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Friday, July 10, 2009

Philip Clayton Responds to Daniel Dennett

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?


Dong-Sik said...

I have just read Dr. Clayton’s article which he presented at the Darwin festival and Dennett’s protocol about the conference which he posted at the Dawkins’ website. Three things are my responses.

First, theology in the midst of science must answer to this question by Dan Dennett: “What questions does theology ask or answer that aren’t already being dealt with by science or secular philosophy?” This question makes me embarrassed, so I have to find some appropriate answers.

Second, after 2009 Darwin festival, Dan Dennett sent an email about the festival to Richard Dawkins and mentioned about Philip Clayton: “Clayton astonished me by listing God’s attributes: according to his handsomely naturalistic theology, God is not omnipotent, not even supernatural, and . . . . in short Clayton is an atheist who won’t admit it.”

Dennett’s response about Clayton was very na├»ve and dualistic, since his mention and judgment that ‘Clayton is an atheist,’ because Clayton criticized attributes of God in traditional theology, must be ironically based on the concept of God in classical theism which Clayton have been criticizing. Dennett committed the Straw Man fallacy which Clayton pointed out in his article, since when he defined Clayton’s concept of God, he used the concept of the classical theism which Clayton criticized. If we criticize traditional concepts of God, do we become atheist? What a simple dualism! I assume that he knows no other concepts of God than traditional concepts of God. It is the very point that Clayton criticizes and urges us to have multi-disciplinary in order to better understand the world including human beings and other beings in his article.
Nevertheless, Dennett’s fallacy paradoxically gives me an idea that we have to suggest any other persuasive and clearer explanation about concept of God than concept of God of classical theism and the one of atheist.

Third, Dennett’s attitude of public debate is not proper. Clayton already mentioned: “it’s the theologian who lays out nuanced philosophical questions and calls to open dialogue, and it seems to be the philosopher who declines the invitation, turning to rhetoric instead.” Do scientists have any kind of pride and superiority over theology? Who gave this authority to them?

Katherine Masis said...

I´ve noticed that many militant atheists have very naive and simplistic notions of God. They try to deconstruct their own straw man.