Thomas Nagel’s provocative little book, Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, challenges reductionistic materialsts who claim to offer the only scientific explanation to the origins of life.

Below are some quotes from Nagel’s introduction to whet your appetite for his arguments against “the consensus of scientific opinion.” (Curiously, this common phrase, “consensus of scientific opinion, “so often invoked by reductionistic materialists themselves, is self-contradictory. A consensus of opinion is typically invoked as an argument from authority [in this case claiming validity because it is held by a supposed majority or mob], but it is most certainly not a scientifically derived conclusion itself–it is, rather, just another opinion, another belief that may or may not be warranted. It has no privileged status or authority in matters of science, theorizing, or factual claims because even majority opinions can be very, very wrong and even delusional–but I digress).

Nagel writes,

“My target is a comprehensive, speculative world picture that is reached by extrapolation from some of the discoveries of biology, chemistry, and physics–a particular naturalistic Weltanschauung that postulates a hierarchical relation among the subjects of those sciences, and the completeness in principle of an explanation of everything in the universe through their unification. Such a world view is not a necessary condition of the practice of any of those sciences, and its acceptance or nonacceptance would have no effect on most scientific research. For all I know, most practicing scientists may have no opinion about the overarching cosmological questions to which this materialist reductionism provides an answer. Their detailed research and substantive findings do not in general depend on or imply either that or any other answer to such questions. But among the scientists and philosophers who do express views about the natural order as a whole, reductive materialism is widely assumed to be the only serious possibility.  . . .

“I would like to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life. It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection. We are expected to abandon this naive response, not in favor of a fully worked out physical/chemical explanation, but in favor of an alternative that is really a schema for explanation, supported by some examples. What is lacking, to my knowledge, is a credible argument that the story has a nonnegligible probability of being true.  . . .

“My skepticism is not based on religious belief, or on a belief in any definite alternative. It is just a belief that the available scientific evidence, in spite of the consensus of scientific opinion,  does not in this matter rationally require us to subordinate the incredulity of common sense. That is especially true with regard to the origin of life. “

Thomas Nagel, Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception
of Nature is Almost Certainly False
, (Oxford University Press), pp. 4-7.

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