It is refreshing to read a modern thinker who admits that he doesn't have all the answers. Thomas Nagel is one such thinker. Though he is a confessed Atheist, he does not come across as a know-it-all like Richard Dawkins and the "new Atheists."
Nagel is University Professor in the Department of Philosophy and School of Law at New York University. He is the author of a number of books, only one of which I had previously read, before picking up his latest, a slender volume entitled, Mind and Cosmos, Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (Oxford, 2012). Although the book is only 130 pages, it took me a while to read as it was not (for me) easy reading.
The title of the book tells us quite a bit about where Nagel is headed. Though Nagel accepts the findings of evolutionary science, he contends that naturalistic evolution in itself is inadequate to account for mind - consciousness, cognition and value. He is seeking some alternative which will unify our understanding.
Nagel feels that the forces at work in nature are ultimately teleological, by which he seems to mean that the laws of nature have purpose built into them and are directed toward an end. He is skeptical about what he refers to as "the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life" (page 6).
However, he also makes it clear that his "skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative" (page 7). He discusses the alternatives of what he describes as Theism. While he rejects a materialistic explanation for the origin of mind, he also rejects theism as doing the opposite, making "physical law a consequences of mind." He dislikes the desire "to understand ourselves from the outside" whether this desire expresses itself through theism or "evolutionary naturalism." His arguments here seem a bit less confident and possibly inspired more by what he referred to in a previous volume as his "fear of religion itself." Then he even says, "I want atheism to be true... It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God, I don't want the universe to be like that" (The Last Word, 1997, page 130). He appears to have not yet gotten over that fear.
Nagel breaks a taboo held by those who hold to the evolutionary views he questions. He actually considers the thinking and writings of those who hold to intelligent design as worthy of consideration. Not that he feels that their arguments for a Designer are valid, but that he feels their arguments against "the orthodox scientific consensus" need to be taken seriously.
A quick Google search will find a number of articles on this book -- so many that I feel that any attempts by me at a review would be woefully inadequate. Though I have read very few, I must confess that I was amused by the attacks on Nagel -- not just amused; I actually felt a bit of sadistic pleasure at the displeasure of the writers. Though much of what he said is in agreement with current scientific thinking, he apparently is regarded as a heretic and iconoclast by many. Dogmatism is not limited to religious thinkers!
When my search led me to articles written by creationists, I supposed Nagel would also be anathematized by those of that persuasion, especially those of the 6-day variety. I was pleasantly surprised. They seemed content with his rejection of a materialistic/evolutionist explanation.
As one who is a believer in a Designer/Creator God, I found the book fascinating, even though I am disappointed that he rejected the conclusion that to me was obvious. His conclusion that there is more to life than can be explained by materialistic evolution is enough to make this book a satisfying read.