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Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004
First Web Paper
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Transcending Evolution: The Human Consciousness, or The Soul

Student Contributor

In 1838 Charles Darwin wrote in his journal "Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work worthy the interposition of a deity. More humble and I think truer to consider him created from animals". (Rachels, 1990) Daniel C. Dennett refers to Darwin's theory of evolution as a universal acid, a theory so powerful it seeps through every traditional concept and leaves behind a revolutionized world-view, resulting not only in a fundamental shift in the way in which we perceive ourselves as human beings, but more importantly, in the death of God. (Dennett, 1996) The moral implications of evolution are devastating: to reduce man to a by-product of an algorithmic process is to say that man is nothing more than an offspring of the Earth when man was quite content to think of himself as an offspring of something much more celestial. Evolution appeared and threatened to downgrade man to a modified version of ape, and rather than throw up its hands and surrender to its earthly existence, man decided to unleash its only weapon against evolution: and what of consciousness? How does evolution explain the phenomenon of consciousness? This paper will argue that consciousness is capable of existing outside of evolution and, using the Quran as the primary religious text, set the stage for a potential rebirth of God.

There exists startling anatomical, molecular, and fossil evidence supporting the theory of the descent of man from primates, more specifically from apes. For example, certain enzymes and other proteins, such as hemoglobin, are virtually identical in both humans and chimpanzees. (Mayr, 2001) It is thought that the most important event in human history occurred in the step from the Australopithecus apelike stage to the Homo stage. The descent of Homo from Australopithecus is still not fully understood, but what is understood is that brain size doubled in Homo erectus from what it had been in Australopithecus. (Mayr, 2001) Ernst Mayr, in his book What Evolution Is, argues that evolution of consciousness began in the Australopithecus species. These populations survived by using their intellect to invent successful defense mechanisms against predators for they were no longer capable of climbing up trees to escape being hunted. Subsequently, H. erectus inherited this need to rely on their inventiveness to cope with their defenseless position in the highly predatory environment. (Mayr, 2001) It is unknown how the basic necessity of self defense transformed itself into a highly developed intellect as seen in Homo sapiens today. The only thing that is known is that the H. sapiens species was better adapted to the environment than the other Homo subspecies since they are the surviving species. However if we are to believe that the basic necessity of self defense has the potential to develop into a highly complex intellect, then why is it that other species, such as deer and rabbits who are forced to rely on their wits to invent successful defense mechanisms, since they too can not climb up trees, do not develop a highly complex intellect?

Mayr argues that it is the brain that makes us different from other animals, that it is the brain that makes us human. The brain contains 30 billion nerve cells, and while the electrophysiology of neurons is mostly understood, their mental functions are not. It is these very same mental functions that are believed to be responsible for the ability of consciousness. Interestingly enough, the brain has not seemed to have changed significantly since the first appearance of H. sapiens some 150,000 years ago. (Mayr, 2001) This implies that the cultural rise of the H. sapiens from barbaric hunter to city civilizations was independent of brain size. If not brain size, then what was responsible for this change? Mayr fails to give convincing evidence for the evolution of consciousness, which leaves the reader skeptical about evolution's involvement with the birth of self-awareness. This paper proposes that other phenomena, namely celestial phenomena, are what are responsible for human consciousness. That human consciousness transcends the human body and is independent of all earthly matter.

Russel Wallace, a biologist of Darwin's era, agreed that the human consciousness should be exempted from the iron rule of evolution, in which Darwin responded in a letter written to Wallace, "I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child". Darwin believed that human consciousness was very much a part of evolution, thus dissolving any illusion of man's authorship, creativity, or understanding, and yet no convincing evidence has ever been offered to support this notion. (Dennit, 1996) Is it so radical to believe that human consciousness exists independently of descent with modification? As stated in the Quran, Adam and Eve were created in heaven and after disobeying God were expelled down to Earth. The Quran does not explicitly state when this happened or if an actual physical transportation occurred. In light of evolution, many Islamic scholars are interpreting the expulsion of Adam and Eve not as an expulsion of human life forms, but as an expulsion of souls into already living H. sapiens on Earth. This would explain why brain size did not seem to have an effect in early H. sapiens 150,000 years ago; it is not the brain that is responsible for self-awareness, according to the Quran, but the soul which was created by God in heaven. Of course this is only an interpretation and it is important to note that many Muslims completely reject the theory of evolution.

It reads in the Quran: "Thy Lord is Self-Sufficient, Full of Mercy: if it were his Will, He could destroy you and in your place appoint whom He will as your successor, even as He raised you forth, from the descendents of others". (Quran 6:133) This notion of descent with modification as God's intention, as his master Design, conflicts with the belief of randomness that characterizes evolution, but supports the notion of evolution and God existing side by side. However this paper's intention is not to superimpose Quranic interpretation onto Darwin's theory of evolution, but to provide an alternative reading of the evolution of human consciousness, namely that there was no evolution taking place, and that human consciousness appeared in H. sapiens because of the introduction of soul. The phenomenon of self-awareness (which this paper uses synonymously with soul) is still an observation that is not completely understood.

The production of clones, the transfer of DNA from one organism to another and replicated by genetic engineering techniques, has not yet been attempted in humans because, apart from ethical considerations, mental development is not completely understood. It is acceptable to clone, say, sheep (such as Dolly) because mental development is not such an issue namely because sheep are not known to possess a soul. It would be interesting to discover if humans can be cloned if so, then consciousness would undoubtedly be a product of nervous synaptic transmission, and if not, then consciousness is of a different matter, an unearthly matter. "There is no sacred myth," writes Dennett in his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, but the Quran would beg to differ: "They ask thee concerning The Spirit. Say: The Spirit cometh by command of my Lord: The knowledge of which only little is communicated to you". (Quran 17:85) Accepting that the spirit, or the soul, is of divine creation and therefore impossible to understand with Earthly intelligence does not counteract the fundamental principles of evolution, namely descent with modification. It only widens the biosphere to include God and his kingdom of heaven.

It seems rather fruitless (although, for some it is enough) to believe that our consciousness is a result of an algorithmic process completely controlled by the randomness of chance. The answers to our existence may not always be out of reach, but in the meantime, it can not hurt to tell stories of our creation and hope that these stories are sufficient enough to satisfy our hunger for purpose.

The Holy Quran: Translation and Commentary. Edited by A. Yusuf Ali. Ouloom AlQur'an Est.: Damascus, 1934

Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1995

Macphail, Euan M. The Evolution of Consciousness. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1998

Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Book: New York, 2001

"Origin of Man in Islam: Creation or Evolution." Available On-line at:

Rachels, James. Created From Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinians. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1990

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