Peter: Well, I read Wieseltier’s review of Daniel Dennett’s book (which I have not read), and it left me thinking what I always end up thinking after reading Wieseltier’s pieces: That the man is a bag of wind, who understands squat about science.
His argument is a strong form of the reification of reason–unusual for someone from a Jewish background, as one more often encounters this from Catholic intellectuals. It leaks like a sieve. If natural selection could come up with legs, fins, eyes, and guts, it’s hard to see why it shouldn’t come up with advanced intellectual faculties like reason. To say: “Well, it couldn’t have, because look, we’re reasoning about it!” is just fatuous.
That’s not to say we know reason did emerge from natural selection. We don’t know that, and Dennett’s certitudes are, in my opinion, misplaced. Dennett has a nice little gig going as a polemical God-basher, and he’s mining it for all it’s worth. Good luck to him. He treats lots of open questions as closed, though, which is not honest. Did Something predate matter? And is reason an attribute of, or derived from, that Something? These seem to me like open questions, not unconnected to the one posed by Martin Gardner: Back in the Jurassic, when two dinosaurs wandered down to the water hole and met two other dinosaurs drinking there, were there then four dinosaurs at the water hole? But Wieseltier isn’t engaging with that stuff, he’s just an Eng Lit blowhard gassing off.