Andrew Ferguson informs and amuses at The Weekly Standard about that other orthodoxy in, “The Heretic: Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him?”
It is longish, but I liked it and for possibly unnatural reasons, thought some of you might like it, too. I think it is good, but have no scientific or material reason for thinking it is. I promise that statement will make sense if you read the whole thing.
Here is a piece I like:
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.” Materialism can only be taken seriously as a philosophy through a heroic feat of cognitive dissonance; pretending, in our abstract, intellectual life, that values like truth and goodness have no objective content even as, in our private life, we try to learn what’s really true and behave in a way we know to be good. Nagel has sealed his ostracism from the intelligentsia by idly speculating why his fellow intellectuals would undertake such a feat.
‘The priority given to evolutionary naturalism in the face of its implausible conclusions,’ he writes, ‘is due, I think, to the secular consensus that this is the only form of external understanding of ourselves that provides an alternative to theism.’”
If the whole landscape of the human mind is really inexplicable by science, that puts certain scientists in a terrible bind. Some deny the mind has such scope, but must have to deny themselves, their own minds and complex thoughts, in order to do so. Now they are absolute atheists. Then there are those who say, “Not God, please, anything but God.”
The positive mission Nagel undertakes in Mind and Cosmos is to outline, cautiously, a possible Third Way between theism and materialism, given that the first is unacceptable—emotionally, if not intellectually—and the second is untenable. Perhaps matter itself has a bias toward producing conscious creatures. Nature in that case would be “teleological”—not random, not fully subject to chance, but tending toward a particular end. Our mental life would be accounted for—phew!—without reference to God.
Hat tip to one of my heroes, Joseph Knippenberg.