Evolution, as understood in the popular circles as purely random physical mutations filtered by natural selection, is increasingly under attack. It’s defenders must continue to climb further onto a limb and make explanations that taste more and more like just-so stories.
One recent attack on evolution comes from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel who wrote the book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Nagel’s explanations are reasonable, but written as a philosopher who sometimes paints in broad strokes. His conclusions, however, are strong enough to deserve attention from the Darwinists.
Nagel is no religious zealot, for he clearly states what he would conclude if left to his own personal desires: “My preference for an immanent, natural explanation is congruent with my atheism.”(p.95) He denies any arguments that require a Designer (p.12), yet calls for intelligent design proponents to be treated more fairly and given serious evaluation (p.10). Nagel is an atheist who follows his reason to a logical conclusion.
He describes the direction from which he starts:
With regard to evolution, the process of natural selection cannot account for the actual history without an adequate supply of viable mutations, and I believe it remains an open question whether this could have been provided in geological time merely as a result of chemical accident, without the operation of some other factors determining and restricting the forms of genetic variation. It is no longer legitimate simply to imagine a sequence of gradually evolving phenotypes, as if their appearance through mutations in the DNA were unproblematic — as Richard Dawkins does for the evolution of the eye. With regard to the origin of life, the problem is much harder . . . The coming into existence of the genetic code — an arbitrary mapping of nucleotide sequences into amino acids, together with mechanisms that can read the code and carry out its instructions — seems particularly resistant to being revealed as probable given physical law alone. (p.9-10)
Indeed, it would seem that much of modern Neo-Darwinism is based on assuming the process is valid, then seeking to sequence the data to fit the model, often convincing us that the process is valid by imagining how a sequence might work. We are reminded of the statements by Dr. James Tour, who has stated “when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway.” (see the full article here)
Nagel is honest enough to point out a fact that is quite obvious but not given much attention by most modern biologists:
I find it puzzling that this view of things should be taken as more or less self-evident, as I believe it commonly is. Everyone acknowledges that there are vast amounts we do not know, and that enormous opportunities for progress in understanding lie before us. But scientific naturalists claim to know what the form that progress will be . . . (p.20)
Indeed, such an idea is more amazing when we consider the many changes in theories that have occurred in the annals of science. The college science textbooks that we studied a generation ago are so outdated as to be good for not much more than a doorstop, yet the current batch of scientists are just as convinced of their current accuracy as the previous ones were.
Nagel goes on to elaborate on the significant problem Neo-Darwinism has in explaining the areas of consciousness, cognition, and value. The next posts will examine some of Nagel’s claims in these areas.