Dilbert: Self Selection, Tabula Rasa, Homosexuality, Religiosity, First Cause

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I like Scott Adams, author and artist of the Dilbert comic strip.  his blog posts are insightful, though I often disagree with the angles he takes.  For instance, in this post, Adams writes about Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality that momentarily got him suspended from his show, Duck Dynasty.

Adams states that he is “pro-gay” but does not believe the response by other pro-gay people to Robertson’s comments was a consistent response. He writes:

It seems to me that Phil Robertson was born with the brain he has. He didn’t have a choice in the matter. And science is starting to understand that religious folks have different brain structure than non-believers. So how is it fair to belittle Phil for acting in the only way he could, given the brain he has?

Adams supports this argument by stating, that because gays are born gay, they should not hold Robertson responsible for acting in a way consistent with his biology, just as pro-gay people ask others to accept the actions of gays because because gays are born this way.

Adams employs his argument as A priori, that is, he makes little attempt to prove that gays are born that way, or that Robertson is born believing that homosexuality is a sin other than to point out that almost all modern people believe homosexuals are born homosexuals and that studies on the brains of religious people shows that their brains are different. Indeed, there are studies that show people who meditate or pray may have differences in their brain. 

But Adams misses the point entirely, it seems, after reading the results of those studies. What the studies seem to show, is that meditation in prayer change the brain, it is not the A priori structure of the organic tissue that caused meditation or prayer.  He puts the cart before the horse, which I have increasingly noticed to be a habit of scientifically predisposed liberals, of which Adams is one.  Adams’ argument is much like saying that someone lifts weights because they are strong. Now, at elite levels, or in highly specialized arenas, there is some truth to this notion. For instance, Olympic athletes are not only very adept at what they do because they are Olympians, they in fact showed an extraordinary talent in their early years which incentivized the activity.  The best gymnasts are not only strong because they are gymnasts, but they are likely great gymnasts because they received the positive feedback of success against others of similar experience early in their careers. This is called the self-selection bias.  People like to do things in which they can be successful. Thus it could be argued that certain organic traits in a person’s brain may involved in the person’s religiosity, especially if the person showed great insight of religious nature, such as Martin Luther, or Thomas Aquinas. They could be rightfully termed religious prodigies. And homosexuals may have attributes not directly related to sexuality that predispose them to being gay. But this does not mean genetics is destiny.

Another hole in Adams’ reasoning is that he must willfully ignore the fact that some nations and cultures show higher levels of religiosity than others. Pakistan and Afghanistan for instance are much more religious than Canada.  Are we to believe that the people in Pakistan have distinctly different brains than the people in Canada? Also, in the past, humans were generally more religious than they are now. Did our brains change so dramatically in a matter of 100 years? These are rhetorical questions to which nearly everyone knows the answer. And the same argument must be made for homosexuality. If homosexuality is innate, why did almost all ancient Greeks practice it to some degree?

And just as with the studies on the religious brain, we must consider that homosexuality may change the human brain, Ex-post facto.  Even if defining differences are discovered between homosexual and heterosexual brains, are the structural differences the cause or the result of homosexual thoughts and actions? We know the human brain is very plastic, its organic structures very susceptible to outside influence.

And this brings us to an even deeper question: What is the First Cause of thought? The purely materialistic view states that thought is nothing more than microscopic movement of matter, in ways poorly, but generally understood. However, the observed science seems to contradict this. If thinking can change the organic structure of the brain, how can the organic structure be the cause of the thought?  What, at this very moment caused you to reach for your coffee cup, change the channel, stand up? It could not be a random impulse, otherwise our daily life would have no order. So, it seems to me, the First Cause lay deeper than the material, in a sort of spiritual realm.

But are we a Tabula Rasa, a blank slate upon which the external world, though training, rhetoric and dogma can elicit from us any response it likes?  I do not believe we are. We obviously possess some innate inner qualities. I am often amazed at the things my three year old daughter knows without really having been taught these things. For instance, I have noticed that she knows what is “scary”, and thus evil or bad,  in some cartoons, even though to my knowledge she had no way of being taught that such things were supposed to be evil.  Some studies show that children have a general idea of good and bad from a very young age.

