Nagel is one of the most respected Anglo-American philosophers and also a self-declared atheist (“I lack the sensus divinitatis that enables—indeed compels—so many people to see in the world the expression of divine purpose”). Consequently his criticisms of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory cannot be written off as one more attempt to defend religion, but rather need to be dealt with on their own terms, as attacks on the adequacy of the theory itself.
Nagel, Gallagher says:
… calls into question the materialist-reductionist view of nature, which, as Richard Lewontin admits, is accepted a priori by most evolutionists and perhaps by most scientists. In this view of nature, everything that exists is composed of matter and can have only those properties that arise from the basic properties of the underlying material constituents. Biology is reduced to chemistry, and chemistry to physics. Everything that occurs in the universe is to be explained, at least potentially, by the laws, forces, particles and properties that are described by physics.
Nagel points to three things that we encounter in the world which cannot be adequately explained within this materialist-reductionist framework: consciousness, reason or mind, and moral values. We should not try to explain these things away—as often happens—just because they do not square with the reductionist view of nature. Rather, he argues, it is the reductionist view itself that needs to be questioned.
The Lewontin reference, and the title of Gallagher’s article, is to this quote from Harvard biology professor Richard Lewontin:
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.