A Bullying Tendency Wired into the Brain?

A Lesson for the Modern Christian Apologete and Evangelist

You see, if there is no such thing as truth, that is: objective truth, who or what will be left standing? Instead, there are things which are true from my perspective, and things which are true from your perspective.

The following report appeared on the BBC News website on November 7, 2008. Let us look at it:

"Bullies brains may be hardwired to have sadistic tendencies, US imaging research suggests...

An area of the brain associated with reward lit up in scans when aggressive boys watched a video of someone inflicting pain.

...Aggressive adolescents showed 'a specific and very strong' activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum - areas of the brain that respond to feeling rewarded - when watching pain inflicted on others, suggesting they enjoyed watching pain, the researchers said.

And unlike the control group, the boys with conduct disorder did not show activation of the parts of the area of the brain involved in self-regulation - known as the the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction. "

Why did this news report catch my attention? Because it is so highly typical of a naturalistic and relativistic approach to human behavioural problems, an approach which is now starting to be seen almost everywhere.

Just consider: the problem of bullying is here confined to an evaluation of chemicals and physical processes which operate within the human brain; there is no concept of responsibility nor of human character anywhere here. This is the creed of dogmatic Naturalism, leaving no room for objective morality. When I read this I was immediately reminded that leading Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has stated that the two biggest current threats to Christianity, and to Christian Apologetics, are the following:

1. Perennial Naturalism.
This assumes that the natural world is all that there is, that is, that there are no spirits, no God - absolutely nothing - which comes from outside of people themselves, which has any existence; so the teaching is that there is absolutely nothing further which can ever influence any human situation which dwells beyond the physical realm of things which we may see and observe. Of course, this approach always admitted that there might be things which are not yet understood, yet insisted that such things are necessarily confined to the world of matter, chemicals and reactions.
Such Naturalism, which placed scientific enquiry on a pedestal was, of course, a child of the enlightenment; this soon becoming the very bedrock of Modernism.

2. Creative Anti-realism.
As Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, rather like perennial naturalism, 'creative anti-realism' (as he describes it) goes back to the ancient world, back at least to Protagoras' dictum,

"Man is the measure of all things, of the existence of things that are, and of the non-existence of things that are not. . ."

Immanuel Kant (in his 'First Critique') came up with the idea and schema that all the fundamental categories through which we characterize the world in which we live are actually imposed upon that world by our own noetic activity ('noetic' relating to the mind). That those things, or our descriptions, do not actually characterize that world as it really is within itself. According to this reasoning, such features of the world as space and time, substance-property structure, number, modality, and even truth and existence are not to be found in things in themselves. They are rather to be found in the 'things' which we ourselves contribute to the world; so these structures are only there as a result of our noetic or intellectual activity. Going back to the older way of thinking, it was God's knowledge which was viewed as creative, but according to the later modernistic Kantian way of thinking, it is human knowledge that is creative - God plays little part.

So although, as we have seen, such ideas were indeed present within the ancient world, they were not widely accepted nor acknowledged : Immanuel Kant started to facilitate that. But Kant still probably thought that God was not completely uninvolved; Modernism hardened this aspect: For Modernism, God was not involved - how could He be when no supernaturalistic world even existed? So, rather like Descartes, Kant strongly contributed to a line of thought which he himself would have rejected.

So, within this worldview, if it were not for us and our own noetic and conceptual activity, there wouldn't be, or ever have been, anything at all, no dinosaurs, mountains, moons, music or even electrons. In fact, within this way of thinking, we owe our own existence to our categorizing activity; as Plantinga says (see Christian Philosophy at the end of the Twentieth Century), such a train of thought can easily induce a sort of "intellectual vertigo."

Problem is, once we start reasoning in such a direction, human vanity becomes magnified, indeed, we become as 'gods' (remind you of a Scripture in Genesis?) For if we start to feel that we ourselves are responsible for everything, it is an easy step from there to the thought that we do not all even live in the same world. How come? Because of obvious human differences and preferences! If all is of us, because of our descriptive categorizing powers, then the very concept of ultimate truth itself soon becomes something which one may challenge! Enter Relativism.

You see, if there is no such thing as truth, that is: objective truth, who or what will be left standing? Instead, there are things which are true from my perspective, and things which are true from your perspective. This is Relativism, of course, a necessary child of 'Creative Anti-realism,' and just as the first considered influence of Naturalism became the bedrock of Modernism, 'Creative Anti-realism' is a central plank of Post-modernism. Modernism stated that the only truth is scientific and measurable; Post-modernism states that the whole concept of 'truth' and knowledge itself must be challenged for conceptions of "truth" can only ever be private, individual and subjective.

Modernism may be substantially dead, but its child of Naturalism remains in more or less fine health - it rules out the possibility of a God and, make no mistake, this has been at the heart of all western education for about a century. Wonder why your carefully raised Christian children now question the very concept of God? Its the schools and colleges you sent them to! And its the schools and colleges I sent mine to!

So Naturalism (such a great friend and support to atheists everywhere), is now joined by Creative Anti-realism (to use Plantinga's term), this is certainly a little less outright atheistic, yet since it rejects objective truth it also - necessarily - opposes the Word of God, and any concept of universal religious truth. But now let us get back to our opening point...

A Bullying Tendency Wired Into the Brain?

That BBC News report may be seen as steeped in Naturalism (why consider that a bully is simply being weak, cowardly and immoral in a world which rejects God? After all, if we reject God, we are also bound to reject any universal standard of morality!). But Naturalism becomes reinforced by Creative Anti-realism by its refusal to be judgmental. The new Relativism, then, bitterly hates judgmentalism since judgment assumes that there is one universal and objective moral standard, but if your opinion is as good as mine, or as good as Adolf Hitler's, then what point in making judgments?

So we need to understand that these are seriously destructive influences and people are increasingly being affected by them. The modern Christian evangelist and apologete must have the arguments to counteract them in order to be effective.
Robin A. Brace, November 8th, 2008.

UK Apologetics