This blog has been more public than I expected. so I have toned down the heading to this post. Also I have deleted two posts I didn't want further responses to.


Every so often I venture out into the public sphere to see how anti-darwinism is responded to. The last time, at the science cafe, my posts were moved from "science" to "paranormal" or some such section then I was subjected to withering personal abuse. This time the issue is raised by someone else, in the science section, and the responses have been very moderate and quite engaged. Interesting.

Yesterday I posted a provocative response here, making a case for evolution being intelligent. I expected a storm of fury. Instead, one very moderate and interesting response. I have responded to that with another provocative (though rational) response, questioning the basis for the modern synthesis.

Maybe everyone's just bored with the issue of origins.

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Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 11, 2013 at 7:36pm

Anthony, thank you for the appreciation.

At the risk of seeming churlish in response, I find your suggestions confirm my assumption that we lack the appropriate concepts to think clearly about consciousness evolving. When I hear the phrase "self-organization" I reach for my gun! Then you invoke an edge of chaos!

I am trying to shape a series of essays on what a theory of evolution should account for. I might use this board as a testbed for ideas. Maybe I can use this blog for that, it seems to be transparent to interested parties, and more suited to what I want than starting separate topics in the forums or the origins group. I could link out to articles on my own site, I see I can link from here--linking out is not forbidden.

I already have posted a series of essays challenging darwinism under the pseudonym "The Contrarian Evolutionist" here. I'm not recommending them to you, Anthony, just using my blog to tell visitors who relish such challenges. I have moved on from criticizing darwinism to developing alternatives.

I am impressed with the utility of this website.

Comment by Anthony Jordan on April 11, 2013 at 6:03pm


You have apparently given the matter a great deal of thought, which I admire. Your ideas, as I may have said earlier are interesting. In my opinion, consciousness may have developed (evolved) in a way similar to how many biologists believe that self-organization is a phenomenon of nature; after self-organizing chemical reactions reached a certain level of complexity, they made the jump from non-life to life. Perhaps lifeforms reach a certain level of complexity at which point they begin to make (perhaps a slow) climb from non-consciousness to consciousness. All mammals have a certain level of consciousness if only in instinctual form. Humans, being the highest developed lifeforms on earth, are at the top of the consciousness continuum. It's just a thought. But, I like the fact that you're a deep thinker.

Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 11, 2013 at 4:39pm

Ted, I don't see any connection between volition and God. It wouldn't occur to me to connect them. Being conscious of thoughts and feelings, following a train of thought leading to a decision and acting on it, is everyday reality. It's ordinary. It's nothing to do with anything supernatural. That's just what it's like to be human.

Isn't that how it is for you? You experience things. You do what occurs to you. Isn't that basic? It's just being conscious of things, and being able to do things. It's ordinary.

This only becomes a problem when you ask questions like "What's the relation between consciousness and matter"? or "How did consciousness evolve"? Then, you come up ideas like yours, "consciousness is emergent from volition at some level of volitional complexity" and "volition is the same chemical force that results in one particle attracting or repulsing another." I'm the same. I come up with speculations like that, out of the blue, that don't add up.

I realize then that I just don't have the concepts I need to make sense of something like consciousness evolving. I'm like an ancient Greek trying to account for how lightning bolts striking a sandy beach form vertical rods of glass in the sand. Since then we've arrived at the concepts you need to account for that, it's the electric charge in the lightning passing through the sand which, being a poor conductor, gets so hot it melts. But an ancient Greek wouldn't have a clue. That's how I feel when I try to account for how consciousness evolved, I lack probably several concepts you'd need for making sense of it. I've no concepts for connecting consciousness and evolution, they're both mysterious. It would be like trying to connect a ghost and a guardian angel! I can't make sense of either of the things I'm trying to connect. That's how far I think we are from being able to account for consciousness evolving.

Like you I can't help wondering, and coming up with ideas. But I don't want to bring them up here, because everyone would point out problems with them. Of course they can't work, you can't make up the necessary concepts just by wanting to.

But I think you can say generally what they'll have to account for. When I do that, I realize Darwinism isn't adequate. It was too early. It may be the best we've come up with so far, but I think we'd be wise to realize that it isn't right--it can't account for us being conscious and creative, matter and physics alone can't do that. Since obviously there's something that can make consciousness evolve, maybe that's what makes all of evolution happen. We've no way of knowing.

Do you like having these issues raised, or do you prefer to stick with darwinism? I don't see a problem with that. Most of us stick with gravity even though we know it's been replaced by general relativity. I think it's fine to choose to stick with darwinism, but I think it's also good if some people do explore what must really be true. Then, some day, we'll arrive at the concepts we need.

Your question, "is 'volition' causal in evolution" lies at the heart of the matter. What do you think? How could we have got consciousness and free will if they weren't involved in the process of evolution? Where else could they have come from? Matter and physics, and evolution, that's all there is. Right?

