February 27th, 2013
Reblogged from David Klinghoffer.
Congratulations are in order. Columnist Mark Vernon in The Guardian has honored Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False with his annual Most Despised Science Book award. By that, Vernon means the book that most attracted the ire of the scientifically orthodox by violating cherished taboos — a good thing, in other words:
Steven Pinker damned it with faint praise when he described it in a tweet as “the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.” Jerry Coyne blogged: “Nagel goes the way of Alvin Plantinga,” which is like being compared to Nick Clegg. All in all, Nagel’s gadfly stung and whipped them into a fury.Disparagement is particularly unfair, though, because the book is a model of carefulness, sobriety and reason. If reading Sheldrake feels daring, Tallis thrilling and Fodor worthwhile but hard work, reading Nagel feels like opening the door on to a tidy, sunny room that you didn’t know existed.
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February 11th, 2013
The following originally appeared in The New York Times by Jennifer Schuessler.
In 1974 Thomas Nagel published “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?,” a short essay arguing that the subjective experience of consciousness — what philosophers call the “qualia” — could not be fully reduced to the physical aspects of the brain.
That essay framed a landmark challenge to the materialist view of the mind that was then prevailing and helped cement Mr. Nagel’s reputation as one of the most incisive and imaginative of contemporary philosophers.
But since the late October release of his latest book, “Mind and Cosmos,” reviewers have given Mr. Nagel ample cause to ponder another question: What is it like to be an eminent (and avowedly atheist) philosopher accused of giving aid and comfort to creationist enemies of science?
Advocates of intelligent design have certainly been enthusiastic, with the Discovery Institute crowing about Mr. Nagel’s supposed “deconversion” from Darwinism. The book, subtitled “Why the Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False,” has also drawn appreciative notice from conservative publications that might normally disdainMr. Nagel’s liberal writings in moral and political philosophy.
The response from scientists and most of his fellow philosophers, however, has ranged from deeply skeptical to scorching.
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June 22nd, 2012
This is the subtitle to a new book, Mind and Cosmos, by Thomas Nagel with Oxford University Press. Nagel is a materialist, not a theist or creationist. You’ve probably heard of his famous 1974 paper, “What is it Like to be a Bat?” Many atheist philosophers are starting to doubt the Darwinian paradigm. For instance, atheist philosopher of science Bradley Monton has written extensively on intelligent design while promoting it as an atheist. Here’s the description of the new book given by Oxford University Press:
The modern materialist approach to life has utterly failed to explain such central features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, or value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.
In Mind and Cosmos, Nagel provides an insightful analysis of the Darwinian world view, offering a perspective quite different from that found in such books as Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker. What we know about how mind and everything connected with it depends today on our ideas about the origin and spread of living organisms as a result of the universe’s evolution. But Nagel states that “it is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection.” What is the likelihood that self-reproducing life forms should have come into existence spontaneously? What is the likelihood that, as a result of physical accident, a sequence of viable genetic mutations should have occurred that was sufficient to permit natural selection? Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. He does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic.
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