Hi, everyone, I’m back after a long gap. Hopefully in this new format the waters will be calmer than they were at the end of last year.
Here are some thoughts I’ve been having recently that surely touches the interface of science and faith, but is not one I’ve seen discussed much as the usual favourites (evolution, climate change, the environment etc).
C.S. Lewis writes in “Mere Christianity” of what he calls the “Moral Law” – the innate sense of right and wrong that we seem to have instilled in us – which gives us a conscience. Francis Collins, in his book “The Language of God” writes that it was the existence of this Moral Law, and indeed our awareness that we often break this law wantonly, that shattered his atheism and ultimately brought him to faith in Christ. He argues that it is a pointer towards the existence of God, but warns about falling for the “God of the Gaps” analogy.
I think Paul is writing about the same thing in Romans 2:14-15 thus:
(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
(I find it wonderful that such a large grain of wisdom is contained in a parenthetical comment!)
However my thoughts have been stretched recently into thinking about psychopathy, and how this fits into the picture. Psychopathy is characterized as an inability to feel remorse, guilt, conscience, empathy towards victims, and also severe emotional detachment. Many psychopaths are of course in jail – and it is common to hear a judge condemning a serial killer or rapist as not showing any remorse for their crimes, as if this somehow makes them more evil. Such people are often condemned as “evil” especially by the press, and of course the acts they commit are indeed evil.
But is this all just a symptom of an illness, which they can’t help? Dr. Kent Kiehl is a cognitive neuroscientist who is researching into psychopathy using fMRI scanning techniques, on prison inmates, to see if one can find specific brain abnormalities that lead to psychopathic behaviour. It is hoped eventually that this might lead to possible treatments to reduce psychopathic tendencies. The work is described in this New Yorker Article.
I am wondering where all this leaves the moral law argument? If psychopaths are people without a functioning conscience this is a kind of disability – and it points to the idea that not all of us have an innate sense of right and wrong as Lewis suggests. The problem is perhaps wider than just prison inmates – prisons contain “failed psychopaths”, but it is believed there are many more successful psychopaths out there who have succeeded by manipulating and exploiting other people without the normal pangs of conscience and the constraining aspect that most of us feel guilty when we do something wrong.
I don’t have any real answers to this, or indeed any firm conclusion, but I’d be interested to see if anyone else has some interesting insights into this.