Can Daniel Dennett be a public philosopher and engage in a real debate with someone who is both a philosopher and theist? Or, will he once again choose to display his rasslin’ rhetorical skills and pass on demonstrating the Apocalyptic fury his intellectual insights are reported to bring? We will see.
One could call it providence as Daniel Dennett is coming to Claremont to give a lecture February 16, and it just so happens that Philip Clayton, philosopher and theologian, is a tenured professor there. Why is this intersection so intriguing? Well A few months ago at Cambridge University’s celebration of Darwin, Daniel Dennett attended a session on evolution and religion in which Philip Clayton was a presenter. Afterward Dennett ended up blogging about Clayton’s presentation on Richard Dawkins’ blog and concluding that, ‘in short Clayton is an atheist who won’t admit it.’ While calling him an ‘anonymous atheist’ is a clever way to avoid actually having a substantive conversation, it also assumes that Dennett gets to define Christianity and determine who truly belongs in it (a popular New Atheist tactic). This time Clayton is revealed to be an atheist because he doesn’t hold to all the traditional divine attributes such as divine omnipotence (of course there are plenty of Christians, including rather conservative ones, who recognize the origin of these omni-divine attributes being Hellenistic philosophy rather than anything specifically Christian). After Dennett blogged on the disturbing experience of attending a session where people believe and think differently than him, Clayton posted his paper online and noted that:
I do find it a bit surprising that Dan chose not to mention any of the philosophical questions that we debated. Clearly his rhetoric style here plays to the usual readers of Richard Dawkins’ website who, as one can see, are lapping up his words. But it is a bit of a pity that Dan neglected to mention the call to dialogue, which was the central point of my paper and of our public debate. In fact, isn’t his choice of rhetoric instead of argument an instance of exactly what he is accusing theologians of doing? One can’t help but see some signs of a philosopher who has rather lost interest in philosophical debate.
Well maybe Dennett can get out from behind his pulpit and have a serious philosophical debate. If he is right about Clayton being an atheist, then he may not only win the debate, but get Philip run out of his job, one focused on teaching theology to future ministers. Of course Dennett can always do what he did last time…move on and rant online about it later.
Here‘s Philip’s blog invite!