A few weeks ago, I discussed an article trying to understand the basis for adult “resistance” to science. I put resistance in quotes because the two prime examples of resistance the author cites involve the theory of evolution and Francis Crick’s idea that the mind arises solely from physical processes. Ironically, three new book reviews appeared in Science and Nature addressing these two areas.
The first reviewed Douglas Hofstadter’s book I Am a Strange Loop. Hofstadter argues for a completely materialistic explanation for the nearly universal perception that our minds exist at least somewhat independently of our brains. The explanation he posits is that
…our feeling of a conscious “I” is but an illusion created by our neuronal circuitry: an illusion that is only apparent at the level of symbols and thoughts…
David Sloan Wilson’s book Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives attempts to explain the strangeness of human behavior in an evolutionary framework. Some of those odd behaviors include the fact that humans (1) have the only fully developed symbolic language on the planet, (2) cooperate and engage in elaborate task-sharing and reciprocal relationships with people we don’t know, (3) wear matching silly shirts at sporting events, (4) follow queues in an orderly fashion, (5) help the elderly, (6) give money to charity, and (7) disapprove of those who behave otherwise. The explanation Wilson posits for this “extreme sociality” of humans is that we evolved by group selection. The reviewer closes by asking
If our minds evolved to help us wade through the complexity of social life, to use groups for our own gain, and to help us rebound from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, which set of beliefs, on balance, will be more useful, religious ones (whether true or not) or a belief in natural selection?
Finally, David Linden’s book The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God argues that the functioning of the brain could not be designed because of its flaws. One point highlighted by the reviewer is that the “anachronistic junk” bestowed by evolution on our brains explains why our minds often distort reality and lead us to act foolishly.
What I find remarkable about these three books is that they all advance arguments that seriously undermine the assumption that we can trust the inferences drawn from our minds. According to Hofstadter, the idea of a mind (where reason and scientific thought reside) is an illusion developed by our brain. If, according to Sloan Wilson, the inferences drawn from our brain only function to increase survivability, there is no reason to suspect they are true. Linden’s book puts an exclamation mark on this last point.
I would argue that only Christianity provides a coherent worldview whereby we can rationally trust the inferences drawn from our mind. This argument from reason remains a potent reminder of naturalism’s weakness and of Christianity’s strength.