Darwinism Philosophy

Philosopher Thomas Nagel’s Darwin-doubting book “most despised” of 2012?

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Mark Vernon of The Guardian explains the crimes of Mind & Cosmos and adds:

Disparagement is particularly unfair, though, because the book is a model of carefulness, sobriety and reason. If reading Sheldrake feels daring, Tallis thrilling and Fodor worthwhile but hard work, reading Nagel feels like opening the door on to a tidy, sunny room that you didn’t know existed. It is as if his heart said to his head, I can’t help but feel that materialist reductionism isn’t right. And his head said to his heart, OK: let’s take a fresh look. So what caused the offence?

Several things, but consider one: the contention that evolution may tend towards consciousness. Nagel is explicit that he himself is not countenancing a designer. Rather, he wonders whether science needs to entertain the possibility that a teleological trend is immanent in nature.

But that’s enough to hang him right then and there.

According to James Kushiner at Salvo, it gets way worse:

Nagel sees serious “problems of probability.” Then he commits his second sin:

In thinking about these questions, I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture from a very different direction: the attack on Darwinism mounted in recent years . . . by the defenders of intelligent design. . . . [T]he problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.

It gets worse. Nagel also tells his readers that “the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude.”

Maybe they should hang his laptop too. And his hat.

34 Replies to “Philosopher Thomas Nagel’s Darwin-doubting book “most despised” of 2012?

  1. 1
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Nagel also tells his readers that “the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude.”

    The converse point also holds: that if it weren’t for the intelligent design movement, Nagel’s book wouldn’t have been regarded as a major bomb-shell. The ripple-effects of the movement have really altered how his views are regarded by ‘the republic of letters,’ and now that so much intellectual culture is on-line and hyper-connected, the ripple-effects intensify — one page links to the next, and the next, and . . .

    I don’t think Nagel’s views have really changed since his 1974 “What is like to be a bat?”, which these days is only taught in undergraduate courses in introduction to philosophy and philosophy of mind. (I’ve used it in both courses.) But Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos has had a huge impact. So he ought to be as grateful to you as you are to him!

  2. 2
    Robert Byers says:

    Creationists should be careful about needing others to justify our conclusions.
    We don’t need Nagel! His tip of the hat to ID should have no more force then giving ID a negative salut.
    Its on the merits.
    YEC is confident. ID pretty confident about some things.
    Mr Nagel should articulate clearly who’s right or wrong!
    God and Genesis never was displaced by the ideas and conclusions of obscure small circles in origin research. Its a myth.

    Its up to Nagel to prove evolution is true and a theory of science to boot.
    Its up to Nagel to prove its not obvious complexity is too complex for simple cause and effect.
    Our immune system or the solar system is not a result of unguided accidents.

    We simply need more iD and authors to introduce and persuade the more thoughtful public. The rest will follow easily as usual.
    Don’t give any credit of the coming victory to non creationists.

  3. 3
    groovamos says:

    I have to laugh. Creationism didn’t budge me and millions of others who are now interested the snowballing ID project. I had no interest in the evolution debate way back in 2000, but have given financial support to 3 different ID organizations over the years. I don’t see creationism having a snowball’s chance with influencing the intelligentsia. Plus I myself have gotten skeptical or “on the fence” educated folks to open up at in person conversations and who now follow the debate, and it was the ID stance that I used to do so.

  4. 4
    bpragmatic says:

    This, which was ignored by E. Liddle from another post:

    E. Liddle said:

    “Modelling the expected distribution under some kind of process in which each “draw” is independent from prior “draws” is clearly not a model of Darwinian processes.”

    Bpragmatic responded:

    I don’t believe that in the OOL phase of “evolution”, the laws of physics and chemistry (darwinian processes are beholding to) would be anywhere near as charitable to the material formation requirements as would “independent draws” as you seem to imply with the above statement.

    In fact I would propose that there is a clear cut scientific case for asserting that some sort of guiding intelligence is required to overcome the IMPOSSIBILITY of certain component relationships from developing guideded purely by the laws of physics and chemical reactions.