An easy solution to the question of Tabula Rasa, is that humans have many general inborn traits, but that any of them can be subdued through training, culture, or other factors, for good or bad.  Just as all humans get hungry after going for a time without food, all humans can to varying degrees, stave off the act of eating through acts of will.

13 thoughts on “Dilbert: Self Selection, Tabula Rasa, Homosexuality, Religiosity, First Cause

    Bill said:
    December 31, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    So lemme say up front, I’m not taking any position on Robertson. I think Adams is coming from teh Sam Harris line of reasoning though (and I need to find a link, but I was pretty sure I had seen somewhere the he followed Harris to some extent). Harris says that if he was born with the brain of a serial killer, and had the same life experiences of the serial killer, he’d be the exact same way. Harris argues against the notion of Free Will (which is a discussion we’ll have to have some day 😉 ) as we know it – not to the abdication of resopnsibility for your behavior and not as a free pass, but makes a pretty compelling base that Free Will as most understand it is a myth.

    It’s not something I study extensively, but in college, what I remembered is that on the Gay issue, it’s a wash on nature vs nurture. Some twin studies showed yes, some no. There were clearly people that turn gay based on conditioning, there are many that seem unquestionably gay out of the gate. I have to go with the ‘beyond your control ‘ argument though. I for instance, generally have a very strong preference in body type with women. I could try, but don’t think I could even force myself to be truly attracted to heavier women. I could be forced to tolerate something different, but I couldn’t force myself to actually be attracted to say a bow. Nor coudl I force myself to be unattracted to Salma Hayek or Uma Thurman or Cindy Crawford. Gun to my head, be truly attracted to a guy? Don’t think it’s possible. With that said, I can’t imagine it’s different for a gay guy. I can certainly control what I do with my attractions and urges, no doubt there, but stopping the attraction in the first place (and let’s be honest, it’s being truly attracted to the same sex that makes you gay – if you repress it and pretend otherwise, you’re still gay – you’re just keeping it buried deep in the closet).

    Logic wise, I think you’re spot on with the a priori comments – and yes, I think at some point, it’s easy to take prevailing mantra and convince yourself it’s just true on its face (while I’m sure he’s sincere, if Adams said ” I think it’s a choice” he’d be toast by morning). Robertson is an old southern guy brought up in a very specific religious tradition. He hasn’t experienced a lot of gays presumably. It’s absolutely no surprise he feels that way. Let him live in NY for a few years, find repeated cases of people he thought were ‘good Christian people” were gay, and he’d very likely start changing his mind. Although the whole thing could be made up. Publicists like you to cause controversy (how many huge blowups can you count as the result of a filtered interview with some magazine over the years – as though every one was someone just ad-libbing). He and his publicist knew it would start a sh*t storm, he could have dodged teh question – he takes it From GQ which would certainly play it for all its worth – no shocker at all except I’m not sure it wasn’t staged (although I’m not saying he was being insincere). They refrain from saying things on the show, he certainly could have avoided saying certain things here and his agent would certainly have warned him he was on enemy ground if that’s how he felt.

    magus71 responded:
    December 31, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    “It’s a choice” is far too simple, just as is, the born that way argument. The premise is that people wake up one day and decide to be homosexuals. Almost no aspect of life is like this. We evolve (or devolve) to certain points, with multiple paths taken or not taken.

    As for your arguments about who you are attracted to, consider this: What if a young man grew up on an island where there were no other men, only women and himself? Would he ever become homosexual if he did not even know the opportunity existed? No. Same for alcoholics. In a place where they never even knew alcohol existed, they wouldn’t walk around looking for their next drink. This is clearly more complex than “born that way” and I want more honesty from both sides before I’m “pro-gay.” And sometimes we find that what we are initially attracted to did not show us the whole picture. How many men do you know that gone crushed by great looking women only to settle down with what would be considered average looking women and end up happy?

    Also, Harris’ argument is a classically Harris argument. If someone had my brain and my exact background, they would in fact be me. Can he give me an example of this happening somewhere? Also, as I state in this article, how much of the serial killer’s brain is actually created by A priori thought, as opposed to the organic structure being responsible for the thought? Which came first?

