Parenting in America   /   Fall 2013   /    Essays

The Nagel Flap: Mind and Cosmos

John H. Zammito

Even if meant as a joke, Blackburn’s remark was sufficient incitement to the intelligent design community to anoint Nagel as a heroic heretic persecuted by an entrenched materialist orthodoxy. It enabled advocates of intelligent design to twist the whole reception of the book into what might be called the “heresy” discourse, which has in fact dominated all subsequent reactions.

The exasperated tone with which evolutionary scientists, philosophers of science, and others on the side of science and philosophy received Nagel’s book was struck early, in a dismissive review in The Nation by University of Chicago legal scholar Brian Leiter and University of Pennsylvania philosopher Michael Weisberg, and a somewhat more tolerant online assessment by University of Exeter philosopher of science John Dupré. The catalyst for the jump from agitated academic reception to mass media uproar may have been Harvard psychologist Steve Pinker’s tweeted response to the Leiter-Weisberg review: “What has gotten into Thomas Nagel? Two philosophers expose the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.”

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