Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Wieseltier on Dennett

Leon Wieseltier writes a brilliant review of Daniel Dennett’s attempt to reduce religion to biology. There are so many good zingers that I don’t know which to single out.

O.K., here’s one:

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.

Wieseltier himself is a rationalist, but one who recognizes that its self-grounding character might be problematical. Dennett. on the other hand, is, by Wieseltier’s lights, no rationalist at all:

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. In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason.

Read the whole thing.   

Discussions - 2 Comments

"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."

I guess I don’t believe in reason either, that is to say that I believe that the only true proof of an idea is its consequences.

But by this I do not mean that a person who plays 2-7 off suit against pocket aces is right if he wins...which he will some of the time... but that he is wrong because in general over the long run he will lose. For any belief that can be broken down into saying X is good, the only true means of disproving the proposition is experience in the form of contradictory consequences.

Science and religion represent divergent methodologies for covering the same ground. As an inductive guy in the spirit of Descartes, Dennett cannot accept as true anything that cannot be proven to exist.

For those who must "believe, that they may know," that is backwards. But, one system is never going to appeal to adherents of the other. Why pretend that we could, or should, agree on methodology? And, if we give up that pretense, why can’t people like Wieseltier appreciate the brilliance of Dennett as a scientist without attacking him?

So, Dennett has a place for believers in his system. Believers have a place in their system for people like Dennett. What do they care, if he goes to Hell? He won’t be crowding THEM out, will he? Would they rather he ignore them altogether?

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