August 29, 2002


Have Evolutionary Explanations Gone Too Far? (Jeremy Stangroom,
Dylan Evans began by noting that science has always had to face down its detractors. 'They sit, Canute like, on the sands of obscurantism, shouting in vein at the advancing tide of knowledge. "Get back! Come no further! Leave me this little piece of unexplained territory!" Thankfully, science takes no notice. The Promethean spirit that animates scientific enquiry, that terrifying curiosity that inhabits the human soul, always proves stronger than the fear of knowledge that opposes it.'

He pointed out that when evolutionists first suggested, sometime before Darwin, that humans had descended from non-human species, they were the target of this kind of reactionary criticism. However, in the case of evolution, the criticism has not gone away. Evans noted that 'although the evidence for evolution is overwhelming today, there are still those who ignore it. Over half the US population still believes in the literal truth of Genesis. Thankfully, the population in the UK is somewhat more enlightened on this matter. Few people here seriously doubt that we evolved from other life forms. But even in the UK, there is still a widespread reluctance to take this idea to its logical conclusion, namely, that our minds are just as much the product of evolution as our bodies. This is Canutism. The new Canutes admit that the tide has come further up the shore. Science has already claimed the human body as its own, they recognise, but please don't let it claim the human mind.'

But, he insisted, it simply isn't possible to separate out the body from the mind. 'What is the mind after all, if not the activity of the brain? And what is the brain, if not a biological organ, the product of evolution like any other organ?

'Unless we want to fall back into a long discredited Cartesian dualism,' he insisted, 'we must admit these simple facts. The mind, like the body, is the product of millions of years of natural selection and historical accident. This means that there simply must be some kind of evolutionary psychology. The only real question is how to go about doing it.' He concluded, therefore, that it wasn't the case that evolutionary explanations have gone too far, rather they haven't gone far enough.

One of the enchanting things about most believers in evolution is precisely that they can't face going all the way. To accept that all human behavior is determed by evolution is more than they can face. Thus does their residual religious faith trump their scientific rationalism and make them quite lovable. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2002 9:06 AM
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