Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Dawkins's Lapdog Gets Kicked

A pretty scathing review of Daniel Dennett's new book was in Sunday's New York Times. The reviewer argues that Dennett's scientism is another form of superstition. I especially enjoyed this since Dennett is one of the poster boys (see also here and here) of Darwinian Fundamentalism:

THE question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett's book. "Breaking the Spell" is a work of considerable historical interest, because it is a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions.

The orthodoxies of evolutionary psychology are all here, its tiresome way of roaming widely but never leaving its house, its legendary curiosity that somehow always discovers the same thing. The excited materialism of American society — I refer not to the American creed of shopping, according to which a person's qualities may be known by a person's brands, but more ominously to the adoption by American culture of biological, economic and technological ways of describing the purposes of human existence — abounds in Dennett's usefully uninhibited pages. And Dennett's book is also a document of the intellectual havoc of our infamous polarization, with its widespread and deeply damaging assumption that the most extreme statement of an idea is its most genuine statement. Dennett lives in a world in which you must believe in the grossest biologism or in the grossest theism, in a purely naturalistic understanding of religion or in intelligent design, in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in 19th-century England or in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in the sky.

. . .

There are a number of things that must be said about this story. The first is that it is only a story. It is not based, in any strict sense, on empirical research. Dennett is "extrapolating back to human prehistory with the aid of biological thinking," nothing more. "Breaking the Spell" is a fairy tale told by evolutionary biology. There is no scientific foundation for its scientistic narrative. Even Dennett admits as much: "I am not at all claiming that this is what science has established about religion. . . . We don't yet know." So all of Dennett's splashy allegiance to evidence and experiment and "generating further testable hypotheses" notwithstanding, what he has written is just an extravagant speculation based upon his hope for what is the case, a pious account of his own atheistic longing.

. . .

In the end, his repudiation of religion is a repudiation of philosophy, which is also an affair of belief in belief. What this shallow and self-congratulatory book establishes most conclusively is that there are many spells that need to be broken.

20 Comments:

At February 20, 2006 1:37 PM, Anonymous John said...

Here's the best part of the review in my opinion, because it succinctly states the nature of Dennett's and Dawkins' disingenuousness:

Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.

Like many biological reductionists, Dennett is sure that he is not a biological reductionist. But the charge is proved as early as the fourth page of his book. Watch closely. "Like other animals," the confused passage begins, "we have built-in desires to reproduce and to do pretty much whatever it takes to achieve this goal." No confusion there, and no offense. It is incontrovertible that we are animals. The sentence continues: "But we also have creeds, and the ability to transcend our genetic imperatives." A sterling observation, and the beginning of humanism. And then more, in the same fine antideterministic vein: "This fact does make us different."

Then suddenly there is this: "But it is itself a biological fact, visible to natural science, and something that requires an explanation from natural science." As the ancient rabbis used to say, have your ears heard what your mouth has spoken? Dennett does not see that he has taken his humanism back. Why is our independence from biology a fact of biology? And if it is a fact of biology, then we are not independent of biology.

Beautiful.

 
At February 20, 2006 8:30 PM, Blogger Sean said...

Why is our independence from biology a fact of biology?

Might have something to do with the several pounds of gray stuff that has (biologically) evolved inside our skulls. We use it to override our genetic determinism and do neat stuff like paint pictures and play music. Or at least this is what Dawkins and probably Dennett are saying (haven't read him.)

Dawkins: "...it is perfectly possible to hold that genes exert a statistical influence on human behaviour while at the same time believing that this influence can be modified, overridden or reversed by other influences."

We get sexual urges from our genes, but still put a condom on. Egads!

 
At February 21, 2006 4:28 AM, Anonymous Farshad said...

"we have built-in desires to reproduce and to do pretty much whatever it takes to achieve this goal."

What is definition for desire from a materialist, atheist point of view? The same question can be asked for consciousness, mind, feelings and every other non-material aspects of human.

It is the questions that always ignored or answered in a tricky way by those ultra-darwinist and materialist or let's say in general atheists.

They imply that they know everything from a scientific point of view but when we go in detail and open their empty box it becomes obvious that their statemants are as vague as claims of a creationist.

What is the definition for desire? for consciousness? Cooperative work of brain cells? How? If a particular arrangement of chemicals can produce consciousness why can't we create artificial consciousness in the lab?

Dennett and Dawkins can sit and write 1000 more books and still missing the whole point. But I understand their situation, It is very vital for them to come up with a new book each year to keep the faith of their followers burning. I see no difference between them and J.K. Rowling, who must write a new episode of Harry Potter so the saga will continue.

