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Shocka! Even Brits think. Large numbers doubt that evolution explains human consciousness

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From Fern Elsdon-Baker at New Scientist, reporting on that recent study of people who question evolution,

It sounds startling. Nearly 30 per cent of adults in the UK say evolution can’t explain the origin of humans. That rises to nearly 50 per cent for human consciousness. Does that mean we’re increasingly following a vocal minority in the US who deny the science on fringe religious grounds?

Unexpectedly, 44 per cent felt that evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness. It might be tempting to assume that this is just a reflection of the number of religious believers. However, while faith does appear to amplify individual doubts about evolutionary explanations, it is not the only factor at work. We saw similar trends across all respondents – religious, spiritual and non-religious. More.

So common sense is not limited to religious believers after all. Philip Cunningham, himself a Brit, writes to say,

It is not that anyone has a clue how consciousness can possibly arise from matter, much less provide a cogent evolutionary explanation towards the origin of human consciousness. No, not any science like that. It is that it simply must have happened that way or else you are branded a religious fanatic.

He offers some comments from philosophers and physicists:

I have argued patiently against the prevailing form of naturalism, a reductive materialism that purports to capture life and mind through its neo-Darwinian extension.” “…, I find this view antecedently unbelievable—a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense”. – Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False” – p. 128

No, I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness. – Max Planck (1858–1947), the main founder of quantum theory, The Observer, London, January 25, 1931

Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else. – Schroedinger, Erwin. 1984. “General Scientific and Popular Papers,” in Collected Papers, Vol. 4. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences. Friedr. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig/Wiesbaden. p. 334.

But unfortunately, as a direct result of naturalism, reason is now a Convention refugee from most campuses and media organizations. Nothing need make sense in those venues any more and the inhabitants treat those who doubt their untenable theories with hostility.

Anyway, that troll swinging the bicycle chain, who may or may not be* a student, is waiting in the shadows.…

*Note: Michael Shermer posted an update at his recent Scientific American column on campus intimidation of profs (focusing on Bret Weinstein at Evergreen):

*Editor’s Note (8/18/17): This sentence was edited after the print article was posted online. The original stated that students at Middlebury College “physically attacked” Charles Murray and his campus host, Allison Stanger. In fact, a police investigation determined that it appears several participants in the demonstration against Murray came from outside the campus community and that those wearing masks used “tactics that indicated training in obstruction and intimidation.” Although the attackers were never identified, and thus the police were unable to press charges, Middlebury maintains that the masked assailants were not students but outside agitators. It has also made an official statement that “the College disciplined 74 students with sanctions ranging from probation to official College discipline, which places a permanent record in the student’s file.”

O’Leary for News: Middlebury could be run much more cheaply as a state pen, as could Evergreen. But if faculty want something more from life, as it appears, more power to them! Spread the flame.

See also: What? Questioning evolution is not science denial?