What do you suggest?

Comment by Ted Foureagles on April 11, 2013 at 1:47pm


I'm trying, but so far not understanding (maybe my fault, maybe yours) just how or even if you see what you call 'volition' as causal in evolution, and how it differs from what others call 'God'.  I suppose that my views are 'positivist' and 'Darwinist' as you define them, and that's fine by me -- I like hearing alternate views & definitions, and only occasionally assume that it's me who's right :).  I think that consciousness is emergent from volition at some level of volitional complexity (wherever we define it).

I think that volition itself is the same chemical force that results in (cause is perhaps another matter) one particle attracting or repulsing another.  In that primitive sense, I see how this force can be construed as causal of that movement, but I fail to see how it moves evolution, let alone how it invalidates Darwin's theory of natural selection driving evolution.

It seems a bit like saying, "Cars move because hydrocarbons are volatile".  While more or less true, it does nothing to explain the process from crude wheel to Porsche.


Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 11, 2013 at 10:01am

Thank you, Anthony. You help make this site feel comfortable and safe.

Comment by Anthony Jordan on April 10, 2013 at 8:50pm


Your view is an interesting one. And I am a Darwinist, but that's no big deal. You don't strike me as a theist, so in my book, you're welcome here.

Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 10, 2013 at 6:28pm

Reply to Anthony Jordan: "...exactly what is your view on how life developed."

"Exactly" is a hard standard to hew to. If I must be only exact, I am limited to the following views:

Once there was nothing on Earth but non-living matter. Then living creatures began evolving. Now among those creatures is me--conscious, and creative. Therefore evolution is such that it can generate creatures that are conscious and creative.

Here is exactly my view of darwinism:

In 1838 Darwin became a subscriber to Auguste Comte's Positivism (through reading a review of one of Comte's books published in France). Under the influence of Positivism he settled on creatures being adapted to their environment as what a mechanism of evolution must account for, and all that it need account for. Constrained by Positivist principles to deny "volition" and consider only physical processes he settled on natural selection as a mechanism capable of making living creatures adapt to their surroundings, and so to evolve.

I am not a darwinist for at least two reasons. First, I see adaptation as an inevitable result of evolution, whatever the mechanism. However creatures evolve it is almost inevitable they will become more adapted, else they'd be dead. So their being adapted tells you nothing about the mechanism involved. You're accounting for a side effect of evolution, not a cause.

Second, because Positivist principles explicitly exclude "volition" of any kind from consideration (in John Stuart Mill's account), abiding by them will prevent you from arriving at mechanisms for how creatures with "volition" evolve. Creatures like us: we experience being conscious--of being able to express decisions--consciously arrived at--in terms of our behavior, and of being able through conscious thoughts to generate novel behaviors (creativity). If you include creatures like us among creatures who evolve then, if you limit yourself to Positivist principles, you're unlikely to come up with an adequate account for how they evolved. Turn that around, once you no longer limit yourself to Positivist principles, then all living creatures may have some kind of volition, perhaps not as individuals but as communities or species, and volition itself cannot be excluded as a component in the mechanism of evolution.

Third, if we assume that consciousness evolved and that we evolved along darwinian and Positivist lines then, for natural selection to have anything to select, consciousness must have some effect on our bodies or our behaviors that's selectable. But if it does, then it can't be excluded as one of the drivers of evolution, as darwinism does.

Beyond that I don't have any exact views. I'm glad you limited me to that. I do have speculations. And one assumption: I assume that, in just the two lifetimes since "Origins..." was published, we have not had time to arrive at the concepts necessary to understand evolution. I don't expect us to be able to do more than trace the outline of what such concepts must account for, primarily our conscious experiences. That's what I occupy myself with.

So my thinking on evolution is volition-driven. This will likely lead me to disagree with people who do not experience consciousness and deny it. Them I can well imagine becoming darwinists. I am more perplexed by people who do experience being capable of volition yet limit themselves to darwinism.

Comment by Buzz Avery on April 10, 2013 at 5:21pm

Say you believe in "intelligent design" if that's what you mean.  Stating your position as being a non-evolutionist references what you are not.  Now say what you are, and try not to define yourself by referring to a 19th century research scientist.

Comment by Pat on April 10, 2013 at 2:58pm

Like Anthony, I too am curious. Your description of being an anti-Darwinist leads to believe that you do not accept the theory of evolution by natural selection. I'f I'm somehow wrong here, please correct me. I'm certainly not trying to attribute, to you, something you actually didn't say. 

And, to repeat Anthony's question, what theory, if any, do you accept as being the best explanation for the development of life?

Comment by Anthony Jordan on April 10, 2013 at 1:16pm

Being an anti-Darwinist, exactly what is your view on how life developed ?


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