Lots of intellectuals presume they ‘know’ it is impossible to deconstruct the received wisdom about how Darwinism, the natural worldview, and science are intertwined. Truth is, it requires patient dedication and a wide-ranging inquiry. But it is not really rocket science. The big obstacle is not the intellectual immensity of the endeavor, but the scalding ridicule and heresy indictments you will have to endure from the orthodoxy police if you ever speak up about it. I first wrote this in 2015. Before this blog took a sort of — poetic — turn.
I originally worked on this essay seven years ago. I decided to re-blog it because, still timely, it represents my roots in some ways at the very beginning of SWR (along with a second essay which I will re-blog next month), and has been seen by few if any current readers… There is a legend regarding Da Vinci’s Last Supper which I quite like:
Each one of the twelve apostles embodies the perfecting and expressing of a single different one of the twelve virtues. Achieving divine initiation is said to consist of perfecting the cultivation of all twelve within one’s being or soul, harmoniously, over the course of many lifetimes. Which is exemplified by Christ.
The subtitle of Thomas Nagel’s 2012 book, “Mind and Cosmos”, makes evident why it unleashed such a stir within the scientific and philosophical establishments: ‘Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False’. That’s two sacred cows skewered in one fell swoop, the first a kind of hidden dogma not generally exposed to the light of agoric day, and the second a beloved and enshrined foundational darling! What made things worse was that Nagel was/is a serious respected philosopher with decades of establishment credibility, including avowed atheism, prompting figures like Pinker and Dennett to publicly wonder what had gotten into their old colleague. Nagel’s book is not an easy read. You have to keep awake on every page, go slowly, and double back sometimes. Due to this and the ensuing ruckus, he offered a short clarifying summary of the book’s core thesis in a brief NY Times essay a year later, which is the subject of this current article.
Increasingly, voices from many quarters wonder from where our ethical principles should and actually do arise. Recent speculations from psychologists like Johnathan Haidt and Steven Pinker direct attention towards ages of incremental evolutionary adaptive changes to explain our present collective social and even moral psyches. But the hyperbolized science vs. religion cultural battle, in concert with almost daily headlines depicting some new shocking conflict between personal decision and societal norm, signals the need for a wider re-examination of the roots of our ethics.