Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Evolution of the Soul in the Brain

This week's "Science Times" section of the New York Times (June 26) is devoted entirely to the subject of evolution. The various articles survey some of the major areas of controversy and research in evolutionary theory today. I found two articles to be particularly good. Carol Kaesuk Yoon's article on evolutionary developmental biology can be found here. Cornelia Dean's article on the "science of the soul" can be found here.

Yoon's article covers the remarkable discoveries supporting "evo-devo," which is based on the idea that major turns in evolutionary history might have arisen from changes in developmental processes governed by a few regulatory genes. Rather than assuming that evolution of new forms requires the gradual accumulation of many small genetic mutations, evo-devo works on the thought that slight changes in the expression of a few regulatory genes could produce dramatic changes in form and even the emergence of new species. It has seemed to me for a long time that evo-devo is likely to answer many puzzles in evolutionary theory. In any case, this illustrates the remarkably rich research being done in evolutionary science today. By contrast, I am unaware of any comparable research being done by proponents of "intelligent design theory" or "scientific creationism." The mere fact that neither ID nor Biblical creationism leads to any novel research to test alternatives to evolutionary science indicates the intellectual poverty of such positions.

Dean's article surveys the implications of research in neuroscience that seems to be uncovering the neural basis of the human soul. In Darwinian Conservatism, I have a section on "The Emergent Evolution of the Soul in the Brain." My position there is very similar to that of Nancey Murphy, who is quoted in the article. Like Murphy, I think Descartes' radical dualism of body and mind makes no sense, because it contradicts our common experience of psychosomatic unity, and because it also contradicts the discoveries of modern neuroscience in showing how mind/consciousness/soul arise from the neural activity of the brain. Moreover, I also believe that this Cartesian dualism contradicts the Bible, which teaches that our minds and bodies are inextricably intertwined. Rather than looking to the immortality of the soul separated from the body, the Bible looks to the resurrection of the enspirited body. Neuroscience explores this psychosomatic unity of mind and body.

This also suggests that the emergence of the human soul arose in primate evolution once the size and complexity of the primate neocortex passed over a critical threshold, which gave human beings a freedom of thought and action that other animals do not have. God could have created human beings in His image by creating the patterns of natural evolution in the primate brain to bring about the emergence of the human soul.

This supports a Darwinian conservatism that recognizes the unique freedom and dignity of the human soul as compatible with modern natural science.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Larry - try reading a contemporary work on the arguments for and against dualism by an analytic philosopher instead of making yourself look like an ass to people who are actually up to speed on the issues. We hear alot from Darwinists about how Creationists misrepresent evolution, present strawman arguments, act as though their objections haven't been answered, etc. But then we see stuff like this, doing the exact same thing regarding an area outside your own expertise.

Larry Arnhart said...

So what's your point?

Rick Bogle said...

You wrote: "This also suggests that the emergence of the human soul arose in primate evolution once the size and complexity of the primate neocortex passed over a critical threshold, which gave human beings a freedom of thought and action that other animals do not have."

What "freedom of thought and action" do humans have that no other animal has?

See http://madisonmonkeys.com/monkeys.htm

Larry Arnhart said...

Other animals have some capacity for voluntary action--acting to satisfy their desires. But only human beings (at adulthood) have the capacity for deliberate choice--acting in the present in the light of past experience and future expectations to conform to some conception of a whole life well-lived. That's why we don't hold children fully responsible for their behavior: they are capable of voluntary action but not deliberate choice.

That's why Darwin indicated that human beings were the only truly moral animals. Similarly, Frans de Waal and other primate researchers would say that although the precursors of human morality are manifest in other animals, only human beings have the full capacity for self-conscious moral choice.