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In The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier Blasts "Darwinist Dittoheads" for Policing Thomas Nagel's "Heresy"

Nagel.JPGThis goes way beyond wishful thinking. There really does seem to be a transition going on, a veil of ignorance and denial pierced by Thomas Nagel's book Mind & Cosmos.

It isn't merely the existence of the book written by a famous atheist philosopher, demonstrating "Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False," and published by Oxford University Press, no less. More exciting is the response, the howls from Darwinists and, still more so, the declarations of respect for Darwin-skepticism from unexpected quarters -- most notably and welcome from those who, like Nagel, are on the political left.

The Darwin debate can no longer be written off as simply a partisan affair but must be recognized, instead, as separating the defensive and complacent from the thoughtful and independent-minded.

I've just read Leon Wieseltier's outstanding column in The New Republic, where he's the literary editor ("The Heretic," March 11). Only concerns about the application of fair-use laws keep me from reproducing the whole thing for you here. Wieseltier blasts Nagel's pompous critics as a "mob of materialists, of free-thinking inquisitors," the "Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Secular Faith," and "Darwinist dittoheads." That last one is a keeper.

He rightly calls it "delicious" that Nagel has outraged the orthodox with his anti-Darwinian "heresy" and, no less so, with his congratulations to advocates of the theory of intelligent design as worthy "iconoclasts." In the book, Nagel singles out Stephen Meyer, David Berlinski and Michael Behe.

The guys who want to police Nagel and his writing are motivated by a reactionary political tribalism, says Wieseltier. They ask "Whose side is he on, anyway?"

I find this delicious, because it defies the prevailing regimentation of opinion and exemplifies a rebellious willingness to go wherever the reasoning mind leads. Cui bono? is not the first question that an intellectual should ask. The provenance of an idea reveals nothing about its veracity. "Accept the truth from whoever utters it," said the rabbis, those poor benighted souls who had the misfortune to have lived so many centuries before Dennett and Dawkins.
Wieseltier on science and scientism:
[S]cientists are busily animadverting on Nagel's account of science. They like to note condescendingly that he calls himself a "layman." Yet too many of Nagel's interlocutors have been scientists, because Mind and Cosmos is not a work of science. It is a work of philosophy; and it is entirely typical of the scientistic tyranny in American intellectual life that scientists have been invited to do the work of philosophers. The problem of the limits of science is not a scientific problem. It is also pertinent to note that the history of science is a history of mistakes, and so the dogmatism of scientists is especially rich.
Wieseltier includes this line that will make an excellent blurb on the back of the paperback edition of Mind & Cosmos:
His troublemaking book has sparked the most exciting disputation in many years.
What's particularly nice about this is that for years I've been tweaking Wieseltier, who's a terrific writer of course, for being one of those very smart guys who attacked intelligent design while giving the impression that it was more or less synonymous with Biblical literalism. Sadly, even very thoughtful people continue to get fooled by the Darwinist strategy of equating ID with creationism.

In a column in the very same space in The New Republic ("Washington Diarist") as the column on Nagel, Wieseltier once wrote about how it was Maimonides who enlightened him on the error of Scriptural literalism and, basically, that's how he wised up on foolish ideas like intelligent design. Wieseltier misunderstood a key chapter in Guide of the Perplexed (2:25) and failed to see that a good bit of that book is in fact taken up with a philosophical defense of design in nature.

Turning around like this, discarding old prejudices and so spectacularly, is no small thing. In fact, it's a test of character. So I guess you could say that my respect for Wieseltier has just doubled. Oh, let's just say it's tripled.