Thomas Nagel On Intelligent Design Again

December 02, 2009
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Having previously reviewed Thomas Nagel’s sympathetic treatment of Michael J. Behe’s argument for Intelligent Design Theory in The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2007), it’s interesting to note Nagel’s continuing interest in ID. In the recent edition of the Times Literary Supplement he names Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design as one of his books of the year. The TLS website posted a preview of Nagel’s endorsement:

Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

As I argue in my paper ‘Atheists Against Darwinism’ (hosted on the EPS website), Nagel’s reason for being instructed but unconvinced concerning ID is actually self-contradictory!

Signature in the Cell was previously named one of the top ten best-selling science books of the year by

Also in the TLS

I’d encourage Matthew Cobb, reviewing two recent books with a Darwinian perspective, also in the TLS – cf. ‘Evolution, RNA and the power of natural selection’ (December 2nd 2009) – to read Nagel on ID. Doing so might at least temper his re-cycling of stereotypes:

‘although the United States is the source of some of the most rabid and well-organized forms of anti-evolutionism, it is by no means alone. In the UK, creationists and their sneaky cousins, the “intelligent design” crew, are growing in influence; Intelligent Design was given public backing in the Spectator earlier this year by Melanie Phillips, who absurdly claimed that it “comes out of science” not religion.’

You can read Phillip’s article in full here, and while her description of ID isn’t entirely accurate, I welcome her recognition, in agreement with Nagel, of the scientific status of ID.

Craig Debates ID

Whilst on the subject of ID, it’s worth noting that William Lane Craig recently participated in his first ever public debate on the topic (cf. the official debate website here). Craig’s noted debating partner was theistic evolutionist Francisco J. Ayala. The topic of debate was: Is Intelligent Design Viable?

You can watch Craig’s opening speech on video; listen to the full Ayala/Craig debate and Q&A time on MP3 Audio here.

Craig stated that he is agnostic about the truth of a design inference from biology, but that he thinks such an inference is at least a viable hypothesis that should be given a place at the table, and that the attacks being made on the theory aren’t sound.

Craig offers his view of how the debate went here and discusses evolution in a new podcast on Evolutionism and Skepticism. See also William Lane Craig, ‘Skepticism about the Neo-Darwinian Paradigm’; ‘Skepticism about the Neo-Darwinian Paradigm Re-Visited’.

Interestingly, the debate and Q&A time was moderated by Bradley Monton, an atheist philosopher of science and the author of Seeking God in Science: Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. In essence, Craig was arguing the same general thesis as Monton (although he is more positive than Monton about biology-based ID arguments), whilst being a theist rather than an atheist.

Monton has blogged on the debate here.

It’s well worth reading Monton’s book, and listening to his lecture defending ID: Bradley Monton, ‘An Atheist Philosopher Defends Intelligent Design – Lecture’.