    Liddles response: NOTHING.

    Why deal with reality questions when you can continue to pull the “discussions” down the rabbit trail to nowhere. Especially when it achieves the personal goals of: ?????

    Lizzy, come clean. You have no clue when it comes to applying your alleged “expertise” regarding probabilities and mathematical conclusions towards requirements of OOL.

    I know that if you don not respond to my statements, it might be because you think you have “bigger fish to fry”. I really dont know. But, if you can respond to this post in a way that scietifically supports your position, I am looking forward to that.

    I hope your sink is clean.

    Another question:
    Can the paid nde propoganda machine come up with some one who can really demonstrate valid arguable positions on these issues?

  5. 5

    bpragmatic: I do not scour all threads posted here for responses requiring replies, and if there are a lot of comments, then yours may drop off the recent comments list. Or I may simply miss the comment.

    I have in fact replied on the other thread:

    News: I agree that the ID community owes Nagel some gratitude. I think he has made by far the best argument for a teleological process at work in the universe that I have read.

    I think it is flawed, fundamentally, but I think it is a decent argument.

  6. 6
    Axel says:

    Anyone would think you people were pushy, would-be iconoclasts, instead of the sole legitimate scientific establishment, sharing the world-view of the great paradigm-changers (Einstein, Planck, Bohr, Godel et al), upon which modern science bases itself; utterly surrealy, an establishment, usurped by the Darwinist nit-wits BEFORE those giants of the modern scientific age gave us the foundations of modern science, AND NEVER RESTORED!!!!

  7. 7
    News says:

    groovamos, from O’Leary: Everyone now knows that Darwinism, adn its parent materialism, are ridiculous, but for some people they are the only possible position. Those people would abandon the follies in an instant if they could just come up with a reliably non-theistic alternative. Meantime, the public face of Darwinism is dominated by anti-religious fanatics and self-condemned trolls. That is a key reason we can dispense with any notion that Darwinism is some kind of a science. A real science offers few attractions for such types. And trolls corrupt everything they toss anyway.

  8. 8

    Denyse:

    Everyone now knows that Darwinism, an its parent materialism, are ridiculous, but for some people it is the only possible position. They would abandon the follies in an instant if they could just come up with a reliably non-theistic alternative. Meantime, the public face of Darwinism is dominated by anti-religious fanatics and self-condemned trolls. That is a key reason we can dispense with any notion that it is some kind of a science. a real science offers few attractions for such types.

    Do you seriously believe that this is true?

  9. 9
    Axel says:

    ‘They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.’

    Unfair? It’s not a question of being unfair. It’s hilarious. Like the contempt Hitler and other tyrants had/have for any moral boundaries, as if they were the arbiters of truth! And what they found funny must be funny.

    Like amateur comedians and pros. It’s said that he amateur thinks its funny for a man to dress up as an old woman and hurtle down a hill into a stone wall. The pro only thinks it’s funny if it’s a real, old woman. The Consensus are professional comedians.

    Incidentally, it doesn’t take a feat of exegesis to discern that Einstein and Planck were all too well aware that their atheist confreres were dummies, and it looked highly unlikely that they would live to see them put in their place.

    As Planck scornfully put it: ‘Science advances one funeral at a time.’ It seems a major culling is necessary at this stage, and science is, itself, proving to be the engine of it.

    I think this article might have been published here:

    http://chronicle.com/article/T.....st/140019/

  10. 10
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Do you seriously believe that this is true?

    Elizabeth, of course Denyse seriously believes what she wrote in (7)! Everyone here believes that — that is the whole attitude of the ID movement!

  11. 11

    If so – or even if partly the case – that is very interesting.

    I’ve never seen it so nakedly put.

    (It is of course, nonsense.)

  12. 12

    Darwinism and materialism may be ridiculous, but they offer a mental life of no real accountability or self-control for those that adopt them. You can see the appeal. It’s like an in-control political party that spends the government into oblivion buying votes; you know it’s not a good thing and eventually it will have to crash and burn, but who’s going to turn down all the free stuff, entitlements & subsidies?

