DARWIN’S DANGEROUS IDEA: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
Daniel C. Dennett
RATING: 9 of 10
In Daniel C. Dennett’s excellent book, ”Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” he walks the reader through some of the aspects of Man’s intellectual development by the 19th century, so that the reader might better understand both the full measure of Darwin’s conceptual achievement as well as the contributions of other intellectuals upon whose ideas Darwin drew in formulating his own landmark ideas. It is a brilliant book, although it might be going a bit overboard to describe it as a surpassingly brilliant one.
The historical aspects of the book are genuinely interesting, but more interesting by far are Dennett’s thoughts regarding the importance and the applicability of that dangerous idea to the future direction of Man. And an even more fascinating aspect is the way in which Dennett constantly flirts with the obvious dangers that are created by the logic of this dangerous idea without ever being able to precisely articulate them, much less accept them as a Darwinian reality.
The regular reader has probably noticed that I have steeped myself in a good deal of atheist literature of late; this is only the most recently read. Since I have been reading on the matter, I have naturally been blogging on the matter, which led to a number of heated debates as well as finally providing the world with a succinct and definitive distinction between the concepts of ”agnostic” and ”atheist.”
Agnostic: I very much doubt there is a God. Because I haven’t seen the evidence.
Atheist: There is no God. Because I’m an a——.
But the point around which every atheist vs. theist debate seems to revolve endlessly is that of morality. Theists, of course, have a perfectly logical argument for the application of their god-based moralities which even the most die-hard rational atheist will not reject given the postulate that God actually exists and created the universe. In short, God’s game, God’s rules.
Atheists, ironically enough, enjoy no similar logical advantage, and are usually reduced to arguing that they are personally behaving in a moral manner based on a morality that someone could invent if he just sat down and thought about it enough, although strangely, none of them ever claim to have actually done so himself. So, they decry the evil done by Muslims and Christians for adhering to moralities based on the dictates of imaginary beings on the basis of their own hypothetical morality.
The imaginary aspect of his morality does not stop every atheist with a web site from stamping his cute little feet and citing ontological proof of its existence, to say nothing of its obvious superiority to Christian morality because, you know, he hasn’t personally engaged in any Crusades or Spanish Inquisitions. And yet, not only do we know these reason-based moralities don’t exist, we are informed from a reliable source that it is ”quite obvious” that they do not exist and have never existed.
”I do not intend this to be a shocking indictment, just a reminder of something quite obvious: no remotely compelling system of ethics has ever been made computationally tractable, even indirectly, for real world moral problems. So, even though there has been no dearth of utilitarian (and Kantian, and contrarian, etc.) arguments in favor of particular policies, institutions, practices, and acts, these have all been heavily hedged with ceteris paribus clauses and plausibility claims about their idealizing assumptions.”
Those aren’t my words, that’s Prof. Daniel C. Dennett his own godless self writing thusly on page 500 of the hitherto-mentioned book. In fact, in that particular passage, Dennett sounds rather more like the great anti-socialist F.A. von Hayek demonstrating the impossibility of socialist calculation than like a committed socialist desperate to prove socialism is beneficial to the economy.
But one must give Dennett his due for his honesty in admitting that Darwin’s dangerous idea tears a huge and gaping hole in the moral fabric, and he deserves credit for manfully attempting to lay the groundwork for a means of addressing that hole in the last two chapters of his book. And if he falls into the very same trap he describes so eloquently, well, it has happened to many an intellectual before.
One finds it hard to blame evolutionists for wishing to hide the most dangerous aspects of their hero’s idea from the general public, even if one must decry their attempts to do so. After all, the Edwards’ blogger fiasco has already demonstrated how normal people who still possess at least some remnants of a functioning moral conscience regard the final conclusion of evolutionist morality:
”Abortion, not just the right to abortion but the actual procedure, is a moral good that helps women and families and should be honored as such. … Pleasure is a moral good. I think people who oppose pleasure are the real anti-lifers, because what’s life for if not for living it?”
Of course, Aleister Crowley said the same thing rather more succinctly: ”Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
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