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Is Darwinist Materialism Wrong? Can We Even Discuss The Question?

Yesterday’s conversation about reaction to Marco Rubio’s comments in a GQ interview brought to mind Thomas Nagel’s new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Have any of you read it?

I’ve been reading the reviews and they…

  1. Hartmann von Aue

    Thanks for being the second person today to draw my attention to this. A friend who is pastoring in South Africa was the first. There is also an article about Aquinas and Nagel in the new issue of First Things. It is unfortunately behind a paywall or I’d link it here. 

  2. Pseudodionysius

    I’ve not yet read Thomas Nagel’s latest, though I have read several of Ed Feser’s blog posts on Nagel and his book, as well as John Haldane’s review in the latest issue of First Things called A Tale of Two Thomases, where he compares and contrasts Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Nagel. Nagel was already quite famous in the analytic philosophy world for his paper What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, so I’m enjoying reading the spittle flecked nutties that the mini me Robespierre’s are having over his latest.

    For that I am thankful.

  3. Pseudodionysius

    Here’s Haldane’s amusing conclusion:

    I hope that Thomas Nagel might yet master his fear of religion and give thought to the possibility that theism could be true, a possibility given some support by his own bold reflections on the inadequacy of scientific materialism. If he does, he might then find himself arguing from the teleological order of nature to the idea that there is such a thing as “the structure of human existence which can serve as a moral reference point.” This, by Rorty’s measure, would place him on the conservative side of the realism/antirealism, natural-law/social-construction debates, and to that extent align him with the Catholic Church and its friends in other ecclesial communities and faiths. It is hard to know who would be most or least amused by this: Rorty, Nagel—or the pope. 

    As Ricochet’s resident InstaPapist, just let me add:

    “Heh.”

  4. Nick Stuart

    The history of science contains numerous examples of people who were severely punished for challenging the established scientific orthodoxies of the day.  Ignaz Semmelweis being my favorite example. Ask yourself why Galileo is the “go to” instead of Semmelweis whenever an example of established dogma squelching science is required.

    Scientific theories that were widely accepted as the “consensus” of their day are on the ash heap of history along with Marxism. Phlogiston Theory for example.

    To Mollie’s question, the last sentence and paragraph simply reveals the closing of the “scientific”  and academic minds. The Darwinists, climate change votaries, and other purveyors of current scientific consensus can’t bear a true debate, so they seek to stifle it.

  5. Edward Smith

    A lawyer from New York State does not travel to California, and expect California law to be exactly the same as New York State law.  Especially in matter of Real Estate Law and Tax Law.  Lawyers know to be flexible, that some law is Universal but much law isn’t.

    People should realize that Science can be like Law.  Much of Science is Universal, but enough of it is not to expect changes, just not as you travel from state to state, but rather from the Present into the Future.

    People, often and especially non-Scientists (the best and most intelligent  of whom know enough not to settle in permanently on one side or the other of  any Scientific Debate) , approach Science (and Evolution) in that lazy way “religious” people approach religion.

    They want to know what The Answer is and not have to think about it again.

    I’ve said this elsewhere:  I really do wish people understood and appreciated both the Strength & Limitations of Science, and the difference between and degree of importance of Science & The Scientific Method.

    You simply cannot have a discussion or debate unless everyone understands What Is At Play.

  6. tabula rasa
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    But I regret the appearance of this book. It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”, who will not be too bothered about the difference between their divine architect and Nagel’s natural providence. It will give ammunition to those triumphalist scientists who pronounce that philosophy is best pensioned off. If there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.

    How about that last sentence? That last paragraph? · · 14 minutes ago

    Can his final argument be thus summarized:  “We can’t allow those savage Theists to have any supporting evidence because the dummies will misuse it.  Oh, and by the way aren’t those Catholics a bunch of troglodytes?”

    And people wonder why the great unwashed find elite opinion so condescending, and thus ignore it.

  7. Mister D
    Nick Stuart: The history of science contains numerous examples of people who were severely punished for challenging the established scientific orthodoxies of the day.  Ignaz Semmelweis being my favorite example. Ask yourself why Galileo is the “go to” instead of Semmelweis whenever an example of established dogma squelching science is required.

    Scientific theories that were widely accepted as the “consensus” of their day are on the ash heap of history along with Marxism. Phlogiston Theory for example.

    To Mollie’s question, the last sentence and paragraph simply reveals the closing of the “scientific”  and academic minds. The Darwinists, climate change votaries, and other purveyors of current scientific consensus can’t bear a true debate, so they seek to stifle it. · 2 minutes ago

    Because Galileo was first, and is a central figure to the establishment of science as a whole? And why is it that Germ Theory, which is pivotal to understanding Semmelweis, has no provisions for God’s role in who lives and dies, and yet never draws criticism from theists who can’t stop criticizing Evolution Theory for the very same thing.

  8. Mister D
    Edward Smith:

    I’ve said this elsewhere:  I really do wish people understood and appreciated both the Strength & Limitations of Science, and the difference between and degree of importance of Science & The Scientific Method.

    You simply cannot have a discussion or debate unless everyone understands What Is At Play. · 4 minutes ago

    Which is why I spend a considerable amount of time on this at the start of every school year, even though it is not in the curriculum. Not sure it is doing any good at all, and false notions (like what a theory is) persist despite my efforts, but I shall never stop fighting the good fight.

  9. Edward Smith

    Germ Theory is a tough one for anyone of Faith.  So is Cancer.  So is Death.

    It challenges the wrong-headed but comforting notion that everything God Created centers around Humanity, and is designed to be of obvious benefit to Humanity.

    My first, best but most easily dismissed answer because it can be seen as flippant is that as the servant of numerous cats, I understand that everything does not center around Humanity, or me.

