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ERIC Number: ED547075
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 103
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: N/A
ISBN: 978-1-2675-2197-2
Distinguishing Science from Philosophy: A Critical Assessment of Thomas Nagel's Recommendation for Public Education
Lammey, Melissa
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, Florida State University
The purpose of this dissertation is to argue that while a discussion of the nature of human knowledge might be a worthy goal to pursue in public education, the science classroom is not the appropriate place for this discussion. The concern that no claims to knowledge--including scientific claims--are void of a metaphysical and epistemological framework has been voiced recently by Thomas Nagel in his defense of intelligent design. Intelligent design theory is a contemporary version of creation science that has been used to challenge evolutionary theory in the US legal context surrounding public education. It has failed to date and a key reason for this is because it is not understood to be science by the courts. As a result, proponents of intelligent design have attempted to show that if intelligent design theory is not science, then neither is evolutionary theory. A strategy pursued by Phillip Johnson, and more recently by Nagel, is to claim that evolutionary theory itself depends on a dogmatic metaphysical commitment--what Johnson calls "philosophical naturalism" and what Nagel calls "scientism." However, there are two key differences between their approaches: (1) Johnson believes that the methodological naturalism assumed in science is motivated by a personal commitment of its proponents to philosophical naturalism, but he clearly states that there is no necessary connection between the two. Nagel, on the other hand, believes that methodological naturalism requires philosophical naturalism. If Nagel is correct, then science's claim to metaphysical neutrality fails and this could pose a challenge to it in the legal context of US public education. (2) Johnson advances intelligent design theory as his positive thesis and aligns himself with creationist motivations in his publications, in his affiliation with the Discovery Institute, and in his personal life insofar as he is a self-professed born-again Christian. Nagel advances no such positive thesis and possesses no religious motivations. The extent of his concern seems to be his belief that humans do not possess--and perhaps will never possess--adequate conceptual frameworks to understand everything we might seek to understand. It appears that he has an affinity for intelligent design theory simply because its proponents reject the framework of naturalism assumed in the sciences. Because Nagel believes that science--and he discusses evolutionary theory in particular--is not metaphysically neutral, he contends that it is intellectually irresponsible to exclude a discussion of the connection between evolutionary theory and religion in public education. Critics have argued that he is further committed to the conclusion that intelligent design theory and evolutionary theory are equally viable candidates for biology curriculum. I don't believe this conclusion follows. Nagel is not advocating for intelligent design. Rather, he is arguing that the beliefs one holds about certain possibilities (such as whether or not an intelligent designer is possible) necessarily inform the methodologies and explanations one arrives at when doing science and that is the key issue he seems to think needs to be introduced in public education. There are a number of questions raised by Nagel's arguments such as what counts as scientific evidence, what standards of evidence are accepted to confirm or disconfirm a scientific hypothesis, and how should such standards be taught to students. I take the position that it is important to investigate what scientists say about science and science education in order to determine whether this field has any necessary or particularly unique connection to one philosophical commitment over any other. I argue that no particular philosophical commitment is necessary or unique to science and that a noncommittal agnosticism can serve as a philosophical framework for scientific investigation and exploration. I also argue that individual commitments to philosophical naturalism or scientism can be understood as judgments that result from work in the sciences rather than antecedent beliefs that are necessary to the methods of science. While I do believe that critics have been less than charitable to Nagel and that he is ultimately pursuing an important project in philosophy, I argue that he is wrong to suggest that such a project be advanced in science classrooms. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A