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D’Souza – Dennett Debate

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Dinesh D’Souza and Daniel Dennett debated a few nights ago on the question whether God is a human invention (did God create man or did man create God). A video of the debate is available at RichardDawkins.net. An agnostic who attended the debate offered some interesting observations about it. Here’s a sample:

. . . And here’s the weakness of the entire Atheist movement on display. Argument via ridicule only takes you so far, and only keeps the already converted entertained. Time and again I was disappointed not only by Dennett’s inability to articulate the science, but in his inability to respond to D’Souza’s very interesting thought experiments, analogies and use of example from the history of Philosophy itself. What a disappointment from such a well-trained professor of philosophy! . . .

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34 Replies to “D’Souza – Dennett Debate

  1. 1
    Joseph says:

    Whether or not “God” is the designer should be irrelevant IF science is interested in the reality behind what is being investigated.

    “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” Albert Einstein

    Is Carl suggesting that he is in favor of lame science?

    And anyone who conflates any imlications of a theory with the theory itself should seek help…

  2. 2
    SCheesman says:

    I would rather an opponent who engages in civil debate, than one of like-mind who would call someone a fool. I for one will miss you, Carl, if this is the last we hear from you.

  3. 3
    SCheesman says:

    Carl: I will answer your query. You ARE missing something, and it is simply that this blog is not merely a site for the defence of intelligent design; it is a place where WD and DO can post items which they find interesting and believe will be of interest to their readers. That I personally found the above item interesting is a small-sample confirmation of this.

  4. 4
    JWarner says:

    I stand with Carl. Posts like this feed the confusion on the stance of ID. Are we strong theists or not?

    I have asked these kinds of questions on other threads, and I challenge Tedsenough to answer them in light of what is best for the ID community and UD participants, based on what “Uncommon Descent holds” (see the top right of your page).

    My issues for Tedsenough to address:

    My real concern — which likely betrays my lack of philosophical knowledge — is the mixed messages from this blog (I admit due to my ignorant interpretation, to be sure).

    On one hand we seem to say, to the likes of the editors of Nature: “ID is a legitimate scientific view, even in the way you define science, and we have the ability to determine design. Do not chase us with torches and pitchforks. Let us prove it to you.”

    And on the other hand we seem to say, again to the likes of the editors of Nature: “Your restrictive definition of science is blinding you from massive truths, and excluding hugely powerful concepts (man created in God’s image, for example) that can expand the reach and impact of your efforts.”

    Are these independent statements? It could be argued that they are, however if we stand by both as a community would we not be better served to concentrate on the latter without shame (as, thankfully, the upcoming “Expelled” film seems to do)?

    If ID is legitimate science per the restrictive science establishment’s rules, AND that is where we want to prove ourselves, then we should do that and avoid all theistic talk.

    If (and this is my view) the problem is precisely the restrictive science establishment’s rules, then let that be our focus and allow God into that conversation

  5. 5

    I for one am glad that Tedsenough, with one simple relatively mild word, got Carl to show his true colors.

    Somebody who is disingenuous enough to hide that much contempt and hatred for others who merely disagree with him isn’t really interested in serious discussion anyway.

  6. 6
    Joseph says:

    Posts like this feed the confusion on the stance of ID.-JWarner

    But there isn’t one reference to ID in the OP. So it can only “feed” those who already “knew” ID was religious.

    ID is legit science, even as the publishers of Nature define it. However they also appear to hold ID to some double-standard, hence the restrictive.

    IF science is interested in reality and the reality is that “God” is the designer then what is the problem?

    No one can legislate or adjudicate what is and isn’t science. Science has to be free to follow the data, evidence and observations to the best inference.

  7. 7

    Carl Sachs and Tedsenough are no longer with us. Word to the wise: Watch tone and don’t insult others on this blog, even if provoked.

  8. 8
    Tedsenough says:

    Sorry guys. I can understand why I was banned. There are standards on these boards and I violated them. Take care, everyone!!

