Yet another devastating review of what is plainly not a very good book. An excerpt:
I found this book frustrating and unconvincing. Much of the frustration derives from a difficulty in knowing what exactly its target is and, when this is clear, why. The subtitle offers us materialism and the neo-Darwinian conception of nature. Starting with the latter, I would have doubted that, except perhaps in the hands of Daniel Dennett, neo-Darwinism is as central to a conception of nature as the title suggests. Darwinism, neo- or otherwise, is an account of the relations between living things past and present and of their ultimate origins, full of fascinating problems in detail, but beyond any serious doubt in general outline. This lack of doubt derives not, as Nagel sometimes insinuates, from a prior commitment to a metaphysical view -- there are theistic Darwinists as well as atheistic, naturalists and supernaturalists -- but from overwhelming evidence from a variety of sources: biogeography, the fossil record, comparative physiology and genomics, and so on. Nagel offers no arguments against any of this, and indeed states explicitly that he is not competent to do so. His complaint is that there are some explanatory tasks that he thinks evolution should perform that he thinks it can't. But as far as an attack that might concern evolutionists, they will feel, to borrow the fine phrase of former British minister, Dennis Healey, as if they had been savaged by a sheep.
Materialism is something quite different. In Nagel's mind, at least, it is almost synonymous with reductionism, the term with which he most commonly refers to the views he opposes. He writes, for instance, 'I will use the terms "materialism" or "materialist naturalism" to refer to one side of this conflict, and "antireductionism" to refer to the other side' (p. 13). This reflects an earlier statement that 'among the scientists and philosophers who do express views about the natural order as a whole, reductive materialism is widely assumed to be the only serious possibility'. This is amazing stuff. The only citation in favour of this is to Steven Weinberg's Dreams of a Final Theory, a somewhat ironic choice given the open disdain for philosophy Weinberg expresses in that book. But actually it is hard to think of an appropriate citation from a philosopher. Nagel expresses a view that was popular among philosophers of science half a century ago, and has been in decline ever since. It is a view that is perhaps still common among philosophers of mind (David Chalmers much discussed book The Conscious Mind (1996), for example, bases its argument for dualism on a similar view of materialism), but reductionism has been almost entirely rejected by philosophers actually engaged with the physical and biological sciences: it simply has no interesting relation to the diversity of things that scientists actually do....
A final point. I have myself argued that it is a serious mistake to allow fear of creationists and other obscurantists to discourage discussion of the weaknesses and unanswered questions in evolutionary theory. Nagel has no fear of such people and expresses a considerable sympathy with intelligent design. On the basis of his understanding of evolution, he considers that the rejection of their criticisms of evolution is 'manifestly unfair' (p. 10). (This may, of course, reflect on either the understanding or the unfairness.) He just personally feels an aversion to the theistic perspective. The title of the book, however, all to readily interpreted as announcing the falsity of Darwinism, will certainly lend comfort (and sell a lot of copies) to the religious enemies of Darwinism. Notwithstanding my caution about being unduly influenced by such people, this seems unfortunate when so easily avoidable.