A Call To The Humanities To Reclaim Its Concious Self
- Written by Shaun Johnston Shaun Johnston
- Published: November 1, 2010 November 1, 2010
I didn’t start out doubting Darwin’s theory. In fact I was one of Darwin’s most enthusiastic admirers. But I started doubting his theory when I realized it didn’t tell me anything useful about evolution. Here are some examples:
1. I’d be enjoying playing with my cat, then I’d wonder what that said about me. Was I so desperate for company that I’d do whatever a creature of some other species wanted me to do? Was I letting the cat make a fool of me, making me pretend to be another cat? Or I’d be in the garden and I’d be amazed at something a plant was doing, how it was growing, and I’d want to deepen my appreciation of it. But natural selection didn’t provide me with answers. Instead, it acted like a wet blanket, dousing my interest. The answer to everything was, it just evolved that way, through natural selection. Nothing was explained. That seemed odd for a scientific theory. Usually scientific theories illuminate. There’s something wrong with a theory that does the opposite, blunting your appreciation for whatever you want to know more about.
2. A friend told me there was an epidemic of suicide among young men 16 to 23 years old. Apparently it was a new intensification of adolescent existential angst, and parents had to keep careful watch over their sons. I tried to think of a way to relieve this kind of morbid thinking. But us having evolved through natural selection provided no basis for a message of uplift or hope. Our culture seems blighted by its new origin story, and that didn’t seem right.
3. Why does so much of our present thinking come from the past? Mind and will from the Greeks. Sentimental feelings such as passion and pity from Christianity. Humanism from the Renaissance. A greater sense of personal responsibility from the Reformation. Individual rights from the Enlightenment. But now? Nothing. Instead of the main message of our time—natural selection—making our culture richer, it seems to be hollowing it out.
4. Whenever I looked at natural selection for whatever it was that made evolution so creative, that I could apply to enhance my own creativity and intelligence, I came up empty-handed. Natural selection failed to account for creativity, for feelings as the cause of behavior, and any motives other than sex and survival. Though supposedly it had made me, it told me nothing I could use to improve my self. Odd!
But what finally made me challenge natural selection was the logic behind it that denied free will—“Natural selection is a purely physical process that can act only on materials, so brains can evolve but consciousness can’t. Because consciousness can’t evolve it can’t exist. What actually makes decisions for you is not your consciousness, it’s chemical reactions in your brain. Your conscious thoughts are just a byproduct of those chemical reactions. Consciousness can’t act back on your brain to make anything happen, any more than your shadow can.”
And “Since what you do gets decided for you in your brain chemistry before you even become aware of it, you really aren’t responsible for what you do.” It’s that old-time Physicalism, now “proved” by the theory of natural selection.
That’s why my attack on Physicalism takes the form of an attack on natural selection.