Christian analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga reviews Nagel's book in the current issue of New Republic:
I wrote to Plantinga a few days ago offering some comments as an atheist. He was kind enough to write back and, although his schedule (still very busy writing at age 80) would not allow him to engage in a debate by e-mail, he sent me a paper he had authored on theodicy.
I posted something about this on my Facebook page, and this morning, a Facebook friend who is a minister commented that it was interesting to see "a crack in the facade." I posted back the following:
"Whether or not a completely materialistic and neo-Darwinian account of the universe and life are, or ever will be, adequate, I am not educated enough to say [though I am strongly in favor of it]. I will certainly read Nagel's book, but until I do, I would suggest the following points:
"1. If Dawkins, Gould (if he were still living), Stephen Pinker, and others got up, gave a press conference, and said 'Nagel has convinced us; we now acknowledge that a purely materialist cosmology must forever remain radically incomplete and inadequate to explain the universe, life, and consciousness,' we would still have a problem, in my view.
"2. One aspect of the problem would consist of the fact that the lack of a factual explanation (even a lack that somehow can never be remedied) does not mean that a fanciful explanation becomes acceptable. There was a time when no one knew what caused AIDS, but that didn't make it OK to attribute it to spirits of the dead, a claim that added nothing to knowledge.
"3, The other aspect would lie in the problem of dysteleology, an issue that was known even to the ancients. We live in a universe that began with an explosion and is still rapidly flying apart into oblivion, where planets are subject to devastating strikes by comets and meteors or of being swallowed altogether by black holes, in a solar system whose sun will one day destroy, first all life on earth and then, finally, the planet itself, on a planet where life did not arise until the planet was already billions of years old and where, later, 99% of all life forms that ever existed were obliterated in a catastrophe, and where the fossil record shows a history of millions of years of false starts and dead ends in life forms. We are just one of millions of species, the largest part of which are accounted for by species of beetles, a scheme in which our species alone is capable of abstract thought and complex symbolic speech, inhabiting bodies whose musculo-skeletal structure is ill-adapated to an upright gait, and in which our physical systems contain organs that are not only not useful but may cause severe or even fatal health risks.
By no possible stretch of the imagination can such a condition be attributed to *design*--the very idea, as I see it, is preposterous, as I wrote to Plantinga himself the day after I read his review. Despite his continuing very busy schedule, he graciously replied and even attached a paper on theodicy, which I read with interest.
"As I see it (and I'm sure Plantinga does as well), the issue is not whether religious belief is appealing but whether it is true. If it were true, and known to be true, that there really was an all-wise and all-holy Creator of all and that absent fellowship with Him, our mental and spiritual lives were miserably impoverished, then of course there would be nothing to do but for Dawkins and others to ask themselves if they were willing to surrender to the inevitable or just continue wasting their readers' time with vain bluster.
"But if there is really not such a Being--or, nearly as important, if there may or may not be one but the facts, in the nature of the case, can never be known--then it must be equally true that religious believers are expending a great deal of time and energy on an illusion, rather like adults still playing with dolls. One may deliver all the meals on wheels he likes, but if he has convinced himself that but for a belief in an invisible spirit, he would be out practicing cannibalism, instead, he must be very sadly mixed up, whatever good points he may have.
"In any case, I welcome the continuing debate among thinkers and will be interested to read what Nagel says, as well as more of Plantinga's material."