More proof that those who don’t know science can’t evaluate it

Prof. Thomas Nagel, a self-declared atheist who earned his PhD. in philosophy at Harvard 45 years ago, who has been a professor at U.C. Berkeley, Princeton, and the last 28 years at New York University, and who has published ten books and more than 60 articles, has published an important essay, “Public Education and Intelligent Design,” in the Wiley InterScience Journal Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 36, issue 2, on-line at (fee for access US $29.95).

I wasn’t about to pay for access, so I have to respond to how the DI characterizes what he states in the article.  From their rendition, I can’t see that he understands at all well the issues he discusses.  According to them (Edward Sisson is the author):

Prof. Nagel applies this principle to the evolution/intelligent design debate. Assuming, for purposes of argument, even though he himself is an atheist, to label the intelligence “God,” he says “the purposes and intentions of God, if there is a god, and the nature of his will, are not possible subjects of a scientific theory or scientific explanation. But that does not imply that there cannot be scientific evidence for or against the intervention of such a non-law-governed cause in the natural order” (p. 190). In other words, Sherlock Holmes can use chemistry to figure out that an intelligence — a person — did the act that killed the victim, even if he can’t use chemistry to figure out that the person who did it was Professor Moriarty, or to figure out why Moriarty did the crime.

Already we have a colossal confusion on either Nagel’s or Sisson’s part.  Intelligent humans are understood in science, and anywhere else with decent intellectual standards, to be be law-governed causes.  We don’t know what a “non-law-governed” cause is in classical science, and (presentaly, at least) would be hard pressed to identify any such cause.  True, if it acted probabilistically, we could probably deal with it (as we do with QM), but lacking any examples in the classical realm we simply cannot say.  What is really stupid is to presume that intelligence is what the anti-science ignoramuses of ID claim it to be, a non-causal phenomenon (thus far we certainly have no examples of non-causal intelligence).

The article continues:

Therefore, Prof. Nagel says, it potentially can be scientific to argue that the data of DNA and life points to an intelligent designer, even if science cannot tell you the identity of the designer or what is going on in the designer’s mind.

Complete rubbish.  We might actually be able to identify breaks in classical causality in our environment without knowing anything about what causes these breaks, but we’re certainly not going to be able to attribute said breaks to a “designer” without having some knowledge about what kind of cause this “designer” is.  If Nagel really wrote such rubbish, he’s a waste as a philosopher.

The Professor then turns to whether any of the intelligent design proponents actually are presenting such a scientific argument. After all, just because it is theoretically possible that someone might present such a scientific argument doesn’t mean that any particular individual currently is actually doing that.

Professor Nagel has read ID-supportive works such as Dr. Behe’s Edge of Evolution (p. 192). He reports that based on his examination of their work, ID “does not seem to depend on massive distortions of the evidence and hopeless incoherencies in its interpretation” (pp. 196-197).

No, he just depends on bypassing science.  I already covered a good deal of that issue here.  Behe’s interpretation is fairly self-consistent, since it is almost wholly circular, based upon a priori assumptions, and it pays no attention to proper rules of inference.

 He reports that ID does not depend on any assumption that ID is “immune to empirical evidence” in the way that believers in biblical literalism believe the bible is immune to disproof by evidence (p. 197). Thus, he says “ID is very different from creation science” (p. 196).

Of course it depends upon being immune to empirical evidence.  There isn’t a single unambiguous criterion taken from experience or evidence to determine their proclaimed “design,” quite unlike honest and far more scientific attempts to identify design by Paley and earlier “natural theologians.”

Prof. Nagel tells us that he “has for a long time been skeptical of the claims of traditional evolutionary theory to be the whole story about the history of life” (p. 202). He reports that it is “difficult to find in the accessible literature the grounds” for these claims.

Moreover, he goes farther. He reports that the “presently available evidence” comes “nothing close” to establishing “the sufficiency of standard evolutionary mechanisms to account for the entire evolution of life” (p. 199).

