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New Meaning from the Humanities

The job of science is to tell us about the world. The job of the humanities is to tell us about ourselves. In this, the humanities have let us down. A crucial foundation for what we know about ourselves is our origin story but today we get our origin story from science: science’s account of how we evolved. Yes, we evolved. But why has science’s account of how that happened become our official origin story, the only one that may be taught to children at school? That’s purely an accident of history. And it’s one we should set right. It’s up to the humanities to summon up the necessary courage, point out the flaws in the scientific story, come up with a new and better origin story based on us having evolved, and make a case for that origin story supplanting the one pressed on us by science. More...

R.I.P. creationism. Stephen Meyer's "Return..."

Stephen Meyer’s ”The Return of the God Hypothesis” consists of two interwoven narratives. One, occupying the great bulk of the book, is an exhaustive compilation of every aspect of the physical world that today’s science can’t account for. Let’s refer to that as the text. The other consists of brief comments interspersed within the text suggesting that each of these unknowns can be accounted for better in terms of “intelligent design.” Let’s call that the “commentary.” Apply to that the critical reading needed to appreciate the text, and the commentary fall apart. Meyer lays bare for us the barrenness of creationism’s claims. More...

Philosophy of evolution--new

Some things are so fundamental as to defy explanation, such as space, time, and physical matter and processes. I suggest we add to them consciousness and evolution. From this could follow an entirely new natural philosophy. More...

Review of Paul Nurse, "What is Life?"

I’m including my review of Nurse’s book among my category of “Classic” texts both because his eminence and reputation as a scientist are likely to make his book the standard popular guide to evolution, and because I want to draw attention to it as representative of the greatest scandal of modern science, that natural selection should still be talked about as a scientific theory when it better deserves to be recognized as no more than myth and magic and abandoned along with science’s other obsolete theories. More...

Basing evolution on Stoicism

Stoic physics posited the existence of a fifth element, in effect a World Spirit, that first created and now maintains the integrity of the natural world. Where skepticism and Epicurean atomism inspired today’s physical sciences, Stoicism was first embraced by biologists, its World Spirit inspiring Deism, widespread throughout the Enlightenment.

The greatest impact of these philosophies on today’s “Grand Narrative”—the meaning we give our own lives--has been through evolutionary theory. Darwinism is an application of atomism—individual living creatures are identical “atoms” distinguished by their association with other atoms, characteristics, that in each generation first get sorted at random into new combinations, those combinations then being selected for how well each supports adaptation to the environment. This sorting and selection (and genetic mutation) are purely physical processes. Success of this theory has served as a powerful endorsement of physical determinism applying universally. In support of it, theories based on Stoicism or Deism are dismissed as “Creationism,” advocacy of Christianity, despite critical differences between the two “deities” involved.

My theory of evolution might qualify as the basis for an updated Stoicism. In it genomes take the place of the Stoic fifth element. I’d welcome help evaluating this proposal. See "Are You Wonderful?"

Review of Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind

I’ve long wanted an authoritative but readable account of how consciousness is thought about in a biological context, to compare my own thinking to. Peter Godfrey-Smith is a professor in the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney. His “Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind” is what I wanted. He is the needed combination of academic philosopher and field worker; he illustrates essays on creatures and their minds ranging from microbes to humans with accounts of scuba diving amongst such creatures. In “Metazoa” I trust I come across all the ideas common in thinking about consciousness in a biological context.

My conclusion: those ideas are absurdly inadequate to the task. If we’re confused about consciousness that’s largely because we lack concepts we need for understanding it. More...