The greatest utility man ever possessed, perhaps aside from the discovery of mayonnaise and sandwiches, is the ability to think. That is, you and I possess the power, if not neglected, to realize that it’s not a virtue to just lay down on the couch and watch TV while scrolling down to Facebook when you have bills to pay! That is, when you have to work! You and I can recognize that a triangle has three sides, and that Pokemon was a dominant, if not the most dominant, cartoon series or video game the Millennials ever encountered.
Okay, honestly, I’m not sure about the last point! But you can set that aside, if you won’t allow that to sink in, lest we miss the point of the last paragraph, that is, our ability to think.
So the question this piece of writing is asking, must be, how did we get that ability though?
There are two popular answers. And the two answers are mutually exclusive! That is, it would be hard to reconcile if you both adopt the two answers as true. And please be reminded, Pokemon has nothing to do with it!
One answer is Darwinian evolution and the other is creation (i.e., design).
This piece of work, though trying to do justice, in no way can do that by truncated space. Let the reader alone, yes you, do the job of going in depth with the two answers.
Nevertheless, let’s take the first one. That is Darwinian evolution. So the question must be raised: does it account for our ability to think? Well, many people think so! Retired zoologist Richard Dawkins made a bold statement in his infamous book The Blind Watchmaker, which made an uproar when it was first released, that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist“ (6).
Bold eh? Of course, but what does Darwin say about that? Darwin in his letter to sociologist William Graham, made an astonishing comment that may provoke us to pause and think thoroughly what Dawkins previously said. The comment was strikingly amusing how honest Darwin was if his theory turns out to be empirically true. This what he said:
With me the horrid doubt arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? (“Letter to William Graham Down,” 3 July 1881)
Let us restate his question: “Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” Ooops! I think nobody can overstate that question with more sarcasm than Darwin himself!
Francis Crick, who won the Nobel Prize along with James Watson upon discovering the structure of the DNA molecule back in 1953, nevertheless expressed a nothing-more-clearer statement than this: “Our highly developed brains, after all, were not evolved under the pressure of discovering scientific truths but only to enable us to be clever enough to survive” (The Astonishing Hypothesis).
All this proves is that Darwinian theory is antithetical to scientific endeavor that presupposes the discovery of truth, let alone the discovery of mayonnaise and sandwiches, which may be considered one of the greatest discoveries of science and dietetics!
What about the second answer? Yes, creation, i.e., design. Is it more plausible than the former?
Since I am currently reading René Descartes’ (1596-1650) works, I believe it would do no harm to inquire what must he have said, that in no way can be neglected by anyone studying philosophy, for he is no other than, but known and attributed as the father of modernism. Among his writings were Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences and Meditations on First Philosophy. Yes, I admit the former had a long title! And Descartes even warned “those who imagine that they can master in a day all that another has taken twenty years to think out.” Yes, he warned his readers lest they might misrepresent his views, which took him several years to develop. But this doesn’t mean that we cannot recognize what he meant from what he have said when he laid it our clearly, although I admit that capturing Descartes’ philosophy with justice is a tedious task.
Descartes’ motivation in his philosophy was his pursuit of rational certainty. That is, he was seeking that which is/are certain in the means by which there will be no room for doubt, viz., to “singly to find ground of assurance” with his beliefs that “exclude[s] all ground of doubt.” He was looking for mathematical certainty or that which is indubitable.
Now, is that even possible? Descartes said yes. If then, how is he going to do that?
By reason alone! That is, no other than the mind, viz., reason. That’s why he was referred to be the one how started Rationalism, the view that holds that only reason alone can arrive us to the truth. It’s the same view that says we cannot trust our senses, that is, as Descartes said “our desires and preceptors (whose dictates were frequently conflicting, while neither perhaps always counseled us for the best).” Thus, next time, when somebody sees a dress, and claims that the dress is dark-blue, while the other protests it to be purple, and another contends it to be gold, then remember our guy – René Descartes. He must be laughing!
So he was known by his methodic doubt (viz., universal doubt) – doubt everything until you can no longer doubt because it’s already certain, that is, mathematically certain, or rationally certain. He even doubted his own existence! I know that’s weird because nobody among us bothers to pause and rethink his own existence.
But then he arrived to something, for goodness sake, to something he can no longer doubt, to something absolutely certain, to something indubitable, and that is – he cannot doubt that he is doubting. In other words he cannot doubt that he is thinking. This kind of certainty, of course, led him to conclude that he cannot doubt his own existence, because you can only doubt or think, if you already exist! Thus he made a statement that made the foundation of his philosophy: “I think, therefore I am.”
The “I” or the self that Descartes was referring, he argued, was distinct from the body, and recognized it as the soul. But he nevertheless aware of it as imperfect by the reality of it majoring a lot of doubts. Thus, seeing the imperfection (the tendency to doubt, rather than to know with certainty) of the self, his reasoning led him to believe that there must be someone more perfect than the self, who endows thought (the ability to know) to the self, which he identified as God:
- “God has endowed each of us with some light of reason by which to distinguish truth from error,” (from Part 3 of his Discourse)
- “with no other principle upon which to found my reasonings except the infinite perfection of God,” (from Part 5 of his Discourse)
Although Descartes philosophy, by in large, is not free from controversies and criticisms. Nevertheless, we can recognize that the ability to think cannot come from ourselves, or from nothing, nor from nature, but from a perfect thinking Being – God!
But wait, cannot God use Darwinian evolution for us to have the ability to think?
No! But why?
Charles Hodge cannot make it even clearer, when he published and essay asking “What is Darwinism?” And he nonetheless answered comparably that Darwinism is tantamount to atheism: “Natural selection is a selection made by natural laws, working without intention and design,” and he goes on to say, “[and] the denial of design in nature is virtually the denial of God” (What Is Darwinism? And Other Writings on Science and Religion, 1994).
So to conclude: Our ability to think is, a plausible argument that God exists, or in the words of C. S. Lewis, “the little tell-tale rift in Nature which shows that there is something beyond or behind her” (Miracles).
 This is not to deny that some people advocate natural selection as non-random (e.g. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, etc.).