Sunday, October 10, 2004


Here's is what it comes down to, as I see it:

  1. Daniel Dennett conceded nothing during his interview with Robert Wright, and he has not changed his views in any way regarding the existence of a “higher purpose” to evolution.

  2. Wright's argument in this regard, briefly, is that there is a strong analogy between the processes of embryonic development and the process of evolution by natural selection. Just as the processes of development require a design explanation, so too does the process of evolution by natural selection.

  3. Wright's belief that Dennett was agreeing to this argument was based on some ambiguity (and some wishful thinking) during the original interview. Dennett agreed only to some superficial similarities between development and evolution, while Wright interpreted this to mean that Dennett was granting his argument.

  4. Wright's original article implies that atheists should be disappointed by things Dennett had said during the interview. This implication was entirely unjustified by anything Dennett had said, even given Wright's misinterpretation of Dennett's intentions. Ditto for the tone of smug triumphalism Wright employed in that article.

  5. Both his original article and his subsequent reply have given readers a false impression of Daniel Dennett's opinions on this matter. Wright should say this unambiguously. I don't believe Wright intended to misrepresent Dennett's views, but the fact remains that he did so and needs to come clean about it.

  6. Wright's argument fails because the analogy between development and evolution is too weak to sustain the conclusions he is drawing.


At 5:55 PM, Blogger Geoff Arnold said...

I've also been commenting on this in my blog, and I think we're pretty much on the same page. In my final (?well, maybe) post at I raise the question: what does Wright think that Dennett ACTUALLY BELIEVES? For Wright to maintain that Dennett ascribes to a higher purpose after all this discussion seems dishonest. (Would Wright's belief about this be falsifiable?)

A final twist: Later in the interview, Wright takes the "mysterian" position that an individual is uniquely privileged with respect to "what it is like to be" that individual. (Dennett takes the view that all such knowlege is imperfect, and therefore it's an empirical question, with no unique privilege.) From Wright's position, Dennett is "uniquely privileged" about his beliefs - including believe on a higher purpose in evolution. So Wright should concede, and shut up.


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