Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Planet of the Neo-Darwinists

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Planet of the Neo-Darwinists

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "The Heretic" by Andrew Ferguson, in The Weekly Standard, March 25, 2013.

EVERYTHING YOU SEE AND HEAR IS FAKE. The blue of the sea and the angelic notes of a church choir do not exist. Those sensations are figments of our "manifest image"--the flawed version of reality handed to us by our senses. We perceive patterns of light as colors, and vibrations as sounds, because those adaptations have maximized our chances of survival over hundreds of thousands of years.

So goes the open-and-shut logic of neo-Darwinian materialism, the metatheory held by top philosophers and scientists such as the biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene, Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett, and Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker.

Materialists acknowledge the existence of measurable phenomena that are subject to the laws of physics. To Dawkins and likeminded thinkers, everything else--color, sound, free will, consciousness, your distinct sense of self when you see your reflection in the mirror--is bunk, and human beings are nothing more than "molecules in motion," explains Andrew Ferguson, a critic of neo-Darwinism, in The Weekly Standard.

In 2012, Thomas Nagel dared to question his sure-minded colleagues. The venerated American philosopher argued that neo-Darwinists can't account for basic elements of existence such as human reasoning and morality. "There is little or no possibility," Nagel wrote in his bombshell tome Mind and Cosmos, "that these facts depend on nothing but the laws of physics."

Howls of protest erupted in philosophy departments and laboratories across the land. "What has gotten into Thomas Nagel?" Steven Pinker wailed on Twitter, decrying "the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker." The economist Brad DeLong scoffed that "Thomas Nagel is not smarter than we are." The Philosophers' Magazine called Nagel's publisher, Oxford University Press, "irresponsible" for even bringing the book out.

Once a darling of progressive intellectuals, Nagel had all but committed treason. "It is simply taken for granted," Ferguson explains, "that by attacking naturalism"--which falls under the broader umbrella of neo-Darwinism--"Thomas Nagel has rendered himself an embarrassment to his colleagues and a traitor to his class."

Nagel insists that neo-Darwinism just doesn't add up. Take human brainpower. …

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