What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

and

Philip Cunningham on morality: Objective and Real or Subjective and Illusory

Comments
@UB I wrote.
Nor have you presented an argument as to why [in the comment you responded to] I must have been referring to the former, as opposed to the latter. So, apparently, you think the best strategy is to continue to assert this was the case, despite having clarified it, with the vague phrase “using the language and science of evolution”.
You wrote:
Your comment otherwise, the one I responded to, is demonstrably incorrect.
That didn't take long. Again, where did you demonstrate that, in the comment you respond to, I must have been referring to explanation in the sense of two? That's missing from your response. Is that really the best you can do? And if you think my distinction is somehow "idiosyncratic", From this biology stack exchange answer..
In Lamarckism, mutations are preserved based on beneficial acquired characteristics, which would require a way for bodies to identify which acquired traits are useful (injuries aren't!), reverse-engineer the genetic changes that would achieve them (which is basically impossible because DNA is more of a recipe than a blueprint), then update gametes with these changes. There is a lot of evidence that supports Darwinian evolution ("natural selection") but not Lamarckian evolution. For starters, Lamarckism couldn't explain novel biochemistry. Biologists such as Richard Dawkins (see e.g. Darwin Triumphant, a chapter of A Devil's Chaplain) have pointed out that, even if there were life that could do what Lamarckism requires, it would not only still be susceptible to natural selection, but could only perfect a viable Lamarckism mechanism of discriminating good changes from bad by the action of natural selection. In other words, even if Lamarckism happened it would be an emergent property of Darwinism, not an alternative to it.
In case you missed it, any means of "discriminating good changes from bad" would represent the growth of knowledge in organisms. critical rationalist
psssst CR ... the appearance of a physical system capable of consciousness is expected to be explained by the process of evolution. Your comment otherwise, the one I responded to, is demonstrably incorrect. Upright BiPed
@UB
People who have to skirt evidence are often forced into a strategy of stringing words together and presenting them with a stiff upper lip.
People who have to skirt arguments and clarifications are often forced into a strategy of making extremely vague criticisms, such as above. For example, all sentences constist of "words strung together", so it's unclear how this can be used in a remotely critical way. Nor is it clear how the stiffness of one's lips has to do with the validity of one's argument. Nothing in your response indicated why that was a reasonable expectation, in light of the distinction I made, so I can see why you might find that necessary. For example...
This is, of course, a wild-assed statement to make, given the fact that the appearance of a physical system capable of consciousness is precisely what is expected to be explained by evolution – just like a system capable of photosynthesis.
Again, a common strategy to attack a theory one finds disagreeable is to present a false version of it, then point out it's false. Any explanation for consciousness in the second sense above would be identical regardless if it evolved naturally or was the result of a designer - just as the explanation for photosynthesis, in the second sense, would identical regardless if was due to evolution or the result of a designer. Or are you really suggesting there is no distinction to be made? If so, it seems that you're implicitly making some assumption about how science explains things, or that there are some things that cannot be explained in the sense of two, so I must be referring to three or one? However, nothing in your response has clarified or argued against that distinction. What I got instead was some vague statement about responding to comments with "words strung together" and "stiff upper lips". What gives?
In my response to your comment I posted just three (among potentially thousands) of references to scientists using the language and science of evolution to explain the appearance and subsequent history of photosynthesis.
And I pointed out, the specific history of life on earth is not equivalent to an explanation for the growth of information in organisms. You have't respond to this, well, at all. Nor have you presented an argument as to why I must have been referring to the former, as opposed to the latter. So, apparently, you think the best strategy is to continue to assert this was the case, despite having clarified it, with the vague phrase "using the language and science of evolution".
UB: In any case, among those three links I was happy to include one to Talk Origins (apparently, evolutionary biology’s repository of talking points). They seem to turn your words inside out; basically accusing you of a religiously-motivated anti-science fallacy for even suggesting evolution cannot explain photosynthesis.
Of course, UB. All of those links must refer to "explanation" in the sense of one, two and three as clarified in my earlier comment, simultaneously. That's a completely rational response, if I've ever heard one. critical rationalist
Mung, yours are at the 'will call' window. ;) Upright BiPed
> and you should probably head over there and straighten that out. Are you selling tickets? Mung
Apparently, my comment went right over your head. Or perhaps you’ve also decided to be sloppy with words when it suites your purpose? First, there is problem of the history of life on earth, which would include the specifc steps in which photosynthesis evolved in organisms. That would be the evolutionary history of plants.
