SocraticGadfly: 10/3/04 - 10/10/04

October 09, 2004

A couple of further points about Robert Wright and design issues in evolution

First, in his Beliefnet post on his discussion with Dan Dennett, Wright claims near the bottom of the last page.that he’s not an Intelligent Design pusher of the William Dembski stripe.

“I’m just saying that natural selection, though able to do all the work of designing organisms, may itself be a product of design,” he states.

But for my money, that’s just taking the old “personal designer” issue and moving the “regress cutoff point” back one step. If Wright believes in the possibility of an intelligent designer having started up a neo-Darwinian framework with some intentiaonlity, then he’s an intelligent designer. To distinguish him from Dembski, I’ll keep “intelligent design” in lowercase when talking about his point of view. But that’s all.

Second, I believe his analogy between the Darwinian evolution of life (let alone the physical evolution the universe) and embryogenesis of an individual human being is, to be charitable, not very strong.

More on Wright claiming Dennett supports design

Robert Wright has claimed that atheist cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett recently agreed that evolution shows evidence of design, as I note below.

Even if that were true, by some perceptions, Dennett could have simply had a little slip of the tongue.

But he says here that it isn’t true, namely that he clearly used the word “if.”

Wright himself talks about the interview here.

As for his claim that direction in evolution (or something else) requires purpose, that doesn’t at all necessarily follow. Science is replete with organisms and systems having emergent properties.

True, a strong reductionist like Dennett, in my opinion, doesn’t like dealing with emergent properties, as they can be hard to fit into his highly reductionistic Procrustean bed. But their existence doesn’t negate reductionism as a general tool, nor materialism as a philosophical stance. They may put some constraints on the thoroughgoingness of reductionism, that's all.

Or, alternative B, Dennett, having consistently used “design” and “designer” in anthropomorphizing fashion, objects when Wright “translates” them literalistically, or sensationalizes his use of them.

Wright does offer a mea culpa for this. But, as he was posting written copy, not the original videotape, he had time to reflect as to how much context he was keeping, or interrupting, or removing entirely.

I think Wright is a thought-provoking writer with some great things to say on matters of social theory; but I still think he has played “gotcha,” at least to a degree, with Dennett.

(As a sidebar, I have no doubt Dennett was blunt at least in some of his replies; I've seen him in sharp give-and-take in the video of “A Glorious Accident’ (see it or buy the book) and I’ve had a brief e-mail exchange with him once; and while he was kind enough to reply, I have no doubt he could have been curt or more if he felt I were worth the effort. I did actually experience a bit of testiness in a conversation with Steven Pinker on some of the same issues of nature vs. nurture about which I disagree with them.)

Did Robert Wright play ‘gotcha’ with Dan Dennett on intelligent design issue?

Robert Wright, social philosopher and author of “Nonzero,” among other works, claims that he got noted cognitive philosopher — and noted atheist and naturalist — Daniel Dennett — to admit that evolution shows principles of design.

Dennett has fired back, claiming he was speaking about purely hypothetical instances of evolution in nature examined from a hypothetical point of view.

I picked this up on Andrew Sullivan’s website; Wright’s postings are on Beliefnet. I’ve skimmed them but haven’t had a chance to closely peruse his comments.

However, having read all of Dennett’s major books, and his care with at least the written word, I am highly doubtful that Wright tripped Dennett up. My guess is it’s a little spinning and blowing out of proportion by Wright.

And, given that the original debate, and the follow-up back and forth, all being on Beliefnet, that only increases my skepticism that Wright is either mightily pushing the envelope of a different perception on one point in a debate, or else he's engaged in “gotcha” polemics.

While I certainly agree with Wright’s premise of viewing human development, at the least, as a non-zero-sum game, or possibly viewing evolution in general that way somehow, that in no way logically implies a designer behind the curtain.

I grow tired of some Kerryistas ...

And their almost-Bushlike comments that “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.”

I can clearly articulate my plans to vote Green while providing other people with good reasons to do so, while still saying I think Kerry would definitely be better than Bush on domestic policy. (Excluding Kerry’s support for the Patriot Act, of course.)

But this running debate has been going on for six months. Kerryistas refuse to see that their candidate needs to do a better job of selling himself to true progressives. They don’t have the introspection to go beyond that and ask whether that’s possible. (I believe it would be, not certainly not easy as pie.)

Instead, when Kerry’s Iraq (or Patriot Act) votes, and continued support for something in the general vicinity of his original position are questioned, some Kerryistas can go on the attack with an almost Rovean, dare I say, ferocity.

Perhaps Nader wasn’t quite so wrong after all. Not on the foreign policy side, at least. And not totally on the civil liberties side.

Another reason to vote Green

The party platform’s explicit condemnation of the Patriot Act.

October 07, 2004

A secularist reason to vote Green

The Green Party platform has a plank calling for the elimination of
"religious tests" such as religious language in oaths of office and much more.

More forthcoming.

October 05, 2004

Some neocons wanted a king in Iraq

That’s part of the story from Anonymous, a State Department careerist.

“Michael Rubin, Richard Perle and Ahmed Chalabi pushed from the American Enterprise Institute (for) restoring the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq by placing Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan on the throne.”

If Bush thinks the presidency is "hard work...

Then maybe he ought to retire. Or be retired.