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Is the consensus in favor of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory as strong among

Is the consensus in favor of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory as strong among philosophers of science as it is among scientists in general?

Yes. As far as I know, there is not a live debate in philosophy of biology (or philosophy more generally) regarding the viability of neo-Darwinian theories of evolution. There are lots of interesting debates about the details of the theories (e.g., levels of selection, how to understand the mechanism of natural selection, etc.), but no respectable philosophers I know of defend Intelligent Design as an alternative biological theory to evolution by natural selection. There are debates about how to treat the debate itself (e.g., whether ID should be taught--I like to teach Darwin vs. ID in my intro to philosophy class to teach abduction or argument to the best explanation), and philosophers still teach the teleological argument or Design argument for the existence of God (the new versions of these arguments that invoke the probabilities regarding the laws and constants being 'ripe' for a stable, evolution-friendly universe are interesting to discuss). But philosophers often teach such arguments as exercises in the history of ideas and in how to uncover what makes them unsound.

But again, the answer is yes, the consensus is that neo-Darwinian theory is the only viable theory that provides unifying and informative explanations of biological phenomena.

Yes. As far as I know, there is not a live debate in philosophy of biology (or philosophy more generally) regarding the viability of neo-Darwinian theories of evolution. There are lots of interesting debates about the details of the theories (e.g., levels of selection, how to understand the mechanism of natural selection, etc.), but no respectable philosophers I know of defend Intelligent Design as an alternative biological theory to evolution by natural selection. There are debates about how to treat the debate itself (e.g., whether ID should be taught--I like to teach Darwin vs. ID in my intro to philosophy class to teach abduction or argument to the best explanation), and philosophers still teach the teleological argument or Design argument for the existence of God (the new versions of these arguments that invoke the probabilities regarding the laws and constants being 'ripe' for a stable, evolution-friendly universe are interesting to discuss). But philosophers often teach such arguments as...

Do I have control over my own brain?

Do I have control over my own brain?

Yes! But my answer is based on my metaphysics. I think that your brain is an essential part of you (along with your body) and that the part of you that consciously considers what to do and makes decisions is a part of your brain. So, you have control over your own brain because processes occurring in your brain control other processes in your brain that cause your bodily actions. Conscious self-control is a (very complex) set of brain processes.

If this sounds counter-intuitive, it is partly because we simply have no good theory about how physical brain processes could be the basis of conscious experiences and thoughts (though we do have pretty good theories about how the brain carries out many cognitive tasks, such as perception, language, and initiation of movement). And it is partly because we have a competing metaphysical theory, largely based on religion, that says that our selves (our conscious minds) are non-physical entities separate from the brain and body (notice that this theory does less than the physicalist theory in giving us any information about how the mind works or how consciousness exists).

Now, if you are inclined to accept the dualist theory that says you are a non-physical entity (whatever that might mean), then it is more difficult to explain how you have control over your brain, because it is difficult to explain (1) how a non-physical entity could interact causally with a physical entity like the brain (surely, control requires causal interaction), and (2) when and where such interaction might occur. The latter problem becomes more difficult as we gain more and more information about how the brain works. There's less and less time and space for a non-physical soul to do any causal work.

So, the difficulty is coming up with a theory of how the brain works that captures most of what we wanted from (and thought was "explained" by) a non-physical mind or soul. We don't have such a theory yet. When we do, I suspect we'll find the problem of free will much less problematic.

Yes! But my answer is based on my metaphysics. I think that your brain is an essential part of you (along with your body) and that the part of you that consciously considers what to do and makes decisions is a part of your brain. So, you have control over your own brain because processes occurring in your brain control other processes in your brain that cause your bodily actions. Conscious self-control is a (very complex) set of brain processes. If this sounds counter-intuitive, it is partly because we simply have no good theory about how physical brain processes could be the basis of conscious experiences and thoughts (though we do have pretty good theories about how the brain carries out many cognitive tasks, such as perception, language, and initiation of movement). And it is partly because we have a competing metaphysical theory, largely based on religion, that says that our selves (our conscious minds) are non-physical entities separate from the brain and body (notice that this...

To my understanding, organisms evolve in order to adapt to their environment and

To my understanding, organisms evolve in order to adapt to their environment and its pressures. If that is the case, how come we are conscious? It seems like consciousness is an unnecessary add-on. Why aren't we p-zombies? P-zombies can do the same thing any other organism can, right? Or is it possible that consciousness is an illusion?

Suppose there are two mutations that would allow a species of plant to gather more sunlight for energy, one that would make it grow taller than competing plants and another than would make it grow wider. The species happens to evolve to grow taller. It is true that it might have achieved the adaptive function of gathering more energy without growing taller (i.e., by growing wider instead). So, growing taller was not necessary (i.e., the only way) to achieve this function. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to say that the plant's height is causally irrelevant to its capacities to gather energy from sunlight.

Similarly, it might be that a species (call them p-zombies) might have evolved that could gather and synthesize information about various features of its environment just as well as us but without being phenomenally conscious. But the possibility of such a species tells us nothing about whether phenomenal consciousness in us (and other animals) plays a causal role in gathering and synthesizing information about our environment. Consciousness may have been selected for even if p-zombies are possible. Consciousness may be the particular way (among many possible ways) that our ancestral species solved the challenge of gathering and synthesizing information about the environment and using it to guide adaptive behavior.