    Combine that with an entirely misplaced self-perception of intellectual and moral superiority, and you’ve got all of the ingredients for KF’s worst cultural nightmare, which we see unfolding before us, even as the useful idiots keep up their “smiley face” routine, refusing to break ranks for even the most obvious of abuses – as long as it is their side that is on the advantage.

  13. 13
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    In re: 11 — yes, it is a bit more explicit than than the Uncommon Descent mission statement (under “About” at the top).

    I take it that Murray’s (12) is intended as in support of O’Leary’s (7) — that’s how I read it, anyway.

    As for myself, it strikes me as utterly absurd that accepting unguided macroevolution would undermine moral responsibility or self-determination. But we’ve gone around and around on that one already.

  14. 14

    KN:

    Not everyone is capable of high levels of hypocritical sophistry; for most people, the idea that we just invent our own morals, that there is no god or necessary consequences to any behavior, and that pesky “survival of the fittest” meme coupled with “the selfish gene” (even if improperly understood by the masses – like via eugenics, hitler, pol pot, Mao, etc., including Charles “eradication of the lesser races” Darwin) is enough, once adopted, to corrode one’s sense of free will and change one from a spiritual “moral responsibility” behavior to a behavior based on “fitness responsibility”.

    So while a few may be capable of some complex self-deception where they can discard any significant source of moral good, but still behave in a morally good fashion; and dispense with any foundation for free will personal responsibility, but still behave accordingly, most people are not capable of maintaining so profoundly obvious a self-contradiction; to most people, the ramifications of a world without god, necessary moral consequence, or free will cannot help but negatively affect not only their behavior, but the general course of culture if the masses embrace this nihilistic perspective.

  15. 15
    groovamos says:

    Elizabeth: Do you seriously believe that this is true?

    The public face: Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, Barbara Forrest, Daniel Dennett, Eugenie Scott, Sam Harris, (formerly) Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, (formerly) Madelyn Murray.

    Of the above the only person intellectually respectful of religious views (publicly) is Eugenie Scott, because she had a cause to push and knew how to best do her job, which was public relations. Out of my list of eight, 7 against 1 is pretty dominant. I wouldn’t say all of the seven are or were fanatics, obviously some are. They however also are part of the cause, and I would say, pretty obsessed with the cause. And there is no reason to think for a minute that any of the above has not been lovingly devoted to the patron saint naturalist from the 19th century.

  16. 16
    jerry says:

    Some comments on comments”

    Everyone now knows that Darwinism, adn its parent materialism, are ridiculous

    Not true because in my experience few people know it even though Darwinism is a sham.

    for some people they are the only possible position. Those people would abandon the follies in an instant if they could just come up with a reliably non-theistic alternative

    Absolutely true

    Meantime, the public face of Darwinism is dominated by anti-religious fanatics and self-condemned trolls.

    Hyperbole. A lot of the people defending Darwinism are not anti-religious or trolls. They are however seriously misinformed.

    That is a key reason we can dispense with any notion that Darwinism is some kind of a science. A real science offers few attractions for such types.

    Sort of true. The real reason is that Darwinism is not a science is because if fails the scientific process in any form usually considered science.

    And trolls corrupt everything they toss anyway.

    I have no ideas what this means though Darwinism supporters on this site are certainly some of the most illogical/dishonest people I have ever come across.

    I haven’t commented here much in the last couple years but the level of anti-ID comment seems at the same level it was a couple years ago. Generally, vacuous.

    Also some of the pro ID comments are also vacuous.

    Everyone here believes that — that is the whole attitude of the ID movement!

    Nonsense. It is certainly not what everyone who endorses ID is about. It may describe several commenters here but it certainly can not be generalized

    It is of course, nonsense.

    A nonsense statement because under the hyperbole, most of it is true.

    it strikes me as utterly absurd that accepting unguided macroevolution would undermine moral responsibility or self-determination.

