Dennett-Ruse squabble

Due to a Guardian op-ed attacking Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, some disagreements between Dennett and Michael Ruse have become more public. Ruse thinks the more atheistic commentators on Darwinian evolution, such as Dennett and Dawkins, are (a) intellectually mistaken, and (b) unwittingly helping creationists politically. Dennett has briefly replied to the charge.

Now, generally I’m more impressed with Dennett than Ruse, whose work I very often dislike. And naturally, on (a) I think Ruse is dead wrong, as usual. The political claim, (b), is interesting, though. Its being associated with religious nonbelief is the main reason for the public reaction against evolution. In that case, to the extent that Dawkins, Dennett etc. become more publicly thought of as defenders of evolution, it’s quite plausible that they contribute to public distrust.

So my interest in defending science and science education leads me to think that Ruse’s (b) has a point, and that politically it may be wiser to shut up about the broadly naturalistic implications of Darwinian evolution. On the other hand, I’m also sick of the public horror generated by any hint that supernaturalists might be wrong. Sigh. Political matters are always so complicated…

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University