We’re through the looking glass again, with another weird post from the Guardian’s pet anti-science writer, the philosopher/theologian Mark Vernon. He’s never met a critic of science he didn’t love, and every scientist is a promoter of scientism. He’s a knee-jerk teleologist, which is a fancy way of saying he sees god everywhere.
His latest is apparently an annual thing in which he announces “the most despised book” of the year. What that means is that it’s a book that’s recognized as bullshit by scientists, so by reflex he assumes it must be wonderful. In 2010, he gave it to Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini for a book that was genetically illiterate nonsense. In 2011 it was a book I know nothing about, but claimed that neuroscience could never explain the mind. In 2012, the runner-up was Rupert Sheldrake, who seems to be Vernon’s good buddy (I am not surprised), but the big prize goes to Thomas Nagel, who’s a well-regarded philosopher who dropped a big clinker this year, with a book that claims we ought to consider Intelligent Design more seriously.
I’ve skimmed Nagel’s book, and it’s a lot of ponderous musing with no foundation in evidence at all. Vernon’s article is no better. It’s enough that Nagel is an advocate for teleology, and that’s really all he can say about it: “he wonders whether science needs to entertain the possibility that a teleological trend is immanent in nature.” “Wondering” is cheap, evidence is hard. He basically finds it inconceivable that all of the universe could have natural causes, so therefore science is inadequate, so therefore we ought to be considering supernatural factors.
You know, that’s a really stupid argument. If you want the details on the poverty of Nagel’s book, read Leiter & Weisberg’s review.
But if you want to claim that there is a purpose or a pattern of goal-seeking behavior by the universe as a whole, show your work. Give me good cause to think there is positive evidence of something shaping our history; don’t just cite your incomprehension.
Well, unless that is you want to win an award from Mark Vernon. Unfortunately, that’s worth less than nothing.