I have long been captivated by the ongoing debates around Darwinian evolution, and two books I read this spring have validated some of my previously held views as well as opened new areas of thought for me.
Mind and Cosmos, by Thomas Nagel, is a relatively brief book that explores the deficiencies in the modern materialistic approach to life. And the subtitle is a dead giveaway: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. But don’t jump to conclusions—Nagel is no creationist, in fact, he is an avowed atheist. He simply sets out to make the case that “the modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value” and, as he writes, “the existence of conscious minds and their access to the evident truths of ethics and mathematics are among the data that a theory of the world and our place in it has yet to explain”. Some of his prose is pretty heavy, but it’s worth the struggle.
Why Us?:How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves, by James Le Fanu, similarly takes on the reductionist approach to an exclusively materialist ordering of our world. He does this in part by examining the findings and implications of the Human Genome Project and the development of PET scanning in brain research, both of which he says, in spite of expectations to the contrary, have actually undermined previously held materialistic assumptions and helped rediscover the mystery of human life. His explanation of this phenomenon is fascinating and along the way he discredits the leap from micro to macro evolution that is the central feature of the Darwinian model.
Both of these books have as their theme the notion of the limits of science, the dangers of scientism, and the importance of returning to studies in the philosophy of science, which help us to define the limits of what the physical sciences can tell us about ourselves and our world.
In his recent commencement address at Brandeis University, Leon Wieseltier had this to say: “Owing to its preference for totalistic explanation, scientism transforms science into an ideology, which is of course a betrayal of the experimental and empirical spirit……So there is no task more urgent in American intellectual life at this hour than to offer some resistance to the twin imperialisms of science and technology, and to recover the old distinction between the study of nature and the study of man.” How appropriate.