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They pulled this one with Dawkins too, you know?

A few days ago, Andrew Sullivan gleefully exclaimed:

AN ATHEIST RECANTS: Philosopher Daniel Dennett, author of the influential 1995 book, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," now says he sees a higher purpose in the universe. Bob Wright breaks the news.

Well, not quite. Timothy Sandefur looks at the evidence for Dennet's "recantation". Read the whole post, but here's his conclusion:

In philosophy as in all other scholarly pursuits, conversation is the least likely to lead to an important statement on a subject. Conversation is not peer reviewed, it’s not very carefully weighed before it’s uttered; people frequently misspeak, or concede points they don’t very clearly understand. Yet Wright is willing to declare on the basis of this statement alone, despite the nine or ten books that Dennett has published, that Dennett believes that evolution has a direction that upholds the concept of a conscious Designer.

This sort of “gotcha” argument is, to say the least, childish. When I was a kid, I would sometimes get in arguments on the playground, and perhaps I would misspeak—I would say the ball belonged to Rob instead of Tom—whereupon Rob’s friends would snatch my error as if it were some sort of subconscious confession of the truth, rather than a simple misstatement or error. What Wright has done here is similar. Hammering Dennett with terms like “design” and so forth, he has extracted from Dennett the most lukewarm of responses (“Yeah, I guess”) and takes the lukewarmness as evidence that Dennett is either scared of being caught or is embarrassed at how wrong his career has been all this time. At the least, Wright’s device here is the sort of exaggeration which makes for children’s playground conversation, not for science.

It's not exactly the first time creationists/ID'ers (for reasons why I can't be arsed to make any fine distinctions between the two, I refer to The Panda's Thumb and Dispatches from the Culture Wars in toto — Short version: closer examination of their statements when they're among themselves reveal their agendas to be identical).

They tried to pull a trick like this with Richard Dawkins way back when. Then, it was a hesitation from Dawkins that was taken as proof that he was stumped by whatever damn fool question they'd asked him, and therefore, that Arrogant Science Had No Answers, and therefore, that the answers the Creationists had must have been correct. In reality, Dawkins paused because it was at that time that he realised his questioners were not the unbiased reporters he was led to believe they were.

Update: Man, the blogosphere is fast. Even as I type the above, I find that Ed Brayton, via Sullivan again (much to the guy's credit), has Dennett's response. Expect much hairsplitting debate to follow, but the bottom line is that Dennett's philosophical positions are as they were in his 10 or so books, not as they were in one spoken response.
Update #2: Doing Things With Words has more.


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