In his new collection of essays (just released by Oxford University Press), Thomas Nagel’s essay on Intelligent Design is included. In that essay, Nagel makes a striking and ironic observation about ID’s relation to science. Since ID is the inverse of evolutionary theory, to be scientific it simply needs to function as a critique of evolutionary theory’s central claim. Nothing more. Here’s how Nagel puts it (and very clearly, I might add):
[Evolutionary theory’s] deﬁning element is the claim that all this happened [that is, the origin of species] 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 … 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. 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.
Wow. That’s a really interesting observation, isn’t it? If evolutionary theory means to account for the origin of species as having only the appearance of design, then gaps and weaknesses pointed to in the science surrounding the hypothesis itself constitute a scientific critique, right?