Biological Determinism (II)

This is the 10th blog in this series which is reflecting on E.O. Wilson’s book The Social Conquest of Earth.  The first blog in the series is  “What Does It Mean to be Human?” and the previous blog is Biological Determinism

Those committed to atheistic materialism assume there is no reality beyond the empirical universe (the physical universe which they can measure and study by the scientific method).  Simultaneously they take the results of their studies as proof that their assumptions are true.  Thus for example because neurological activity can be detected medically when a person is thinking or praying, they assume this proves there is no such thing as spirituality or free will or even consciousness.  Yet what their studies merely show is that humans are pneumatic-psycho-somatic beings:  we are spirit, mind and body beings and all three aspects of our humanity work together.  In traditional Christian writings on prayer,  while the terminology may vary,  we still find the claims that we pray with our bodies, souls, hearts, minds, wills and that the goal is to have all of these aspects of our existence working together.  Prayer, at least in the Orthodox Christian tradition, is an activity that involves the body.

Spirituality is not opposed to the body but it is through the body that we come to experience God.  So we would assume that prayer activity as with any mental activity would show some kind of relationship to the body, specifically the brain.  But establishing a relationship between mind or consciousness and the brain doesn’t prove that mental activity – consciousness, self or free will – is nothing but brain biochemistry.  It only shows the two, as would be expected, are related.

Wilson writes about consciousness:

“Consciousness, having evolved over millions of years of life-and-death struggle, and moreover because of that struggle, was not designed for self-examination. It was designed for survival and reproduction.”  (Kindle  Loc. 229-30)

Wilson boxes himself in with his materialist presuppositions.  He says, without offering the convincing evidence for why it must be so, that consciousness evolves but is not designed for self-examination.  Consciousness for Wilson is only a tool from natural selection for survival and reproduction.  Yet other atheistic writers like Raymond Tallis have challenged that very point.  Tallis says consciousness appears to be of no evolutional advantage to survival and reproduction and says current scientific theory cannot account for the appearance of consciousness.  The fact that it has not emerged in other species might in fact be proof of its limited usefulness for survival.  Wilson cannot prove his claim because his claim is based in his philosophical ideas of atheistic materialism not in pure science.  He cannot prove that that consciousness “is not designed for self-examination.”  Consciousness is a very inconvenient fact for those committed to absolute materialism.  For consciousness cannot be predicted from biochemistry nor completely accounted for by evolution theory nor explained by the incredibly complex neural networks of the brain.  Wilson speculates:

“Within a generation, we likely will have progressed enough to explain the physical basis of consciousness. But—when the nature of consciousness is solved, will we then know what we are and where we came from? No, we will not. To understand the physical operations of the brain to their foundations brings us close to the grail. To find it, however, we need far more knowledge collected from both science and the humanities. We need to understand how the brain evolved the way it did, and why.”   (Kindle Loc. 235-40)

Here Wilson acknowledges that despite his firm assertions in the book, there is much to being human for which science has not been able to account.  It is a subtle acknowledgement of the tenuous nature of some scientific theories regarding humanity.  We do not know yet why the brain evolved the way it did nor how.  But what is obvious is the brain does have the capacity for self-examination.

We have the ability to realize abstract things, to realize our own limitations in the universe, to understand that there are powers and forces in the universe greater than ourselves (even our collective human self), and that this conscious self-awareness does serve a purpose, not only for our survival but also in attuning us to a spiritual life.  At a conscious level we make choices and however that intellectual activity of choice is related to the biochemistry of the brain (and it is and must be since we are also physical beings), being human involves a mental/spiritual dimension which is not completely explainable by the physical sciences.  The physicial scientist if he/she is philosophically committed to atheistic materialism will say that there can be no explanations beyond the physical, but that is an assumption and belief.  We who believe in God think differently and do not have to find ways to disprove the existence of consciousness or free will, for we see that they do in fact exist.

Next:  Biological Determinism (III)