The Power of Independent Thinking


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Center on Culture and Civil Society

The Center on Culture and Civil Society has been established to reaffirm the interdisciplinary roots of the natural and social sciences, as well as their original concern with the moral nature of humankind. It seeks to foster a cultural renaissance by boldly redefining and redirecting public debate toward a new integration of knowledge that will support the foundations of free, moral, and peaceful societies.

If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present him as an automation of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instincts, heredity, and environment, we feed the despair to which man is, in any case, already prone. I became acquainted with the last stages of corruption in my second concentration camp in Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or, as the Nazis liked to say, of ‘Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.
Viktor E. Frankl, Holocaust survivor and Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, University of Vienna Medical School; from his book, The Doctor and the Soul

It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere ‘natural object’ and his judgments of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. . . . The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners. . . . A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
C. S. Lewis, Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English, Cambridge University; from his book, The Abolition of Man

To recognize the value of human liberty, we need to understand humans correctly: as morally conscious, reasoning, goal-directed, and creative beings. Without the metaphysical capacity for choice, the legal capacity seems entirely beside the point.

The view of humans as purposeful decision-makers is under attack. Almost daily, media reports claim that scientists have “explained” away another enduring human characteristic in purely deterministic terms. Neuroscientists try to describe love and hate by looking at MRI scans while psychiatrists eliminate moral responsibility by claiming a strictly bio-psychological basis of criminal behavior.

The naturalist worldview, now dominant in the social sciences, treats people as passive objects pushed and pulled by their genes and environment. This reduces all human endeavor to the interplay of mechanistic and impersonal physical forces, strips the world of purpose and objective morality, and enables tyranny. Technocrats seek to rescue people from the forces that shape their lives while denying their capacity for choice. In the process, thinkers able to articulate humanity’s uniquely moral nature have been marginalized and ignored.

However, a growing number of scholars have questioned this strictly materialistic worldview. They have pointed out that reason and science require more than material facts, insisting that any analysis of the material world requires individuals whose views are not themselves determined by that world. By stressing the commonsense view of people as reasoning agents, these thinkers have revealed the importance of a non-materialistic culture for individual liberty, reason, and civic virtue.

The purpose of the Center on Culture and Civil Society is to bring together top scholars and sponsor research across the natural sciences, philosophy, economics, theology, history, law, sociology, and other fields in order to produce books and other publications, events, and media programs that bring this work to the attention of educators and students, policy makers, opinion leaders, and the general public.