A reconsideration of evolution proposes an alternative to both Darwinism and creationism.
Johnston (Alternative to Darwinism and Creationism Based on Free Will, 2011, etc.) was fascinated by science as a young child, and the theory of evolution in particular after he read Darwin’s The Origin of the Species in his teens. But he eventually became dissatisfied with its limitations, especially its inability to fully account for human consciousness, creativity, and free will. In order to communicate the crux of his consternation—and eventual conversion from enthusiastic Darwinian—the author conjures three possible worlds. The first is an irreducibly physical one filled with bodies but bereft of mind or free will—he calls this the “PhysicsCosmos.” Another is a realm that permits the existence of the supernatural, including angels, demons, and God, called “SpiritCosmos.” Finally, there is “MindCosmos,” which makes a place for consciousness and its effects, but without recourse to a religious metaphysics. This is the world Johnston finds most consistent with human experience, and seeks a new evolutionary theory that explains the emergence of intelligent creativity. The fulcrum of that account is the genome, so marvelously packed with complex information that it essentially thinks into existence a new species endowed with volition: “That colossal capacity for information, plus its evident ability to manage all that information, taken together persuade me that the genome could function as a brain.” The author explores the superiority of his model to competing candidates and also discusses its implications for fields like economics and education.
While there’s no shortage of recent monographs, scholarly and popular, on the shortcomings of both evolutionary theory and creationism, Johnston’s contribution to the field is an astonishingly original one. In a way, his version is deeply Cartesian, haunted by the interaction between mind and matter, but also grounded in the ordinary experience of human action. He thoughtfully understands that the quest for an origin story is not merely a matter of genetic mechanics, but also tied to the existence of the human self and the values and purposes that propel that self through a finite life. The commentary is supplemented by short stories, quirkily constructed around the nature of human consciousness and agency; for example, one centers on the famous Turing test. Problematically, the work’s brevity is both a boon and a burden. While the author’s concision, as well as lucid writing style, makes for accessibility, it also necessitates arguments so condensed they raise as many questions as they aim to answer. For example, it’s never clear whether the self is autonomously constructed—the product of willful choice—or the sum result of historical forces; he seems to suggest both. In addition, much of the discussion regarding the genome as the seat of intelligence is unspecific and metaphorical, and so seems like a prelude to a much more detailed examination. Nonetheless, this is a valuably fresh take on an important debate, and an excellent introduction to some of Darwinism’s philosophical flaws (an appendix is dedicated to cataloging them).
An admirably innovative reflection on the evolution of human consciousness.