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No chemical soup

People who say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned have clearly never seen what happens when materialism is questioned. There was much gnashing of teeth towards philosopher Thomas Nagel who dared to do just that in Mind and Cosmos.

Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker wondered: “What has gotten into Thomas Nagel?” Another critic, no doubt of the tolerant slant, dismissed Nagel as a “self-contradictory idiot”.

What was Nagel’s snafu? He questioned the idea that everything can be explained by materialism. This reaction is a bit odd because it is no secret that materialism does not have a satisfactory, internally coherent explanation for important things that are undeniably part of the human experience: objective morality, consciousness and our ability to reason, to name but a few.

No one is to be pitied more than a reductionist who still retains their moral vocabulary. Dallas Willard, who recently passed away, once asked materialists to explain the foundation for objective moral values: “I’m not claiming that you have no foundation; I’m merely asking you to tell us what it is.”

He has passed and that question largely remains unanswered. I think the honest answer from a reductionist to Willard’s question is found at the end of Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Our foundation is that, there is no foundation (see what we did there?). The late atheist Richard Rorty admitted as much when he said: “If moral imperatives are not commanded by God’s will, and if they are not in some sense, absolute, then ‘what ought to be’ is a matter, simple, of what men and women decide ‘should be’. There is no other source of judgement.”

Well, if it is the case that men and women decide, then the next question becomes: Which men and women? If naturalism were true, any moral imperative could easily be dismissed by a question adolescents the world over ask: “And you are?”

The late Professor Anthony Flew went further than Nagel. He deserves to be quoted at length from one of his last interviews before he died: “I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so.

“With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code… The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins’ comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a ‘lucky chance’. If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over.”

The game has been over for a while now, ever since the prologue to St John’s gospel was penned; but the shortest way home is still the longest way around for some. To paraphrase Elaine at the end of the Soup Nazi episode, “No chemical soup for you; next.”

— Adrian Sobers

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