I focused on the whole "Bright" fiasco last time. This time, I want to focus on how, in a debate between himself and Dinesh D'Souza, Dan Dennett replied to the charge that atheists and atheist governments in the 20th century racked up body counts that made past theistic disgraces look rosy in comparison.
If you aren't familiar with Dennett's move here, you may be expecting the usual dodges: Say that it's illicit to compare the body counts. Say that the atheism wasn't what motivated the regimes and movements but something else. But Dan went a different route, one that picks up the No True Scotsman fallacy and does something amazing with it.
"Stalin believed in a God whose will determined what right and wrong was," he said. "[That] God's name was Stalin."
That's Dennett. And yes, Dennett's masterstroke was to deny Stalin was an atheist. Stalin was, according to Dennett, a theist.
Absorb that for a moment. This is, again, a celebrated philosopher at Tufts - this isn't UpYoursJesus1976 in a Bad Company 2 match. We're talking about one of the original Four Horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse. And he uses a move that, frankly, would have sounded - word for word, meaning for meaning - more appropriate coming out of William Lane Craig's mouth.
That's the contrast I'm marveling at here. Just as Dennett didn't see how the whole "We are BRIGHT!" thing could whirl around and kick him in the ass, apparently he didn't see how opening up a committed atheist to the charge of theism on any grounds, much less on moral grounds, could be a major rhetorical blunder.
You'll notice that, despite this move coming from a man Dawkins himself has praised repeatedly, you don't see this argument used often in debate. And "why" is obvious: It's Goddamn stupid. It opens up the original Four Horsemen, the entire atheist movement, and Dennett himself to the charge of being theistic, as well as - in spite of all their raging - religious. Now, they're open to that charge anyway, but making this argument is like saying "C'mon! Tear me to shreds and post this debate on every Christian blog around! The Pope paid me good money to come up here and sabotage this movement!"
This debate also led to another development that just highlights the curious blunders of what, if academic credentials were the measure, should be one of the most imposing debating and reasoning intellects around. I'll get to that another time.