First off, I see no reason to suppose that Nagel understands scientific evidence–and evidence that he does not from this article.  Secondly, evolutionary theory is an explanatory framework that works to organize and to explain reasonably well on all levels (such as in taxonomy), which is actually what is required for a theory.  Sufficiency “to account for the entire evolution of life” is a bogus criterion, one that he simply adopted because the IDists have tried to foist such a high standard onto evolutionary theory, quite unlike how they treat other theories, let alone their own non-explanatory claims.

We have never said that “it explains everything,” particularly believing that it does not explain everything regarding abiogenesis.  As far as self-organization and other possible additional ideas, we would most likely consider these to be a part of the evolutionary explanation if they were to be borne out by the evidence–much as endosymbiosis has been incorporated into evolutionary theory.  Our primary point is that evolutionary theory is the only explanation that we have thus far that is “based on experience,” and Nagel’s, plus the IDists’, bogus view that evolution must explain everything to be the accepted explanation at this time is so much pseudoscientific nonsense.

He notes that his judgment is supported by two prominent scientists (Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, writing in the Oct. 2005 book Plausibility of Life), who also recognized that (prior to offering their own theory, at least) the “available evidence” did not “decisively settle[]” whether mutations in DNA “are entirely due to chance” (p. 191). And he cites one Stuart Kauffman, a “complexity theorist who defends a naturalistic theory of emergence,” that random mutation “is not sufficient” to explain DNA (p. 192).

Nagel is abysmally ignorant about science if he thinks that taking the current positive evidence (for random mutation) as the presently acceptable position is somehow faulty.  Science doesn’t in the slightest claim omniscience, it simply asks for evidence for claims which are made.  That is why claims of non-random mutation were not accepted, because we had evidence in favor of random mutations, and no evidence in favor of non-random mutations.  Decisive evidence in favor of the former is better, but science does not require it in order to use the evidence that existed prior to that decisive evidence.

Furthermore, I do not know of anybody who actually claims that “random mutation” is sufficient to explain DNA.  Likely it is important in DNA arising from RNA, but RNA may very well have had to assemble by means other than “random mutation,” and indeed, RNA is thought by many to have arisen by some kind of self-assembly.  Of course Behe violated such distinctions in his Darwin’s Black Box, and Nagel seems (at least according to Sisson) to be accepting Behe’s distortions of science as his basis for considering Behe’s criticism of evolutionary theory.

Prof. Nagel acknowledges that “evolutionary biologists” regularly say that they are “confiden[t]” that “random mutations in DNA” are sufficient to account for “the complex chemical systems we observe” in living things (p. 199) — but he disagrees. “Rhetoric” is the word Professor Nagel uses to rejects these statements of credentialed evolutionary biologists. He judges that the evidence is NOT sufficient to rule out ID (p. 199).

If Nagel really said that, he’s evidently as incapable of judging testimony of scientists as he is of science.  There is indeed much evidence that evolution is responsible for most of the organization of complex chemical systems, but certainly at the very beginnings and bases of these systems there are serious questions about origination, as I noted above regarding RNA and DNA.  But the issue is not whether or not evolutionary theory is adequate to explain everything, it is whether or not it explains life in general and whether or not any other theories exist to explain what it does.  ID most certainly explains none of it.

He does not, however, say that the evidence compels acceptance of ID; instead, some may consider as an alternative to ID that an “as-yet undiscovered, purely naturalistic theory” will supply the deficiency, rather than some form of intelligence (p. 203).

Science says two things:  1.  That evolutionary theory is highly established and explanatory so far as we have any explanation for life.  2.  And that there is no evidence in favor of design.  

It never ruled out other explanations from existing at all, and there is no excuse for pretending that it ever did.

The whole article is found here

This article continues the same unreasonable claims of the IDists that evolution ought to explain “everything” if it is to be accepted instead of ID. If we can believe it, Nagel buys altogether too far into the DI’s mischaracterizations of evolution, science, and ID, and if this is true, Nagel is as culpable as they are in spreading utter tripe in the name of intellectual discussion.

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