Religion vs. Science is an Ongoing Debate – Brain Scans Do Not Reliably Predict Violent Behavior

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly is a PBS program that explores current news items that have a connection to religious and ethical practices.   As the title implies, the program takes a diverse religious approach as the it explores all religions as well as modern cultural ethical philosophies around the world.  Recent programs have featured Baha’i, Hindu, Islamic, Hebrew, and atheist perspectives besides various Christian denominational viewpoints.  The November 2, 2013 program entitled Predicting Violence; Reza Aslan’s Zealot features a story on how the brains of violent offenders differ greatly from people who do not display such violent behavior.  The implication is that religions that penalize people whose brains are programmed to so commit violent acts are themselves immoral.

Professor Adrian Raine, who teaches neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania and wrote a book entitled The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime, argues that there is a brain basis for violent behavior thus making judgments against such offenders immoral.  This flies not only in the face of Christianity, but many major religions such as Judaism, Islam, etc. all condemn violent behavior as sin.

The study for this research included having individuals respond to questionnaires as they were asked how they would respond to critical situations where the decision might be to have to kill one person to save five.

Paul Wolpe (Emory Center for Ethics) responded to Raine’s work as being very significant and worthy of further study but warns that jumping to judgement and implementing policy changes at this point could lead to seriously wrong decisions.

The work of Raine continues the progression of scientific recommendations that change the viewpoint on many behaviors from being the result of decisions and being the result of pure biology.

Wolpe makes an extremely important point that people with the same lesions exhibit different behavior paths.  In fact, Raine himself has a brain scan similar to some serial killers yet he chose to study neuroscience while other chose to commit multiple murders.

In my opinion, that alone is an excellent reason to reject the validity of brain scans to override the behavior choices that people make.

See PBS, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly for more information about the program.

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