I think that Darwin's idea, properly used, is just
the best idea anybody ever had. Abused, it can do a lot
ALDA: Why is that a dangerous idea?
I think that Darwin's idea, properly used, is just the best
idea anybody ever had. Abused, it can do a lot of harm. So
that's one of the reasons it's dangerous, but I think the
more interesting reason that Darwin's idea is so dangerous
is that it overturns perhaps the oldest idea that human beings
have ever had; in fact, it's even older than the species,
How could an idea be older than the species?
Well, one of our ancestors, before homo sapiens, homo habilis,
the handyman. And the handyman made tools. They were just
rock axes, but they made tools. And I think that they might
have thought that it always takes a big fancy thing to make
a simpler thing. You never see a pot making a potter. It's
always the other way around. It's big fancy things making
simple dumb things. Darwin came along and said, you can turn
that upside down. If you have the right sort of process and
you have enough time, you can create big fancy things, even
things with minds, out of processes which are individually
stupid, mindless, simple. Just a whole lot of little mindless
events occurring over billions of years can create not just
order, but design, not just design, but minds, eyes and brains.
I can see how that's a revolutionary idea. Why is it dangerous?
Because a lot of people believe, and not foolishly, that if
that's true then somehow life has no meaning. They're afraid
that their own lives won't mean anything, that morality will
evaporate, that the whole pageant of human existence somehow
depends on not giving up this sort of top down idea.
And yet there's this process that it relies on, which seems
to be as great and supervising a power, in a way, as the old
handyman's idea was.
whole process of natural selection is itself wonderful.
But it is composed of elements that are themselves mindless.
DENNETT: Well, you can't get something for nothing.
Design is expensive. There are costs to developing something
wonderful, and what Darwin saw was that those costs could
be distributed over billions of years, and all you needed
was this one little ratchet of Darwinism, which is, when you
get a little bit of good design, you hang onto it. That's
the principle of natural selection. The whole process of natural
selection is itself wonderful. It has to be wonderful because
it makes wonderful products. But it is composed of elements
that are themselves mindless, just little patterns of order
in the universe that makes this possible.
Do you suppose some people feel that there's a lack of purpose
to life if life is only the way Darwin describes it?
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