Thomas Nagel on John Gray: The atheist Darwin doubter reviews a book by the atheist who thinks secular humanism is dead
|July 11, 2013||Posted by News under Darwinism, Atheism, Books of interest, News|
Recently, we’ve been following atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel, author of the most despised book of 2012— Mind & Cosmos, a book in an increasingly common genre: doubts about Darwin offered by people who are not religious.
We also gave some thought to atheist philosopher John Gray, author of The Silence of Animals, who thinks that secular humanism is toast, along with religion.
Now here is what Nagel has to say about Gray’s Silence of Animals in New York Times:
The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments. Half of “The Silence of Animals” consists of quotations, some of them very long, from dozens of authors — some prominent, like Koestler, Orwell, Borges and Beckett, some deservedly obscure. This seems an indolent method of writing, though Gray does get off some good aphorisms of his own: “To suppose that the myth of progress could be shaken off would be to ascribe to modern humanity a capacity for improvement even greater than that which it ascribes to itself.” “The needy animal that invented the other world does not go away, and the result of trying to leave the creature behind is to live instead with its ghost.”
Gray’s skepticism about the value of humanity and its hopes for progress deserves more attention. “Science and the idea of progress may seem joined together, but the end result of progress in science is to show the impossibility of progress in civilization,” he writes. “Human knowledge increases, while human irrationality stays the same.” One has only to think about the history of the past hundred years to see how scientific progress can proceed alongside moral and political barbarism. How can we defend the humanistic belief in progress against this record?
It is important to keep in mind that the progress hoped for is not a transformation of human nature. We can assume that people’s innate capacities and dispositions haven’t changed significantly in the course of recorded history, nor will they change in the next millennium or two. Evolution works more slowly than that. The question concerns cultural progress. More.
It;s a good thing that Nagel doubts the Darwinian version of evolution; if that mechanism really worked, we would have no moral progress at all, nor any reason to hope for such. Just natural selection acting on random mutation.
The main thing to see here folks is: Two atheists, a Darwin-doubter dissing the book of a guy who thinks secular humanism is dead in The New York Times.
I hope to see more of this before the Gray Lady closes her doors for good.