 
At February 21, 2006 8:25 AM, Anonymous John said...

We get sexual urges from our genes, but still put a condom on.

To the detriment of your genes, of course.

Roe Effect, The March of the Morons, etc., etc. You'll never learn. I love watching your country get more and more politically conservative because of the liberals' propensity for preventing constituents from being born.

 
At February 21, 2006 9:14 AM, Anonymous John said...

We use it to override our genetic determinism and do neat stuff like paint pictures and play music.

If painting pictures and playing music have evolutionary roots, then it is a part of genetic determinism and therefore we have not overridden our genetic determinism.

Do you see the problem yet?

 
At February 21, 2006 4:00 PM, Anonymous John said...

The March of the Morons

Pardon my faulty memory. The actual title is "The Marching Morons", by C.M. Kornbluth. It's probably been 25 years since I've read it.

 
At February 21, 2006 10:02 PM, Blogger Vargas said...

Unlike with Dawkins and Dennett's work, I think that Rowling's fictional work is actually moving forward with each successive book.

Breaking The Spell sounds a bit like the old memes argument.

A bit of science fiction that blithely sidesteps the arm of empirical research and solid evidence.

 
At February 22, 2006 6:41 AM, Blogger Sean said...

If painting pictures and playing music have evolutionary roots, then it is a part of genetic determinism and therefore we have not overridden our genetic determinism.

Do you see the problem yet?


Not yet.

Who is saying that culture is genetically determinant?

The brain may be biologically based, but the thoughts and influences it has are not. It's like a C compiler making a program that can do something the C compiler can't do.

 
At February 22, 2006 9:12 AM, Anonymous John said...

The brain may be biologically based, but the thoughts and influences it has are not.

Thoughts do not have a separate existence from the brain, according to Dawkins et al. Everything the brain does has been shaped by evolution. Therefore, human thought is a product of evolution and thus cannot be outside of evolutionary determinism.

You must now repeat your insistence that humans are different than animals, probably by listing other uniquely human activities, and yet are the same biologically.

At which point I will counter by once again pointing out that the perceived difference and/or activity is caused by the brain, which was formed by evolution, therefore said difference/activity cannot be outside of evolutionary determinism.

Where is your free will now?


It's like a C compiler making a program that can do something the C compiler can't do.

Bad analogy. There is an external guiding force, a designer, in the case of a computer program (which includes compilers) - the programmer.

The compiler does what it is designed to do. The programs generated from the source code fed into the compiler do what they are designed to do. The machine in which they are housed does what it is designed to do.

I thought you were against the theory of Intelligent Design?

 
At February 22, 2006 9:18 AM, Anonymous John said...

Who is saying that culture is genetically determinant?

Many Darwinians do say this and are trying to prove it even as we converse. The field of evolutionary psychology is built upon this very premise.

Darwin himself thought that the reason the majority of darker-skinned races were culturally backward was because they were backward in evolutionary terms.

 
At February 22, 2006 11:31 AM, Anonymous Farshad said...

If brain has a biological only root then according to Darwinism brain must be capable of doing only the smallest possible set of functions and abilities required for that species to survive. Isn't the evolution about surviving the fittest at first place?

Now lets assume we go to a lost jungle, find the most primitive tribe living on this planet, take an offspring from them and then bring the baby to our civilized world. If we educate that baby properly then there is a good chance that he can possibly become a noble physicist in future.

It is the evidence to the fact that his brain was full of some hidden capabilties that we could unlock them by proper education.

If evolution is true, then how nature could decide that those hidden capabilities of brain must be built-in there before there is any actual need for them?

If we train an offspring of the most advanced gorilla available in nature, can it learn to count from 1 to 10?

Doesn't this prove us that unique abilities of human brain is here by design not as a result of evolution?

 
At February 23, 2006 12:54 AM, Blogger Sean said...

I think I've just figured out how and where we differ on this subject: the brain!

So, you guys say (roughly): thoughts in the brain; brain made by genes (says Dawkins, et al); ergo, everything the brain thinks has its roots in genetic determinism.

On the otherhand, what if the thoughts in the brain are seperate from the genetic determinism of the brain?

Here's where that lazy analogy I made with C programming comes in. And, yes, the language was "designed", but it's not that characteristic that I'm looking at.

The C language was made to interact with a computer. It uses various expressions that can be used to define functions.

The designers of the language are essentially using a heap of tools that programmers can use to define their own functions.

