Friday, November 8, 2013

Thomas Nagel on Intelligent Design

In his book, Mind and Cosmos:  Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False,  the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel offers some rather strong words in support of the endeavor of Intelligent Design theorists, even though he does not accept their theories:

"...Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves.  Another skeptic, David Berlinski, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference.  Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should  be taken seriously.  They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met.  It is manifestly unfair.

     "Those who have seriously criticized these arguments have certainly shown that there are ways to resist the design conclusion; but the general force of the negative part of the intelligent design position - skepticism about the likelihood of the orthodox reductive view, given the available evidence - does not appear to me to have been destroyed in these exchanges.  At least, the question should be regarded as open.  To anyone interested in the basis of this judgment, I can only recommend a careful reading of some of the leading advocates on both sides of the issue - with special attention to what has been established by the critics of intelligent design.  Whatever one may think about the possibility of a designer, the prevailing doctrine - that the appearance of life from dead matter and its evolution through accidental mutation and natural selection to its present forms has involved nothing but the operation of physical law - cannot be regarded as unassailable.  It is an assumption governing the scientific project rather than a well-confirmed scientific hypothesis.

     "I confess to an ungrounded assumption of my own, in not finding it possible to regard the design alternative as a real option.  I lack the sensus divinitatus that enables - indeed compels - so many people to see in the world the expression of divine purpose as naturally as they see in a smiling face the expression of human feeling.  So my speculations about an alternative to physics as a theory of everything do not invoke a transcendent being but tend toward complications to the immanent character of the natural order.  That would also be a more unifying explanation than the design hypothesis.  I disagree with the defenders of intelligent design in their assumption, one which they share with their opponents, that the only naturalistic alternative is a reductionist theory based on physical laws of the type with which we are familiar.  Nevertheless, I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion." (pp. 10-12)

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