Friday, February 15, 2013

How It All Works and the Problem of God

Thomas Nagel has recently published a slim volume, Mind and Cosmos, that's kicking up a fuss because it apparently gives and aid comfort to creationists, though Nagel himself is an atheist. I've not read the book myself, but I've read a bit about it. Here's a few paragraphs from an article in The New York Times about the controversy:
Mr. Nagel’s depiction of a universe “gradually waking up” through the emergence of consciousness can sound oddly mystical — the atheist analytic philosopher’s version of “spiritual, not religious.” And even some readers who admire Mr. Nagel’s philosophical boldness see a very fuzzy line between his natural teleology and the creator God of theists like the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga (who reviewed Mr. Nagel’s book favorably in The New Republic, throwing more red meat to his detractors).

In his conclusion Mr. Nagel declares that the present “right-thinking consensus” on evolution “will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.” But few of his colleagues seem to see much sign that a radical paradigm shift is imminent, let alone necessary.

“It’s perfectly fair game for philosophers to say scientists are wrong about stuff,” Mr. Sober said. “Everything depends on whether the arguments are good.”
Here's the opening paragraphs of Plantinga's review:
ACCORDING TO a semi-established consensus among the intellectual elite in the West, there is no such person as God or any other supernatural being. Life on our planet arose by way of ill-understood but completely naturalistic processes involving only the working of natural law. Given life, natural selection has taken over, and produced all the enormous variety that we find in the living world. Human beings, like the rest of the world, are material objects through and through; they have no soul or ego or self of any immaterial sort. At bottom, what there is in our world are the elementary particles described in physics, together with things composed of these particles.

I say that this is a semi-established consensus, but of course there are some people, scientists and others, who disagree. There are also agnostics, who hold no opinion one way or the other on one or another of the above theses. And there are variations on the above themes, and also halfway houses of one sort or another. Still, by and large those are the views of academics and intellectuals in America now. Call this constellation of views scientific naturalism—or don’t call it that, since there is nothing particularly scientific about it, except that those who champion it tend to wrap themselves in science like a politician in the flag. By any name, however, we could call it the orthodoxy of the academy—or if not the orthodoxy, certainly the majority opinion.
Let's push that a bit. Scientific naturalism presents us with a world view in which the existence of life and consciousness are very very unlikely converging on impossible. Yet, self-evidently both life and consciousness exist. ANY attempt to reconcile such existence with such theory is bound to be VERY strange.

1 comment:

  1. I have a pair of red horns that light up hidden somewhere in the cupboard that the one of the kids wore last Halloween.

    I have a vision of Mr Plantinga wearing a set as he wrote that and turning on the lights to flash when he got to the last paragraph.

    It can be useful to launch an exaggerated argument. I remember Sawyers the Vikings were all peace loving vegetarian type's. It allowed everyone else's position to become somewhat clear. Draws things out into the open, Steve Pinker type noises or Plantagina type devilry are somewhat standard moves.

    In the case of Sawyer it lead to revaluation and movement in amongst the cultural noise, with this subject entrenchment and lots of cultural noise seems the order of the day.

    Certainly what Plantagina hopes for with his closing remarks I think. It seems about as subtle as a rubber cosh.