Thomas Nagel Selects Signature in the Cell as One of Top Books of 2009

Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel praised Signature in the Cell in the Times Literary Supplement, stating,

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.

(HT: Uncommon Descent)

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15 thoughts on “Thomas Nagel Selects Signature in the Cell as One of Top Books of 2009

  1. Pingback: Philosophy Word of the Day — Thomas Nagel « Cloud of Witnesses

  2. Sharkey said, “All scientists should be aware that methodological naturalism is the guiding philosophy. No daemons, Maxwell’s or otherwise. And definitely no intelligent agents designing cells using supernatural methods under cover of darkness.”

    Methodical naturalism may be a guiding philosophy among secular scientists but it is not necessarily a correct philosophy. Such an assumption immediately disqualifies what might be the correct answer. Consider for a moment a basic question: Did Jesus rise from the dead? Methodical naturalism demands that He did not. Why? Because dead men do not naturally rise to life. So in a quest for a natural explanation to the Resurrection, the scientist necessarily overlooks the correct one.

    Of course, the assumption of methodical naturalism fails by its own standard. Can anyone explain SCIENTIFICALLY why everything must have a natural explanation?

    It is painfully obvious that secular scientists are only interested in finding a natural explanation. In the case of origins, it’s too bad for them the correct answer is the supernatural one.

    God bless!!

    RKBentley

    • Did Jesus rise from the dead? Methodical naturalism demands that He did not… So in a quest for a natural explanation to the Resurrection, the scientist necessarily overlooks the correct one.

      Not at all. There are plenty of natural explanations for “ris[ing] from the dead”, ranging from plausible (emotional trauma of Jesus’ death leading to visions in his followers) to downright silly (swoon hypothesis), but methodological naturalism does not a priori rule out this event. Rather, it is you that overlooks the natural explanations in favour of your own biased “correct” view.

      Can anyone explain SCIENTIFICALLY why everything must have a natural explanation?

      You are attempting to set up a self-referential statement, which you hope will cause secular science to implode in awe of your logical talents. However, methodological naturalism is an assumption that scientists accept based upon empirical observations of its success. Models that are based on methodological naturalism provide better predictive and explanatory power than the alternative. See: evolution, general relativity, quantum electrodynamics, cognitive neuroscience, etc.

      When a supernatural assumption leads to a better explanation and prediction of a coupling constant, then I’ll be a convert.

  3. How about;

    People can tell us about what is moral or immoral, what is beautiful, what is meaningful, or why we should trust people at all. People must be grounded by reality and humanity, or their thoughts are nothing more than flights of rhetorical fancy.

  4. what is a real atheist! it appears those who are clones of the human ape.Christopher Hitchens I believe has great regard for William Lane Craig since having a debate with him and also being quite complimentary to the good doctor.But according to Human ape’s logic Hitchens is to wishy washy to be an atheist because true atheists dont say nice things about Christians or their books.

  5. “I have found no evidence that Thomas Nagel is an atheist. He might claim to be an atheist, but more likely he’s too wishy-washy to be a real atheist.”

    “Real atheists do not say nice things about Christian books that invoke supernatural magic.”

    So, in other words, you’re using a “No True Scotsman” argument to define atheism. When one has done this, one has abandoned logic and taken up the sword for deception.

  6. Thomas Nagel is a philosopher, not a scientist, so he is not qualified to write about science.

    Also, I have found no evidence that Thomas Nagel is an atheist. He might claim to be an atheist, but more likely he’s too wishy-washy to be a real atheist.

    “Intelligent Design” are code words that Meyer’s Discovery Institute (a creationist organization) uses when they are really talking about supernatural magic. Meyer is invoking magic in his book. Real atheists do not say nice things about Christian books that invoke supernatural magic.

    By the way, Meyer’s Discovery Institute has never discovered anything. If they wanted to be honest they would rename their Christian creationist organization to the “You Discover It, We Deny It Institute”.

    • Hi H. A.,
      Thanks for your comment. It might be hasty to claim that Thomas Nagel isn’t qualified to write about science. Scientists are good at the nuts and bolts of doing science, but they’re typically unequipped to think carefully about the implications of scientific findings and how science relates to other academic disciplines (like philosophy).

      What’s often overlooked by a great many folks who adopt scientism is that science always involves philosophy. No empirical fact is self-interpreting. Thus, scientists use their philosophical presuppositions to interpret every bit of data they discover. All of this is brought to the table before a single experiment is ever done. Some champions of science like Richard Dawkins talk about science as if it’s pure rationality, but that’s not the case. Thomas Kuhn has shown very convincingly that there are numerous non-rational factors that influence every aspect of science, including presuppositions that determine how one conceives of science and what data will be accepted or rejected, and social factors like peer pressure. Science, I’m afraid, is far from pure rationality.

      It would be beneficial for scientists (and most everyone for that matter) to learn some philosophy. One of its great benefits is preventing or undermining an attitude of easy dogmatism, which is so prevalent among scientific atheists (e.g., “Science clearly shows X, therefore we can be absolutely certain of Y”). There are many areas of knowledge in human experience, and science is only one of them, and only applies to a limited range of phenomena. On the other hand, science can tell us nothing about what is moral or immoral, what is beautiful, what is meaningful, or even why we should trust science itself. Most of these issues are philosophical in nature, and philosophy, rather than science, is the best paradigm for achieving rationality.

      About Stephen Meyer, I haven’t found any references to magic in his works. I do find reference to an intelligent agent responsible for creating or designing life — the identity of which is admitted to be beyond science’s purview. Thus, the agent could be an extraterrestrial intelligence, as even Francis Crick came to believe (with his theory of “Directed Panspermia“).

      Best Regards,
      Chris

      • So, to be clear: you want scientists to understand the philosophical underpinnings of modern science. I agree. All scientists should be aware that methodological naturalism is the guiding philosophy. No daemons, Maxwell’s or otherwise. And definitely no intelligent agents designing cells using supernatural methods under cover of darkness.

        On the other hand, science can tell us nothing about what is moral or immoral, what is beautiful, what is meaningful, or even why we should trust science itself.

        This seems awfully similar to the “scientismist” attitude you look down upon.

        Let’s flip it around: philosophy can tell us nothing about what is moral or immoral, what is beautiful, what is meaningful, or why we should trust philosophy itself. Philosophy must be grounded by science, or it is nothing more than flights of rhetorical fancy.

        Discuss.

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