The Corner

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Just So Stories


Below, an email I just received from Tom Bethell. It’s longish, and yet another entry on the subject that horrifies my friend John Pod. But what are weekends for? (Since I’ll be attending my kids’ basketball games tomorrow and then flying back East on Sunday, I hereby very merrily grant the last word on Wieseltier v. Dennett to anyone who cares to post it.)

“I, too, thought the Wieseltier review was terrific; and totally surprising….Lurking beneath this evo-ID debate, it has been said by the evo-ists, is a religious agenda that dare not speak its name. To which I say, No, lurking beneath it are some philosophical assumptions that need to be made explicit. Wieseltier was heading in that direction…

“Now the difficult thing for me to understand here is exactly what LW [Leon Wieseltier] means when he says that Dennett portrays reason as the product of natural selection. I am sure that that is right but I would like to see how Dennett argued it. I suppose what he says is that once some glimmer of reason appeared in early hominids that had survival value. So that hominid survived better than those lacking this glimmer of reason.

“Thereby, glimmers of reason were selected for. (NB: All traits in existence across the entire animal and vegetable kingdoms get the same seven word explanation: Whatever needs an explanation “arose by accident and was selected for.” (How did the elephant get its trunk? It ABAAWSF. How did ants appear? They ABAAWSF. How did the leopard get its spots? ABAAWSF. Etcetera, ad infinitum.)

“No actual observation of this process is needed in any instance. Evolutionists simply contemplate the trait in question and then make up a plausible story as to how it might have been helpful in an imagined environment. Incidentally, this criticism, that Darwinism amounts to the retelling of Just-So Stories, was brilliantly made in the 1970s by Richard Lewontin of Harvard, now emeritus.

“Well, I guess I would say that it’s pretty hard to deny that reason IS helpful, and if it arose by accident and it was hereditary, it’s easy to claim that its possessors would outcompete rivals who are less endowed with reason. It’s not that the argument is vacuous so much as that it is a pure invention as to how reason arose. It is not supported by evidence.”