In the previous post, we learned that Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False maintains that if indeed the world really exists in a mind-independent way (such as sugar or water) and if some things exist in a mind-dependent way (such as the taste of sweetness or the experience of pain as being bad), then consciousness exists and our observations of the world are not an illusion. Such a consciousness presents several complications for Neo-Darwinism due to 1) the need for a physical body to evolve a mental brain before the capabilities of the brain are considered, 2) the failure of a way to break down consciousness into components that could evolve, and 3) the failure to have an evolutionary schema that would allow for mental and physical evolution to happen in single events in organism.
Nagel’s next tact is to point out that our ability to think developed far beyond any ability necessary for survival. Rationality per se presents problems separate from consciousness. Rationality “cannot be conceived of, even speculatively, as composed of countless atoms of miniature rationality.”(p.87) Reason has to appear in conscious animals fully formed and functioning, and not merely by chance, but by probability so high as to be assured.
Nagel expands the problem of reason further. One could maintain that some human ability to develop abstract knowledge would be beneficial for natural selection to work, but when we consider all of our capabilities, no reasonable explanation for our mental capabilities arise. As Nagel explains:
It requires that mutations and whatever else may be the sources of genotypic variation should generate not only physical structures but phenomenology, desire and aversion, awareness of other minds, symbolic representations, and logical consistency, all having essential roles in the production of behavior. . . The rest of the story suggests that knowledge of objective scientific and moral truth, should there be such things, could result from the exercise of capacities that, in more mundane applications, are at least not inimical to survival. (p.78)
Here he holds that things like understanding symbols, abstract nature of phenomenon, and logic itself, are not needed for pure survival, but yet presumably each of these mental constructs, and the myriad of others like them, presumably developed gradually from simple to complex, bit by bit, giving one person the advantage in survival over another.
The idea is that our reason gives us the ability to evaluate our animal desires and go beyond them, yet presumably the reason was somehow a result of the animal desires. But the problem is not merely one of evaluating base desires, but going further into questioning the phenomenon we observe in our reason itself. Nagel describes it as “the freedom reflective consciousness gives us from the rule of innate perceptual and motivational dispositions.”
What this means is that if we hope to include the human mind in the natural order, we have to explain not only consciousness as it enters into perception, emotion, desire, and aversion but also the conscious control of belief and conduct in response to the awareness of reasons–the avoidance of inconsistency, the subsumption of particular cases under general principles, the confirmation or disconfirmation of general principles by particular observations, and so forth. This is what it means to allow oneself to be guided by the objective truth, rather than just by one’s impressions.(p.84)
One is reminded of Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, which holds that if evolution is true, then our abilities to understand are produced by a natural ability to survive, and nothing more. Our perceptions then merely promote survival in the sense that they are functional, not necessarily objectively true. If every rabbit runs from every lion because he thinks the lion is playing a fun game of tag, then the same effect results as if they were running for survival. So if we conclude that evolution is true and all that exist are natural forces, then that very conclusion undermines our ability to make objective conclusions about whether evolution is true. Nagel summarizes similarly, “It is not merely the subjectivity of thought but its capacity to transcend subjectivity and to discover what is objectively the case that presents are problem.”(p.72)
Nagel goes on to conclude that because of the interrelatedness of physical with the mental –their dependence on each other–the properties of the universe would have to have made Neo-Darwinism not just possible, but probable.
Nagel presents some ideas worth pursuing. At the very least, it is refreshing to see someone raising the questions. In the end, at least some of those who hold to Neo-Darwinism will do so out of a tenacious desire to avoid the conclusion that God exists, for to do so forces us to realize that someday we will answer for how we lived our lives.