Reaction to Thomas Nagel’s Book “Mind and Cosmos”

I read an interesting article in the New York Times about Thomas Nagel, an avowed atheist and professor of philosophy at New York University. His book, “Mind and Cosmos”, caused quite an uproar among secular scientists. The book is subtitled “Why the Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False,” and before it was even published evolution supporters were out denouncing it and smearing Nagel, who is regarded as one of the most incisive and imaginative of contemporary philosophers, and is a fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Darwinian psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard Tweeted that the book was “the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker,” and the Guardian named it the “most despised science book of 2012.” It’s a shame that such people feel the need to denigrate him for disagreeing with them.

Of the positive reviews he received, one was from Alva Noë, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote, “He is questioning a certain kind of orthodoxy, and they are responding in the way the orthodox respond.” A review from author Jim Holt said, “Here he’s pointing out that there are important things in the world we live in, as opposed to the scientific image of the world, that science pretends to have a grasp of but doesn’t.”

I believe the negative reactions to the book reveal some basic problems and misconceptions about evolution. Some people claim that the theory of evolution is as well tested as the theory of gravity. Others say that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, or that there’s no longer any debate among scientists about whether evolution has taken place.


Nagel’s book, however, is further evidence that none of this is the case. Nagel questions that random evolution could have produced conscious beings capable of doing science and philosophy since life first appeared on earth.

But here’s the criticism directed at Nagel that really stood out to me. It’s a quote from Philosopher Leiter from the University of Chicago who said, “The book is going to have pernicious real-world effects,” and “It’s going to be used as a weapon to do damage to the education of biology students.”

This type of emotionally charged rhetoric is revealing because it demonstrates a number of failures throughout the entire field of science. Evolutionists like Leiter, who realize that secular science has a grip on society and the education system in America, don’t want to lose their power or credibility. And so they resort to scare tactics like this, claiming that books like Nagel’s will bring grave harm to science and destroy our education system. These people are suggesting that there’s no room for competing theories, academic freedom, critical thinking, debate, or intellectual freedom, and that our society needs to be protected from such competing views.

None of this could be further from the truth. Evolution has had a strong grip on the education system in America for many years and has grown more powerful since the landmark Scopes “Monkey” Trial in 1925. In the 1960’s the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study released textbooks emphasizing evolution in science. Yet in various international education rankings, the United States has placed 18th among the 36 industrialized nations, and 17th among 40 countries (25th in math, 17th in science). So having evolution instilled in our education system has done nothing to advance education in America. In fact America essentially put men on the moon without evolution factoring in. Surely, if believing evolution is beneficial to science and education standards, then the United States should be ranked much higher.

I think the truth is that belief in evolution has no real bearing on education or science in the United States or around the world. One can either believe in evolution or not and still learn how to read, write, perform math, and practice science at high levels. One does not need to believe in evolution in order to be a respected doctor, scientist or engineer. There are countless examples of such individuals from the past and present. On the other hand there are examples of evolution inhibiting science, harming humanity, and being influenced by scientism, political pressure and money. Treatment for back conditions is one such example of how science has inhibited science and caused harm:

Darwinism misled researchers into developing a harmful set of treatment techniques for certain back conditions.  These therapies were based on the idea that humans at one time walked on all fours and that back problems were produced primarily by complications resulting from humans’ newly evolved upright posture.  Back problems supposedly exist today because humans now walk upright on vertebrae that originally had evolved to walk quadrupedally.  This theory has led to a treatment protocol that now is recognized as often impeding healing, and has caused enormous pain and suffering.  Treatment techniques used today are in many ways the opposite of the older, now disproven Darwinism-influenced techniques.

Other examples of evolution inhibiting science include junk DNA (decades of study were lost due to evolutionary thinking) and vestigial organs (operations were done to remove organs because scientists thought they were unneeded evolutionary leftovers).

While I don’t agree with Mr. Nagel on most of his other positions and philosophies, I’m happy that he’s been willing to go against the establishment despite fierce opposition. In 2008 he wrote an article criticizing the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District decision that the school board policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. He wrote, “The political urge to defend science education against the threats of religious orthodoxy, understandable though it may be, has resulted in a counter-orthodoxy, supported by bad arguments.” He has also suggested that the present “right-thinking consensus” on evolution “will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.”

I certainly hope his book helps to change some of the dogmatic perceptions about evolution. Personally, I’m all for students learning about evolution only because it’s a widely held concept and is part of our history. The public should have a good understanding of what evolution is and what it isn’t. Therefore students should also be allowed to learn about the criticisms of evolution, as well as other competing theories, such as creation and intelligent design.

One thought on “Reaction to Thomas Nagel’s Book “Mind and Cosmos”

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