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New issue, now live

The new issue is now live. Featured is a package of essays on Thomas Nagels Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, with philosopher Gary Gutting, biologist Kenneth R. Miller, and physicist Stephen M. Barr discussing what the Guardian named the Most Despised Science Book of 2012.From our editors introduction to the piece:

In Mind and Cosmos, Nagel argues that the Neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly wrong because it cannot explain the origin of conscious life, much less the human minds ability to apprehend scientific truths or objective moral and aesthetic values. In the books introduction, Nagel writes that the failure of neo-Darwinian theory to offer a satisfactory account of these things suggests that principles of a different kind are also at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic. Nagel does not believe these principles are supernatural; as an atheist, he rejects every kind of supernatural explanation. But he also rejects the claim that the natural world is reducible to the material world. Consciousness, he believes, is no less natural than the material world, but is not itself material. Nagel does not propose a scientific alternative or supplement to Neo-Darwinian theory; instead, he presents the problems that such an alternative would have to solve. Humans are addicted to the hope for a final reckoning, but intellectual humility requires that we resist the temptation to assume that tools of the kind we now have are in principle sufficient to understand the universe as a whole. Pointing out their limits is a philosophical task, whoever engages in it, rather than part of the internal pursuit of sciencethough we can hope that if the limits are recognized, that may eventually lead to the discovery of new forms of scientific understanding.

Read the whole thing here. See the full table of contents for the new issue here.

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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AnnI'm flattered by your response. You willingness to teach is appreciated. Repeating myself I fail to see the need to prove the existence of either God, love or life. All have the utterly contradictory natures of being both great mysteries and great realities. It is the debate itself that makes perfect sense to me and that I value so highly.Both scientist and philospher (often enough the same individual) have the limitation of being human and the responsiblity of not forgetting that fact. It is easy enough to accept as fact that either brings divine inspiration to their task. That either suggest they bring divine knowledge is another matter entirely.I accept the existence of God, of love and of life. How can I do otherwise? More to the point, there are any number of scientist who gladly argue Darwin's use of the word Origin in the title of his work did not mean he was denying either the existence nor defining the nature of God. But even if he did they would gladly agree his work was utterly unhelpful on either matter.I do not believe I am anti-intellectual. As for intelligent design I can easily enough understand the nature of design. The nature of intelligent is for me a great deal more challenging. We agree, intelligent design is too ambiguous a term to move us along so challenging a path.

Bearing in mind the indisputable limits of my abilities, it seems to me a debate largely concerning definitions is not the same as a debate about substance. That the debate goes on is wonderful. I don't believe the question of the existence of God is at the core of the debate. Rather it is a set of issues much more important to mere mortals. These issues concern the nature of God. On these issues I believe science and philosophy have the same responsiblities and limitations. Without some universally useful notion of God's nature I do not believe an unassailable conviction of the existence of God does us much good.Likely I am once again displaying my willingness to state the obvious. Perhaps my difficulty in recalling the meaning of teleological.

Thanks to Commonweal for the three highly relevant articles on Nagel's "Mind and Cosmos". Nagel, unlike many philosophers of science these days, is willing to take intelligent design arguments seriously, and his "Mind and Cosmos" is highly relevant. Unfortunately, the Steven Pinkers of this world just accuse Nagel of stupidity or heresy without considering his actual arguments. Oh, the irony: Enlightenment thinkers with minds shut tight as clams! (Note: "intelligent design" is an ambiguous phrase.)If you're interested in the ID controversy (it's actually more like a brawl), check out Edward Feser's little book "Aquinas" for Thomas' version of the teleological argument. (Thomas' teleology theory is much like Nagel's, though not entirely.) And see this thread at Feser's blog, "Nagel and his critics, Pt. 1". It gives a bunch of relevant sites.

MightBe --Thomas' cosmological argument does aim to prove the existence of a designer of the cosmos. It argues from the design found in the cosmos to the existence of a Designer. But, yes, it is also about the nature of God as intelligent. As to philosophy and science having the *same* limitations, Nagel shows that to be not the case -- they both have limits, but they're different kinds of limits. Try the Nagel and/or Feser. You might be pleasantly surprised.

MightBe --I agree that simply being convinced that the world was created by something we call "God" isn't sufficient to ground religion. But many people don't even have that conviction. That is where philosophy can help the non-believers, but only if their minds are open. Of course, theology can also help some people to become aware of the reality and nature of God. Different strokes for different folks. But I think that these days young people especially tend to be super-critical of Church dogma and of the theology that goes with it. (See the other thread going on here now, "What's needed in catechesis?') To get them past that skepticism often requires either some clear and sound argumentation or convincing examples of religious generosity and faith, or both,I agree that the debate is important. That's why I'm so glad that Nagel is opening some heretofore closed minds.

Mightbe:Trying to know God's nature before even considering whether or not He exists seems like a bad idea in search of a train wreck. If I may misuse someone else's phrase, existence precedes essence. Unless one's mind is made up that God does indeed exist, agonizing over His nature (essence) is useless. If He exists, then there's an end to it,; He is what He is. If He does not exist, why argue about His nature?

Over at Edward Feser's blog, he offers critiques of Gary Gutting's, Stephen Miller's, and Stephen Barr's discussions of Thomas Nagel's "Mind and Cosmos" that appeared in last week's Commonweal. As usual, Feser is particularly clear about the issues. See his comments

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