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A Darwinist Mob Goes After a Serious Philosopher BY LEON WIESELTIER Is there a greater gesture of intellectual contempt than the

notion that a tweet constitutes an adequate intervention in a serious discussion? But when Thomas N agel s formidable book Mind and Cosmos recently appeared, in which he has the impu dence to suggest that the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almos t certainly false, and to offer thoughtful reasons to believe that the non-materi al dimensions of life consciousness, reason, moral value, subjective experience cann ot be reduced to, or explained as having evolved tidily from, its material dimen sions, Steven Pinker took to Twitter and haughtily ruled that it was the shoddy r easoning of a once-great thinker. Fuck him, he explained. Here was a signal to the Darwinist dittoheads that a mob needed to be formed. In an earlier book Nagel had dared to complain of Darwinist imperialism, though in h is scrupulous way he added that there is really no reason to assume that the only alternative to an evolutionary explanation of everything is a religious one. He is not, God forbid, a theist. But he went on to warn that this may not be comfor ting enough for the materialist establishment, which may find it impossible to to lerate also any cosmic order of which mind is an irreducible and non-accidental p art. For the bargain-basement atheism of our day, it is not enough that there be no God: there must be only matter. Now Nagel s new book fulfills his old warning. A mob is indeed forming, a mob of materialists, of free-thinking inquisitors. In the present climate of a dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on sp eculative Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the tee th against religion, Nagel calmly writes, ... I would like to extend the boundarie s of what is not regarded as unthinkable, in light of how little we really under stand about the world. This cannot be allowed! And so the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Secular Faith sprang into action. If there were a philosophi cal Vatican, Simon Blackburn declared in the New Statesman, the book would be a go od candidate for going on to the Index. I hope that one day he regrets that sente nce. It is not what Bruno, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Voltaire, Hume, Locke, Kan t, and the other victims of the anti-philosophical Vatican had in mind. I understand that nobody is going to burn Nagel s book or ban it. These inquisitor s are just more professors. But he is being denounced not merely for being wrong . He is being denounced also for being heretical. I thought heresy was heroic. I guess it is heroic only when it dissents from a doctrine with which I disagree. Actually, the defense of heresy has nothing to do with its content and everythi ng to do with its right. Tolerance is not a refutation of heresy, but a retireme nt of the concept. I am not suggesting that there is anything outrageous about t he criticism of Nagel s theory of the explanatory limitations of Darwinism. He aim ed to provoke and he provoked. His troublemaking book has sparked the most excit ing disputation in many years, because no question is more primary than the ques tion of whether materialism (which Nagel defines as the view that only the physic al world is irreducibly real ) is true or false. And so scientists are busily animadverting on Nagel s account of science. They lik e to note condescendingly that he calls himself a layman. Yet too many of Nagel s in terlocutors have been scientists, because Mind and Cosmos is not a work of scien ce. It is a work of philosophy; and it is entirely typical of the scientistic ty ranny in American intellectual life that scientists have been invited to do the work of philosophers. The problem of the limits of science is not a scientific p roblem. It is also pertinent to note that the history of science is a history of mistakes, and so the dogmatism of scientists is especially rich. A few of Nagel s scientific critics have been respectful: in The New York Review of Books, H. Al len Orr has the decency to concede that it is not at all obvious how consciousne ss could have originated out of matter. But he then proceeds to an almost comic

evasion. Finally, he says, we must suffice with the mysteriousness of consciousne ss. A Darwinii mysterium tremendum! He then cites Colin McGinn s entirely unironic suggestion that our cognitive limitations may prevent us from grasping the evoluti on of mind from matter: even if matter does give rise to mind, we might not be ab le to understand how. Students of religion will recognize the dodge it used to be c alled fideism, and atheists gleefully ridiculed it; and the expedient suspension of rational argument; and the double standard. What once vitiated godfulness no w vindicates godlessness. The most shabby aspect of the attack on Nagel s heterodoxy has been its political motive. His book will be an instrument of mischief, it will lend comfort (and sell a lot of copies) to the religious enemies of Darwinism, and so on. It is bad for the left s own culture war. Whose side is he on, anyway? Almost taunting the mater ialist left, which teaches skepticism but not self-skepticism, Nagel, who does n ot subscribe to intelligent design, describes some of its proponents as iconoclas ts who do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. I find this delic ious, because it defies the prevailing regimentation of opinion and exemplifies a rebellious willingness to go wherever the reasoning mind leads. Cui bono? is n ot the first question that an intellectual should ask. The provenance of an idea reveals nothing about its veracity. Accept the truth from whoever utters it, said the rabbis, those poor benighted souls who had the misfortune to have lived so many centuries before Dennett and Dawkins. I like Nagel s mind and I like Nagel s co smos. He thinks strictly but not imperiously, and in grateful view of the full t remendousness of existence; and he denies matter nothing except the subjection o f mind; and he speaks, by example, for the soulfulness of reason.

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112481/darwinist-mob-goes-after-serious-philo sopher#