W. Allen Orr reviews Thomas Nagel’s recent Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False in the NYRB . Orr sums up Nagel’s assault on neo-Darwinian reductionism this way:

“Nagel insists that the mind-body problem ‘is not just a local problem’ but ‘invades our understanding of the entire cosmos and its history.’ If what he calls ‘materialist naturalism’ or just ‘materialism’ can’t explain consciousness, then it can’t fully account for life since consciousness is a feature of life. And if it can’t explain life, then it can’t fully account for the chemical and physical universe since life is a feature of that universe. Subjective experience is not, to Nagel, some detail that materialist science can hand-wave away. It’s a deal breaker. Nagel believes that any future science that grapples seriously with the mind-body problem will be one that is radically reconceived.” In place of mutation and natural selection, Nagel points to “teleology” as the basis of a new science, the universe’s “tendency of the universe to aim for certain goals as it unfolds through time.”

Nagel remains an atheist, and he doesn’t convince Orr by Nagel’s critiques of Darwinism or his claim that consciousness is an unsurmountable obstacle to materialism. But something remarkable is going on when a review of a book by a major contemporary philosopher has to include the disclaimer “before creationists grow too excited.”

More on: Philosophy, Science

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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