A lot of us have no doubt watched the battle between Mathew Perry and Peter Hitchens on the BBCs Newsnight. While the battle was funny, the thing that struck me was that it was a proxy for a much bigger battle.
Why does Peter Hitchens hold his view that alcoholism and drug addiction are not illnesses? He says that this is because both can be defeated by human will, and anything you can will yourself to overcome can't be a disease.
Mathew Perry thinks that this is a disease that can't be overcome without help, and argues that the American medical establishment accepts its status as a disease.
They were supposed to be arguing about drug courts, but these did not get a mention.
For most of time it has been a natural assumption, one made by all the world's religions, that we were spirit trapped in a body. This spirit has free will. It can, within the constraints of the body it is trapped in, do as it pleases. It follows that we are liable, and will be judged for the behaviour of that spirit.
This view held sway until the time of Darwin. The Pandora's box he grudgingly opened helped to launch communism and the whole set of isms that hold that the group is more important than the individual, that the individual is disposable if the group prospers, and that the blame for much did not rest with the individual, but the group.
If we add to the mix America's contribution, behaviourist psychology, that appeared to show how the mind can be conditioned and controlled, and thus the will, we have the stage set for the modern view of humans, that we are a complicated form of robot.
When we start to look at this idea in depth, it gives us some problems with the law. Surely you cannot punish a robot for doing what it was conditioned to do?
Surely a drunk driver is no longer liable, if his drinking was caused by an addictive substance? It must be the fault of the booze industry.
A lot of the things we love and respect come tumbling down if we accept this robot theory.
The few interjections made by the third guest on the program, Baroness Couldbeanybody, confirmed that she was a paid up roboticist.
"The evidence shows" she said "that alcoholism is caused partly by genetics and by conditioning". There we have three pivotal ideas expressed that together have created the scariest problems we have faced in the past few hundred years.
The first is the idea that evidence collected from humans in sociological tests and data gathering has the same weight as say data collected in a physics experiment: The Soft/Hard science dichotomy.
The second is Darwin, and the idea that our genes are in control, not free will. Finally the psychologist B.F. Skinner shows up, with his view that we are completely conditioned.
This battle occurs everywhere. The present Pope, for instance, saintly as he appears to be, is also a socialist, some say a Marxist. It is strange that he of all people can't see that by allying with the roboticists he undermines his own religion, which sees the soul as the central idea.
Saint Francis, who's name he has taken, cared for the poor and lived a frugal life in imitation of Jesus, not Marx.