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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Materialist philosopher “disconcerted” by medical students’ assumption of design

A friend writes to say that in a forthcoming article in Biology & Philosophy, materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett recounts:
"I was disconcerted to overhear some medical students talking in a bar recently. One exclaimed: ‘How could anybody believe in evolution after learning about the intricacies of the DNA replication machinery?' To the extent that well-meaning evolutionists had inadvertently convinced them that Darwinians are eager to gloss over or deny these facts, this is evidence that the political tactic of denying teleology root and branch is apt to be self-defeating.
Okay, so what now? It looks like design but current philosophy can’t accept that, so Dennett's solution, outlined in his essay review of Peter Godfrey Smith's 2009 book, Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection
(Oxford U Press) “is to argue that design does not always need a designer, i.e., that selection can play the role of faux designer. Yes, that’s been the Darwinist creed for years, and it couldn’t even be demonstrated in Lenski’s bacteria and even people uninterested in a design hypothesis acknowledge that, insofar as they are prepared to discuss actual problems with current theory (as opposed to faux problems).

The friend adds,
But I think Godfrey Smith has the stronger naturalistic intuition: never let a hint of design waft through the window. Once it does, any curious person (such as the medical student in the bar) is going to follow the hints where they lead."
Where they lead? For now, but not forever, ask the Expelled.


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