Further to my review of 15th August 2012:
As I've read on in the book The Future of Atheism, the awfulness of Dennett's case emerges ever more clearly. Replying to McGrath who had asked `What is the essence of religion?, Dennett says (page 35): "What Darwin showed is that essentialism is a mistake. Don't ever ask for the essence of something, because essence is something that's just pre-Darwinian thinking". This is appalling. First of all, though on this issue I am as one less wise, I very much doubt that Darwin showed any such thing. However that may be, it is clear that DENNETT thinks that `essentialism is a mistake'. I take that to mean that there is no such thing as a defining `nature', that there is no such thing as human nature. This is the core error of `modern philosophy' and the New Atheism, as Edward Feser identifies it and tears it to pieces in his book `The Last Superstition - A Refutation of the New Atheism', and as Robert Spitzer equally does, in `New Proofs for the Existence of God'. The rejection of Aristotle's and Aquinas's `four causes' is identified by Feser as the most calamitous error in the whole of Western thought (page 225).
Let me produce an immediate proof of the absurdity and harmfulness of this denial of `essence'. On page 56 in this very same book `The Future of Atheism', Keith M Parsons, whose essay is entirely a hostile review of McGrath's book `The Twilight of Atheism', quotes a 1986 essay by Roger Scruton which claims that the new atheists "have been most influential in creating a new image of man as an accident of nature, to whom nothing is either forbidden or permitted by any power beyond himself. God [on this view?] is an illusion; so too is the divine spark in man". Parsons approves of this view which Scruton rejects, saying approvingly (and I equate here the `divine spark' to the `essence' which Dennett also rejects ): "But respect for other persons does not arise from detection of some `divine spark', whatever that might be, but from the experience of shared humanity".
I disagree totally with this opinion of Parsons. It reduces human life and human society to WHATEVER THE LEGISLATURE IN ANY COUNTRY AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT considers to be `shared humanity'. I quote against Parsons that since Roe versus Wade in 1973 in the USA the number of legal killings of unborn human beings in whom the medical profession does not recognize a `divine spark' or a `shared humanity' or an `essence' is now approaching 55 million. In the United Kingdom there are about two hundred thousand abortion killings every year. And every abortion involves the complicity of the mother and usually other relatives, plus doctors and nursing staff. So we are talking about tens of millions of involved people. The very mother of the unborn infant, and the caring professions, now think nothing of killing unborn human beings. Yet up to thirty or forty years ago every country in the world, and the medical profession overwhelmingly, would have consdered abortion to be murder. And same-sex 'marriage'? And euthanasia?
Here is an absolutely up-to-date contribution to this 'divine spark/essence' debate, which I picked up from an internet news source.
Immediately following the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's Vice-Presidential running-mate in mid-August 2012, Ryan's (Roman Catholic) bishop, the news item states, issued a statement. """His Excellency Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, has published a letter to clarify once again that ALL Catholics are bound to defend and uphold the dignity of every human life, marriage between one man and one woman, and the right to religious liberty -- because these issues involve intrinsic evils that can never be justified.
"But he also explains (this is important!) that on issues such as how to best care for the poor, create jobs, or how to best reduce the deficit, people of good will can disagree! Specific policy solutions in these areas involve prudence, where good people that share a common goal may disagree on how to best achieve those goals."""