As we told you yesterday, philosopher Daniel Dennett attended a session on evolution and religion at the big Darwin Festival at Cambridge University and had some things to say about it. Now, philosopher and theologian Philip Clayton, who presented a paper at that session, has posted a response.
Here's what Clayton writes:
A few days ago I presented a paper during the Darwin Festival at the University of Cambridge. Although the session was entitled “Theology in Darwinian Context,” the paper was actually a plea for an open and inquiring form of philosophical discourse—for using the best of human reason to address the big questions of the Western philosophical tradition. The paper gave examples of seven major philosophical questions raised by contemporary biology, arguing not for dogmatic answers to them but for the importance of the debate itself. At the end I gave an example of a form of Christian theology that could be a part of such a debate as well.
Toward the end of the session I had a chance to engage Daniel Dennett in a public debate about my paper. Instead of haranguing him from the podium about his dismissive one-liner just before break, I presented brief arguments and gave him the opportunity to respond each time, so that we could hold a fair, two-sided discussion before the audience. ...
For my part, I can only express my amazement that Dan chose not to mention any of the philosophical questions, nor the call to dialogue itself, but only to answer with a series of dismissive comments and rhetorical moves. Not only does he decline the invitation to reasonable debate; he fails even to mention it. In fact, isn’t his choice of rhetoric instead of argument an instance of exactly what he is accusing theologians of doing?
I can only express my deep disappointment at a philosopher who has so lost interest in philosophical debate. I remember the pride in our discipline that I felt as an undergraduate philosophy major. We were willing to take the best of human reason into absolutely any area, and while many would be unwilling to follow “the force of the better argument”—or even to defend their views at all—at least philosophers would never shy away from the task. I remember looking up to famous philosophers, including the young Daniel Dennett, as ideas worthy of emulation.
To find someone who bears the proud name of a philosopher ignoring the content of a paper he’s just heard, and then choosing to blog about it with rhetoric and misrepresentation instead of summary and criticism, is a far cry from those ideals. Indeed, is it not ironic that it would be the theologian who summarizes philosophical questions, gives arguments, and makes the call to dialogue, and the philosopher who declines the invitation with insults and dismissive rhetoric?