    EDIT: Bill, I let this post through since it was a goodbye comment. -Patrick

  9. 9
    GilDodgen says:

    The debate has relevance to ID. D’Souza put much emphasis on cosmological ID, and the subject of intelligent design came up on several occasions. Design and purpose versus materialism was a significant theme. (By the way, Dennett dismissed the ID movement as nothing more than “a hoax.”)

  10. 10
    Paul Giem says:

    It is disconcerting to read through comments and discover several replies to a comment when one has not read the comment, or any notification that the comment was once there. I understand moderation, and I understand banning. but it would be helpful if there was at least a notice like “Comment by Carl Sachs deleted for gratuitous insults” or at least “Comment by Carl Sachs deleted.” It could even be argued (although this is a policy matter) that, if a comment cleared moderation and the commenter was banned for it, that it be left in place so as to serve as an example of what can get one banned on this forum.

    If I understand Carl’s argument from the comments against it and from previous comments, he may have half a point. ID constantly insists that it has no necessary connection with theology. That is logically true, but to the majority of the scientific community, the fact that the vast majority of the ID community is in fact religious, and in the US largely Christian (though not in such places as Turkey), speaks volumes. Furthermore, most of the arguments used by ID are compatible with YEC and relatives, and in fact, in somewhat less developed form, have been used by them for decades. The “scientific” response to YEC has usually been to attack the time scale of life on earth, and in the past this has been a vulnerable point for YEC.

    Now ID comes along and does not present a theory of how God did it, or even if it was God that did it, and now naturalism has to actually defend NDE as the cause of life’s diversity, and abiogenesis as the cause of life, and sheer random chance (perhaps with multiple dice rolls) as the cause of the fine tuning of the universe, and adherents of naturalism panic, because it can’t be done. The only way naturalism can win is by irrefutable presumtion. So needing to rule out God, and longing for the good old days (which may be coming to an end) when they could defeat the arguments of YEC by pointing to the geologic column, they try to pin the “creationist” label on ID, so they will not have to actually answer ID arguments. The demographic data are partly on their side, and posts like this one can be used as part of their argument. Carl Sachs is sensitive to this (perhaps overly so).

    I agree with SCheesman that “this blog is not merely a site for the defence of intelligent design; it is a place where WD and DO can post items which they find interesting and believe will be of interest to their readers.” I also agree with GilDodgen that “The [D’Souza-Dennet] debate has relevance to ID.” That is why Carl gets only half a point, and less if Gil is right.

    The fact of the matter is that, for believers in naturalism, it is in fact a theological debate. They know that, if they ever grant the existence of intelligent design in nature, they have effectively lost the theological debate. Yes, space aliens are theoretically possible as the source of life on earth. But the space aliens must be more advanced than we are right now, and if it took intelligent design for us to be here, then it took intelligent design for the space aliens too, and one can only carry that process back some 15 billion years and the intelligence cannot have its basis on the arrangement of matter; it must be supernatural. That’s why they cannot afford, ever, to admit that there was design before human design, that resulted in humans. It really is science versus religion, but they are the ones using religious arguments. Their argument is antitheological because it has to be.

    So I am glad that this post is here, even though Carl would apparently disagree.

  11. 11
    TRoutMac says:

    I’m continually amazed, when I hear these debates, at the absolute idiocy of the arguments offered by these “brilliant” atheists. Forgive me for saying it, but in this debate Daniel Dennett gives me the distinct impression that he couldn’t think his way out of a wet paper bag.

    How embarrassing.

    And even though I applaud D’Souza for his performance in these debates, I have to wonder when he will get a clue with regard to evolution.

  12. 12

    I’ve just listened to the first hour. Dennett wasted my time with his opening presentation. There are religious beliefs here. There are religious beliefs there. They aren’t growing.

    Frankly, I stopped paying attention for a brief period of time.

    Kudos to D’Souza for mentioning that Dennett believes consciousness is an illusion. I would ask the illusion we call Dennett some questions on why he acts contrary to that belief.

