Here is a review, by Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg, of Thomas Nagel's new book, Mind and Cosmos. Weisberg has a bachelor's degree in chemistry, according to his website, but neither Leiter nor Nagel has any scientific expertise. Nagel admits that, as far as science is concerned, he is an interested layman. Leiter and Weisberg find this odd, since Nagel expounds on matters scientific, but Leiter is also a layman and Weisberg nearly so. I don't see that either side has an advantage on the score of scientific expertise. All of them are amateurs.
The review is for the most part fair-minded, focusing on arguments, theories, and doctrines rather than personalities, but Leiter and Weisberg can't resist making disparaging remarks about Nagel and those who share his views. They say, for example, that "Nagel's is the latest in what has become a small cottage industry involving a handful of prominent senior philosophers expressing skepticism about aspects of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection." Isn't skepticism a good thing rather than a bad thing? Don't philosophers see it as their responsibility to inculcate skepticism in their students, for example? And isn't the fact that the skeptics are "prominent senior philosophers" (rather than, say, obscure junior philosophers) a reason to take what they have to say seriously? To dogmatists such as Leiter and Weisberg, skepticism is a bad thing, indeed a manifestation of intellectual error or corruption.
Leiter and Weisberg write: "We suspect that philosophers . . . will be disappointed by the actual quality of the argument [made by Nagel]." Why don't we wait and see what effect Nagel's book has on philosophers (and others)? Nagel's book might well turn the tide on the question of naturalism, emboldening younger philosophers to question the naturalistic dogma being spewed by the likes of Leiter and Weisberg. If you replace "suspect" with "hope," the sentence makes more sense, for what Leiter and Weisberg really want is for people (especially philosophers) to stop opposing naturalism, or even expressing doubts about it.
Leiter has a bizarre view of the nature and purpose of philosophy. He thinks of it in progressive terms, as moving ever so slowly toward the truth. He pictures philosophers advancing, arms interlocked, vanquishing doctrines as they go. First, they dispose of substance dualism; then they dispatch ethical egoism; then they destroy moral objectivism; then they demolish theism; then they crush natural-law theory; and so on. Once a doctrine is vanquished, it is not to be discussed, much less defended. Anyone who does so is, by definition, retrograde, and retrogrades (heretics!) must not be suffered to remain in the community of philosophers. They must be delegitimized, excommunicated, and, if they resist, humiliated.
This isn't philosophy. It's politics (or perhaps religion). You don't dispose of a philosophical doctrine such as substance dualism or ethical egoism by counting noses. That has nothing to do with truth. There will always be substance dualists and ethical egoists. (As W. V. O. Quine famously put it, "Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system.") Leiter may not like these doctrines, but he is not the arbiter of truth or importance. At one point in the review, Leiter and Weisberg praise Nagel for "align[ing] himself" with "the majority view among both philosophers and practicing scientists." That clinches it, then! Surely a majority of philosophers and practicing scientists can't be wrong! (Leiter and Weisberg also use the expression "general consensus" [the redundancy is revealing], as though that cuts any philosophical or scientific ice.)
Leiter and Weisberg make it sound as though Nagel advocates the abandonment of the Darwinian research program. That is the most uncharitable interpretation of Nagel's work that I can imagine. All Nagel is doing is expressing doubts about it. He is asking questions about it. He is wondering aloud about it. He is trying to soften the dogmatism of Darwinists, many of whom hold their doctrine with religious zeal. Only in the minds of Leiter, Weisberg, and their ilk is expressing doubts about X to call for the abandonment of X. Leiter and Weisberg demand solidarity, not just in politics (where it might be argued to be appropriate) but in philosophy (where it is distinctly inappropriate). Nagel has the audacity to think for himself and to express his impertinent thoughts without Leiter's permission to do so. The Gatekeeper of Philosophy must not be crossed.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the review of Nagel's book is the final sentence, which refers to the book's subtitle (viz., "Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False"): "Its only effect will be to make the book an instrument of mischief." Leiter (I don't know about Weisberg) positively hates religion. He is convinced that there is no god and that those who believe in a supreme being do far more bad than good. Religion, therefore, is to be destroyed. When someone of Nagel's stature doesn't condemn it, he is, by virtue of that omission, giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And Leiter really does view the religious as his enemies. You don't reason, negotiate, or compromise with your enemies. You don't even converse with them. You annihilate them—and there are no limits to what may be done to achieve this goal. Nagel is not on Leiter's side in this search-and-destroy mission; ergo, he must be destroyed. If you're not with Leiter, you're against him.
Lest you think that I agree with Nagel about everything and disagree with Leiter about everything, let me say that I share Leiter's atheism and his rejection of moral objectivism. I do not share his political egalitarianism or his naturalism. I share Nagel's atheism and his rejection of naturalism, but not his political egalitarianism or his moral objectivism. (Indeed, I find his political egalitarianism and his moral objectivism repugnant.)
Addendum: In case you're wondering what naturalism is, the following description of materialism by W. H. Walsh (from the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. "Metaphysics, Nature of") should help:
The popular philosophy of materialism . . . can be seen as an attempt to make sense of the world as a whole on the basis of a distinctive set of first principles. The primary thought of the materialist might be expressed in the axiom that there is nothing that cannot be satisfactorily explained in natural terms; belief not merely in the competence, but also in the omnicompetence, of natural science is a prominent item in his credo. The materialist sees the world as a vast mechanism; whatever happens is the result of natural causes, and all other phenomena must be assessed and understood on this basis. Thus, the phenomena that characterize religious and moral life can be taken in psychological and social terms as things whose causes are ultimately natural, though scarcely in the terms favored by those who engage in them. Religion, as Sigmund Freud said, is an illusion but not an unintelligible illusion; science can account for it, as it can account for everything else.
Leiter and Weisberg are materialists; Nagel and I are not.
Addendum 2: I just discovered another critique of the Leiter-Weisberg review. Ouch!
Addendum 3: Ed Feser criticizes the Leiter-Weisberg review. In reading Feser's critique, one grasps the utter shallowness of Leiter and Weisberg. They know just enough philosophy to be dangerous. They're drive-by philosophers!