Dennett: the insult comic sophist

In which the pragmatic philosopher reveals he has no clothes and no class in a debate with Alvin Platinga:

3:26 pm – Here comes the punch line – the theistic hypothesis can’t be refuted. But so what? It is independently unlikely. If we can account for evolution without the divine, then we should accept it. Even if we found user’s manuals in junk DNA, this wouldn’t show that natural selection isn’t the answer, as we could have been tampered with by naturalistic intelligence long ago.

3:27 pm – Contemporary evolutionary theory can’t rule out ID. “Except on grounds that it is an entirely gratuitous fantasy.” Is the punchline an insult?! I am concerned that Dennett is not yet addressing Plantinga’s argument.

3:29 pm – Sure, the intelligent theist can keep going on believing. He calls theistic belief a fairy tale. Now he’s getting explicitly insulting. He thinks theistic belief can corrupt our common epistemological fabric and involve theism into politics. He shows a slide mocking the eschatological views of Christians. He calls theism an unrespectable position, and compares it to astrology. He says it is irrational and doesn’t deserve respect. He gets laughs. He doesn’t look good to the theists. Once he got nasty, a cold pall covered the room. He compares theism to holocaust deniers and things have gone off the rails. This is outrageous. All Plantinga must do to beat Dennett now is to reply with grace. For Plantingian dry wit, this is easy.

3:32 pm – “Is Plantinga’s theism in any better position than these other fantasies?” He’s going to create a Plantinga-guided natural selection. It is hard to explain, but the argument basically mocks Plantinga. I am incensed. The response is a long string of insults, and little more. This is pathetic. I had more faith in Dennett. He is just making the Flying Spaghetti Monster argument and getting laughs from real, intolerant jerks. It is going on and on….

3:55 pm – Plantinga begins. He claims that he isn’t clear as to how what Dennett said bore on Plantinga’s claim. This is true Plantinga. He first asks what the argument is. He is unphased and was clearly prepared for this. He is exposing the point that Dennett only told stories and really didn’t make an argument against Plantinga’s claim. This is a wonderful way to reply. Ignore the profound insults that culminated in a suggestion that we kill God to understand the universe. Appear unphased and focus on the philosophy. Dennett was classless. Plantinga is only focusing on the argument. A Goliath ad hominem attack is felled by the simple stone of careful analysis.

3:59 pm – It is not clear what the analogy is between God and Superman and other silly beings. He is just suggesting that there is no similarity between God and Superman, as Dennett claimed. Note that this strategy is very subtle. He is addressing the argument in simple terms and showing gradually that there was nothing to Dennett’s claims. Note that above I had trouble understanding Dennett’s arguments, but not Plantinga’s. I thought that was just me but now it is clear that Dennett built a house of cards….

4:02 pm – Plantinga thinks Dennett didn’t mention the argument. Dennett interrupts and says he mentioned premise 1. Plantinga says, “Yes, Dennett did mention premise 1, and I am grateful for that.” The room erupted in laughter. I added my own guffaw. Dennett is collapsing and is clearly furious. It is clear that Dennett just didn’t make any arguments.

Ah, philosophy dork humor, does it get any better than that? My sides, they ache…. Anyhow, I don’t know why anyone would be surprised that Dennett didn’t respond directly to arguments put forth by an opponent. Avoidance and evasion are standard New Atheist tactics. And it’s obvious to anyone of sufficient intelligence who has read Dennett’s books that he isn’t capable of directly responding to counter-arguments because he’s nowhere nearly so bright as his fans, most of whom don’t understand his arguments, tend to think. Now, it’s true that unlike Harris, Hitchens, and to a lesser extent, Dawkins, Dennett seldom commits openly egregious howlers, as his story-telling snow jobs are well suited to conceal his baseless assumptions, naked assertions, factual errors, and outright logical blunders. This is why TIA featured an entire chapter dedicated to highlighting Dennett’s mistakes, most notably his logically quixotic attempt to justify a specific division of doxastic labor that he declares to be otherwise immoral.