Rossdavidh's Reviews > The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will

The Human Instinct by Kenneth R. Miller
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Kenneth R. Miller has zero doubt in the truth of evolution, including for homo sapiens. He has even been in debates on the subject, as a defender of it against those who do doubt it. He is, however, convinced that scientists as a group have made an error, in insisting that there is nothing particularly special about humanity, compared to other species. In fact, he believes this is an error that they share with the Intelligent Design folks, who also believe that if Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection were true, it would mean that humanity is nothing special. Miller believes that we can fully and unreservedly accept Darwin's theory, and yet still believe that there is something unique, and uniquely important, about humanity.

He also appears to believe, that he can convince someone of this, by writing a book about it.

It is, to be sure, not a bad book at all. He goes through a lot of the evidence, and what has been learned about humanity's (and life's) origins, in a thoroughly readable way. He tells an occasional anecdote of his own experience debating and otherwise interacting with creationists, and he has a considerably less sneering attitude towards them than others who write books on the topic. I am a firm believer in Darwin's Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, myself, and even I find some of the public defenders of the theory to be condescending at best when they discuss what they presume to be the mindset of those who disagree with them.

I even think he may be fundamentally correct when he says that the reason why most of those who reject evolution, is that they are uncomfortable with what they perceive to be the consequences of it. So, it may be that he is onto something when he says that we should work to reframe the known scientific facts in a way that acknowledges human reason, consciousness, and free will. There's no reason to put a sign that says "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here" above your position, then complain when some people don't want to walk through the gate.

What I am not so convinced by, and would really like to see change, is the idea that you can make progress in our country on convincing people of Darwin's theory, by arguing with them about it. Moreover, for an allegedly pro-science crowd, there seems to be nearly no data, really, behind their strategy on how to argue their points (honorable exception for Dan Kahan at Yale:

As for the larger point of whether or not it is possible to simultaneously believe in evolution, and also that humans are different from other animals in a significant way which relates to things like consciousness and free will: I suppose so, but I cannot really claim that I gained any crucial insights into the matter from Miller's book.

In the end, it was kind of like one of those late-night conversations one might have during one's college years, with a few friends, debating whether or not free will is real and what is the meaning of life. It was pleasant, fun even, and it did keep the brain moving on some significant topics. If that's what you're wanting, it's a fine read. But don't expect to come out of such a conversation knowing or understanding anything more than you did going into it. And certainly don't give a copy of Miller's book to any advocates of Intelligent Design who you might know, thinking it will change anyone's mind.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 5, 2019 – Shelved
June 5, 2019 – Shelved as: red

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