The Heretic

Which group is more vicious toward people who dissent from group orthodoxy: religious believers or scientific secularists? I know where I’d put my money.

The Weekly Standard has a profile of one such dissenter: atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel. Though he doesn’t believe in God, he also has the temerity to say that Darwinism isn’t all that:

The neo-Darwinian materialist account offers a picture of the world that is unrecognizable to us—a world without color or sound, and also a world without free will or consciousness or good and evil or selves or, when it comes to that, selflessness. “It flies in the face of common sense,” he [Nagel] says. Materialism is an explanation for a world we don’t live in. 

Nagel’s tone is measured and tentative, but there’s no disguising the book’s renegade quality. There are flashes of exasperation and dismissive impatience. What’s exhilarating is that the source of Nagel’s exasperation is, so to speak, his own tribe: the “secular theoretical establishment and the contemporary enlightened culture which it dominates.” The establishment today, he says, is devoted beyond all reason to a “dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against attacks from religion.” I’m sure Nagel would recoil at the phrase, but Mind and Cosmos is a work of philosophical populism, defending our everyday understanding from the highly implausible worldview of a secular clerisy. His working assumption is, in today’s intellectual climate, radical: If the materialist, neo-Darwinian orthodoxy contradicts common sense, then this is a mark against the orthodoxy, not against common sense. When a chain of reasoning leads us to deny the obvious, we should double-check the chain of reasoning before we give up on the obvious.

A lot of interesting stuff in this piece about the psychology of secular intellectuals and why they choose to believe the things they do, even when those things sound ridiculous. Highly recommended.

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