Though the programmers are bounded by the language, they are not dictated by the language.

Replace "C language" with "brain," "designers" with "genes," "programmers" with "people" and you have yourself a haphazard analogy! However, the point is that the thoughts in the brain are bounded by the language, but not dictated by the language.

So this happens in human brain, being nice a big and full of neural connections. I wouldn't say "special," but there is no denying it's different to other animals.

This I believe is what Dawkins (et al) are referring to, but I can't think of any references off the top of my head. Also, they aren't neurologists, so I'm not sure how confidently they'll write about that.

Susan Greenfield is a neurologist, so I'll check out some of her writing.

 
At February 23, 2006 7:59 AM, Anonymous Farshad said...

Besides all other facts and questions that are far from being answered there is a another big riddle here that always remains as a mystery.

A C compiler doesn't know that it is a C compiler and the program running is not aware of itself. What is the awareness? At what point life forms started to become aware of themselves?

Darwinist explanations for life/awareness/intelligence always sound to me like observations of a chimpanzee trying to figure out how an advanced computer works.

 
At February 23, 2006 9:29 AM, Anonymous John said...

So, you guys say (roughly): thoughts in the brain; brain made by genes (says Dawkins, et al); ergo, everything the brain thinks has its roots in genetic determinism.

By "you guys" you mean me. I am approaching your claims from a different side than you're accustomed to defending - mainly from the Darwinian fundamentalist side. Attacking an unshielded rear flank, as it were.

The idea of culture and thought being evolutionarily deterministic didn't originate with me, it originated with scientists sympathetic to Dawkins et al, namely the ones in the field of Evolutionary Psychology (EP).

As far as I know, Dawkins has not declared EP to be bogus, even though it supposedly disagrees with his writings to which you have referred. If you can show me his opposition to EP, then I will graciously concede that Dawkins is not naive or disingenuous about mind/brain duality. Otherwise, I stand by my earlier statements about his naivete/dishonesty.

Incidentally, Michael Ruse, who is having a bit of a dust-up with the Lapdog as mentioned in Larry's post above this one, is an EP proponent.


On the otherhand, what if the thoughts in the brain are seperate from the genetic determinism of the brain?

Thoughts in the brain are merely electrochemical reactions between groups of nerve cells. They are natural, biological phenomena and thus cannot be outside of biology. Everything in biology is subject to the determinism of Darwinian evolution. Therefore we can conclude that all thought is subject to evolutionary determinism and cannot be outside of it.

Darwinian evolution, as conceived by the Darwinian fundamentalists, destroys philosophical duality as well as religious duality. You can't have a cake and eat it too.

 
At February 23, 2006 2:01 PM, Anonymous John said...

Susan Greenfield is a neurologist, so I'll check out some of her writing.

With a little Googling, I found this. Excerpt of Baroness Greenfield on Richard Dawkins:

"What I don't like about Richard is not so much what he knows or doesn't know as the dogmatic way in which he says things."

Lots of good stuff in that interview, including Greenfield talking about dualism. She agrees with your assessment and disagrees with people in "the Dawkins camp".

 
At February 23, 2006 10:39 PM, Blogger Sean said...

By "you guys" you mean me.

By 'you guys' I referring to you and Farshad specifically, but on rereading the previous comments, we're all coming at it from different sides of the biscuit!

 
At February 23, 2006 11:32 PM, Anonymous Z^<# said...

My question is where does information come from? Matter is capable of storing information, but it doesn't generate information. Yes? No? Comments?

 
At February 24, 2006 8:40 AM, Anonymous John said...

My question is where does information come from?

That's a little too broad a question for such a limited scope provided by a blog comment thread.

Is this who I think it is? If so:

1. You should have used a "2" instead of a "z" to fool me. Your leetspeak kung fu is weak, grasshopper.

2. You should be doing your homework and going to bed at a decent hour on school nights.

3. You shouldn't comment here.
A. Your existence will shatter Sean's fantasy about my being 20 years old.
B. You've gotten in trouble before when posting comments on the same blogs that I do. You might lose privileges.

 
At February 25, 2006 9:50 AM, Anonymous Z^<# said...

Sorry, dude, this is my first time posting on this site or any others.

 
At February 25, 2006 10:37 AM, Anonymous John said...

I apologize if I mistook you for my 14-year-old son named Zack. I showed him this site the other night. He has a bad habit of doing things I don't want him to (imagine that - a teenager doing things he isn't supposed to do). He also has a problem with being trollish online, many times unintentionally, but trollish nonetheless.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home