A spirited attempt to supplant a religious conception of self-identity with an evolutionary one.
Searching self-reflection is a specifically human ability, the result of our peculiar endowment of consciousness. Johnson (Had Enough Yet?, 2017, etc.) asserts that consciousness was once interpreted as evidence of an eternal soul and God—the legacy of ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, who devalued empirical enquiry in favor of imaginative intuition. Instead of looking outward to the world for answers, they turned an introspective eye inward, and according to the author, this move contaminated thousands of years of philosophy and delayed the genesis of rigorous science. The nature of consciousness, as experienced by human beings, contributed to the problem as well; it seems timeless, without beginning or end, and so the notion of personal immortality easily arises from it. The author considers all religious metaphysics to be fantastical departures from rational analysis, and the stakes of this confusion are high, he contends: because a religious worldview assigns humans a special cosmic significance, he says, it’s an instrument of mistaken aggrandizement and the origin of savage conflict. Johnson makes a theoretically fascinating argument that consciousness precludes self-knowledge, as it forces people to simultaneously be the subject and object of analysis. The author is a research chemist, and his discussion of modern science is both expert and lucidly accessible. His ambition is exhilarating, as he attempts no less than to settle the long-standing conflict between faith and reason. However, this is a very brief study, and its short length undermines the persuasiveness of his arguments; his concise survey of ancient philosophy, for instance, is remarkably lacking in meticulousness for a book that’s so devoted to its advocacy. Also, the author is prone to hyperbolic ad hominem attacks, as when he refers to creationists as “cultural terrorists.”
A philosophically original but needlessly strident attack on the irrationality of religious belief.