Can evolution account for human consciousness? An essay by Jack Kettler
Thoughts and questions:
In this essay, it will be considered: how did “you” become “you?” and the evolutionist as a metaphysician.
The evolutionary theory tries to explain how the physical life forms evolve. Said another way, “Natural Selection” seeks to explain the origin of things that have physical characteristics. Evolutionists claim that this also involves immaterial entities like the human conscious going beyond the material or physical. However, it is problematic for the theory, if consciousness has no physical characteristics, how can it evolve? Is the human consciousness material or immaterial? A strict materialist would say that human consciousness or the mind is physical and nothing more than electrical and chemical interactions. Seemingly, this would be the most consistent attempt to explain this. However, in this case, human consciousness would be nothing more than a mind in a vat.
The existence of human consciousness is a dilemma for the evolutionist. If the conscious is non-material, human consciousness is problematic for the evolutionist. How can materialism produce non-material entities like the laws of logic, ethics, mathematics, and science? How in evolutionary theory do the mechanisms of consciousness work and arise within the purely physical? Attempts to explain this, it seems, are merely metaphysical speculations. Consciousness has no physical existence in the world. Quantifiable dimensions of consciousness would be needed. How can this be done? Therefore, consciousness exists beyond the physical, and evolutionary theory adds nothing in refutation or confirmation.
What exactly is self-consciousness?
When considering human consciousness, it is not an abstract concept. It is how each individual has an identity, which is distinguished from others. Human consciousness is self-awareness.
Consider this about Self-Consciousness:
“Human beings are conscious not only of the world around them but also of themselves: their activities, their bodies, and their mental lives. They are, that is, self-conscious (or, equivalently, self-aware). Self-consciousness can be understood as an awareness of oneself. But a self-conscious subject is not just aware of something that merely happens to be themselves, as one is if one sees an old photograph without realising that it is of oneself. Rather a self-conscious subject is aware of themselves as themselves; it is manifest to them that they themselves are the object of awareness. Self-consciousness is a form of consciousness that is paradigmatically expressed in English by the words “I”, “me”, and “my”, terms that each of us uses to refer to ourselves as such.” (1)
The following quotes from philosopher Rene Descartes and Early Church Bishop Augustine are examples of how one is self-aware of their personal identity.
Rene Descartes – B. 1596 – D. 1650, philosopher, mathematician, and a scientist who created logical geometry: “I doubt; therefore, I think, therefore I am.” – René Descartes
“But what then am I? A thing that thinks. What is that? A thing that doubts, understand, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and that also imagines and senses.” – René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
“When I turn my mind’s eye upon myself, I understand that I am a thing which is incomplete and dependent on another and which aspires without limit to ever greater and better things…” – René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
“And what more am I? I look for aid to the imagination. [But how mistakenly!] I am not that assemblage of limbs we call the human body; I am not a subtle penetrating air distributed throughout all these members; I am not a wind, a fire, a vapor, a breath or anything at all that I can image. I am supposing all these things to be nothing. Yet I find, while so doing, that I am still assured that I am a something.” – René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Descartes believed that the intrinsic property of thoughts is when the subject becomes aware of the thought itself. Thus, Cartesian dualism produced the dictum “cognito ergo sum” or I think; therefore, I am.
Augustine – B. 354 – D. 430, was a theologian, philosopher, and the bishop of Hippo in North Africa:
The power of memory is great, very great, my God. It
is a vast and infinite profundity. Who has plumbed its
bottom? This power is that of my mind and is a natural
endowment, but I myself cannot grasp the totality of
what I am (Confessions 10.8.15).
But where in my consciousness, Lord do you dwell? . . .
You conferred this honor on my memory that you should
dwell in it. But the question I have to consider is,
in what part of it do you dwell? . . . I entered into
the very seat of my mind, which is located in my
memory, since the mind also remembers itself. But you
were not there … All these things are liable to
change. But you remain immutable above all things, and
yet have deigned to dwell in my memory since the time I
learnt about you (Confessions10.25.36).
Where then did I find you so that I could learn of you
if not in the fact that you transcend me? (Confessions 10.26.37).
Both Augustine and Descartes were aware that they were something more than just a functioning corporeal object. Both men rooted this self-awareness ultimately in God. Evolutionary theory cannot convincingly explain why a physical body could have developed a self-conscious identity. In other words, how did “you” become “you”? How did “you” end up in a physical body? Was it an accident or chance? Do “you” have a continued existence after the body wears out? In Christian theology, there are debates about the origin of the soul, which involves human consciousness. One theory is called traducianism, as opposed to what is known as creationism, a unique special creation of a new soul at each conception.
In the present reality, the continuation of ongoing macroevolution cannot be observed. Similarly, the evolutionist argues for ongoing unobservable daily evolution of new personal human consciousness’ coming into existence. Can evolution explain each child’s birth and the growing personal self-awareness as ongoing evolution? If so, it would seem then, rather than God behind the origin of the soul, which involves a human consciousness, it is miraculous personified evolution purporting to be a daily occurrence. If this is true, has evolution taken on the character-like attributes of personality. If so, it reminds one of how chance is often used, which supposedly causes and directs things. Contradictions aside, those who allege incorporeal entities evolve daily have not made the case of how this happens. Those attempting to do so have contradicted the very premise of science, that it is through observation and experiment since the incorporeal cannot be measured or seen. In the case of human consciousness, the evolutionist is very religious, having faith in the unseen, a closet religious metaphysician laid bare. In addition, the disciples of evolution choose not to notice the shift from observable science to a religious-philosophical argument when it comes to explaining self-conciseness.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. Principal Editor: Edward N. Zalta, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Self-Consciousness,” (First published Thu Jul 13, 2017; substantive revision Tue May 12, 2020), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-consciousness/#FirsPersRefe
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
And the new book, “The Five Points of Scriptural Authority: A Defense of Sola Scriptura”