Monday, 25 March 2013

Atheist Philosopher Shunned for Questioning Evolution

Science is about the collection of natural data and the dispassionate development of theories which best explain the data. Right? Sort of. Probably best to strike 'dispassionate' from that sentence. Scientists turn out to be as passionate about their beliefs as, well, we religious folk tend to be. They even practice 'shunning', the exclusion from the scientific community of those deemed to be heretical questioners of the prevailing scientific paradigm.

Shouldn't science welcome sceptics? Isn't scepticism foundational to the scientific method? On the contrary, it seems that the practice of shunning in the scientific community is evidence that a kind of 'groupthink' prevails in scientific academe which suppresses questioning and thus stymies progress towards theories which better explain data. This criticism was actually made as long ago as 1962 in Thomas Kuhn's seminal monograph The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which punctured the image of science as a dispassionately infallible process, although you wouldn't know it today, when, ironically, science seems to be the one area of human thought that is immune to radical, late-Modern scepticism.

Witness the furious reaction among the scientifically "orthodox" to Professor of Philosophy at New York University Thomas Nagel's new book, Mind and Cosmos, in which the renowned atheist* astoundingly confesses,  “For a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works. I realize that such doubts will strike many people as outrageous, but that is because almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program [about the origin of life] as sacrosanct, on the ground that anything else would not be science.” Nagle's critique of the view that science is confined to naturalistic explanations is his major heresy, from which flows his disbelief in neo-Darwinian evolution, for which he is being shunned. Nagel's work, despite its critical reception, could be contributing to an inexorable paradigm shift in the philosophy of science.  

Read more about the reactions here.


* THOMAS NAGEL (B.A. Cornell 1958; B.Phil. Oxford 1960; Ph.D. Harvard 1963), University Professor, Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Law. He specializes in Political Philosophy, Ethics, Epistemology, and Philosophy of Mind. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and a Member of the American Philosophical Society, and has received Guggenheim, N.S.F., and N.E.H. Fellowships, a Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award in the Humanities, the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy, the Balzan Prize in Moral Philosophy, and honorary degrees from Oxford, Harvard, and the University of Bucharest. He is the author of The Possibility of Altruism (Oxford, 1970, reprinted Princeton, 1978), Mortal Questions (Cambridge, 1979), The View From Nowhere (Oxford, 1986), What Does It All Mean? (Oxford, 1987), Equality and Partiality (Oxford, 1991), Other Minds (Oxford, 1995), The Last Word (Oxford, 1997), The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice (with Liam Murphy) (Oxford, 2002), Concealment and Exposure (Oxford, 2002), and Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford 2010).

1 comment:

Martin Yee said...

Pastor Henderson,

Thanks for bringing out the irony and contradiction in this case. The "rationalists" are not as rational as they believe themselves to be by shunning Nagel

Martin