Darwin’s Nagging Doubt

What Thomas Nagel Could Learn From Theology

“With me the horrid doubt always arises,” wrote Charles Darwin, “whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

Darwin never followed up on his “horrid doubt” about whether we can trust our minds if they are products of an aimless process of natural selection, nor have most other scientists and philosophers. It is quite remarkable, I think, that the esteemed New York University philosopher Thomas Nagel now wants to do so. Nagel’s writings about mind have long provoked controversy, but his latest book, Mind and Cosmos, is quite unexpected and, to many of his fellow intellectuals, outrageously wrong. I think he’s on to something. Recently in Commonweal, a biologist, a physicist, and a philosopher weighed in on the book (“Nagel’s Untimely Idea,” May 17). I believe Mind and Cosmos is theologically important as well, not so much for what it says as for who is saying it—and why.

Some critics have taken Mind and Cosmos to be an attack on science, but this charge is misplaced. The book’s subtitle reveals its main point: Why the...

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About the Author

John F. Haught, author of God after Evolution and many other books, is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University.