Francisco Ayala, the 2010 Templeton winner known for the view that intelligent design is blasphemy and an “atrocity”*, has a new book out, Am I a Monkey? Six Big Questions about Evolution (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). Here’s an excerpt.
Defending the view that you are something along the same lines as a monkey but not to worry, he writes, curiously,
Those things that count most remain shrouded in mystery: How physical phenomena become mental experiences (the feelings and sensations called “qualia” by philosophers, that contribute the elements of consciousness) and how out of the diversity of these experiences emerges the mind, a reality with unitary properties such as free will and the awareness of the self that persist throughout an individual’s life. (P. 11)Ayala sounds here as if he believes the mind exists, but he goes on to say
I do not believe that the mysteries of the mind are unfathomable, rather, they are puzzles that humans can solve with the methods of science and illuminate with the methods of philosophical analysis and reflection. And I will place my bets that, over the next half century or so, many of these puzzles will be solved. We shall then be well on our way toward heeding the injunction “Knows thyself.” (pp. 11-12)
In fact, the “young and the neuro” (hat tip David Brooks) who do this research despise concepts like “the mind” and “free will”, so it is hard to tell whether Ayala is thinking wishfully for himself or softening the blow for his readers.
The critical problem is one of framing. To the extent that the problems are framed by “mind hacks,” as the “young and the neuro” proudly call themselves, we will learn mostly about their dismissive and reductive opinions, backed up by research topics chosen by themselves in order to demonstrate their views. And if their views make their way into public policy, expect a future not of “Know thyself” but “The government knows what you are thinking and will fix that.” For example…
The reason that there will be no way of confuting the mind hacks within their system of inquiry is that, as with Darwinism, information exists only to confirm their intractable truths.
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About the banana: I see this sort of image all the time on Toronto subway posters advising the public to “get tested,” though the health service’s banana is somewhat spotty by comparison with this one. What’s with the fork?
I cannot conceive anything more disastrous to religion than intelligent design. According to its promoters, God would be responsible for tsunamis, the earthquake in Haiti, the eruption of Vesuvius. Genetic defects would be a punishment from God, as well as the cruelty of nature and the living world. Did you know that 20 per cent of pregnancies are hindered before the third month because the human birth canal is very imperfect? And do you think it seriously to consider that 20 million abortions a year may be God’s fault?