    A very general comment but true on certain aspects. I once accepted unguided macro-evolution and have changed my opinion but the change from one state to another never affected my ideas on morals and self-determination.

    I find the most interesting thing about the ID debate is not the actual content but the behavior that goes on. Both sides are guilty of some unusual often very childish behavior that would never be accepted in face to face serious conversation.

  17. 17
    RodW says:

    Lizzie,

    Perhaps this belongs in another thread but I’d be very interested in hearing a summary of why you think Nagel’s teleological arguments are worthwhile.

    Rod

  18. 18
    Kaz says:

    Denyse:

    “Everyone now knows that Darwinism, an its parent materialism, are ridiculous, but for some people it is the only possible position. They would abandon the follies in an instant if they could just come up with a reliably non-theistic alternative. Meantime, the public face of Darwinism is dominated by anti-religious fanatics and self-condemned trolls. That is a key reason we can dispense with any notion that it is some kind of a science. a real science offers few attractions for such types.”

    Elizabeth:

    “Do you seriously believe that this is true?…

    If so – or even if partly the case – that is very interesting.

    I’ve never seen it so nakedly put.

    (It is of course, nonsense.)”

    People seem to be responding to Denyse as though she said only one thing, whereas the paragraph contains a total of six assertions. Moreover, there seems to be at least some truth — perhaps even a great deal of truth — in each of them.

    “Everyone now knows that Darwinism, an its parent materialism, are ridiculous…”

    Ok, “Everyone knows” may be hyperbolic, so replace it with either “Most people think” or “Many people think” and I’d say it’s pretty close to spot on.

    “…but for some people it is the only possible position.”

    There is general truth to that assertion as well. Richard Lewontin observed:

    “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” (See: http://www.drjbloom.com/Public.....Review.htm)

    (Parenthetic observation: If you rule out inference to intelligent causation as a precondition for doing science, then the only consensus you will be able to reach, as a scientist, is one that doesn’t include inference to intelligent causation. This ultimately means that appealing to the “consensus” as evidence in favor of the theory of evolution is circular.)

    “… They would abandon the follies in an instant if they could just come up with a reliably non-theistic alternative.”

    I think that’s partially true, i.e. many would abandon Neo-Darwinsim (albeit most would do so ever so diplomatically) if something more plausible were available, but it’s pretty much the only game in town for explaining macro-evolutionary change without resorting to intelligent causation, which is conflated with “God”, which can’t be appealed to while speaking as a scientist. But as long as intelligent causation is ruled out as a precondition for doing science, people will continue to defend Neo-Darwinism until a viable alternative is available.

    “…Meantime, the public face of Darwinism is dominated by anti-religious fanatics and self-condemned trolls.”

    Again, perhaps a tad hyperbolic, but as a general description of an all-too-common attitude, I think it’s spot on. Just hop over to Amazon and read some of the comments made in response to the positive reviews. The behavior of many ID opponents is downright unseemly. There are several trolls who apparently feel the need to offer argument in response to nearly every positive review! I’d say “Get a life”, but for trolls starting arguments is their life.

    “That is a key reason we can dispense with any notion that it is some kind of a science. a real science offers few attractions for such types.”

    The religious and anti-religious zeal with which Darwinism is defended has been part of the dialogue since the very beginning. Advocates and critics alike have often sounded more like apologists than like scientists.

    Now, Stephen Meyer would disagree that Darwinism isn’t science, and in fact he often talks about how his own arguments vis a vis OOL is based on the very same methods of reasoning that Darwin himself employed. Still, there does seem to be something very different about Darwinism in that it seems to inspire the worst in many people. That in itself doesn’t mean that Darwinism isn’t science, but it does show that the acceptance and promotion of it often involves something else. Theists and atheists will likely reach different conclusions about what that something else is, but it isn’t science.

  19. 19
    Kaz says:

    I had said:

    “Again, perhaps a tad hyperbolic, but as a general description of an all-too-common attitude, I think it’s spot on. Just hop over to Amazon and read some of the comments made in response to the positive reviews.”

