THE HUMAN INSTINCT by Kenneth R. Miller
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How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will
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An insightful defense of evolution that turns the arguments of creationists against them.

As Miller (Biology/Brown Univ.; Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, 2008, etc.), notes, when people are polled on whether they believe in evolution, the majority are agreeable; only when asked if humans evolved does the bottom drop out. Most religions, writes the author, “agree on one thing, which is the uniqueness of the human species and the need for a special story to explain how we came to be….By telling us that we do not have such a story, by placing our origins squarely in the ordinary genetic, environmental, and selective processes that have produced every other living thing, evolution sweeps such narratives away and leaves us searching for our birthright as thoughtful, intelligent, and hopeful creatures.” Miller disagrees with scientists who proclaim that humans are nothing special, that we are merely the product of natural laws in an indifferent universe. He also disagrees with those who claim that natural selection must be wrong because phenomena such as free will, consciousness, and culture don’t increase reproductive fitness. They are not only mistaken, writes the author, but killjoys. His universe is a kaleidoscope of dazzling evolutionary possibilities that our existence illustrates. We are “creatures like no others, with extraordinary flexibility of behavior, powers of imagination, and, above all, conscious self-awareness. That self-awareness has enabled us, alone among living things, to stand above the imperatives of survival and reproduction and seek to understand how we came to be.” Human culture, consciousness, and life itself are simply emergent properties. Our appearance was unpredictable but not random, and all organisms fill an evolutionary niche. We may be the first to fill ours, but it was there all the time.

Evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and polemic combine in an appealing argument for human uniqueness.

Pub Date: April 17th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4767-9026-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2018


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