A scientific critique of the rational limitations of intuition.
Human consciousness, or the capacity for self-identification, provided mankind with a considerable evolutionary advantage. According to research chemist Johnson (Had Enough of God Yet?, 2017, etc.), self-awareness functioned as the basis for collaboration, communication, and ultimately, the formation of communities. However, the same consciousness raised questions that couldn’t be adequately answered about the nature of the material world. In the absence of systematic rational inquiry, writes the author, we filled in blanks with intuition; we conjured poetic narratives that accounted for our place in the world and provided a sense of security and purpose. Intuition is the source of religion, Johnson says, with its postulations of God and the immortal soul. The author argues that although intuition has practical and theoretical value—it allows us to quickly respond to danger and generate scientific hypotheses—it’s generally unreliable as an instrument for understanding the world. In fact, he says, it’s an endless fount of egregious falsehood, responsible for grotesque errors, ranging from racism to belief in the supernatural. Religion, he asserts, is the “junk of intuition,” as well as a source of violent, sectarian conflict, and it often operates contrary to human survival. In this book, Johnson predicts a future in which reason triumphs over intuition, and he offers a comprehensive neurochemical explanation of human consciousness. The author’s study is certainly wide-ranging, discussing the ideas of modern American philosopher Daniel Dennett, ancient Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus, and 19th-century French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, to name a few. He presents his research on intuition rigorously and lucidly, and he intrepidly courts controversy. As a chemist, Johnson’s command of the pertinent scientific material is beyond reproach. However, he doesn’t address the long tradition of philosophical defenses of religion, even by those sympathetic to science; instead, he simply assumes all faiths are imaginative fictions. This intransigent dogmatism expresses itself repeatedly in the peremptory tone of his prose; at one point, for instance, he refers to theology as “absolutely worthless.”
An engaging appraisal of intuition, undermined by a cavalier dismissal of religion.