Raymond Tallis is a British medical doctor, who was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his research in clinical neuroscience. He has written over a dozen books of cultural criticism, philosophy of mind and philosophical anthropology. The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine named him as one of the top living polymaths in the world. He is also an atheist, but is scornful of many of his fellow atheists’ arguments against religion and theories of human identity.
I have just finished reading his latest book, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. He attacks scientism: the mistaken belief that the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology and their derivatives) can or will give a complete description of everything, including human life. We are not just our bodies. Humans are more than just animals. Scientists are deluded if they have the notion that our consciousness, the self to which the successive moments of consciousness are attributed, our personality, our character, personhood itself, are identical with activity in our brains. He calls this belief Neuromania.
Contrary to what evolutionary psychologists have argued, our behavior is not just determined by our biology. “The reduction of human life to a chain of programmed responses of modules to stimuli overlooks the complexity of everyday experience and the singularity of the situations we find ourselves in, to say nothing of the role of conscious deliberation.” The human brain alone does not account for all our actions, our most private thoughts and our beliefs.
Religious belief is not the result of certain parts of the brain, so-called “God-spots”. We are not just “hard-wired” for religious belief.
Darwinism cannot give a satisfactory answer to the questions: how did consciousness emerge, and what is consciousness for, anyway? When Darwinists teach that natural selection is random, and that we have evolved without any intelligent design or purpose, they still have to account for the emergence of humans who have consciousness, and seek for meaning and purpose in their lives. The logic of human development presupposes purpose. Atheists cannot explain the fact that we are purpose-seeking beings. We have the need to ask “Why?” We seek reasons. We are rational beings. Random natural selection does not explain this feature of life.
Tallis protests too much when he opines, “As an atheist humanist I reject the idea that evolution has a goal. More particularly, I do not for a moment think it had us in mind as its destination and crowning glory….it is a mindless, pointless process…Darwin had argued that there was an alternative to a conscious, super-intelligent designer: the operation of unconscious, although non-random, natural selection over hundreds of millions of years.” He is going against his fellow atheists, like Dawkins, who see no purpose in the blind forces of physics. He claims that Darwinism leaves something unaccounted for.
“Isn’t there a problem in explaining how the blind forces of physics brought about (cognitively) sighted humans who are able to see, and identify, and comment on, the ‘blind’ forces of physics, even to notice that they are blind, and deliberately utilize them to engage with nature as if from the outside, and on much more favorable terms than those that govern the lives of other animals? On the Origin of the Species leaves us with the task of explaining the origin of the one species that is indeed a designer. How did humans get to be so different?…Something rather important about us is left unexplained by evolutionary theory. We are not mindless and yet seem to do things according to purposes that we entertain in a universe that brought us into being by mindless processes that are entirely without purpose. To deny this is not to subscribe to Darwinism but to embrace Darwinitis.”
Tallis addresses the issue of God rigging the outcome of evolution, but concedes that that notion would not be compatible with evolutionary theory. He thinks that evolution is a shockingly cruel and inefficient process that has nothing to do with love, mercy or even common decency. It is no place for a God of love. He has a problem with the relationship between God and nature, and opts for eliminating God from the equation. He thinks that belief in a Creator is a man-made notion to explain why the world makes sense. However he is disgusted with those who would reject religion on the basis of a devastating reductionism. “In defending the humanities, the arts, the law, ethics, economics, politics and even religious belief against neuro-evolutionary reductionism, atheist humanists and theist have a common cause, and, in reductive naturalism, a common adversary: scientism.”
In another blog I will review his reasons for being an atheist, and why he thinks that other atheists give bad reasons. This book will keep the new atheists like Dennett, Dawkins, Wilson, Hitchens and Harris up late at night. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.