Toe the line on evolution or else

Thomas-Nagel (1)Mind and the Cosmos


Philosopher Thomas Nagel, who made a serious challenge to materialism in his book Mind and Cosmos,1 is still the focus of heated debate.

At a gathering of philosophers and scientists that included Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, a workshop on naturalism turned into an all-out attack on Nagel, a Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University.

Nagel’s claim that materialists’ conception of nature is wrong was too much for the workshop participants, according to Andrew Ferguson, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

In an article titled ‘The Heretic’, Ferguson discussed what happened in the workshop and also considered why Nagel’s book so angered his critics.2

His report is challenging reading, he asks probing questions of his own about materialism in general while sometimes poking fun at philosophers and scientists.
Ferguson is taken by what he sees as Nagel’s challenging approach:
His working assumption is, in today’s intellectual climate, radical: If the materialist, neo-Darwinian orthodoxy contradicts common sense, then this is a mark against the orthodoxy, not against common sense. When a chain of reasoning leads us to deny the obvious, we should double-check the chain of reasoning before we give up on the obvious.
Tellingly, Ferguson points out:
Nagel’s touchier critics have accused him of launching an assault on science, when really it is an assault on the nonscientific uses to which materialism has been put.

And this observation would not have won Ferguson any friends in the Dennett-Dawkins camp:
Applied beyond its own usefulness as a scientific methodology, materialism is, as Nagel suggests, self-evidently absurd. Mind and Cosmos can be read as an extended paraphrase of Orwell’s famous insult: ‘One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool’.
It’s clear from what Ferguson wrote and the objections raised by Darwin defenders worldwide that, even if you’re part of the evolutionary in-crowd—whether academic, scientist or philosopher—you must unquestioningly toe the line.
Extracted by an article by Warren Nunn

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