    Bill said:
    December 31, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    As stated, I can’t argue with your reply but a few points. On the island scenario, It’s possible that I could be repulsed by each of the women there. Since I wouldn’t be able to really conceive of a man other than myself, I guess I couldn’t be attracted to one, but I could definitely be repulsed by what’s there. But it really depends on how you’re defining gay. If Gay means actually having sex with a man (if your’e male) then the island scenario, one could never be gay. If by gay you mean truly attracted to men and completely unattracted to women, I think it’s possible. Without getting too graphic, I was a very young kid that had no idea about sex or even female anatomy when I first thought about lesbianism and how ‘hot’ it was. I definitely had a lot of sexual thoughts wayyy before i knew what it actually entailed so I have to think at that point, I was clearly ‘straight’ for all intents and purposes so I can conceive of the same being true for gay. I know I’m not alone in that way before I ever saw or had an idea about female anatomy, I had a pretty strong desire for it.

    On alcoholics- again it’s an ambiguous definition issue. So some people (most of my family for instance) has an extreme reaction to alcohol. the first time I drank, I put down over a 12 pack and I was 11. I’ve always had insane tolerance and profoudn behavior changes. I’m unquestionably a much different person when I’m drunk and one that I don’t personally like. My wife by comparison, can drink 2 glasses of wine tops before she’s puking – she couldn’t possibly do say 4 vodka shots, which would barely be enough for me to even notice. There’s a weight difference but thta’s not what accounts for it. Some definitions of alcoholism have it that you can be an alcoholic without ever drinking – basically, if you change personality and do things when drunk that you absolutely would never do sober, you’re an alcoholic by some definitions. Others, claim that it’s a patten over time so you couldn’t fit the definition if you never drank or didn’t drink a lot (for instance, miss work, black out, get in trouble)

    The born this way argument is too simple and I couldn’t agree more that there’s a lot more honesty needed. Additionally, the point about evolving is something that needs to be made much more in the debate. I’ve had a few gay friends tell me that at first, they could only enjoy sex with a transvestite (and one a transexual) b/c they weren’t attracted to women, but the thought of having sex with a man was too much that it killed the moment. Then after doing it a bit, they go totally ok with it. I have no doubt each of them were gay from as early on as their sexuality developed, but yep, there was definitely a progression. I’m sure that in prison the same thing happens a lot (without going into too much graphic detail, I think you get what I mean).

    On the Harris note, it can’t be proven – there’s no way to have two people in a controlled experiment with the same neurology and same exact environment. However I’m inclined to believe it. I can definitely put chemicals in someone that can cause them to lose their minds. If you ingest X amount of LSD, it will seriously affect your consciousness. If you had a huge dump of serotonin, it would definitely affect you. Would that cause you to kill someone? Doubtful but on the same note, you never had the environmental influences.

    I had long doubted Free-Will is possible as a side product of my religious upbringing (even though Free will is a prerequisite of sin). If God does know everything, and god is always right, he knew I was going to Sin way before the first time I ever did it. He knew Hitler would kill millions of people before Hitler was even born. And he knew Hitler wouldn’t change his mind. So either God doesn’t know everything or God can be wrong, otherwise, I don’t see how I have a choice to do something other than what God knew I was going to do any point in the future. I buy Harris’ argument on it – look at genetic similarities in appearance or athletic ability – if those genes get pushed down, then it seems very plausible that you can get the same neurology. Moreover, we don’t have the computing power to do it fully, but in the near future we might be able to run simulations that allow us to control for every variable that can be shifted. We can move artificial limbs now by watching the neural activity so It seems like being able to know everything one can/will do at a point in time seems pretty plausible. there’s a lot of hype around “Neuro” whatever and a lot is bull, but I buy that it’s possible (b/c there’s a set number of nueral pathways and chemical combinations that can happen in my brain). Similarly, tracking brain activity, we know that by the time we realize something happened, it already happened b/c of the latency in transmission – similar, a sensation on my nose will be received well before one from my toe. If you can see all of that activity and it’s that easy to calculate and monitor, I’d think you could copy those same sensations and make them repeatable. If we get there, Harris’ theory will be falsifiable although we’re a far way from there.

    One thing, about the Men being crushed by attractive women – I don’t follow the point there. I think people settle for what they can get in most instances. Many people don’t age well, so market value decreases. On the other hand, many of the same people make a lot more money as they age, which increases market value. Ending up with someone you’re unhappy with has many factors , generally getting married too early (although that’s a huge oversimplification) or one of the people changing in a different direction than the other one. I’m not sure that has something to do with a previous experience although admittedly, I’m not sure I followed the point.