    I forgot to mention, the book that has trolls hounding reviewers is Darwin’s Doubt.

  20. 20
    jerry says:

    “I forgot to mention, the book that has trolls hounding reviewers is Darwin’s Doubt.”

    Interesting because the book is a giant literature review. I am about 85% finished. Why would the trolls be upset over a literature review. I know it is a literature review with a point of view but it is essentially a review of published stuff organized in a way that many will not like.

    My initial assessment was that Darwin’s Doiubt was nothing new but an excellent rehash of the anti-Darwinian position. That is not true now as I have gotten further into the book. Meyer has provided some things that I was completely unaware of. Namely, that most of the information in the process of forming a new organism is not in the genome but in various forms of epigenetic information which is incredibly complex. It is there that changes have to take place, not necessarily in the DNA.

    A couple of chapters are very technical and will take some time to understand fully. The debate is off in a new direction, one that seems a little more fuzzy because the science of it is just beginning.

  21. 21

    Kaz:

    People seem to be responding to Denyse as though she said only one thing, whereas the paragraph contains a total of six assertions.

    She did.

    1. Everyone now knows that Darwinism, adn its parent materialism, are ridiculous,

    Well, no, they don’t. The vast majority of people who have a view on “Darwinism” don’t think it “ridiculous”, and as for materialism – well I know a few people who think it’s “ridiculous” but a vast number who don’t. And for scientists, of course, “materialism” or “naturalism” is built into the methodology – doesn’t mean you can’t be religious too, and many are.

    2. but for some people they are the only possible position.

    This is possibly true, for some meanings of “Darwinism”, and some meanings of “materialism”. But for scientists, all conclusions are provisional.

    3. Those people would abandon the follies in an instant if they could just come up with a reliably non-theistic alternative.

    Well, no. If they consider those two the “only possible position, then they aren’t going to abandon them at all, let alone, “in an instant”. However, if, like most people who hold those views, they hold them provisionally, I expect yes, they probably would change their view if a well-founded alternative was presented.

    4. Meantime, the public face of Darwinism is dominated by anti-religious fanatics and self-condemned trolls.

    I’m not sure what “the public face of Darwinism” is, but my encounter with Darwinism has mostly been in science text books, lessons, and documentaries, some written by religious people, including priests and theologians, and none by trolls.

    5. That is a key reason we can dispense with any notion that Darwinism is some kind of a science.

    This is a non-sequitur. You evaluate a science on the degree to which it explains current data and predicts new data, not on what you think of “anti-religious fanatics and trolls”.

    6. A real science offers few attractions for such types.

    All science offers attractions for strange people. Science is fascinating.

    7. And trolls corrupt everything they toss anyway.

    Only if anyone pays any attention.

  22. 22
  23. 23

    Rod:

    Lizzie,

    Perhaps this belongs in another thread but I’d be very interested in hearing a summary of why you think Nagel’s teleological arguments are worthwhile.

    Rod

    Absolutely it belongs in this thread! More than other comments I think 🙂

    I’ve had a review half drafted for a while. I might get it finished this weekend, and I’ll try to remember to post a link here. Otherwise, try TSZ

  24. 24
    Mark Frank says:

    Jerry #16

    I find the most interesting thing about the ID debate is not the actual content but the behavior that goes on. Both sides are guilty of some unusual often very childish behavior that would never be accepted in face to face serious conversation.

    This is a feature of nearly all internet debate. I actually think that the ID debate is slightly better than most. Try sampling the debate on gun control!

    What is interesting is how to change the nature of the debate to what Habermas would call communicative action i.e. mutual respect, constructive criticism, reasoned arguments etc.

  25. 25
    Joe says:

    LoL! Lizzie’s view of Darwinism differs from evolutionary biologists’ view of Darwinism.

    And we are still waiting for the predictions borne from Darwinism…

  26. 26
    jerry says:

    Mark,

    communicative action i.e. mutual respect, constructive criticism, reasoned arguments etc.

