In my opinion, more than enough has been said to show that the New Atheists, when it comes to most of the topics they like to discuss, have no idea what they are talking about. They essentially state this themselves–in that Dawkins, Krauss, and Co. admit ignorance of both philosophy and theology.
It, therefore, makes no sense at all for anyone to listen to them as if they knew what they were talking about.
That said, what is the situation for those that actually do know what they are talking about? Where is the debate over things like theism and materialism among professional philosophers?
The short answer is: heading back toward theism.
For the long answer, I want to get into the recent controversy surrounding the eminent philosopher Thomas Nagel. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Nagel is one of the most well-respected philosophers in the english-speaking world. He is a professor at NYU, and a brilliant man without (so far as I can tell) so much as a hint of arrogance. He is also an avowed atheist.
And he has attacked the materialistic view so beloved of the New Atheists.
His most recent book “Mind and Cosmos” purports to show us “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False”. To anyone who agrees that what most believe today is largely based on what university professors were teaching their students yesteryear, this is a very important book.
As such, it’s worth it to spend a few posts on him, and the best place to start is by dealing with the straw man that keeps being put up in place of Nagel’s argument.
That is, many people think that they can refute Nagel simply by throwing out the standard evidence in favor of evolution. But the argument isn’t with evolution as a scientific theory–it is with the idea that a purely physical theory (like evolution) can ever explain the whole of life.
Judging from how many people have accused Nagel of ignorance about evolution, this can’t be stressed enough: He isn’t arguing that current evolutionary theory can’t explain this or that feature of living organisms, and is therefore false. If that were his argument, it would make sense to give the classic “scientists are working on it” response.
But it doesn’t make sense here. The argument is about what science can, even in principle, ever discover. Nagel has offered good reasons to think that science can’t possibly explain things like consciousness–unless we make some fairly serious adjustments to the scientific method.
That is, we would have to remove the “methodological naturalism” stipulation that is the basis of most vague assertions that science (in some unspecified way) backs materialism.
Without this move, so argues Nagel, science pursued for all eternity could never explain consciousness anymore than painting something red for all eternity could ever make it green. Science, as it currently exists, is simply not the correct method for explaining certain things (such as consciousness).
What is his argument? What are the consequences for theism? For materialism? And what has been the response?
I’ll address these questions in future posts. But, for now, it needs to be made clear what the answer is not: the unreflective and ignorant materialism of people like Dawkins and Krauss.