    VXXC said:
    January 1, 2014 at 12:01 am

    “scientifically predisposed liberals.”

    Not to be confused with science, which they have placed on their ever growing ash heap of history. Quite stopped in it’s tracks by peer review, and regressing into Gaia superstition and retro-communism.

    Adam’s is a snob to the point of being a Nazi, and while funny he’s a user. The company that gave him his job [Bell South] was quite good to him, the fact that’s he’s both smart and funny allows him to look down on everyone else. He simply couldn’t be the better man and rise above the chance to feel superior. Let him do one brave thing and see what happens to his strip. Being patronizing to Phil Robertson who is not only probably richer but also a football star as well as a combat veteran..and legally blind yet successful…has Adams overcome this?

    Let Adams invent at last the successor to C or LISP and he can smack talk. He’s a telecom engineer in a bell regional telco. If he works with stupid people that’s because he didn’t have the balls to risk it with the really smart ones.

    And not being able to rise above the snark is a great reason why he and the others cannot rule much longer.
    That right there takes you out of the rule game.

    magus71 responded:
    January 1, 2014 at 1:52 am


    You said: One thing, about the Men being crushed by attractive women – I don’t follow the point there.

    I mean I know guys who went after “hot” women they were attracted to, and after getting severely burned by the party-girl type, went for the average looking chick that had attributes he could not see and he didnt realize were so important. Judging by the way most homosexual relationships end up and the amount of violence in them, perhaps these people’s first instinct is not the best.

    WTP said:
    January 1, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    As you were seeking opinion via Mike’s blog, I’ll just drop my thoughts here. I would agree with much of what Bill says and could not say it better myself. Would disagree on the computer simulation bit, but we’re getting quite a bit off topic, yet at the same time it is relevant to the never-to-be-settled nature vs. nurture argument. The only point I would raise, which both of you seem to almost address, is that I see the sexuality issue as being much more of a sliding scale as opposed to an on/off switch. I would suppose, based on what little evidence we have to go on and will ever have to go on, that some men could never engage in sex with other men on an emotional level yet still could on a physical level. Observe the pitcher/catcher perceptions of some cultures where if you’re on the receiving end you’re definitely gay but from the other side, it’s just a domination thing. Such was common in ancient Rome, or so I’ve read. I see the same behavior in many dogs, my own being one…and he’s been fixed. Other men could never engage in either way. Also consider how easily women seem to be able to slip into and out of gay relationships relative to men. I think much of that has to do with modern advertising equating feminine qualities with sexuality in order to sell to men. Consider also bisexuality, cross-dressing by hetero men, etc. and there seems to me that there is much more of analog signal involved which can be amplified and/or dampened by environmental factors.

    Also, as you were recently referencing Sparta, consider how Spartan men had to sneak away to be with their wives. Even in a rather dominating gay-ish culture, hetero behavior survived. Well, for a while anyway.

    magus71 responded:
    January 1, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    “I see the same behavior in many dogs, my own being one…and he’s been fixed.”

    Our fixed female pug tried to hump my wife’s arm the other day. She expressed concern, especially because the dog is fixed. I told her there’s a lot more to sexuality than testosterone and estrogen. As I stated to Bill, until the Left is more honest about the fact that they don’t know everything about the motivations of homosexuality, I’m not supporting their message.

    Bill said:
    January 2, 2014 at 1:31 am

    This is one more of those times I thought I was pretty solid in my opinion and you shook it up a little. I’m ok with gay marriage personally (legal marriage, not religious) , for a few reasons. First I don’t think the govt should be in the marriage business at all. Secondly though, I’m of the mind that consenting adults that aren’t consipring to/hurting other people should be free to do what they want. With that said, there’s no doubt there’s a lot of posturing and BS around the whole debate. I don’t know many men in general really amped up about getting married so it’s hard to see that much of the passion around the issue is really b/c a bunch of the gay community truly wants to get married. You got me thinking a good bit about it though and it’s true, it’s largely just worldview is you believe automatically that you’re born a certain way. The progression point you made is rock solid and the more i thought about it, the more I have to concede it’s the case – I bet most people gay or not have heterosexual urges, over time gay people that have other ones just nurture or lean toward their own.

