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Free will and brain development


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#1 Shawn Lazar

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Posted 01 August 2008 - 11:09 PM

Hi guys,

I didn't know where to post this. Its a pastoral question that involves human nature.

I sometimes speak to my aunt about matters of faith, or rather, she approaches me. She is a secularist, but wants to be a person of faith... she just doesn't feel like she can be. Two of her sons, my cousins, have made horrible life choices involving drugs, criminal records, etc. She rejects God while still blaming Him for abandoning her children, and tries to absolve her sons based on certain recent findings about teenage brain development and ADHD. I explained that God gave us free-will so we could learn from our bad choices and choose the good. She doesn't buy it. Here is what she wrote:

"It is fine to say we have free will and we know right from wrong...BUT it is medically proven that the teenaged brain is not fully developed in the frontal lobe which is the 'decision making' area of the brain. That is why so many teens get into trouble. It is also medically proven that individuals with ADHD have a much lower production of dopamine in the frontal lobe which diminishes their ability to make well informed choices. I don't consider these people having a normal amount of 'free' will. It has been estimated that eighty percent of youths in juvenile detention centers have some sort of learning disability, predominantly ADHD, which makes them impulsive, not thinking things through. Most people struggle to do the right thing normally, add an underdeveloped frontal lobe and nothing good can happen."

How should I respond to this? I'm sure the Desert Fathers, or people familiar with Orthodox Psychotherapy might provide an answer.

Thank you kindly, Shawn.

#2 Nina

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Posted 01 August 2008 - 11:56 PM

BUT it is medically proven that the teenaged brain is not fully developed in the frontal lobe which is the 'decision making' area of the brain. That is why so many teens get into trouble.


Purely from a medical point of view: It is true that the frontal lobe continues to develop until age 25, however does that mean that teens do not have a sense of responsibility? After all by law they are behind the wheel of a car at 16. Of course teens can make rushed decisions, but that does not mean that because of the not fully developed frontal lobe they tend to go to extreme. Because by this logic by 25 they would turn into very responsible and mature people and exercise positively their right of the free will. All goes back to our fallen nature.

#3 Father David Moser

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Posted 02 August 2008 - 03:12 AM

How should I respond to this? I'm sure the Desert Fathers, or people familiar with Orthodox Psychotherapy might provide an answer.


There is no response for this. Your aunt has adopted this position as a defense mechanism - a denial of her own sense of responsibility for the situation of her own children. In her thinking, she is their mother and if they are in trouble it is because she did a poor job raising them. This biomechanical deterministic outlook provides her with the absolution of responsibility that she needs in order to cope with her children's sufferings.

It is better to comfort her and suffer alongside her than to offer any religious arguments. If anything will win her to the faith it is love, not reason.

Fr David Moser

#4 Owen Jones

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Posted 02 August 2008 - 01:29 PM

I can change my brain chemistry by practicing prayer, meditation, forgiveness, gratitude, hope. Also, the operations of my genes do not constitute a closed system. Genes function like an extremely complex switching mechanism that responds to outside influences, like culture, education, the spiritual environment, etc.

While the Fathers did not know about brain chemistry per se, they were not stupid. They knew that matter does not constitute a closed system. They were the earliest espousers of Godel's Theorem.




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