Having disposed of the ghost in the machine, Pinker seems to be surreptitiously bringing it back.
Let us confront the central materialist doctrine that man, like the rest of nature, is made up of matter and nothing more. The best evidence going for this theory is that matter is all we can see, touch, and measure. Moreover, matter seems “responsible” for our thoughts, emotions, and perhaps even our moral intuitions. A powerful blow to the head can cause unconsciousness. Alcohol and fatigue interfere with concentration. Electrical stimulation of certain parts of the brain can produce a desired emotional response. Patients who suffer certain kinds of brain damage lose the capacity to sympathize with others or to recognize shapes. Alzheimer’s disease produces physical deterioration that leads to mental lapse and a complete disappearance of moral awareness.
As consciousness, perception, and thinking all occur in the brain, Francis Crick describes the brain as a conscious, perceptive, and thinking organ. Crick writes, “Both hemispheres can hear what is being said…. What you see is not what is really there; it is what your brain believes is there…. Your brain makes the best interpretation it can…. The brain combines the information … and settles on the most plausible interpretation…. This allows the brain to guess a complete picture.”