Thomas Nagel has a paper in the Spring 2008 issue of Philosophy & Public Affairs, entitled “Public Education and Intelligent Design”. In fact, most of the paper isn’t about public education, but is about intelligent design generally. Interestingly, he says at the beginning of the paper:

My aim is to address the constitutional issue, but first I want to discuss the relation between evolutionary theory and the despised alternative.

But in fact he spends most of the time on the latter project; the constitutional issues only come up at the very end.

Nagel is an atheist who is nevertheless expressing some sympathies to the arguments for intelligent design; in that sense we are on the same page. What surprised me most about the paper was the lack of citation to other literature — there’s not much Nagel says in here that’s new, and yet page after page of the journal article has no citations. I’m not in principle opposed to writing like that, but I am surprised that writing like that can get published in a major journal like Philosophy & Public Affairs. For example, Nagel argues against methodological naturalism, but he doesn’t consider the arguments of philosophers like Pennock, who argue for methodological naturalism. Now, I happen to think that Nagel is right and Pennock is wrong, but by not engaging with the published arguments at all, Nagel is setting himself up to look ignorant. And indeed, this is how for example Brian Leiter is portraying it, saying that Nagel has “jumped the shark”.

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