"Conscience" by Patricia S. Churchland

This book, written by Churchland who is professor emerita of Philosophy at the U. of California, San Diego, should be of great interest to participants of this Forum. Her analysis of brain circuity and brain chemistry leads her to the conclusion: “Warm-blooded, Warm-hearted.” While this may seem compatible with the wide range of views expressed on this Forum–from Agnosticism to Fundamental Christian–almost every forum participant will find some of Churchland’s positions antithetical to their beliefs. Nevertheless, she is well qualified to discuss this subject from a scientific point of view, and her writing style makes for comfortable reading.

I consider myself a rather liberal Christian–some would say a lapsed Christian since I prefer Original Blessing to Original Sin. [see 1/10, Sep 2015] And yet I consider as misleading her use of the term “myth” in the following excerpt:

“Three myths about morality remain alluring: (1) only humans act on moral emotions, (2) moral precepts are divine in origin, and (3) learning to behave morally goes against our thoroughly selfish nature.”

I hope she does NOT use ‘myth’ in the sense of ‘fairy tale’. Indeed, later she writes:

“Mammalian brains are thus soft-wired for love and affection. Our genes see to it that our brains have neural networks to form powerful attachments, which learn social behavior such as cuddling, sharing food, and defending against attack. Our enduring sense of self-care impels us to seek balance between selfishness and selflessness.”

This statement is certainly more compatible with the concept of a Creator who has used the slow (apparently random) process of evolution to bring about His purpose of making a creature that freely chooses to become worthy of being seen in His Image–loving not only one’s kin, but empathizing with all of humankind sharing our planet.

As to the practical implications of her account, Churchland states:

“One is that appreciation of the common biological underpinnings of sociality and morality may soften the hard edge of moral arrogance. Perhaps it will make a little room for humility when we are otherwise tempted to assume that only our group has exclusive insight into what is right and wrong. Additionally. it may fuel skepticism toward those who advertise themselves as moral authorities with special knowledge denied the rest of us.”

While I do NOT concur with Barth’s view that God is Wholly Other, I do feel that even the most astute of scriptural scholars should maintain suitable humility in proclaiming exactly what God expects of us.
Al Leo

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[quote=“aleo, post:1, topic:41454, full:true”]
"Three myths about morality remain alluring: (1) only humans act on moral emotions,


Why does she call that a myth?

Only humans know the differences between right and wrong.

Only humans have a conscience, the mechanism to know.

As I put elsewhere, it is very difficult to measure conscience, or morality. Likewise it is not always obvious whether an action is made by instinct or conscious thought. Certainly Dolphins and Chimps have displayed actions that indicate more than just instinct. And who could possibly tell whether other animas do or do not have consciousness beyond basic instinct? W e just do not have the data.

There is something very human about wanting to be superior, or justify our lauding it over the rest of nature. It makes it so much easier not to have to take any moral notice of them.