    I used to comment here quite frequently for about 4 years. During that time I only witnessed one anti-ID person who exhibited those characteristics. That was great_ape. He then stopped commenting here about 5 years ago. He was an evolutionary biologist who was raised in an evangelical household. UD lost a major benefactor when great_ape stopped commenting.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-323951

    I laugh at those who defend scientists as honest assessors of the information. They are wed to political correctness or ideology as much or more so than any group that needs their funding or personal approval from an outside source, maybe more so.

    I actually think that the ID debate is slightly better than most.

    I agree but it takes a lot of self control on the moderators here to get that far. I have seen a few sites where the moderators make a good effort to control the comments so that they do not restrict substance but will eliminate ad hominems or other bad behavior to get a rational discussion.

  27. 27
    Kaz says:

    Jerry:

    “Namely, that most of the information in the process of forming a new organism is not in the genome but in various forms of epigenetic information which is incredibly complex. It is there that changes have to take place, not necessarily in the DNA.”

    Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing how that data contributes to the ongoing debate. Perhaps the Neo-Darwinian phrase will have to be revised to something like this: “…random epigenetic variations and natural selection”

    Of course, they should abandon the word “random”, because they really don’t know that all variations occur without respect to the benefit of the organism. The obsession with ruling out teleology is a philosophical consideration, not a scientific one.

  28. 28
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    The obsession with ruling out teleology is a philosophical consideration, not a scientific one.

    That’s clearly right. In my view, the “teleophobia” of modern science has a lot to do with how Epicurean materialism prevailed over Stoicism as the legitimizing discourse, or ideology, of modern capitalism, which is predicated upon the domination of nature.

    There are two further philosophical questions here: (1) whether teleology requires “intelligence”, in the sense that Plato (and intelligent design theorists) thought “yes” and Aristotle (and Nagel) “no”; (2) at what levels of biological reality do we locate teleology? It’s one thing to say that organisms are teleologically organized, quite another to say that the process that produces them is also teleological.

  29. 29
    Kaz says:

    @Kantian:

    “It’s one thing to say that organisms are teleologically organized, quite another to say that the process that produces them is also teleological.”

    I’m having trouble discerning intelligibility in that statement. Can you exemplify this idea?

  30. 30
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    I’m having trouble discerning intelligibility in that statement. Can you exemplify this idea?

    Each individual organism has a teleological organization — OK, fine. But, what about the process of macroevolution? Does that process have a teleological organization? Evolutionary theorists claim that macroevolution and microevolution are “unguided” — the process of speciation cannot predict what traits will be adaptive. Is the unguidedness of the evolutionary process consistent with the purposiveness of each individual living thing?

    — that’s what I had in mind. Better?

  31. 31
    Kaz says:

    @Kantian:

    “Each individual organism has a teleological organization — OK, fine. But, what about the process of macroevolution? Does that process have a teleological organization? Evolutionary theorists claim that macroevolution and microevolution are “unguided” — the process of speciation cannot predict what traits will be adaptive. Is the unguidedness of the evolutionary process consistent with the purposiveness of each individual living thing?

    – that’s what I had in mind. Better?”

    Well, I had in mind an actual example, not a hypothetical one. I’m trying to make intelligible the notion that a highly complex structure exhibiting a purposeful arrangement of parts might emerge by a purposeless process.

  32. 32
    bpragmatic says:

    Elizabeth Liddle said:
    “bpragmatic: I do not scour all threads posted here for responses requiring replies, and if there are a lot of comments, then yours may drop off the recent comments list. Or I may simply miss the comment.”

    Sorry about that Lizzie. It is understood that you really have no obligation to respond to anything if you do not want to. And you are obviously extremely busy commenting on many of these threads. Sorry for the angry tone.

  33. 33

    No problem, bpragmatic.

    You can always get me at TSZ if you want a response, and you think I’ve missed your post.

  34. 34
    Axel says:

    Re your #14, WJM,

    William, I don’t know what you mean by “nihilistic perspective,” but insofar as I attach any meaning to that phrase….

    !!!!!!

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