Saturday, January 30, 2010

Daniel Dennett's Deepities

Daniel Dennett is my favourite of the "new athiests". In this talk, called The Evolution of Confusion, he explores what he considers to be one of the reasons for the existence of theology. He suggests it is an exercise that was invented by those who had trouble believing in religious dogma and who have struggled hard to try to discover some kind of argument which is intellectualy satisying. In other words, those who find a gap between their professed beliefs and their actual beliefs.

It's introduced by Richard Dawkins who similarly asks, "What's the point of philosophers?" To which the obvious answer is, "That depends on what you want to do."

Dennett explains what it is that philosophers do, which is mostly to assess uses of language in argument and when it is being misused, either mistakenly or deliberately and willfully. Why would language be misused? Dennett gives an example of Robert Wright, whose book The Evolution of God is, according to Dennett, an attempt to be obscure and to add mystery where there is none.

Dennett also coins the term "deepity" which is superficially similar to a "profundity" except that a "deepity" is true only in a trivial way according to one reading but is otherwise false according to a reading that would make it profound if it were true.

And then there are nonsensical claims which also sound profound, but are not. Although this is taken from a fictional character in a novel, Dennett shows that there are those who have put forward arguments in this form:

It is a measure of God's omnipotence that he needn't exist in order to save us.

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