Animal consciousness and evolution

by Neil Rickert

According to a post at ENV, recent evidence for the consciousness of other animals is bad news for evolution.  This seems to be a strange viewpoint, but perhaps it is simply a case of ID proponents managing to see everything as refuting evolution.

I suppose it is possible that David Klinghoffer, the author of that post, really did intend to only criticize Darwinists, and not evolution in general.  However, my experience is that ID proponents such as Klinghoffer tend to use the term “Darwinist” to refer to any proponent of evolution, including those who have explicitly said that their view is not Darwinian.

Klinghoffer does acknowledge the strangeness of the view he expresses in that post:

According to this style of anti-Darwinian thinking that I’ve backed away from, which prefers to draw a super-sharp distinction between people and other creatures, more scientific evidence of how much we share with animals should be good news for the Darwin side in the evolution debate, and bad news for us.

Why did Klinghoffer change his view?  He explains that with:

But given the arguments of Thomas Nagel in Mind & Cosmos, such an assignment of the animal-consciousness problem is actually backward.

It seems that Klinghoffer has been persuaded by Nagel.  I have read a number of reviews of Nagel’s book.  Some of the reviews are harshly critical.  But even positive reviews of Nagel quote enough to persuade me that Nagel has badly missed his target.  However, I should not criticize Nagel’s book without reading it, so I have now started that reading chore.  Perhaps I will have more posts Nagel’s book at a later time.

Back to the animal consciousness issue, the recent evidence comes as no surprise to me.  It has long seemed obvious that consciousness is widespread, although I expect that there are varying degrees of consciousness.  So to me, animal consciousness is what I would have expected.

Nagel, and now Klinghoffer, seem to believe that consciousness is something that could not have evolved.  That seems backward to me.  If  there were evidence of an evolved population of zombies (in the Chalmers sense of zombie), that operated on the same principles as the robots we build, I would find that a far greater challenge to my understanding of evolution.

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