Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thomas Nagel: The Hated Atheist who Broke Rank

NYU Professor of Philosophy and avowed atheist, Thomas Nagel, is 75 years of age and has taught for the past 50 years. Perhaps this helps to explain his courage in bucking the evolution establishment:

  • For a long time I have found the materialist account [that the world consists of nothing more than molecules in motion] of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how evolutionary process works. The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes…The current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense. (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 5)
Indeed, common sense would argue against the notion that the universe and all of its incredible design features sprang forth uncaused out of nothing. We just don’t see those kinds of things happening today. Besides, uncaused and unexplainable phenomena represent a denial of the scientific enterprise, which understandably assumes that understanding is possible.

This book is clearly a threat to “the current orthodoxy.” Harvard psychologist and Darwinian Steven Pinker dismissed the book as “the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.” Pinker’s assumption is that if you violate this orthodoxy or even call it into question, then you call into question your own rationality. The Guardian named Mind and Cosmos the “most despised science book of 2012.”

Nagel regards materialism as reductionistic – it reduces reality and causation, without the support of science or reason, to no more than energy and matter. However, he doubly makes himself a pariah by also challenging the theory of evolution:

  • The process of natural selection cannot account for the actual history [of species] without an adequate supply of viable mutations, and I believe it remains an open question whether this could have been provided in geological time merely as a result of chemical accident, without the operation of some other factors determining and restricting the forms of genetic variation…With regard to the origin of life, the problem is much harder, since the options of natural selection as an explanation is not available. And the coming into existence of the genetic code – an arbitrary mapping of nucleotide sequences into amino acids, together with mechanisms that can read the code and carry out its instructions – seems particularly resistant to being revealed as probable given physical law alone. (9-10)
However, what Nagel says about intelligent design (ID) theorists – the enemy - represents the unpardonable sin in the eyes of the evolutionist:

  • They [IDers] do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair. (10)
Nevertheless, Nagel reluctantly rejects ID. I write “reluctantly” because the basis of his rejection is insubstantial and not on par with his rejection of evolution:

  • I confess to an ungrounded assumption of my own, in not finding it possible to regard the design alternative as a real option. I lack the sensus divinitatis that enables – indeed compels – so many people to see in the world the expression of divine purpose… (12)
Nagel’s queer hesitation about ID seems to coincide with Jesus’ words:
  • "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
Reason alone will not bring us to the Father. Salvation requires supernatural intervention. We must be born from above. Let’s pray for Nagel!

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