    I thought about hte Island argument too – I’m stumped on it. On the one hand, I can’t counter argue that if you never saw another guy, you coulnd’t be attracted to them. At the same time, I’ve known way too many gay people (and several since either pre-adolescence or adolescence) that I always knew were gay. The second they left an area where it was totally taboo to be gay, they came out. I have to admit though, I think you got me on the island analogy. I can’t say one way or the other, but it’s impossibl to think of something being possible if you never even could conceive of it (from what i understand, if you lose your sight afterhaving it, you dream with ‘vision’, if not, then you don’t. I’m guessing a similar phenomenon is going on here too). I’ll win one of these days though Doug 😉

    apollonian said:
    January 2, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Gays: Sad Manifestation Of Corrupt, Degenerate Culture

    Hello: saw ur note in “Kant and sex-bots.” Not too sure about ur exact thesis, but this blog article seems to be about determinism vs. free-will, If I’m not mistaken, and then how gayness fits in.

    Thus as Christian, I follow St. Paul (sorry, don’t have a citation handy), and St. Augustine, humans being sinners, always have been, always will be–it’s because we have a will towards self-interest, not perfectly free, like God’s will. So humans have this subconscious drive, and the purpose is reproduction of the species–note this isn’t diff. fm rest of the animal kingdom.

    So for the weaker humans, they’re persuaded by the mass-corp. “news”-media, etc., that it’s cool and hip to be gays, a totally un-natural orientation for healthy humanity. So there’s no gay predilection–any more than there’s weakness of will in weak-minded humans.

    Incidentally, note the corrupt culture is controlled by the criminal COUNTERFEITERS of the US Federal Reserve, and the purpose is distraction/diversion–the criminals cannot afford a rational culture as their fraud would be discovered by enough people to putting them out of business.

    Thus I consider gay-ness a psychosis as it’s totally un-healthy, un-natural, and pointless–there’s nothing gained for rational humanity–and indeed, it’s palpably destructive, promoting irrationalism in general. Heterosexual activity, in contrast, can well be rationally managed as all history demonstrates.

    I do understand that weaklings are easily persuaded, given difficult circumstances–the media, the corrupt “edjumacation” system, etc., and it’s hard to blame poor folks, given weakness and circumstances. Nonetheless, it’s citizens’ duty to discourage gay “culture,” and so to make it clear to fellow citizens.

    Lou said:
    January 2, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    Bill said, ” Robertson is an old southern guy brought up in a very specific religious tradition. He hasn’t experienced a lot of gays presumably. It’s absolutely no surprise he feels that way. Let him live in NY for a few years,…”
    My first though: If gays are born, why are so many born in the North and not in the South? Or are our brains just different here in the South?

    magus71 responded:
    January 2, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    I’d assume that Bill means that homosexuals in the south would be less likely to come out of the closet.

    But as an additional wrench in the born-that-way gears, are gay men also born with lisps? Why, as a person I know pointed out, do those lisps disappear when the person is drunk?

    Could it be that unlike gender, homosexuality is in fact, at least partially, a social construct?

    apollonian said:
    January 2, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Homosexuality is TOTALLY an affectation and psychosis (or eventually becoming such), obsession, fixation, etc. Why is homosexuality most prevalent in North, cities, and wherever, especially, “liberals” and “liberalism”/”progressivism,” etc., prevail?–because it’s WHAT IS PROMOTED by the corrupt establishment which promotes anti-reason, anti-Christianity, subjectivism, socialism, corruption, and degeneracy–which all naturally accompanies general criminal conspiracy which dominates the captive culture, the US Federal Reserve Bank COUNTERFEIT scam. Thus the weak and weak-minded, so easily persuaded, fall by proverbial “way-side.” Such is “Decline of the West,” by Oswald Spengler.

    Doingmybest said:
    April 20, 2014 at 4:21 am

    I’m uncertain as to why the preoccupation with the cause of homosexuality (nature vs. nurture). All naturally occurring phenomenon are shaped by society (and vice versa). This is not an either/or of what influences homosexuality, just as both nature and nurture influence heterosexuality. The world needs more love and affection– all of this mental energy could be invested in something that needs fixing!

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