  13. 13
    mike1962 says:

    Paul Giem: “It really is science versus religion, but they are the ones using religious arguments. ”

    Better to say it is theology vs theology. (For example, how long does it take in a debate with a naturalist before s/he whips out the ‘God wouldn’t have done it that way’ argument?)

    1. God doesn’t exist because of various theological reasons.

    2. Since God doesn’t exist, the laws of nature and chemistry wrought the first life form.

    3. Since God doesn’t exist, something like random variation and natural selection must be the origin of species.

    4. For any objections to #2 and #3 please see #1.

    The debate is, and always has been, at the root, theological.

    Keep hammering away, you wise philosophers.

  14. 14
    vrf says:

    I do agree that you need a system that indicates that a post once existed, and was deleted. I was confused for a while there. It looked like the comments were for a different post.

  15. 15
    getawitness says:

    Have all of Carl Sachs’s comments been deleted? I hope not: he made some valuable contributions to earlier debates.

  16. 16
    jerry says:

    getawitness,

    I believe Carl Sachs comments from past threads are still available. This is the second time he has been banned. He was banned over a year ago and gone for a long while so maybe he will be back.

  17. 17
    StuartHarris says:

    Even though I knew I would be cheering for D’Souza prior to viewing this debate, I really did look forward to seeing Dennet put up a good fight.

    Frankly I was somewhat shocked at how weak Dennet was. He made no real arguments for atheism, just some predictable jabs at believers. Perhaps I’m being mean but at times he seemed like a confused old man, muttering and pawing through his notes.

    For the better debate see the D’Souza-Hitchens one. At least Hitchens was able to make some great points and rhetorical flourishes that gave D’Souza something to respond to.

  18. 18
    Frost122585 says:

    geee wiz. I hope that you get a warning or two before they give you the boot!

  19. 19
    Frost122585 says:

    I watched the debate and thought it was funny when Dennett tries hopelessly to say “that questions like where did the laws come from” are not using the term law correctly in the sense that if you break them there will be repercussions. HAHA! If you were walking down the street and broke the law of gravity floating up on top of a build don’t you think this would result in real repercussions? If someone showed how you could break all of the laws of thermodynamics don’t you think that real scientific repercussions would exist etc. You could tell he was dumbfounded by the question and instead of admitting that Darwinism dodges the questions of “how did this all come to be?” So instead of being honest and saying something like well we don’t know yet, he didn’t want to give the truthful impression that DE write huge promissory notes, so he did what every desperate polemist does and denied that a controversy exists. Yet, denial almost always is a sign that a real problem does in fact exist. The real truth here is that when you here bizarre stuff like the laws of physics aren’t laws they just exists to change the debate terminologically so that they can avoid the question. Statements like these come from noteworthy source which Freud called “projection” that is to say that they claim that the other side is wrong (ID) because laws don’t exist to support their claim, yet, it was essence of the question and the ID advocate that called out the Darwinist on the truth that the laws don’t support their claims. In politics we call this a “dodge and spin stategy.”

  20. 20
    nullasalus says:

    For the people disappointed in Dennett’s performance..

    Notice that Dennett was one of the original ‘big three’ for the New Atheists, served as Dawkins’ right hand man, but has pretty much been supplanted by Hitchens at this point. Dennett’s book didn’t sell nearly as well as the others from what I hear, he’s not known for being much of a fighter in a debate, and his main point of professional distinction comes in the form of advancing a philosophy of consciousness that even many atheists find off-putting and weird.

    It’s funny that, in a movement based largely on criticism of theology and philosophy, the proponents are proud of their ignorance of theology, oblivious to their ignorance of philosophy, and the one among them who actually had solid philosophical credentials is more or less occupying a ‘crazy old uncle’ role for the movement at this point.

  21. 21
    bork says:

    I’d like to think I am a non-partisan, but really find the philosophy of a God far more appealing than without one.

    This said, I firmly think D’Souza won this debate. Dennet was not the intellectual giant I expected- and his stumblings at points seem to suggest he was caught off guard. D’Souza on the other hand went on the offense- his facts were powerful and he was confident.

    Unfortunately, the debate itself was lacking. A lot of the topics were rehashed, but D’Souza did present them very clearly. And, his honesty was very enlightnening – “No one can be sure there is a God”. D’Souza does need to read up on Dennet though, he could have done so much more damage if he attacked Dennett’s particulars.

    Anyone who thinks Dennet won is clearly already an atheist.

    As for the questions at the end, I was surprised that the questions were asked. Most are questions that have been discussed frequently, and for a long time – e.g. Augustine.

  22. 22
    Anna says:

    re: Ellazimm. I saw her comment on another blog that bloggers on this site are frustrating to her because they are childish and make stuff up to support their position. In other words her “intelllectual curiosity” stance on this blog seems to be a pretense, because according to her other postings, her mind is made up and her opinion of IDists is very low. It made me a little upset to realize that ellazimm, who asks many interesting questions is doing it only to poke fun.

  23. 23
    idnet.com.au says:

    Ellazimm at 14 “The forum is meaningless if we aren’t honest.” interesting!

  24. 24
    Paul Giem says:

    Ellazimm, you ask,

    Paul Glem: So, did God really do it then? The forum is meaningless if we aren’t honest.

    That depends on what you mean when you ask the question. If you are asking, do I believe that God was most likely the designer (with certain exceptions), and do I act on that belief, the answer is yes. And from what I understand of Dembski, and Behe, and Wells, and Paul Nelson, and Philip Johnson, they would agree (with the proviso that at least for Behe the exceptions I alluded to may not exist).

    However, the usual jump is made by opponents of intelligent design, despite all of our vociferous denials (in what I regard as either extreme naivete, very muddled or paranoid thinking, or in some cases outright dishonesty) that we are asserting that a. we can scientifically prove with mathematical certainty that God did it, and that b. we really use our religion as the starting point for our argumentation.

    In fact, in science nobody can “mathematically” prove anything. One cannot even “mathematically” prove that we all weren’t created by random forces 5 minutes ago with memories of an imagined past in place in our minds. You can’t “mathematically” prove that I exist, even if you were to google me. How could you be completely sure that Google wasn’t being fed incorrect information? The argument to design has always been an inference to the best explanation, not a mathematical or philosophical proof or elimination of competing theories.

    In principle, if one accepts design as the best explanation of certain features of nature, one cannot say that the designer is God from the data of design alone. It could be a lesser god (the gnostic demiurge?) or a space alien (there could be 3 or 4 layers of space alien before we get to a supernatural designer) or a devil (this would explain evil design in our world), or even more than one designer (my personal favorite). The data of science is just too sparse to tell which alternative is correct, and honesty prevents us from extracting more information from science than it actually contains.

    I know that there are some who start with God and then move to a denial of naturalism. But for myself, I explicitly do not do so. I have no interest in believing cunningly devised fables. If Christianity is wrong, then I do not wish to believe it. And one could fairly easily convince me that naturalism is the most probable explanation for all the data in the universe. Simply explain the most difficult problem for naturalism. Right now that appears to be the origin of life. If it can be explained through plausible, reasonably experimentally supported steps how life could start from non-life, then I wwould accept the idea that we can get roses and mushrooms and parrots and people from thermophilic bacteria, given a few billion years without outside help. My belief in ID (and therefore God’s “intervention” in nature) is at least partly based on scientific evidence, and would crumble without it. And if I read Paul Nelson correctly, he agrees. For that matter, Behe used to believe in naturalism, at least with regard to NDE, and has stated that he could easily go back to that way of thinking if the scientific evidence were to somehow reverse itself.

    But the more data we have, the more difficulties there are. The cabrian explosion, stasis in the fossil record, the privileged planet hypothesis, the fine tuning of the universe, appear to present ever-increasing problems for naturalism as a complete explanation of the universe.

    That is why I continue to believe that God did it, but that one cannot prove that from ID alone. One can only reasonably establish that an intelligence greater than ours, and prior to ours, did it, from ID alone. That is being strictly honest.

    I do have a question for you. The charge has been made (Anna, #23) that on another blog you have characterized the bloggers on this site as being childish and making stuff up. Is she incorrect? Is she partly correct? Have you changed your mind? Are you conflicted? “The forum is meaningless if we aren’t honest.”

  25. 25
    jerry says:

    Did God do it?

    The only real answer from the science is that some immense intelligence was involved in the creation of the universe and the same or another very large intelligence was involved in the creation of life.

    Outside of that, there is really nothing to absolutely conclude from the data. I personally believe the intelligence was active along the way and the progression of life seems to support that. But is that a hard conclusion from the data? No but it is probable.

    The rest of my personal beliefs flow from other things which are not based on physical sciences.

    So the point I am making is that the science supports very heavily the existence of a least one immense intelligence of origin unknown and nothing more. And where we go from there is based heavily on non physical scientific data but does include logic.

  26. 26
    shaner74 says:

    Ellazimm wrote: “So, did God really do it then? The forum is meaningless if we aren’t honest.”

    Speaking for myself, I have flirted with agnosticism for quite a while now. At this point, I am definitely willing to acknowledge a “top-down” universe. I believe a Mind is at the root of it all, and I think any form of atheism requires much, much more faith than this position. As for God being the Designer? Well ultimately, He would be the First Cause of everything, but as the direct cause of biological life here on Earth I just don’t know – nor do I care. I’m entirely willing to entertain the possibility of other forms of intelligence being the designer. I second the suggestion to go see the D’Souza vs. Hitchens debate. That was a great one, although nothing new from the atheist side, and I really thought D’Souza owned him most of the debate. D’Souza is an amazing debater.

  27. 27
    rockyr says:

    Paul Giem, It is the whole point of free will, (God’s gift in the interpretation of theists), the we can never prove anything with absolute certainty, especially not God’s existence. If we could, the atheists would not have free will not to choose God, and they would be forced to submit to the proof of God’s existence. In a theological analogy, something similar happened to Satan and to the Fallen angels, whose power of intellect and knowledge was much better and more powerful than ours. Theologically, they knew instantly what the problem is all about and chose to disobey God, thus becoming self-damned immediately.

    That is why philosophical, or scientific proofs, like the 5 proofs of God of Thomas Aquinas, (based on Aristotle), are limited in their power to convince. I think pope John Paul II commented on this some time ago and made a brief comment in passing, hoping that perhaps the proof of St. Anselm might be more convincing, see here:

    http://www.saintaquinas.com/philosophy.html

    Re, 25: “that we are asserting that a. we can scientifically prove with mathematical certainty that God did it … In fact, in science nobody can “mathematically” prove anything.”

    But it is not true that we cannot prove anything — we can, but the power of our proofs is limited. Mathematics, with its strict logic, offers the best kind of proof we can get, (it is debatable how science can “prove” things), but even this kind of proof has to be from the axioms or first principles. Along the same line of reasoning, it would be futile to think that ID can ever come up with such an absolutely convincing proof. Perhaps this Evolution vs. ID will never end, but the ID should still try to press its agenda as far as it can, because it makes sense, and the alternative does not. ID’s capability to be rational and meaningful should be proof enough to any sane thinking person.

  28. 28
    StuartHarris says:

    bork said:
    “Dennet was not the intellectual giant I expected- and his stumblings at points seem to suggest he was caught off guard.”

    After viewing the debate I see he certainly IS NOT the intellectual I had expected either. It seemed that even his basic knowledge of philosophy was lacking which is a bit embarrassing considering he’s a philosophy professor at Tufts.

    He had nothing to say to the points D’Souza made about Pascal, Kant, Hume and other foundational philosophers. In the modern academy one can raise to the level of professor without knowledge of basic subject matter.

    I don’t see how he could have been caught off guard. Surely he must have viewed D’Souza’s recent debate with his fellow New Atheist colleague Hitchens. If not, he was simply unprepared or not up to the task rather than caught off guard.

    I hope D’Souza can do more of these. He’s presenting classical arguments with great style to student audiences who have never heard them. As we all know, Dawkins won’t debate with anybody — maybe Sam Harris will be next.

  29. 29
    jerry says:

    D’Souza debates Michael Shermer tonight in Washington. I also think he debates him again soon in Pasadena.

    There is a article on Tothesource that indicates that after Dennet’s performance that maybe the brites are really low wattage. Maybe we should call Dennet and company the “Dims.”

  30. 30
    rockyr says:

    TRoutMac, I agree that Dennett did not have much of an argument to start with, started his rebuttal by babbling about humility, continued with incoherent rambling, and at the end got jealous because most people chose to address D’Souza with their questions and not Dennett, and finally accused D’Souza of filibustering. What a pathetic ending on Dennett’s part. I think Dennett has lost all credibility for any future arguments and debates. But what do you mean that D’Souza hasn’t got a clue about evolution?

    Re post 11: “And even though I applaud D’Souza for his performance in these debates, I have to wonder when he will get a clue with regard to evolution.”

  31. 31
    StuartHarris says:

    What we’re seeing here with Shermer, Dennett, and to a lesser degree Hitchens, is a group of people stuck in an intellectual ghetto of their own making. They live in zone of ideas where everybody agrees with them and everybody they teach is required to agree with them. This is the state of the modern academy.

    I grew up in a university family and spent the greater part of my life in university communities (Ann Arbor, Boulder) and I know very well the smug assumptions and the absence of real debate or new ideas.

    When an outside barbarian like D’Souza comes into his arena, Dennett and his followers assume they’ll easily wipe up the floor with him. At the end of the debate, it was apparent that Dennett was intellectually shocked by what had happened and, moreover, angry that the students were paying more attention to D’Souza than him. In his closed world, he’s never had to face that kind of challenge and humiliation. I expect him to follow Dawkins and announce he will not debate with people outside the ghetto.

  32. 32
    toc says:

    After watching this debate last evening I thought of Ambrose Bierce’s definition of “dullard” in The Devil’s Dictionary. A portion of the paragraph:

    DULLARD, n. A member of the reigning dynasty in letters and life. The Dullards came in with Adam, and being both numerous and sturdy have overrun the habitable world. The secret of their power is their insensibility to blows; tickle them with a bludgeon and they laugh with a platitude…

    Watching Daniel Dennett fumble around (“so many things to discuss,” etc.) in his rumpled style was a sad scene indeed. It was as if his adoring students were asking D’Souza questions on his behalf. His logic was muddled. I dare say he never answered a question posed by either D’Souza or an audience member.

  33. 33
    russ says:

    When an outside barbarian like D’Souza comes into his arena, Dennett and his followers assume they’ll easily wipe up the floor with him.

    This (IMHO) is what seems to have happened when Stephen Meyer debated Prof. Peter Ward

    http://www.discovery.org/scrip.....38;id=3421

  34. 34
    jjcassidy says:

    I think you have a hard proposition to defend that Dembski implicates an indivisible bond between ID and faith in his three-sentence introduction the cited post. It cites an agnostic reflecting that the atheist Dennet had a poor showing against a theist D’Souza in a debate.

    First of all, Dembski states the two debated (and <gasp> the topic of the debate!) The second sentence tell you where you could go to see it. And the last introduces a quote of the agnostic review. That’s it.

    Plus, it’s a reference to a larger article where the agnostic stance is clearly in view. And the agnostic, as neutral spectator, said Dennet did not impress him at all. Lastly, you don’t have to be anywhere near a theist (which I am) ID proponent (which I am not) to enjoy ID opponent and Dawkins’ little buddy taking a beating, from the hands of a “religious nut”.

    But this is kind of like the impromptu dogmatism of a lot of “skeptics”. They’re quick to jump to an announcement of what “everyone knows is true” and insist that everybody else play along, or be considered disengenuous–before they’ve really even made an argument.

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