Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion

Thomas Nagel

in The Last Word

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780195149838
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199872206 | DOI:
Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion

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Rationalism bears a closer association with religion than empiricism does; the former offers a conception of the world that links the deepest truths of nature to the deepest thoughts of the human mind in a way that makes many people nervous. Nagel reassures defenders of atheism that they have no more reason to fear fundamental and irreducible mind–world relations than fundamental and irreducible laws of physics. Although Nagel endorses (in part) Robert Nozick's evolutionary explanation of human reason, which reverses the Kantian dependence of facts upon reason, Nagel argues that an evolutionary story about reason must be coupled with an independent basis for confidence in reason. To be justified in trusting our reasoning capacity as a product of Darwinian natural selection, we must be justified in trusting it simply in itself in virtue of the content of its arguments. To the question, How can a biological species shaped by the contingencies of natural selection have access to self‐justifying reason?, Nagel offers the defensive reply that we do not know how biological possibilities and their likelihood of actualization are constrained by fundamental laws of nature.

Keywords: atheism; Darwinian; empiricism; evolutionary explanation; laws of nature; natural selection; Robert Nozick; rationalism; reasoning capacity; religion

Chapter.  5764 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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