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Archive for the ‘New atheism’ Category

mindandcosmosOn MercatorNet, David Gallagher reviews a book by Philosophy Professor Thomas Nagel of New York University.

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.

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David Schutz at Sentire Cum Ecclesia blogs from Melbourne, which over the weekend was the scene of the Global Atheist Convention.

In his three most recent posts, he comments on the Pell/Dawkins debate (elliptically), on a counter to Kraus’s theory of nothing, and – most recently, on the Purcell/Singer debate that took place late last week. He was impressed with the courtesy and quality of the Purcell/Singer debate, which, he says:

…has restored my faith in the possibility of rational debate between atheists and theists. The audience was also intelligent and respectful. No cheap shots, good questions, well thought out and argued answers. Thought provoking all round.

David hopes to link to the debate within the next few days, and I hope to listen to it when I’m not rushing between holidaying grandchildren and work. (We’re making pizza bases this morning before work; they need to be ready to top and garnish by the time my husband arrives back and is ready to take over as entertainer in chief.)

Here’s a taste (of David’s comments on the debate, not of our pizzas):

Purcell said that Singer appears to regard suffering as the “ultimate evil”. Singer agreed with this. The upshot is that the highest good would come from the avoidance of suffering. There is – it appears to me – something of the Christian/Buddhist dichotomy in this approach: Buddhism is a system for reaching “salvation” (my word, not the Buddhist word) by avoiding suffering while Christianity is a system of belief in which suffering – though an evil in itself – can become a path toward salvation. In any case, Purcell seemed especially concerned here with explaining the “suffering” that is due to natural causes, and why such suffering does not contradict the existence of a “good God”. He spoke about earthquakes (there having been one in Indonesia in recent days): these are due to the way in which our planet is constructed, tectonic plates etc. Is this an evil? As a parallel, he cited the case of gravity. Gravity is a necessity for the existence of space-time, and certainly for our existence on this planet. Yet many people die because of the results of gravity every year (from falling from high buildings etc.). Is gravity an evil? Should God have constructed a world without gravity?

By the way, our friend Kiwi Atheist attended the convention. I hope you’ll favour us with a few comments about your weekend, KA.

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