Thomas Nagel: An Atheist loved by Creationists, yet hated by his Kin?

Imagine if you created an amazing piece of work which would revolutionize the way we understand the world.  You write it in hopes of helping your fellow men see the world correctly.  But then suddenly, you find out that your friends hate your work, even detest it.  And your worst enemies have found your work and are commending it, which is pissing off your friends.  How would you react?

Thomas Nagel, author of Mind and Cosmos

Well, that’s the situation of philosopher and academic author Thomas Nagel.  In his recent book Mind and Cosmos, Nagel recognizes a fact that most Christian philosophers would agree with; that a completely material understanding of the universe is insufficient for explaining the human mind, the very existence of matter, and everything.  In fact, the universe must have a teleological origin (Definition:  An origin which has a final goal instilled into it). Because of this, one must reject the philosophy of naturalism in order to be consistent.  Nagel doesn’t go as far as to turn towards Intelligent Design, but sees it now as a possible explanation (Though not the one he necessarily accepts)

Now, this book is small and was responded to negatively across the board.  Most people ripped the book apart, saying it was bad philosophy, bad science, and etc.  Big-name scientists like Stephen Pinker called Nagel out on it.  The Guardian called the book the “Most Despised science book of 2012″. Others declared it to be an excellent piece of work revealing the problems with Naturalism.

First off, I applaud Nagel for his choice of standing up for his belief in the teleological universe.  He took a stand that is against many of the Academic trends.  He is not the only atheist who has shown a doubt in naturalistic explanations for the world.  Agnostics and skeptics like David Berlinski and David Chalmers are just two names who have joined the Intelligent design movement in critiquing the modern notion of Darwinism and of Naturalism as a philosophy.

Now, before we get excited, we need to consider the actual reality of the situation:

Before creationists grow too excited, it’s important to see what Nagel is not claiming. He is not claiming that life is six thousand years old, that it did not evolve, or that natural selection played no part in this evolution. He believes that life has a long evolutionary history and that natural selection had a part in it. And while he does believe that intelligent design creationists have asked some incisive questions, Nagel rejects their answers. Indeed he is an atheist. Instead Nagel’s view is that neo-Darwinism, and in fact the whole materialist view elaborated by science since the seventeenth century, is radically incomplete.

So, Nagel hasn’t come over to the Dark Side yet.  And many bring some legitimate criticisms of this as a form of science.  Journalist Stephen Poole brings up some very interesting observations about the testability of his claim:

The problem for fundamental teleology as a scientific hypothesis is not that it is definitely not true, but rather that we currently have no ways to test for such regularities as might be theoretically promoted to teleological laws, or even any very detailed descriptions of what such laws might say.

Nagel himself doesn’t attempt a detailed description of teleological laws, leaving the task hopefully to creative scientists of the future. And yet, even if we grant the logical possibility of such laws, it seems open to us to criticise Nagel’s view from a decidedly less Panglossian viewpoint than his own.

The idea of teleology has historically been consistently seductive because it seems to grant purpose and meaning — if not to any individual human life, then at least to humanity’s existence as a whole. It is soothing to feel we are part of a story that will have a satisfying ending. Nagel, indeed, rejects many-worlds theories precisely on the basis that they are, as he puts it, ‘not sufficiently reassuring’. But what if, after all, it’s not about us? Might the apparent consolations of teleology break down on a longer view?

Poole notes that Teleology, without a purpose-maker, is pointless. It becomes an unexplainable phenomena, and it’s not possible to scientifically prove.  We can’t perform a test to see if  there’s a purpose to a certain species’ existence. At best, we can hypothesize or speculate.

But with the existence of a purpose-maker, everything begins to make sense.  It’s absolutely necessary for a God to exist in order to provide the required elements for a teleological universe.

So, applaud for Nagel, for he’s got it right.  Pray for Nagel, that he’ll keep seeking out the consequences of his ideas.  But most of all, remember that the universe is naturally designed with an end in mind.

 

About Christopher Hutton

Chris Hutton is a college student and Freelance Writer from Bloomington Minnesota. Since he was young, he loved books and ideas. Science was one of his favorite topics, as well as technology. It's one of the issues that has mattered to him consistently. Hence, Chris tries to bring a critical/helpful take to the modern understanding of technology. You can find Chris' home online at liter8.net, or you can tweet him via @liter8media.

  • matt

    @ Christopher:

    The reason why he is being ridiculed is because his work isn’t amazing as you stated. The community in large have picked it to shreds not because it supports intelligent design but because it was a terribly written book.

    If it had reasonable grounds to stand on it merits it would’ve been viewed that way. Obviously it doesn’t.

    You show terrible bias and suggest if you go any further in your journalistic career you should start to evaluate evidence, logic and rationale. I suggest you look up the reasons why they are so critical of his book.

  • Rusty Yates

    Science is incomplete otherwise we would not have scientists but historians of science. This sounds like his critics are going tribal and his new supporters don’t understand his work but rather have taken a few verses and made a religion out of it. Not like it hasn’t happened before.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Qu Quine

    Christopher, Nagel is not hated or despised, he is simply without evidence for his position. He makes an argument from what is not known, which is outside the bounds of science or even good philosophy. Yes, some folks are unhappy that his book is being used by others to justify what is not justifiable, but that does not make him the target of hate. He is free to publish, and the community is free to show what is lacking in what he publishes.

  • aveteran

    Perhaps if those names you cited were of any substance, atheists like me would have heard of them.

  • http://liter8.net Christopher Hutton

    Well, I appreciate all of the comments above. Maybe I do need to investigate it more.
    I will state that I have not read Nagel’s book, but have worked from the various news coverage.

    However, I’ve investigated the claims, and while they are not scientifically supported, the argument works from his perspective philosophically, which he developed in his essay “What is it like to Be a Bat?”, in that the existence of a unique consciousness which cannot be comprehended by a completely different form of consciousness (IE ours). His arguments are just an extension of it.

    And I agree, most of these people are the leading voices on the topic. But I do see them presenting the most thorough and analytical cases which are providing actual insight and feedback, not just repetitive names and agreement over certain ideas.

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