Editor’s note: Phillip E. Johnson, Berkeley law professor and author of Darwin on Trial and other books, died on November 2. In days to come, Evolution News will share remembrances from Fellows of Discovery Institute. John Mark Reynolds blogs at Patheos where this was originally published. Men must endureTheir going hence, even as their coming hither;Ripeness is all.* So says the noble Edgar in King Lear about the death Read More ›
In the previous century, the language wars were fought over adverbs; at issue was discipline of thought and speech. How many thousands of readers of The Elements of Style felt that mixture of shame and delight when they read what Strunk and White had to say about “hopefully”? “This once-useful adverb meaning ‘with hope’ has been distorted and is now widely used to mean ‘I hope.’ Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly.”
Oh, for the good old days.
To be sure, Orwell was there to remind us about the dangers of newspeak. But as the century ground to its weary end, the Communists were in worldwide retreat, and it seemed as though words were returning to their proper meanings.
How shocking these last few years have been. Suddenly, pronouns and possessive adjectives are on everyone’s minds. “To each their own” is ubiquitous. Today one takes a stand by using the constructions we found so cumbersome in the 1980s, “he or she” and “his or her.” Whence this strife over words? What are its deep roots? How is sanity to be defended amid these battles?
Michael D. Aeschliman’s The Restoration of Man: C. S. Lewis and the Continuing Case against Scientism, an updated edition of a work first published in 1983, has the answers.
There is a double surprise in store for Aeschliman’s readers. It is alarming to learn how the rise and growth of a scientific culture has been linked with the most blatant subjectivism. It is a joy to be introduced to the “great central tradition” of witnesses to the true meaning of words and defenders of human reason, a tradition culminating in a man here fittingly characterized as its “trustee,” the redoubtable “Jack” Lewis.
As to the first, in The Restoration of Man, Aeschliman ably chronicles how the culture associated with the new science of the 17th century began poorly and became worse. It was four long centuries ago, after all, that Francis Bacon declared, “There is nothing sound in the notions of logic and physics: neither substance, nor quality, nor action and passion, nor being itself are good notions; much less heavy, light, dense, rare, wet, dry, generation, corruption, attraction, repulsion, element, matter, form, and so on; all fanciful and ill defined.” And just three years later, Galileo followed up with “I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in the consciousness.” The new science began with an assault on the human race’s immemorial habit of expressing its experience of the world in ordinary language. On Bacon’s and Galileo’s principle, even a statement as simple as “The brown horse ate the red apple” would need to be called into question.
In the intervening centuries, the rejection of what we know to be the case through seeing and touching has become more and more troubling and perplexing. Darwin, for one, mused in his notebooks that thought might best be understood to be a “secretion of the brain,” without stopping to ask himself who then would be doing the understanding. Badly do we need witnesses such as Lewis and the philosopher Thomas Nagel to remind us that “scientific materialism is,” in Aeschliman’s words, “internally inconsistent and false.”Read More ›
C. S. Lewis is best known for his Narnia tales and Christian apologetics, works that have sold more than 100 million copies. But Lewis was also a trained philosopher and a professor at Cambridge and Oxford. An intellectual giant, he fiercely and extensively critiqued the fashionable dogma known as scientism — the idea that science is the only path to Read More ›
If someone had predicted a year ago that Oxford University Press would publish a book with the subtitle Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, I might have wondered what alternate universe he was inhabiting. But Oxford did publish it, and the aftershocks among the intellectual elite have yet to abate.
The book’s author, philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a professor at New York University and the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including an honorary doctorate from Oxford University; fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities; and elections to such august bodies as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. It is a testament to Professor Nagel’s stature that his critique of Darwinian theory was allowed to be published at all. But his stature has not immunized him from a flood of abuse and even suggestions of creeping senility.
It’s not often that a book by a professional philosopher attracts the notice — let alone the ire — of the cultural powers-that-be. One can think of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind in the 1980s, but other examples are hard to come by. At any rate, Mind and Cosmos is well on its way to becoming a book that can’t be ignored by the thinking public. Thus far, it has been denounced in the Nation and the Huffington Post, dubbed the “most despised science book of 2012” by the London Guardian, defended in the New Republic (where Nagel’s critics were blasted as “Darwinist dittoheads” and a “mob of materialists”), subjected to a feature story in the New York Times, and put on the cover of the Weekly Standard, which depicted Nagel being burned alive, surrounded by a cabal of demonic-looking men in hoods.
The author has attracted special displeasure from the powers-that-be for using Mind and Cosmos to praise intelligent design proponents such as biochemist Michael Behe and philosopher of science Stephen Meyer. As the New York Times explained, many of Nagel’s fellow academics view him unfavorably “not just for the specifics of his arguments but also for what they see as a dangerous sympathy for intelligent design.” Now there is a revealing comment: academics, typically blasé about everything from justifications of infanticide to pedophilia, have concluded that it is “dangerous” to give a hearing to scholars who think nature displays evidence of intelligent design.Read More ›