Mohan Matthen (Toronto) comments on the peculiar spectacle of Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga trading laudatory reviews of their recent anti-naturalist books in different high-profile publications, especially when at least one of the books (Nagel's) is obviously not very good (I have not read Plantinga's, though I'm not optimistic given what I've read about it). (Commenting on Professor Matthen's post, the distinguished Oxford philosopher of physics David Wallace offers the amusing quip: "I was initially shocked to find that two such distinguished philosophers were so remarkably ignorant of basic science. It totally violated my common sense. Then I realised that in that case, it couldn't be true. So that's okay.")
Plantinga's review begins on a remarkably disingenous note; he informs his readers that:
NAGEL IS NOT AFRAID to take unpopular positions, and he does not seem to mind the obloquy that goes with that territory....Nagel has endorsed the negative conclusions of the much-maligned Intelligent Design movement, and he has defended it from the charge that it is inherently unscientific. In 2009 he even went so far as to recommend Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, a flagship declaration of Intelligent Design, as a book of the year. For that piece of blasphemy Nagel paid the predictable price; he was said to be arrogant, dangerous to children, a disgrace, hypocritical, ignorant, mind-polluting, reprehensible, stupid, unscientific, and in general a less than wholly upstanding citizen of the republic of letters.
I suppose it testifies to the influence of this blog that most of Plantinga's sarcastic aside clearly references criticisms levelled at Nagel on this blog (and other authors to whom I linked). But Plantinga's silliness aside, let's be clear why Nagel earned the criticism:
No one doubts that Nagel and Plantinga are capable philosophers, who have done high quality professional work during their careers. Plantinga at least has the excuse of his religion to explain his more doubtful philosophical forays. But neither can be excused for trying to legitimate the hucksters at the Discovery [sic] Institute and the Intelligent Design scam. This really isn't a hard issue, and one can predict with certainty that both Nagel's and Plantinga's trafficking with this nonsense will not redound to their credit over the long haul.
1. There is no scientific controversy about Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
2. There is no evidence for Intelligent Design or any other religiously motivated alternative.
3. As good fallibilists, we can acknowledge that, despite (1) and (2), Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection might turn out to be false. But fabrications, confusions, and bone-headed philosophcial speculations give us no reason to be skeptical.
4. Given 1-3, it's an outrage to try to encourage high schools to teach children anything other than Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection as part of the standard biology curriculum. The raison-d'etre of the Discovery [sic] Institute and its paid shills like Stephen Meyer are to perpetrate this outrage.