New phrase: “jumping the shark”

I was reading a post about the great philosopher Thomas Nagel, who recently published an article arguing that Intelligent Design should be taught in school, since it is in fact “science,” though it is bad science. Indeed,very bad science. Anyway, the poster was wondering if Nagel had “jumped the shark,” a phrase which I had not yet encountered. So I Wiki-ed it, and found the etymology very funny. Here is a hint:

And here is the Wiki article.

And here is the post discussing Nagel.

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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7 Responses to New phrase: “jumping the shark”

  1. Kleiner says:

    I’m not sure if I really want to wade into this debate, especially on a site where I know there are some Hitchens Hooligans waiting to pounce. I’ll confess to being pretty agnostic about these things – I am not a scientist so I really don’t know the details. (Can I say it is ‘above my pay grade’?)

    But here is my thought:

    I think both sides are in error here in that each side tends to stretch beyond its proper domain. Here is what I mean:

    Let us assume, contra Nagel, that intelligent design is not science. We might say this because it makes claims that cannot be tested using the scientific method. For that reason, it should not be taught in science class. That said, the broad view that the world is teleologically ordered has some (I think a lot) of philosophical plausibility.

    On the other hand, let us assume that natural selection is good science. But I think we all know that many who hold this view almost invariably end up making philosophical (not scientific) claims about, say, the ultimate origin and end of the universe and ground of her intelligibility. Of course, this cannot be empirically verified either, so it is bad science (or perhaps not science at all). And it is bad philosophy.

    So perhaps we have good philosophy trying to encroach on science (and doing it poorly), and good science trying to encroach on philosophy (and doing it poorly). Again, I say let the scientists answer the ‘how’ questions and let the philosophers answer the ‘why’ questions.

    This is surely the reason why so many theists push intelligent design, they justifiably feel defensive. Natural selection taught in science class almost invariably becomes a philosophical/cosmological view rather than a merely scientific one. For my part, I don’t see natural selection as a very severe threat to the idea that God is the first (and final) cause of all things, but in science classes it is all too often presented as a fatal blow to theism (I know this was the case in my classes when I was in high school and college).


  2. Kleiner says:

    I should clarify, I don’t think ‘evolution’ (at least understood in a certain way) represents a severe threat to theism and a teleological view of the world. I suppose that, by ‘natural selection’ people very often mean something that allegedly removes the ‘need’ for God.


  3. Rob says:

    Thanks for the tip to the Nagel article. This yet unpublished paper of a 2005 talk by Nagel may also be of of even greater interest ( –John Richardson’s reading of Nietzsche is invoked):

    “Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament”

    Click to access 2.pdf


  4. Huenemann says:

    Looks very interesting. I skimmed it, but will soon give it a closer read.


  5. B. Wardle says:

    I found this topic intriguing considering I am currently taking Sherlock’s “Modern Science & Religion” class where we are discussing Intelligent Design & the Big Bang Theory.

    For those who don’t have access to Nagel’s article (and don’t want to pay the $29.99 to access it) there’s an interesting synopsis of it available at this link:

    Here’s just a couple thoughts I have about teaching ID in school and whether I think Nagel is possibly “jumping the shark.”

    First, Dr. Sherlock brought up an interesting point about this discussion. “Material causality is not the conclusion of scientific study, it is the premise.” As far as I can see, evolution is material causality, and as such, is a premise in the “origin of life” argument. Whether intelligent design is (or should be) considered a premise as well, is debatable. As far as I can tell, Nagel is offering a legitimate argument for (at the very least) a consideration of ID in the discussion. Another exerpt from my notes in Sherlock’s class: “Science shouldn’t mock religion for having ‘faith premises’ because science’s premise are also faith based.”

    Secondly, as a matter of personal opinion, I don’t think that creationism should be taught in schools. In Nagel’s article, he says that teaching creationism in school is acceptable, “so long as the proposal is not introduced by religiously-motivated persons ‘as a fallback from something stronger,’ but by persons ‘more neutral’ or ‘without noticeable religious beliefs.'” The problem here is that there is no in-between. Creationism will either be taught insufficiently (by an unqualified person) or over-zealously taught (by a theist with a natural bias).

    Public school would be best served by sticking to teaching physical truths, and religious sects are better suited to teach spiritual matters. I see nothing wrong with religion being a supplement for lessons learned in school (or vice-versa). Public school teaches us to figure out problems through certain scientific or mathematical approaches. Most religions teach that we should pray at all times for guidance in solving problems. These two solutions seem to be at odds with each other, when really they can be used in conjunction with each other. The diffrence here is that both didn’t have to be discussed in the public classroom in order to be useful. Therefore, creationism can be taught exclusively in our religious assemblies and still be just as legitimate in discussion of the origin of life. It doesn’t need to be in our schools to be legitimate. Besides, I agree that allowing it in our curriculum will likely lead to a slippery slope (as discussed in the synopsis link above).


  6. B. Wardle says:

    I failed to mention that I don’t think that Nagel is “jumping the shark.” While i don’t agree with his ultimate conclusion, his point is well taken and adds an interesting twist to the debate.


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