The basic thesis is pretty self explanatory from the title alone; what makes it extra fascinating is that Nagel is an atheist. He argues that evolutionary natural selection has enormous obstacles to overcome in plausibly explaining man’s consciousness, his ability to reason, and his recognition of objective moral values–both in how they can currently exist within its framework of natural and unintelligent processes, and in explaining how they came about at all. These are obstacles that, Nagel argues, naturalistic Darwinism simply hasn’t adequately addressed (yet)–and likely never will. He teases the “secular establishment,” wishing it would
“wean itself of the materialism and Darwinism of the gaps–to adapt one of its own pejorative tabs. I have tried to show that this approach is incapable of providing an adequate account, either constitutive or historical, of our universe.” (127)
He calls the naturalistic materialism of the day “a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense.” (128) Of course, the philosophical contender at the opposite side of the ring is some form of theism, which Nagel also denies as insufficient. He does discuss some of the challenges facing theism, but since the reigning consensus (at least among professional scientists and philosophers) is that of naturalistic materialism, this is where Nagel spends most of his time.
I will readily admit that a good bit of this 128-page book was over my head. Nagel is not writing popular-level philosophy, and I had to read and digest it slowly. But it’s valuable to engage and follow arguments advanced by an intellectual heavyweight, especially from someone outside the fold of theism.
- Plantinga Reviews Mind and Cosmos (str.typepad.com)