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Atheists Against Darwinism - Page 7

Nagel on the Scientific Status of ID

Nagel believes "that the response of evolutionists to creation science and intelligent design should not be to rule them out as 'not science.'"[60] He argues that Darwinism and ID are methodologically equivalent: "Either both of them are science or neither of them is."[61]:

The denier that ID is science faces the following dilemma. Either he admits that  the intervention of such a designer is possible, or he does not. If he does not, he  must explain why that belief is more scientific than the belief that a designer is  possible. If on the other hand he believes that a designer is possible, then he can  argue that the evidence is overwhelmingly against the actions of such a designer,  but he cannot say that someone who offers evidence on the other side is doing  something of a fundamentally different kind . . . It is difficult to avoid the  conclusion that the two sides are in symmetrical positions. If one scientist is a  theist and another an atheist, this is either a scientific or a nonscientific  disagreement between them. If it is scientific . . . then their disagreement is  scientific all the way down. If it is not a scientific disagreement, and if this  difference in their nonscientific beliefs about the antecedent possibilities affects  their rational interpretation of the same empirical evidence, I do not see how we  can say that one is engaged in science and the other is not. Either both conclusions  are rendered nonscientific by the influence of their nonscientific assumptions, or  both are scientific in spite of  those assumptions. In the latter case, they have a  scientific disagreement that cannot be settled by scientific reasoning alone. . .[62]

Nagel complains that the "ID isn't science" objection amounts to an unfair and implausible rigging of the ground-rules of 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. Something about the nature of the conclusion,  that it involves the purposes of a supernatural being, rules it out as science.[63]

As I will argue, the claim that ID "involves the purposes of a supernatural being" is misleading. This aside, Nagel's point about double standards is a good one:

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. No one  suggests that the theory is not science, even though the historical process it  describes cannot be directly observed, but must be inferred from currently available data. 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.[64]

Nagel argues that the supposed problem with the design hypothesis:

cannot be just that the idea of a designer is too vague, and that nothing is being  said about how he works. When Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection,  neither he nor anyone else had any idea of how heredity worked, or what could  cause a mutation that was observable in the phenotype and was heritable. The  proposal was simply that something purposeless was going on that had these  effects, permitting natural selection to operate. This is no less vague than the  hypothesis that the mutations available for selection are influenced by the actions  of a designer. So it must be the element of purpose that is the real offender.[65]

However, if the "purpose" in question can be "vague" without this vagueness being problematical, then it must be un-problematical if this vagueness extends to a refusal to specify the "purpose" in question as divine (as Nagel assumes). It's upon the issue of "purpose" or "design" per se that we should focus, for as Nagel observes:

We do not have much scientific understanding of the creative process even when the creator is human; perhaps such creativity too is beyond the reach of science.  Leaving that aside: the idea of a divine creator or designer is clearly the idea of a  being whose acts and decisions are not explainable by natural law. There is no  divine scientific psychology.[66]


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