Choice Beliefs and Moral Accountability
Interesting post on the CARM site on whether or not we choose our beliefs. Some good points that I would like to expound upon, yet I still don't agree with the position that beliefs are not chosen. They are on many other levels besides one.
The mind has many levels. Many choices are made below consciousness. I once read abook about adult children of alcoholics and how they "choose" certain things such as mates who they will have difficulty with and projects that they will eventually not finish and abandon. Now who in their right mind would choose a mate that they knew they were going to have trouble with? Who would choose to fail at something?
These "choices" are made well below the conscious level. The mate choice is influenced by the ACOA's unstable background. The family's difficulties are what the person knows growing up and down on the subconscious level, the person believes this is "normal" often despite evidence to the contrary (they may not vocalize this, but they will invariably choose difficult relationships and such). Automatically the ACOA is attracted (attraction isn't a choice) to a person who they will have difficulty with. They will possess traits that they find attractive, often mistaking things like arrogance for confidence. They can choose to ignore warning signs to the contrary, even ignore observations from friends about how sorry their choice was.
So perhaps the question at hand isn't necessarily about choice of belief, but perhaps accountability and responsibility. Can a person be held responsible for choices made below consciousness? Should a person be held accountable for feelings they have no control over? Should a person be held responsible for making a choice based on feelings when those feelings are so strong that they over ride all sense of reason, and if so, how much should they be responsible for? Crimes of passion often carry lesser penalties than premeditated ones. Can a person really be held accountable for believing something or not believing something when the circumstances erased all reasonable ability to choose? If you grew up in the 5th century, chances are you would've falsely believed that the world was flat, yet are you really responsible for that belief? Now suppose you had heard about evidence that the world was round, but you weren't ready to buy it because all of your life, you've "lived" on a flat earth.
I've heard theistic folks say this type of thinking is dangerous because it invalidates moral responsibility. I've heard Christians say that so called "relative morality" is just an excuse for people to have a license to do what they want. These same people often believe things such as the idea that gays can be "prayed straight", I even once heard a Baptist preacher castigate another member of the clergy for coming out of the closet and went on to say that "a good dose of salvation would straighten that out". So suppose a gay person decides to believe in Christianity (I've talked to a few), the variety that believes homosexuality to be an abomination. They decide to go celibate, but yet they have these desires over which they have no control ( and thus no choice), should they be held accountable for desiring their own sex when they have no control over it? What about substance abusers? Most substance abusers suffer from chemical imbalences in the brain and indulging in their substance of choice is a type of self medication. This is what is behind the lax drug laws in places like Portugal and the Netherlands. In Portugal, drug offenses aren't punished by jail, the addict is treated as someone who is ill rather than a criminal and they are offered treatment. This policy is relatively new, so I know of no stats that speak to it's efficacy in assuaging the drug problem. What of people with emotional control issues such as anger? Are they really responsible for losing their temper when their brain chemistry causes their emotion to over ride their sense of reason? If so, how much should they be held responsible?
I'm not suggesting that moral responsibility be thrown to the wind, in fact the exact opposite, yet what if drug addiction could be cured by a few sessions with electronic treatments as is being experimented with now? What if sociopathic behaviour could be identified as early as age 4 or 5 and an MRI found the problem and thus could cure it before the child grew up and became a seriel killer? What if "evil" was something that could be identified like a tumor and removed from the brain? What would happen to the concept of moral choice and responsibilty? I believe it would continue, only with different methodologies for curing the ills, probably much to the chagrin of the religious.
"Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings."