The New Heretic: Thomas Nagel and Anti-Materialism

You should all read this article on the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel, who has recently published a book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.

Because of this book, Nagel has been branded a heretic. And oh boy, is this a fascinating read, particularly for we theists who are crazy enough to think science isn’t from the devil or even, God forbid, that evolution is probably true.

Why? Because it shows that materialism is useful as applied to material stuff, but is incapable of proving whether everything is just material stuff. The latter, which is the theory of materialism, is a philosophical argument and pretty dodgy one at that.

But the article explains it better:

Mind_and_Cosmos_coverMaterialism, then, is fine as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go as far as materialists want it to. It is a premise of science, not a finding. Scientists do their work by assuming that every phenomenon can be reduced to a material, mechanistic cause and by excluding any possibility of nonmaterial explanations. And the materialist assumption works really, really well—in detecting and quantifying things that have a material or mechanistic explanation. Materialism has allowed us to predict and control what happens in nature with astonishing success. The jaw-dropping edifice of modern science, from space probes to nanosurgery, is the result.

But the success has gone to the materialists’ heads. From a fruitful method, materialism becomes an axiom: If science can’t quantify something, it doesn’t exist, and so the subjective, unquantifiable, immaterial “manifest image” of our mental life is proved to be an illusion. […]

Applied beyond its own usefulness as a scientific methodology, materialism is, as Nagel suggests, self-evidently absurd. Mind and Cosmos can be read as an extended paraphrase of Orwell’s famous insult: “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.” Materialism can only be taken seriously as a philosophy through a heroic feat of cognitive dissonance; pretending, in our abstract, intellectual life, that values like truth and goodness have no objective content even as, in our private life, we try to learn what’s really true and behave in a way we know to be good.

Really, you should read the whole thing.

It’s longish but the end is particularly good because Nagel hypothesises why so many intellectuals are desperate for materialism to be true – because the alternative seems to be theism and as Nagel remarks, “fear of religion” is the intellectual tic of the intelligentsia.

Anything but God!


12 responses to “The New Heretic: Thomas Nagel and Anti-Materialism

  1. Hey Thanks. That’s a fascinating article. What strikes me is that according to the others Nagel can’t be blamed for what he wrote, after all there is no consciousness or free will. The nonsense some people believe. 🙂

    • Haha, exactly! But then why should they hold to the law of non contradiction? It’s just another evolutionary byproduct!

      • Indeed so. I need to memorize that quote/insult/whatever, it’s priceless.

        Funny thing is, I used to read the magazine, gave it up because 10 it fairly expensive and 2) a lot of garbage. But there was always some good stuff too.

  2. I enjoy reading all of these silly title covers “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions.” How can anyone do that when the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short? 😛 That is life without illusion.

    Then again all they seem to do is make a charge with idealism, romanticism, and emotionalism. Place these people anywhere else besides their own country, and they will either learn what life is quickly or despair quickly.

    • That’s a really good point. This sort of nihilistic materialism really is a product of the Industrial Revolution, because for the first time ppl could avoid the awful reality of life, and thus almost romanticize it as being without illusions. I actually think these atheists are quite romantic in the way they think about God and reality. They see themselves as fearless prophets, and even mystics maybe because they can see beyond that “manifest image” to the “heart” of reality.

      • Definitely. If reality is wholly material, why are you speaking about spirituality again? Inconsistency, inconsistencies everywhere!

        Hmph! Where are my atheists with systematic logic on their side?

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