    My more serious response is that Germs force us to take on Civilized habits like Cleanliness and to appreciate the limits of the products of our Intelligence, especially Antibiotics and Antiviral drugs.  they force us to not pursue “easy” solutions.

    Weeds have a way of doing that too, if you like your lawn or playing golf.

  10. Brian Watt

    I found Blaine E. Crowther’s Amazon 1-star review of the book to be fairly convincing and with a minimum amount of spittle. 

    It’s not difficult to concede the point that the academic community in science can act like bullies (thankfully, the Church never acted that way) but does this negate the evidence for evolution and the other sciences related to evolution and that support it? As the arguments about the scientific evidence continue to get beat down, then the attack is redirected to the proponents and their bullying behavior.

    It seems to me that the desire to infuse teleology into the realm of scientific exploration and study is based on the feeling that humans must be the ultimate expression of a God-designed being just shy of the angelic (and I think even one of those had some fundamental flaws); that the grand evolutionary plan was meant in the end to result in the human race as though the process of evolution has stopped. However, that’s not really the case, is it? The process continues and may some day be curtailed or severely altered by a mass extinction event – a pandemic, an asteroid.

  11. Goldgeller

    I’ll just have to read the reviews and books before I can comment on it at length. But the thread will probably be gone by then! 

    My own feeling regarding materialism– (roughly) the belief that there are only physical objects is that it’s wrong. (It’s a much stronger claim than methodological naturalism.) There is no reason for me to debate darwinism, neo-darwinism, Evo-devo or anything like that. 

    Beyond my belief as “God as creator and sustainer” I don’t have any very strong thoughts on evolution. Darwinism (broadly defined to include all mutation and selection) explains how life changed better than how it started (the RNA world theory, and even the idea that RNA came from crystals isn’t very persuasive to me).

    I don’t ring my hands about it. “Random mutation” is consistent with theism. I’m perfectly happy to follow the science where it goes. It’s strange to think “things mutate, so we don’t need God.” It’s the metaphysical (non)implication of Darwinism that’s wrong. If that metaphysic could be divorced from Darwinism, more people would accept some of its claims. 

  12. John Grier

    This subject QUICKLY becomes an emotional issue.  Caution must be used, and definitions must be agreed to before proceeding so folks remain of an open mind..

    One must be prompt to challenge the premise or hypothesis before it becomes “fact”. 

    ” If the ultimate realists are silent, the unrealists will only be emboldened in their errors”  N.A. Maxwell

  13. Goldgeller
    Brian Watt:

    It seems to me that the desire to infuse teleology into the realm of scientific exploration and study is based on the feeling that humans must be the ultimate expression of a God-designed being just shy of the angelic (and I think even one of those had some fundamental flaws); that the grand evolutionary plan was meant in the end to result in the human race as though the process of evolution has stopped. However, that’s not really the case, is it…· 4 minutes ago

    Edited 3 minutes ago

    I just wonder if you aren’t fusing a few theistic arguments together– the teleological argument has nothing to do with wonder or with God’s plan. The teleological argument says that the complexity in life and/or the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance or design (it’s design). 

    The argument from “wonder” would be a seperate argument– that one can know God directly. 

    It’s not really relevant to either argument whether evolution has continued or stopped.

  14. Valiuth

    Technicaly mass extinctions drive evolution to go faster as populations are isolated, and the gene pool reduced.

  15. Brian Watt
    Goldgeller

    I just wonder if you aren’t fusing a few theistic arguments together– the teleological argument has nothing to do with wonder or with God’s plan. The teleological argument says that the complexity in life and/or the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance or design (it’s design). 

    The argument from “wonder” would be a seperate argument– that one can know God directly. 

    It’s not really relevant to either argument whether evolution has continued or stopped. · 3 minutes ago

    A thing, process, or action is teleological when it is for the sake of an end. Many who wish to apply teleology to science believe that the process of evolution is a process utilized by a designer to deliver a result – the human race as the final stage of the process. Chance doesn’t enter into the teleological argument. Quite the contrary. Processes are directed to an end result.

  16. Brian Watt
    Valiuth: Technicaly mass extinctions drive evolution to go faster as populations are isolated, and the gene pool reduced. · 10 minutes ago

    Correct. And a mass extinction event in the future can have the unfortunate effect of eliminating the human species altogether.

  17. Schrodinger

    I have read the first section of the book. It is not easy reading as his arguments are heavily logical and philosophical. As a Christian, I am prone to agree with his conclusions, which are, if I understand him correctly, that science is more supportive of theism than naturalism.

  18. Pseudodionysius

    A thing, process, or action is teleological when it is for the sake of an end. 

    As NRO columnist Ed Feser tirelessly points out, A-T causation has four causes rather than two causes. Modern material reductionists don’t understand the difference:

    Hence, while Sober says that he “do[es] not reject teleology wholesale” as long as there are “causal underpinnings for… teleological statements” — that is to say, as long as claims about teleology or final causality can be cashed out in terms of claims about patterns of efficient causation — what he does not see is that the whole point, from the Aristotelian-Scholastic point of view, is that the latter sort of claim, claims about efficient causation, themselves presuppose finality or teleology.  For without finality or teleology there is no way for there to be efficient causal regularities in the first place.  Reducing some instance of teleology to efficient causality, then, merely puts off the inevitable, because the efficient causality will itself have to be explained in teleological terms.

  19. Pseudodionysius

    Ed Feser’s review in First Things magazine Aristotle, Call Your Office — which highlighted the positive aspects of the book and then his more critical blog posts are here: Part I, Part II and Part III.  

  20. Pseudodionysius

     It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”

    I’m not sure why this bothers the reviewer since clearly those feelings of comfort are but the firing of neurons through completely physical processes with no independent guiding intelligence or non material consciousness.

    Silly rabbit.

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