Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Church of Materialism

“If there were a philosophical Vatican,” Simon Blackburn declared in the New Statesman, “the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.”

The Book? Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel. The rub? Nagel, an avowed atheist and a professor of philosophy and of law at New York University with terrific standing in the scientific community, suggests that “the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false,” and offers thoughtful reasons to believe that the non-material dimensions of life—consciousness, reason, moral value, subjective experience—cannot be reduced to, or explained by, its material dimensions. While “there is really no reason to assume that the only alternative to an evolutionary explanation of everything is a religious one,” he writes, “this may not be comforting enough” for the materialist establishment, which may find it impossible to tolerate also “any cosmic order of which mind is an irreducible and non-accidental part.”

"Comforting enough?" The establishment has gone nuts.  "The shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker." (Pinker)  "A bad book like this, by philosopher with a good name, gives philosophers in general a bad name." (Alwin)  "..will certainly lend comfort (and sell a lot of copies) to the religious enemies of Darwinism." ----the financial motive dismissal (Dupres)  "No one could possibly think he has shown that a massively successful scientific research program like the one inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.."---no kidding (Leiter and Weisberg)

In The New York Review of Books, H. Allen Orr concedes that it is not at all obvious how consciousness could have originated out of matter. He then cites Colin McGinn’s suggestion that our “cognitive limitations” may prevent us from grasping the evolution of mind from matter: “even if matter does give rise to mind, we might not be able to understand how.” Soooooo.....we should accept materialistic explanation on ....what? You guessed it: Faith! A solution as old as man to the God problem now must be applied to the materialism problem.

There is a lot of wonderfully ironic stuff here as you go through the responses to this book. The reviews are painful cries of tortured men. And there is no answer evident. But it is enlightening to see supposed "outside the box" thinkers congeal into a regiment and walk in lockstep as soon as possible. And heaven--or materialism--help you if you transgress the dogma.

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