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Thomas Nagel on Dover

Editor's Note: Dec. 20 was the 4th anniversary of the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision banning the mention of intelligent design in Dover, Pennsylvania classrooms.

Prominent philosopher and legal scholar Thomas Nagel, an atheist, endorses an argument that is obvious: if the argument against intelligent design in biology (Darwinism) counts as a scientific argument, then the argument for intelligent design in biology must count as a scientific argument, because the two differing conclusions are just the negative and affirmative denouement of the same argument. That is of course not to say that one or the other argument about design is true; it is merely to say the obvious: that for either to be true, the question of intelligent design must be a scientific question.

Nagel applies this self-evident observation to the teaching of evolution in schools:

From the beginning it has been commonplace to present the theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection as an alternative to intentional design as an explanation of the functional organization of living organisms. The evidence for the theory is supposed to be evidence for the absence of purpose in the causation of the development of life-forms on this planet. It is not just the theory that life evolved over billions of years, and that all species are descended from a common ancestor. Its defining element is the claim that all this happened as the result of the appearance of random and purposeless mutations in the genetic material followed by natural selection due to the resulting heritable variations in reproductive fitness. It displaces design by proposing an alternative...It is therefore puzzling that the denial of this inference, i.e., the claim that the evidence offered for the theory does not support the kind of explanation it proposes, and that the purposive alternative has not been displaced, should be dismissed as not science. The contention seems to be that, although science can demonstrate the falsehood of the design hypothesis, no evidence against that demonstration can be regarded as scientific support for the hypothesis. Only the falsehood, and not the truth, of ID can count as a scientific claim.

Nagel draws out the implications of the Darwinist denial of the design question in science in this critique of Judge Jones' decision in Dover:

Judge Jones is careful to say, "We express no opinion on the ultimate veracity of ID as a supernatural explanation."18 This is not the position of most evolutionary scientists, however. They believe that there are no supernatural explanations, and that trying to show that they are incompatible with the evidence is a waste of time. It is part of their basic epistemological and metaphysical framework, which either excludes the existence of God or, at best, places him entirely outside the boundaries of the natural universe. They do not think, Maybe there are supernatural explanations, but if there are, science cannot discover them. Rather, they think, Anybody who is willing even to consider supernatural explanations is living in the past.

We cannot, however, make this a fundamental principle of public education. I understand the attitude that ID is just the latest manifestation of the fundamentalist threat, and that you have to stand and fight them here or you will end up having to fight for the right to teach evolution at all. However, I believe that both intellectually and constitutionally the line does not have to be drawn at this point, and that a noncommittal discussion of some of the issues would be preferable.

Nagel's essay (from last year) is superb, and warrants a reading. As an atheist, Nagel notes that Darwinists' efforts to censor discussion of ID in biology is deeply flawed logic and may even run afoul of the Establishment Clause.