Dennett and Kitcher on Wade on Dawkins

Nicholas Wade offered a rather silly review of Dawkins’ The Greatest Story on Earth a few weeks back. Brief rejoinders from Daniel Dennett and Phil Kitcher are now online. For what it’s worth, I think that Dawkins’ book is not without its flaws, but Wade appears to be doing nothing more than illustrating his own ignorance of philosophy, an ignorance that doesn’t bode well for his forthcoming book, The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures.


6 thoughts on “Dennett and Kitcher on Wade on Dawkins

  1. Hey!
    I am reading ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ at the moment…very readable and enjoyable so far.

    Anyway, on the topic of philosophy, and particularly philosophy of science, are there any books you would recommend? It is a subject I am very much interested in. I am working through Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ but find it hard going.
    I am definitely not short of opinions, but I am woefully lacking in terms of actual understanding…

  2. Wade’s book might still be good. Expertise in philosophy isn’t necessarily a requirement for discussing the evolution of religion. I read basically anything I can get my hands on that discusses the topic, and there’s quite a bit of stuff out there that’s quite good even though the author in question has no philosophical training. I plan to read his book and give it a fair shake.

    But I do think that philosophy has a lot to contribute to the scientific study of religion. And I agree that Wade’s review of Dawkins is philosophically shallow (of course, I’d say the same thing for Dawkins’ “meme” theory of religion, but that’s a different issue).

  3. Seamus: There are lots of good books in philosophy of science; Kuhn’s _The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_ is probably not a good first book on the subject to start with. His _The Copernican Revolution_ is much easier reading, though apparently not necessarily very accurate.

    I’ve very fond of Philip Kitcher’s _The Advancement of Science_, since it argues for a position in philosophy of science that accounts for criticisms from the sociologists of science. I’m currently reading some of the articles in _Companion to the History of Modern Science_ edited by R.C. Colby, G.N. Cantor, J.R.R. Christie, and M.J.S. Hodge, which covers history of science, philosophy of science, sociology of science, and so forth.

    My intro to philosophy of science was John Losee’s _A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science_, which you can find on

    I’m also a fan of Larry Laudan’s _Science and Relativism: Some Key Controversies in the Philosophy of Science_, written in the form of a dialogue between proponents of various viewpoints.

    W.H. Newton-Smith’s _The Rationality of Science_ is another on that’s a good intro to philosophy of science.

    I’ve just come across Werner Callebaut’s _Taking the Naturalistic Turn, or How Real Philosophy of Science is Done_, which is a series of interviews with major figures in philosophy of science. The excerpts online look very interesting.

  4. Peter Godfrey-Smith has an excellent introduction to philosophy of science (the title escapes me at the moment but it’s from University of Chicago Press) that you should probably read before any of Jim’s suggestions. I agree with Jim about Kuhn – “Structure” offers an overly simplistic view that is probably not applicable in many real cases (the chemical “revolution” of Lavosier may be one of the few) and Kuhn’s paradigmatic example of the Copernican Revolution turns out not to be as paradigmatic of his claims.

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