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Thursday, 5 May 2016

My Favourite Pagan Philosopher


All my favourites are rebels!

All my favourite writers, whether Christian or non-Christian have to be outsiders, rebels, prophets. They have to stand outside the paradigms in which they were born and think as the OT prophets, and as the Greatest Prophet of All thought - new wine for new wineskins.

In other words they must be madly unPC. They simply won't follow the herd, the crowd or the norm -they refuse to think and act just because everyone else does the same.They want to find truth.

Of course there are two kinds of rebel. There are the kind that simply go off the rails with mad and maddening ramblings. These we discount as one would discount a madman.

There is a right rebellion and wrong rebellion. Wrong rebellion is rebellion for rebellion's sake. Right rebellion is rebellion for truth's sake.

 My favourite Pagan Philosopher
I don't know if you should have a favourite pagan philosopher, but the apostle Paul quoted a few in the seventeenth chapter of Acts, so I seem to be in good company.  I am not looking for a philosopher who everyone looks up to - such a man or woman is likely to be simply a parrot of modern thought and modern morality.

No I'm looking for someone who has two criteria about them: (i) they've been rejected by their community - or at least criticised, and (ii) that criticism has been on account of truth, partial or whole.

Mary Midgley is one of my favourites, so is Raymond Talis, but Thomas Nagel of New York is my current favourite. This is because he was (i) recently criticised by some in his community, "the writings of a once-great philosopher" said one critic and (ii) he is inching towards truth, partial truth in any case.

Mind and Cosmos - the book that made Nagel Great
Mr Nagel trusts his instincts and trusts common sense. In his wonderfully readable "Mind and Cosmos" he says that he is highly sceptical of Darwinian tales of our origins because we are required to put away common sense (p.7). Good 'ole common sense says that whenever we come across an object of great beauty, craftsmanship or intricacy, we automatically assume a great mind was behind it. Darwinian thinking requires us to deny what we know from all common experience.

Mr Nagel knows that as we go up the complex tree we finally reach the human mind (in this world, the most complex 'thing'). And no way can this absurdly complex mind come from matter - without a Mind. That is just plain daft. And daft because of the sheer complexity of thinking (theory of mind). How wonderful and amazing is the human mind! And mind in general.

Partial truth
So Nagel rejects the foolish common western notion that mind can arise from non-mind, from matter just by itself. This idea he thinks will be the stuff of the comedians in generations to come: "When I was a lad, they believed that our minds just "happened" over billions of years of chance and necessity from nothing!" H!a Ha! Ha!

"I would be willing to be that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a gerenartion or two." (p.128) 

OK so if mind can't come from matter, where does it come from? Here is where Mr Nagel, the good Professor from New York University is not such a prophet after all. Because he does not accept the existence of God (that would pretty much cast him out of the universe of universities) he believes that a new way of looking at the universe which starts with mind in the mix from the start is a better way about things. (If you don't put mind in the ingredients how can you get it out in the cake?) You need mind right there at the start.

"I would like to say something the polar opposite of materialism, namely the position that mind, rather than physical law, provides the fundamental level of explanation of everything." (p.21)

OK Prof, but why not accept that this "mind providing the fundamental level of explanation of everything" is  God? That would make sense?

Because then my whole life - and perhaps my whole career - will need to be examined. In man's desire to sin, to move away from God, he suppresses the truth about God, even when he gets so close.

It will take the miracle of faith to bring Nagel all the way to what the Hebrew Bible writers said before Plato (and all his followers, the philosophers), "In the beginning God..."

I pray for Thomas that one day God will open his eyes.