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 Daniel Dennett's new book reviewed by NYTimes
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SFN Die Hard

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Posted - 02/18/2006 :  15:04:19  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message
NYTimes review of Daniel Dennett's latest book “Breaking the Spell” was vicious and one-sided. Here's the review:

And here are my complaints of the review:

-The author opens the article saying that the question Dennet is tackling in his book is philosophical, not scientific, and then he goes on to paint Dennett as if Dennett is claiming the book is about a scientific question. But just because Dennett uses science to support his philosophy, he never claims that he's anything other than a philosopher answering a philosophical question. Here we see the author amazingly take Dennet's honesty about that and turn it against him!

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.

The author says: There is no scientific foundation for its scientistic narrative. but that is bullshit. There is a scientific foundation for its philosophical narrative – which is the book's thesis.

-The author knocks evolutionary psychology, a perfectly accepted scientific field. He claims it is behind “naturalistic superstitions” (what!?) Like the theory of evolution in general, there are always disputes among scientists of specific claims. But nobody in the scientific world outright rejects the entire approach of evolutionary psychology. From wikipedia's entry on the term: Critics claim that many of its propositions are not falsifiable, and thus label it as a pseudoscience. This is again due to a fundamental misunderstanding; Evolutionary Psychology is a way of generating testable (and thus falsifiable) hypotheses about the structure of the mind. All of psychology makes predictions (or assumptions) about the structure of the mind. Evolutionary psychology commits to a very specific causal relationship between the mind and the environment in which its design was selected, making it a source of highly specific, concrete, and falsifiable predictions.

-The author mischaracterizes “brights” as being only nontheists (which if the author read the brights own definition of themselves, is false. Not all brights are atheists.), and thus David Hume – a famous skeptic and empiricist who lived in the 1700's – cannot be labeled a “bright” by Dennet.

-And just read this load of crap: It will be plain that Dennett's approach to religion is contrived to evade religion's substance. He thinks that an inquiry into belief is made superfluous by an inquiry into the belief in belief. This is a very revealing mistake. You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason.

The content of most religious belief is not falsifiable, and thus, reason cannot be applied to prove or disprove those claims. Also, the author never explains how it is mistake to question belief in belief.

Basically all Dennett is saying is that we have no empirical evidence that humans are anymore more than animals, and that if we study our own history in the same way that we'd study animals, religious looks a lot like having a purely naturalistic purpose.

-Another load of crap: 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. If our creeds are an expression of our animality, if they require an explanation from n

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

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Edited by - marfknox on 02/18/2006 15:08:09


15831 Posts

Posted - 02/19/2006 :  19:57:11   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message
Thanks, marfknox. That is indeed a desperately savage review.

Reviewer Leon Wieseltier accuses Dennett of thinnking himself heroic...
In his own opinion, Dennett is a hero. He is in the business of emancipation, and he reveres himself for it. "By asking for an accounting of the pros and cons of religion, I risk getting poked in the nose or worse," he declares, "and yet I persist." Giordano Bruno, with tenure at Tufts! He wonders whether religious people "will have the intellectual honesty and courage to read this book through." If you disagree with what Dennett says, it is because you fear what he says.

... then proves Dennett right by attacking him so savagely.

Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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