DOES LUCK OR CHOICE DETERMINE A CHILD’S CHARACTER?
John Rosemond, whose column on parenting appears in the Charleston Gazette, is dignified by the title “family psychologist.” I read him regularly but not without significant irritation. To be polite, I say only that I beg to differ with his latest column, in which he, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, declares that nurture and choice are more determinative of a child’s character than nature and luck.
He argues this questionable premise: “Behavioral genetics has been a bust. The nature-nurture debate is, I think, a simplistic dualism. If by nature we mean a child’s genetic complement, there is scant evidence that genes determine behavior.”
Not content with a minor dubious premise, he argues a major one: “Then there is God’s will—the fact that each and every one of us plays a role in The Master Plan—and free will or choice. Biological nature, human nature and nurture are nothing compared with the power of choice that the child obtains during his/her second year of life.”
It has been determined beyond argument that the chimpanzee has almost an identical DNA , that is, the same genetic makeup, as man. Does anyone believe that a chimpanzee plays a role in God’s Master Plan or that it has free will or the power of choice? Of course, no one believes that. It is a slave to its genes and environment. And so is man.
Really, it is beyond comprehension that an educated adult—in view of all the biological and psychological evidence to the contrary—can categorically assert for public consumption that a child of two years has the “power of choice” and that by exercising that power it determines whether it will be a good child or a bad child. It is beyond comprehension because there are countless libraries shelved with innumerable books wherein philosophers and scientists present cogent arguments and experiments that tend to prove otherwise, that tend to prove, in fact, that not only do children age two not have free will but no one of any age has free will.
This is how Mark Twain in 1906 viewed the illusion of free will in “What Is Man?” “Man the machine—man the impersonal engine. Whatsoever a man is, is due to his make, and to the influences brought to bear upon his heredities, his habitat, his associations. He is moved, directed, commanded, by exterior influences—solely. He originates nothing, not even a thought.”
Daniel M. Wegner, in his book “The Illusion of Conscious Will,” states: “The Free Willer must be a mechanism that is unresponsive to any past influence.” Without question a free will choice would have to be uninfluenced by genes, by the whole of the DNA, by the whole history of the person and by the whole history of human evolution. It’s inconceivable that any rational person could conclude that free will is not an illusion.
How does Rosemond reconcile God’s will and His Master Plan with man’s free will? When is God’s will activating a person and when is a person free of God’s will? Further, if there is a Master Plan, how does the Plan influence what a man does? Are what a man does and becomes foreordained by the Plan?
Rosemond is a staunch spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child devotee, a man who looks to the Old Testament for the truth. He opines: “But if by nature we refer to the spiritual nature all humans share, there is no doubt in my mind but that human nature is forceful, and fraught with nefarious inclinations.”
He separates man’s biological nature from his spiritual nature. He believes in God and Satan and concludes that they are both trying to dominate the child. He sees the parent as the influence that can determine who wins: God or Satan.
There is no irrefutable evidence that man’s nature is dual or that the rod makes a child good. There is evidence that human nature is as much “fraught” with benevolent inclinations as it is with malevolent inclinations. Does Rosemond believe that the only good in a child comes from using liberally the rod to beat the nefarious out of a child’s nature?
And finally this mind-boggler: “One choice of a child can nullify years of good upbringing. One choice can free the child from the restraints of his human nature or plunge the child headlong into the depravity of it. One choice can make a mockery of biogenetic theories.”
No one can make a choice that frees him from the “restraints of his human nature.” Such a concept is the mother of illusions. And no one would ever make an absolutely free choice that would plunge him into depravity. For a human to make an absolutely free choice, he would have to be conscious of only a razor’s-edge present, be divorced from his past, be unaware of a future, be without remorse or hope, and then choose. But upon what bases would he choose and for what reason would he choose perched on the pinnacle of the present only?
I suggest that John Rosemond is a fossil pressed between a layer of fundamentalist rock and a layer of pseudo-scientific shale.