People who have to skirt evidence are often forced into a strategy of stringing words together and presenting them with a stiff upper lip. You seem to be more practiced at that strategy than others, or perhaps you merely find yourself in need of that strategy more often than the average. Frankly, it’s not too difficult to see why that might be the case. Anyway, you made the statement that “Expecting evolution to explain consciousness would be like expecting evolution to explain photosynthesis. It’s a category error”. This is, of course, a wild-assed statement to make, given the fact that the appearance of a physical system capable of consciousness is precisely what is expected to be explained by evolution – just like a system capable of photosynthesis. Like I said before, you should try to come up with analogies that don’t destroy your point. In my response to your comment I posted just three (among potentially thousands) of references to scientists using the language and science of evolution to explain the appearance and subsequent history of photosynthesis. You may have to forgive them if they fail to view their work in your idiosyncratic terms. In any case, among those three links I was happy to include one to Talk Origins (apparently, evolutionary biology's repository of talking points). They seem to turn your words inside out; basically accusing you of a religiously-motivated anti-science fallacy for even suggesting evolution cannot explain photosynthesis. If that's the case, then it would seem to me that they are a hotbed of category error (just like you were saying) and you should probably head over there and straighten that out. Upright BiPed
CR: I’d also point out that either this supposed abstract designer designed plants the way they are merely on a whim ...
Why do you assume that plants are designed 'merely on a wim'? We don't know who the designer was nor do we know why he designed plants, so we also do not know that the designer acted on a whim.
CR: ... which explains nothing ...
Even when the designer acted on a whim, it still explains that plants are designed — which is not 'nothing.'
CR: .... or there was some external reason why it had to design plants way, such as that’s one of the only ways photosynthesis actually occurs. So, it’s that external necessary that explains the design of plants, not some abstract designer ...
Suppose that Leonardo da Vinci acted on a whim when he designed the Mona Lisa. Does that explain 'nothing?'. Even better, let's suppose that lack of money was a necessary external reason for Leonardo to create the Mona Lisa. Would you then say: "a shortage of money explains the Mona Lisa, not some painter called Leonardo da Vinci!" So much nonsense and so little time. Origenes
I’d also point out that either this supposed abstract designer designed plants the way they are merely on a whim, which explains nothing, or there was some external reason why it had to design plants way, such as that’s one of the only ways photosynthesis actually occurs. So, it’s that external necessary that explains the design of plants, not some abstract designer. critical rationalist
@UB Apparently, my comment went right over your head. Or perhaps you’ve also decided to be sloppy with words when it suites your purpose? First, there is problem of the history of life on earth, which would include the specifc steps in which photosynthesis evolved in organisms. That would be the evolutionary history of plants. Second, there is the problem of how photosynthesis works, which is how plants turn light, CO2 and water into oxygen and glucose. And, third, there is the problem of how the knowege in organisms grows, which includes the knowelge of which specific transformations turn raw materials into organisms that can turn light, CO2 and water into oxygen and glucose. These are three separate problems. New-Darwinism only explains the latter. For the most part we’ve understood the second since the 1900s. And, as you’ve pointed out, we have made significant process on the first. As such, expecting evolution to “explain conciousness” in the sense of two above is an unreasonable expection. And it reeks of equivocation. The easiest way to attack a theory one finds unpalatable is to present a false version of it. Furthermore, theories are always incomplete and contain errors to some degree. For example, we know that GR, QM or both contain errors because we do not have a working theory of quantum gravity. Does that mean we shouldn’t worry about the use of quantum computers to break strong encryption? We don’t have an explantion for conciousness, in the sense of two. However, evolution would ever be the explantion for it, in that sense. It refers to a different problem. Until such time as we do, “We don’t know” is a perfectly reasonable response. “That’s just what some conscious designer must have wanted” adds nothing to the explantion, as I’ve argued here. critical rationalist
Mung: Do plants have bowels? Only the compassionate ones. mike1962
> You should try coming up with analogies that don’t disembowel the very point you’re trying to make. Do plants have bowels? Mung
Expecting evolution to explain consciousness would be like expecting evolution to explain photosynthesis. It’s a category error.
You seem rather certain about that.
It’s an explanation for the growth of knowledge in organisms, not the explanation for how plants turn CO2, water and light into glucose and oxygen.
You should try coming up with analogies that don't disembowel the very point you're trying to make.
I’d also point out that “we don’t know” is a perfectly good response
But you don't say that. You say its a category error to think "knowledge in organisms" can explain it.
That’s like pushing the food around on your plate and claiming to have ate it.
Let us bow our heads in a moment of irony. Upright BiPed
56% believe evolution CAN explain consciousness? No need to understand how mutations could create consciousness, all you need to do to "explain" it is find some selective advantage for being conscious, that shouldn't be hard to do... Granville Sewell
Again, that’s an unreasonable assumption. Expecting evolution to explain consciousness would be like expecting evolution to explain photosynthesis. It’s a category error. Evolution is the universal explanation that biological complexity arises through a form of variation and criticism. It’s an explanation for the growth of knowledge in organisms, not the explanation for how plants turn CO2, water and light into glucose and oxygen. I’d also point out that “we don’t know” is a perfectly good response, as opposed to saying human beings are conscious because, “that’s just what some conscious being must have wanted.” It just pushes the problem up a level without improving it. That’s like pushing the food around on your plate and claiming to have ate it. Yet, it still right there starting you in the face. critical rationalist
Seversky@3 seems likely in this case that the ones doing the thinking are probably the religious ones es58
Mung @ 1
Brits think? Shocka!
Must be why they are becoming increasingly irreligious. Obviously, thinking is the path to the Dark Side. Don't worry, though. Just keep on not thinking the way you are and you'll be safe. Seversky
Mung at 1: Worse, Canadians sometimes think... News
Brits think? Shocka! Mung

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