Is it even reasonable to speculate that random combinations of chemicals could have produced so marvelously complex and functional a thing as a living cell? That’s like positing that chance combinations of atoms could have assembled themselves to produce an airplane. “However improbable the origin of life might be,” Dawkins writes, it must have happened this way “because we are here.” It takes a lot of faith to believe things like this.
Nor can evolution explain consciousness, which illuminates the whole world for us.We know as human beings that we are conscious. Other creatures, such as dogs, also appear to be conscious, although perhaps not quite in the same way that we are. It does seem incredible that atoms of hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and so on can somehow produce our capacity to perceive and experience the world around us. So what is the evolutionary explanation for consciousness? What adaptive benefits did it confer? How did unconscious life transform itself into conscious life?
Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker admits there is no explanation. In How the Mind Works, he writes, “Virtually nothing is known about the functioning microcircuitry of the brain…. The existence of subjective first-person experience is not explainable by science.” So baffling is the problem that Daniel Dennett has “solved” it by declaring consciousness to be a cognitive illusion.
Finally, evolution cannot explain human rationality or morality. This was a point first made by Alfred Russel Wallace, who proposed simultaneously with Darwin a theory of evolution by natural selection. Here I don’t want to be misunderstood. Evolution can account for how brain size got larger and conferred survival benefits on creatures with larger brains. But rationality is something more than this. Rationality is the power to perceive something as true.
We can include in rationality the unique human capacity for language, which is the ability to formulate and articulate ideas that comprehend the world around us. People in the most primitive cultures developed language as a means of rationality, while cats cannot utter a single sentence. Evolution provides an explanation for how creatures develop traits that are useful to their survival. As Steven Pinker puts it, “Our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth.”
So where did we humans get this other capacity to figure out not only what helps our genes to make it into the next generation, but also to understand what is going on in the world? To put it another way, what is the survival value of truth itself? Philosopher Michael Ruse, a noted Darwinist, confesses that “no one, certainly not the Darwinian as such, seems to have any answer to this.”
Humans have not only a rational but also a moral capacity. In his Descent of Man, Darwin admitted that “of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is the most important.” Morality speaks to us in a different voice: not what we do but what we ought to do.
Frequently morality presses on us to act against our evident self-interest. It urges us not to tell lies even when they benefit us and to help people even when they are strangers to us. In a later chapter, I address how evolutionists seek to account for morality in Darwinian terms. Here let me say something that most of them would agree with: there is much inventive speculation but no good evolutionary explanation for these basic human capacities.