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Appendix Interview with Daniel C. Dennett, conducted via e-mail in May 2012 Q) You have been identified as a materialist; the view that all that exists is matter, and even conscious thoughts can potentially be understood in terms of physics and chemistry. Would this be an accurate description of your position? A) Yes. Q) You have been critiqued for ‘over-simplifying’ evolutionary theory by writers such as Stephen Jay Gould. Do you think that it is appropriate to speak of evolution in terms of ‘tendencies’ as opposed to ‘laws’ as we do in physics, and do you think this has a significant impact on our appreciation of the process? A) Gould’s critique was disingenuous; he mainly objected to my defense of adaptationism and my exposure of his own misleading oversimplifications. The fact that his last long rant about evolutionary theory has been ignored by just about everybody in biology since it was published tends to support my criticisms. “Laws” do play a very different role in evolutionary theory; first, the basic laws of physics and chemistry by themselves provide most of the constraints. (Consider: there are no laws of automotive engineering or aeronautical engineering, but that doesn’t make these research fields any less scientific.) Q) How do you respond to criticism that you do not adequately separate those features of evolution you discuss which are more philosophical (the evolution of altruism or culture for example) with those which are scientifically verifiable? A) First, theories about the evolution of altruism and culture are just as scientifically verifiable and falsifiable as the theories of other aspects of the biosphere. It just hasn’t been done well yet. But since DDI was published there has been a wealth of excellent work on cultural evolution, most of it consonant with, and even in some instances building on, the analyses I offered. 245 Q) Are there any points of Richard Dawkins’ view on evolution that you disagree with? Would it be fair to say that you both share a very similar (perhaps even identical?) interpretation of evolution? A) On some technical details I don’t feel qualified to disagree publicly even when I have my doubts. We discuss these issues, as yet unresolved. I haven’t seen anything beyond a few rash overstatements to disavow in his work. Q) Do you still feel as confident about the meme concept as you always have? A) More so. And I am pleased to see that the most serious researchers are beginning to agree, though they often, for various reasons, try to avoid using the term. See my essay on the New Replicators in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Evolution. Q) You have questioned the legitimacy of theology on several occasions. Yet you have also mentioned the importance of religion in cultural and philosophical (and sociological, mythological etc.) history and that therefore, it needs to be studied and understood. Would this not constitute the need for theology (even if it were re-framed as the study of religion as opposed to the study of God) as the theological ideas behind religion need to be understood, as well as the more objective elements, eg. the mythology of religion, the cultural influence of religion etc. (which theology also deals with). A) I am sure that theology can be studied objectively as a complex and fascinating set of intellectual systems, but I don’t think that inquiry would count as theology, since it would be 100% uncommitted to any of the doctrines. It would be a kind of anthropology, or like the sociology of science (an intermittently useful field plagued by lots of silly misunderstanding), or like literary criticism, I suppose. Dickens experts have a scholarly love of all his fictional characters, and a Christianity expert should have the same informed (and respectful) acquaintance with the many characters, saints, stories, liturgies, . . . of the denominations. That is not theology, methinks, but it is what theology could become, if divorced from apologetics and sectarian loyalties. 246 | Reading Richard Dawkins ...


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