I picked up a newspaper in my Canadian hotel last Saturday morning. Don’t think I’ve done that for a few years, but as I wrestled with the unwieldy broadsheet, the buttered pages and the inky hands brought back a lot of memories.
It was The National Post and the only reason I chose it over my iPhone was the headline “Evolution’s Revolution: How a leading atheist philosopher became an intellectual outcast for daring to question Darwinism.”
The philosopher in question is the world-renowned Thomas Nagel, philosophy professor at New York University, and his unforgivable sin is arguing in his latest book, Mind & Cosmos, that the evolutionary view of nature is false.
The article describes the “vicious reception” his book has received and how “grand forces of darkness have descended upon him…His deep skepticism about evolution’s explanatory power, illustrates the perils of raising arguments against intellectual orthodoxy.” Fellow professors have sneeringly questioned his sanity, called him “the most hated man in science,” and some in Britain have even awarded him the booby prize of “Most Despised Science Book.”
Laughable ideological theory
Nagel is not a Christian; he’s not even a theist; in fact he’s not even a supporter of intelligent design. He’s a convinced atheist, yet one with serious questions about evolutionary theory. He says it is “ripe for displacement” and represents “a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense,” which will be seen as “laughable” in a couple of generations.” His argument goes something like this:
1. The more we learn about life, the more central mind and consciousness become, and the less believable evolution gets.
2. Evolution’s main flaw is its failure to account for how consciousness fits into the natural order. Instead, it regards it as an unimportant afterthought, an accidental quirk, no more significant than the mutation that (allegedly) produced eyebrows.
3. The idea that life arose first from accidental chemical reactions in primordial goo and eventually self-created all the wonders of human consciousness “flies in the face of common sense.”
4. The modern evolutionary conception of nature requires about as much unscientific faith as believing Rudyard Kipling’s moralistic Just So stories from 1902.
Engage or denigrate?
It won’t surprise those of us who are creationists that, instead of engaging Nagel’s arguments, evolutionists have preferred to denigrate his intellect, associate him with religious fanatics, and impute motives of publicity seeking (and greed) to his decision to subtitle it: “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.”
The National Post journalist who wrote the story, Joseph Brean, compares the scientific establishment’s treatment of Nagel to the way they persecute climate-change skeptics:
The impassioned shunning of Prof. Nagel parallels the experience of some climate-change skeptics. By the time it became a political mega-issue a decade ago, environmentalism had come to resemble religion, complete with myths of the Fall and the Apocalypse, pilgrimages, iconography, scripture, prophecies, tithes, and Al Gore as a secular saint.
Now evolutionary science, in its opposition to creationism, is staking out a similar position in the culture wars. Richard Dawkins is emerging as the anti-pope of a New Atheism, whose orthodoxy inspires the brutal treatment of heretics, even as it lures adherents into a simplistic, unreflective, fanciful faith in its own methods.
I greatly admire Nagel’s courage to think outside the box and challenge the scientific orthodoxy of our day. It’s very rare for someone of his stature to take such a career-damaging, reputation-trashing step. One popular magazine profile has him on the front page with “Heretic” emblazoned across it. That’s hard.
I hope and pray that God continues to direct his thoughts away from error and towards the truth. At the moment, he’s still far away from bowing his whole intellect to the Lord and Creator of Mind & Cosmos. Although he rejects many popular explanations for mind and consciousness, and he denies that consciousness is an accidental by-product of evolution, the best he can come up with is that it was somehow written into the universe from the beginning. “Each of our lives is a part of the lengthy process of the universe gradually waking up and becoming aware of itself.”
Although I’m sure he didn’t intend this, Nagel’s book encourages creationists to persevere in challenging the presuppositions, evidences, and faith of evolutionary theory. Let’s not be so quick to try and accomodate the frequent, fleeting, and faulty theories of man. It also challenges us to engage our opponents much more calmly, reasonably, and respectfully than is sometimes the case. Let’s not duplicate the shameful, shrill, reactionary, and mindless browbeating that Nagel’s opponents have dished out when we contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.
You can read a sightly edited version of the newspaper article here.