Sunday, March 13, 2011

David B. Hart on Dawkins, Evolution and Design

This is an excerpt from the unedited version of the essay Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark. The version of the essay that appears online is truncated, presumably for length reasons by the editors of First Things. I assume that this paragraph was clipped because it is somewhat tangential to the subject of the essay, but I found it to be one of the more exhilarating parts of the essay. The full essay appears in Hart's essay collection In The Aftermath.


Richard Dawkins--unencumbered as he is by any philosophical training or aptitude--has an obliging habit of placing his largest logical errors either in the opening paragraphs or on the covers of his books. The subtitle of his already solecistically entitled The Blind Watchmaker informs us that "the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design"; a claim that seems superficially in keeping with his frequently reiterated assertion that what we find when we look at the evidence of biological evolution is precisely what we should expect to find if we assume that the entire process is governed by nothing but random chance. But, in fact, while the latter claim is true, the former is only a false inference drawn from it. It is, after all, one's prior expectations that are always at issue. For what one sees when one looks at the evidence of evolution is also what one might expect to find if one assumes that the entire process is the consequence of a transcedent intelligence drawing all things from nothingness and endowing them with form according to an internally coherent sequences of causes and a collection of magnificently intricate mathematical laws. All judgments regarding final causality--chance, design, necessity and so on--are, by virtue of their quite irreducible ultimacy, metaphysical in nature. They reflect the primordial convictions of the observer, not his impartial conclusions; they may appear to be valid deductions in the eyes of the philosophically naive, but in fact they concern that which lies outside the system of immanent causation that the material sciences investigate. ... The question of which judgments of finality are most plausible can be answered only metaphysically, for ultimately it is the question of whose primordial convictions are most rational and defensible (a standard according to which, happily, the strict materialist must always lose).


- David B. Hart, In The Aftermath


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