Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thomas Nagel recommends Meyer's The Signature in the Cell

Watch out, Tom. Giving aid and comfort to IDiots is a dangerous idea.


SillyTom said...

Yeah, recommending this book is probably going to do quite a bit of harm to Nagel's reputation. Brian Leiter has already said he has "become a disgrace".

It's going to make it harder for normal folk to recommend Nagel as a reasonable rigorous and hardheaded philosopher who is nevertheless an anti-scientismist and skeptic of naturalistic physicalism.

Blue Devil Knight said...

If it were 1910 he would still be a vitalist. Nagel has always had sympathies for antinaturalistic arguments that depend on gaps in our scientific knowledge. He built his reputation on one such argument ('What is it like to be a bat?').

What he has always shared with the ID folks is the willingness to conclude that his inability to imagine how something could happen (a boring and parochial psychological fact) has deep metaphysical implications.

It will be interesting to see the reviews from the skeptics start to pour in now that Meyers has received this endorsement, and since his book did so well at amazon this year. I have only read secondary sources and it sounds like boilerplate ID arguments, but I'll wait for more thorough summaries and reviews (I have neither the time nor inclination to read it, as I have wasted too many hours of my life reading ID primary sources).

Frankly, the fact that he so highly regards Behe in the preface doesn't bode well. That he actually says that Dembski's 'Design Inference' establishes a scientific method for detecting design shows either that he is a liar (i.e., he hasn't read the book) or silly (Dembki does no such thing as a few seconds thought about the "explanatory filter" would reveal by anyone with a modicum of scientific talent).

That said, I look forward to detailed summaries of his specific arguments.

As I often tell my creationist friends, they still have consciousness, origins of life, and origins of the universe to stand on if they really want to go the god-of-the-gaps route. It is an unconvincing route to take toward God (for reasons I spelled out here). If I were a theist, I would base my belief in God on something less contingent and presumptuous than gaps in our knowledge. For instance, I would argue that God is immanent in all and is required to explain and maintain all that is, even the laws of physics (whatever they turn out to be), the existence of mass right now, the chair I am sitting on, the fact that mass is attracted to mass, and such.

Find God in those very things that science can explain at a surface level (e.g., planetary orbits). Why go to gaps? That seems almost insulting to God, frankly, and makes one's theology come off as insecure or petty.

That comes from a nontheologian, nontheist, mind you, but I was once a Christian and this is how I thought at the time. My Christian bro's who used gap arguments always struck me as somehow either naive or disingenuous (sort of the way that skeptics who say that neuroscience has explained consciousness are being naive or disingenuous).

William said...

I don't think that the discovery on new laws in science as ever being able to fill in Nagel's subjective-objective gap. There are some things (the belief in some degree of regularity of the world around us) that are prior to finding physical laws themselves, IMO.

I agree with BDK, though, that pointing to gaps in the knowledge of science is unneeded for theism, just as science itself is (contra Dawkins) not really needed for a decent defense of atheism. Finding new laws in science truly does not explain why these regularities exist. And finding gaps on theories about the world does not mean that the God of theism is somehow situated inside the gaps more than anywhere else.

Gordon Knight said...

Sometimes philosophers just like interesting arguments. We don't always have some kind of axe to grind.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gordon: I suppose one person's interesting is another's tired retread. While this admittedly makes me lose respect for Nagel as an intellectual, I do give him props for putting his neck on the chopping block like this. I'm sure he knew the consequences.

It is funny in the blog Victor linked to the guy suggests this would give ID scientific respectability. [..record scratch sound effect...]

Just so I understand: in a newspaper a philosopher of law suggests reading a book by a historian, and this will be a watershed scientific moment. These people just don't understand how science works.

Victor Reppert said...

What's going to turn ID into something to be taken seriously is their recommending lines of research that might support (but also have the tendency to undermine, if they go south on them) their claims. Writing books that impress the general public won't do much good, especially if the part of the public that it appeals to is already in the choir. Movies about how mean and nasty the scientific community is to defenders of design also isn't going to help. Repudiating YEC once and for all will help. Not getting to excited about the endorsement of right-wing politicians will also help. Getting into legal battles about the public school curriculum is poison.

I disbelieve the most fundamental criticism of ID, namely, that the claim of design is necessarily and inherently untestable in virtue of its "supernatural" content. I believe that we have been designed, and I think in the long run science should be able to see that.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor is right. We (scientists) don't go to the public or legislators to get our views accepted. That is typically considered really lame, the sign of a charlatan.