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New York Times on Thomas Nagel's "Dangerous Sympathy for Intelligent Design"

Nagel.JPGTimes reporter Jennifer Schuessler is playing catch-up with ENV, describing the war of words over distinguished NYU philosopher and atheist Thomas Nagel's book Mind & Cosmos ("An Author Attracts Unlikely Allies").

Linking to our top ten list of the year's evolution-related news stories, featuring Bill Dembski's review of Nagel, Ms. Schuessler observes that "Advocates of intelligent design have certainly been enthusiastic, with the Discovery Institute crowing about Mr. Nagel's supposed 'deconversion' from Darwinism." There's nothing "supposed" about it. But she goes on: "The book, subtitled Why the Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, has also drawn appreciative notice from conservative publications that might normally disdain Mr. Nagel's liberal writings in moral and political philosophy."

While noting Nagel's warm embrace of Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell, the reporter didn't try to talk with anyone here, which is too bad. We would have enjoyed chatting with her. And there is the usual misleading conflation of ID with creationism. For the latter, Nagel has said nothing supportive, or anything at all.

But there can be no argument with Ms. Schuessler's reporting that the book has outraged Darwinists -- scared them too, I'd say. She asks, "What is it like to be an eminent (and avowedly atheist) philosopher accused of giving aid and comfort to creationist enemies of science?" Good question. Being Nagel involves, for one thing, enduring charges that your defection from Darwinism is a threat to biology education:

The fiercest criticism, however, has come from people who fault Mr. Nagel not just for the specifics of his arguments but also for what they see as a dangerous sympathy for intelligent design.

"The book is going to have pernicious real-world effects," said Mr. Leiter, a philosopher at the University of Chicago, who has frequently chided Mr. Nagel on his widely read blog. He added, "It's going to be used as a weapon to do damage to the education of biology students."

It's a charge Mr. Nagel has met with before. In 2009 he caused a furor when he praised Stephen C. Meyer's Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design in The Times Literary Supplement of London.

Yet Nagel's critique of Darwinism is also finding support in the mainstream academic world and even in high-toned liberal publications like The New Republic:
[S]ome of his supporters paint him as the victim of an ideological pile-on.

"He is questioning a certain kind of orthodoxy, and they are responding in the way the orthodox respond," said Alva No�, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, who gave the book a rare positive, if not uncritical, notice on NPR's Web site.

One of the take-aways here is not only the progress ID is making in scientific and general culture, but specifically among liberal thinkers. That makes it a lot harder to pigeonhole us in time-honored Darwinian fashion as right-wing Christian fundamentalists, creationists and the like. This may be the chief source of outrage from the Darwin community. Deprived of that old crutch, these guys will be forced to argue with us and explain in detail why ID, not creationism yet again, is wrong. Of course that's something that most have stubbornly, and tellingly, refused to do.

This is all good. But note well, readers of Evolution News & Views. You read about it all here, months before you saw it in the New York Times.