Thomas Nagel and Biologists

I have seen a post on Facebook where a biologist has discussed Nagel’s nomination of Signature in the Cell. A link was to the blog

http://recursed.blogspot.de/2009/11/stupid-philosopher-tricks-thomas-nagel.html

Stupid Philosopher Tricks: Thomas Nagel

In a previous post, I said, “Whenever scientific subjects are discussed, you can count on some philosopher to chime in with something really stupid.”

Well, the argument in this blog (as well as in other biologists’ reply) is in the form that philosophers are stupid by a definition. I should confess that such an argument does  not impressed me. I would expect that well educated people should express their thoughts in somewhat better manner. Hence I have decided to find the original document. Here it is:   

Thomas Nagel and Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell
DNA, RNA, Intelligent Design and a controversial selection for the TLS Books of the Year
http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article706905.ece

Nagel’s nomination is short and I quote it competely.

Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

I would say that the text is well written. Why then Thomas Nagel cannot take such a view? On the TLS link above there is a fierce critique from Stephen Fletcher that starts as follows:

The belief that we share this planet with supernatural beings is an old one. Students of magic and religion have identified innumerable varieties of them – gods, devils, pixies, fairies, you name it. A familiar motif is that they operate at the very fringes of perception. While the scullery maid sleeps, they are busy in the kitchen making the milk go sour.

The tone is pretty close to what one finds in  biologists’ blogs. In the next paragraph Stephen Fletcher writes:

In the recent TLS “Books of the Year” (November 27), Thomas Nagel recommends Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design. “Intelligent Design” is of course a code phrase to obscure a malicious and absurd thesis; namely, that a supernatural being has interfered in the evolution of life on this planet. If Nagel wishes to take this notion seriously, very well, let him do so. But he should not promote the book to the rest of us using statements that are factually incorrect.

I should say that I was raised in the Soviet Union where one used to say that those that are not with us are against us.  Hence Fletcher’s logic is quite understandable. Yet we should not forget that Soviet Union, where such a logic used to have its way, does not exist any more.

The discussion on the TLS page is actually enjoyable. Fletcher’s propagnada reminds me old good days in the Soviet Union.


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