The Corner

Re: God Gene

Andrew:

Did you read the link-in-the-link? I mean, Reason magazine’s interview with Dennett?

I note that Dennett has had the same naughty thought that got me into trouble on The Corner a week or so ago:

“Reason: Think tanks like the Ethics and Public Policy Center and thinkers like Leon Kass and Irving Kristol seem very frightened about the moral implications of your project.

“Dennett: They’re scared to death of this, and I think they’re just wrong. They’re clinging to a straw that won’t float. I don’t know whether it’s comic or tragic. The idea that they could save what they hold dear by making it magical, by embodying it in this little pearl of soul stuff, that’s superstitious thinking of the worst sort.

….

“Reason: I actually suspect some of them of believing that you are correct. They just don’t want ordinary people to think about this stuff. They are afraid that if people believed that God doesn’t exist, then they might think that everything’s permitted.

“Dennett: Yes. They don’t want me letting the cat out of the bag. I think that’s incredibly paternalistic and arrogant. They underestimate the intelligence of their fellow human beings.”

[Derb again] Question for discussion: Historically speaking, have conservatives or liberals (or neither, much) been more prone to “underestimate the intelligence of their fellow human beings”?

I did like Dennett’s closing shot: “Civilization is a good deal.” That belongs on a T-shirt.

While in this general zone, in a Friday post about Ed Feser’s recent column

on a conservative metaphysics (he recommended Aristotle, as I recall), I passed the comment that my own temperamental inclination is towards reductionism, but that writing about math keeps me from falling whole-heartedly into that camp. A couple of readers wanted to know what math had to do with anything.

Well, in very brief: You can’t write about math history without taking, at least implicitly, some position on the metaphysical status of mathematical objects–the things mathematicians study and write about. Numbers are mathematical objects. So are the points, lines, triangles, curves and surfaces of classical geometry. In the 19th century a whole zoo of new mathematical objects came to our attention: groups, fields, manifolds, and so on. In order to write about this, you have to decide whether you are going to say that these objects were “discovered,” or “invented.” I have settled on “discovered.” It just seems much more right. That is, implicitly, a metaphysical opinion.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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