Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
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Monday, September 2, 2013

Dissent of Man

John G. West reviews Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, by Thomas Nagel, and Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution, by Rebecca Stott, at the Claremont Review of Books.
"For all of the discussion and debate provoked by his book, he ultimately offers a rather simple, if profound, objection to Darwinism: 'Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself.' In other words, if our mind and morals are simply the accidental products of a blind material process like natural selection acting on random genetic mistakes, what confidence can we have in them as routes to truth?

This objection is not new. Indeed, it reaches back to Charles Darwin himself. Darwin published a lengthy tome, The Descent of Man, purporting to prove that his theory of unguided evolution could explain basically everything, including man's mind and morals. Yet in his private writings, he expressed a lingering reservation over the impact of his theory on the trustworthiness of reason. In a letter written in 1881, he disclosed that 'with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?'"

The letter mentioned is to William Graham, July 3, 1881, available at the Darwin Correspondence Project.

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