Why Us?

why us upsThere is a new book out Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves by James LeFanu (HT TG). I have not read this book (yet anyway) – but it has received a fair bit of attention lately. It was also cited by AN Wilson in the interview Scot linked to in Weekly Meanderings last Saturday.

James LeFanu is a medical doctor, a general practitioner, in London. He also writes a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph. The central theme of Why Us? questions the validity of an “exclusively materialist view of Man.” This doesn’t make LeFanu a creationist or a “closet creationist”. In fact he points out in his blog that he doesn’t deny the basic facts:

This is not to deny the ‘fact’ of evolution as there can be nothing more self evident than that the history of the universe is an evolutionary history – from the simplest elements of matter to the evermore complex. Nor is it to deny the ‘fact’ of natural selection, as again it is self evident that nature selects the strong and robust over the frail and vulnerable.

Yet he claims:

But the findings of genetics and neuroscience of the recent past have changed all that, buttressing the commonsensical scepticism about Darwin’s (evolutionary) ‘Reason for Everything’ with the extraordinary revelations and hard empirical data of the Genome Projects and the findings of sophisticated brain scanning studies. Memorising, perceiving and interpreting the world out there. Together they tear away at science’s façade of knowing to reveal the depth of our radical ignorance of the most elementary principles of genetic inheritance and brain function.

You can find an interesting review of the book from The Literary Review here and a more critical review from The New Scientist here.

Is there a profound mystery in nature of human experience and consciousness?

From the Literary Review article by John Cornwell:

His aim is to debunk purely materialist, reductionist accounts of what it means to be a human person. … Daniel C Dennett boasts of having ‘explained’ consciousness in a purely materialist, scientific fashion, yet neglects to describe its central mystery. In essence, [LeFanu] argues, Dennett’s failure consists in his inability to explain how the ‘monotonous firing of neuronal circuits can give rise to qualitatively different experiences as the smell of a rose or a Bach fugue’. Dennett would say that the ‘onward march of science will decipher the code … then all will become clear’. But another philosopher cited by Le Fanu, Colin McGinn, responds that such is the nature of consciousness that science, in principle and forever, cannot explain it, since objective descriptions can never entirely encapsulate subjective states.

LeFanu takes a somewhat dualistic approach separating body and soul as he wrestles with what it means to be human – and Cornwell disagrees with this in his review. Yet he notes:

To be unhappy with mind-body dualism, however, is not necessarily to be on the side of the demons. One of the interesting aspects of contemporary neuroscience is its insistence on the idea of the soul being ’embodied’. This is nothing new. Aristotle believed that the soul was the ‘form of the body’, and he was followed in this by Thomas Aquinas. It has taken new brain science to challenge Cartesian dualism, which reduced the body to a kind of machine, while relegating the soul to a kind of spooky stuff. The idea of an embodied soul is closer to
Judaic and early Christian construals of the human person than Descartes.

What do you think – is there a body-soul duality or is the “soul” embodied an inseparable from material existence?

And – whether the soul is embodied or not – is the nature of human experience and consciousness ultimately the most significant evidence for design in the universe?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

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