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[The following is from Thomas Nagel’s Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, 2012. In this passage Nagel seems to be reiterating a point that G. K. Chesterton made in 1923: ‘The Darwinians are trying to prove Darwinism by hypothesis. The Anti-Darwinians are not trying to prove anything; except that the Darwinians have not proved it.’]

I would like to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life. It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection. We are expected to abandon this na´ve response, not in favor of a fully worked out physical/chemical explanation but in favor of an alternative that is really a schema for explanation, supported by some examples. What is lacking, to my knowledge, is a credible argument that the story has a nonnegligible probability of being true. There are two questions. First, given what is known about the chemical basis of biology and genetics, what is the likelihood that self-reproducing life forms should have come into existence spontaneously on the early earth, solely through the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry? The second question is about the sources of variation in the evolutionary process that was set in motion once life began: In the available geological time since the first life forms appeared on earth, what is the likelihood that, as a result of physical accident, a sequence of viable genetic mutations should have occurred that was sufficient to permit natural selection to produce the organisms that actually exist?

There is much more uncertainty in the scientific community about the first question than about the second. Many people think it will be very difficult to come up with a reductionist explanation of the origin of life, but most people have no doubt that accidental genetic variation is enough to support the actual history of evolution by natural selection, once reproducing organisms have come into existence. However, since the questions concern highly specific events over a long historical period in the distant past, the available evidence is very indirect, and general assumptions have to play an important part. My skepticism is not based on religious belief, or on a belief in any definite alternative. It is just a belief that the available scientific evidence, in spite of the consensus of scientific opinion, does not in this matter rationally require us to subordinate the incredulity of common sense. This is especially true with regard to the origin of life.

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