If your p-zombies are physically identical to us in every way, then we might wonder why consciousness evolved. But this already assumes that consciousness plays no causal role, since that's the only way that a physical duplicate of us without consciousness could still behave just like us. Once we recognize this, the conceivability of p-zombies becomes much more dubious (at least to me). I have a hard time conceiving of conscious states as causally inert, in part because I assume conscious properties are essential properties of certain underlying neural states.

(Another possibility is that consciousness was not selected for but was a side-effect of some other adaptation, but this still allows that consciousness eventually took on important roles in our behavior.)

Suppose there are two mutations that would allow a species of plant to gather more sunlight for energy, one that would make it grow taller than competing plants and another than would make it grow wider. The species happens to evolve to grow taller. It is true that it might have achieved the adaptive function of gathering more energy without growing taller (i.e., by growing wider instead). So, growing taller was not necessary (i.e., the only way) to achieve this function. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to say that the plant's height is causally irrelevant to its capacities to gather energy from sunlight. Similarly, it might be that a species (call them p-zombies) might have evolved that could gather and synthesize information about various features of its environment just as well as us but without being phenomenally conscious. But the possibility of such a species tells us nothing about whether phenomenal consciousness in us (and other animals) plays a causal role in gathering and...

Why doesn't knowledge of the obvious causal relationship between consciousness

Why doesn't knowledge of the obvious causal relationship between consciousness and brains destroy any ideas of an afterlife?

The fact that one thing causes another does not mean than the second could not exist without the first. Consider the case of a forest fire, for example. A carelessly flung match could be the cause, and yet (a) the fire could continue even after the match is destroyed, and (b) other things, such as a bolt of lightning, could substitute for the match as cause of the fire. Similarly, one could think (a) that brain activity causes consciousness, but consciousness can continue even after the brain is destroyed, or (b) that things other than brain activity, e.g. cosmic vibrations, could also cause consciousness. Without evidence to support these possibilities, they remain mere possibilities; but they do show why the causal relation you cite does not "destroy an ideas of an afterlife".

If you think that an individual's consciousness is not just caused by the activity of her brain but is identical with it, then that consciousness must indeed cease when the activity of that brain ceases. But many who agree that there is an "obvious" causal relationship between consciousness and the brain do not think that consciousness is identical with the brain.

It doesn't. There are several possibilities here. One is that there is a causal relationship between the physical brain and a non-physical mind, which can still make sense of the idea that when alcohol is coursing through your veins into your brain it causes your conscious experiences to be funky or when a part of your brain is lesioned it causes mental disorders. This view is Descartes' dualism. If it is true, then presumably your non-physical mind (or soul) can survive after your physical body dies (though it's hard to imagine how things would be for your bodiless soul in "heaven"--e.g., how do you find grandma? and what would you do for fun?). This view becomes less plausible the stronger the correlations between brain states and mental states become (the soul seems to have nothing left to do). So, supposing such dualism is implausible and we assume this evidence of a causal relationship between brains and consciousness is evidence of a physicalist view, one that says the mind just ...

Why is an amoeba considered alive, but a car is not? The car is as complicated

Why is an amoeba considered alive, but a car is not? The car is as complicated as the amoeba. It eats gasoline, and produces waste. It also has a reproductive system: by providing humans a useful service, cars have been able to use human factories as breeding grounds. When a car stops working, we say that it dies. Finally, if you look at cars through the decades, you can see that the primitive species of car (i.e. Model T) evolved into modern species (i.e. Prius). So why aren't cars alive?

As you suggest, there are a lot of analogies between cars and living things, and if you had used computer programs, there might have been even more. So, if we wish to say that amoeba and such are alive, whereas human artifacts are not, we need to find the relevant differences. There are at least three salient ones that seem relevant to picking out what counts as living (and the proper subject of biology):

1. What they do: Self-replication. All living things can replicate themselves. No artifacts can. Of course, it gets tricky when you consider things like computer viruses. Or future robots that might build robots like them. People also talk about other functions such as metabolism and self-regulation, but they might offer even less clear boundaries between living and non-living.

2. Where they came from: Evolution from a common ancestor. That is, the current (well-supported) theory is that all living things share a common ancestor. No artifacts evolved from living things.

3. What they are made of: Living things are made of organic material, and (related to points 1 and 2), all have RNA or DNA (the ancestral material that allows self-replication). No living things are made of these materials.

Having picked out these three criteria to distinguish living from non-living things, a good philosopher might ask, as you have, why these criteria are important. She might ask whether the complexity or functional properties shared by both a car and a horse or by both a sophisticated robot and a human are more interesting and important than the criteria above. But there is no obvious reason why the words "living" or "life" need to be used to pick out these interesting similarities, nor do these words prevent useful comparisons between living and non-living things.

As you suggest, there are a lot of analogies between cars and living things, and if you had used computer programs, there might have been even more. So, if we wish to say that amoeba and such are alive, whereas human artifacts are not, we need to find the relevant differences . There are at least three salient ones that seem relevant to picking out what counts as living (and the proper subject of biology): 1. What they do: Self-replication. All living things can replicate themselves. No artifacts can. Of course, it gets tricky when you consider things like computer viruses. Or future robots that might build robots like them. People also talk about other functions such as metabolism and self-regulation, but they might offer even less clear boundaries between living and non-living. 2. Where they came from: Evolution from a common ancestor. That is, the current (well-supported) theory is that all living things share a common ancestor. No artifacts evolved from living things. ...