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RE: virus: "Darwinism Completely Refutes Intelligent Design"
« on: 2005-12-31 10:02:56 »
[Blunderov] 'We all have our ways of compartmentalizing our lives so that we
confront contradictions as seldom as possible.'
Ain't that the truth.
This just in...*
December 26, 2005
SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH EVOLUTION PHILOSOPHER DANIEL DENNETT
"Darwinism Completely Refutes Intelligent Design"
Intelligent Design is once again making headlines in the United States. But
what is the attraction? Daniel Dennett spoke with SPIEGEL about the
attraction of creationism, how religion itself succumbs to Darwinian ideas,
and the social irresponsibility of the religious right in America.
SPIEGEL: Professor Dennett, more than 120 million Americans believe that God
created Adam our of mud some 10,000 years ago and made Eve from his rib. Do
you personally know any of these 120 million?
Dennett: Yes. But people who are creationists are usually not interested in
talking about it. Those who are actually enthusiastic about Intelligent
Design, though, would talk endlessly. And what I learned about them is that
they are filled with misinformation. But they've encountered this
misinformation in very plausible sources. It's not just their pastor that
tells them this. They go out and they buy books that are published by main
line publishers. Or they go on Web sites and they see very clever propaganda
that is put out by the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which is financed by
the religious right.
SPIEGEL: In the center of the debate is the theory of evolution. Why is it
that evolution seems to produce much more opposition than any other
scientific theory such as the Big Bang or quantum mechanics?
Dennett: I think it is because evolution goes right to the heart of the most
troubling discovery in science of the last few hundred years. It counters
one of the oldest ideas we have, maybe older even than our species.
SPIEGEL: Which is what exactly?
Dennett: It's the idea that it takes a big fancy smart thing to make a
lesser thing. I call that the trickle-down theory of creation. You'll never
see a spear making a spear maker. You'll never see a horse shoe making a
blacksmith. You'll never see a pot making a potter. It is always the other
way around and this is so obvious that it just seems to stand to reason.
SPIEGEL: You think this idea was already present in apes?
Daniel Dennett is considered one of the most passionate supporters of
Darwinism. In a number of books, the philosophy professor from Tufts
University in Massachusetts has described humans, the human soul and culture
as natural products of the primordial soup. In his new book, "Breaking the
Spell," which will be published by the New York publishing house Viking in
February, Dennett, 63, explains - - from the perspective of evolution - -
why radical religions are so successful.
Dennett: Maybe in Homo Habilus, the handyman, who began making stone tools
some 2 million years ago. They had a sense of being more wonderful that
their artifacts. So the idea of a creator that is more wonderful than the
things he creates is, I think, a very deeply intuitive idea. It is exactly
this idea that promoters of Intelligent Design speak to when they ask, 'did
you ever see a building that didn't have a maker, did you ever see a
painting that didn't have a painter.' That perfectly captures this deeply
intuitive idea that you never get design for free.
SPIEGEL: An ancient theological argument...
Dennett: ... which Darwin completely impugns with his theory of natural
selection. And he shows, hell no, not only can you get design from
un-designed things, you can even get the evolution of designers from that
un-design. You end up with authors and poets and artists and engineers and
other designers of things, other creators -- very recent fruits of the tree
of life. And it challenges people's sense that life has meaning.
SPIEGEL: Even the spirit of humans -- his soul -- is produced in this
Dennett: Yes. As a multi-cellular, mobile life form, you need a mind because
you have to look out where you are going. You have got to have a nervous
system, which can extract information from the world fast and can refine
that information and put it to use quickly to guide your behavior. The basic
problematic for all animals is finding what they need and avoiding what
could hurt them and doing it faster than the opposition. Darwin understood
this law and understood that this development has been going on for hundreds
of millions of years producing ever more android minds.
SPIEGEL: But still, something out of the ordinary happened when humans came
Dennett: Indeed. Humans discovered language -- an explosive acceleration of
the powers of minds. Because now you can not just learn from your own
experience, but you can learn vicariously from the experience of everybody
else. From people that you never met. From ancestors long dead. And human
culture itself becomes a profound evolutionary force. That is what gives us
an epistemological horizon and which is far, far greater than that of any
other species. We are the only species that knows who we are, that knows
that we have evolved. Our songs, art, books and religious beliefs are all
ultimately a product of evolutionary algorithms. Some find that thrilling,
SPIEGEL: Nowhere does evolution become so apparent than in the DNA code.
Nevertheless, those who believe in Intelligent Design find the DNA code less
problematic than the ideas of Darwin. Why is that?
Dennett: I don't know, because it seems to me that the very best evidence we
have for the truth of Darwin's theory is the evidence that arrives every day
from bioinformatics, from understanding the DNA-coding. The critics of
Darwinism just don't want to confront the fact that molecules, enzymes and
proteins lead to thought. Yes, we have a soul, but it's made up of lots of
SPIEGEL: Don't you think it's possible to leave life to the biologists, but
let religion take care of the soul?
Dennett: That's what Pope John Paul II was demanding when he issued his
oft-quoted cyclical in which he said that evolution was a fact, but he went
right on to say: except on the matter of the human soul. That might make
some content, but it is just false. It would be just as false to say: Our
bodies are made up of biological material, except, of course, the pancreas.
The brain is no more wonder tissue than the lungs or the liver. It's just a
SPIEGEL: Darwin's ideas have been misused by racists and eugenicists. Is
this also one of the reasons that Darwinism is so energetically attacked?
Dennett: Yes. I think the gentler way of putting it is that the Darwinian
idea is very simple -- you can explain it to somebody in a minute. But for
that very reason, it is also extremely vulnerable to caricature and misuse.
I very patiently teach my students the basics of evolutionary theory and
then I have to go back and clean up after myself, because they get very
enthusiastic about it and they keep falling into these misunderstandings.
Darwinism is mind candy, it's delicious. But the thing is, having too much
candy can distract from the truth. And that can play into the hands of
people who are racist or sexist. So you have to maintain a sort of
intellectual hygiene at all times.
SPIEGEL: It seems that everything -- from adultery to rape to murder -- is
being analyzed in the light of evolution these days. How can one separate
serious research from the candy?
Dennett: You have to be a meticulous gatherer of the relevant facts and you
have to marshal those facts in such a way that you have a testable
hypothesis that could actually be confirmed or disproved. That's what Darwin
SPIEGEL: Your colleague Michael Ruse has accused you of stepping out of the
field of science and into social science and religion with your theories.
He's even said you are inadvertently aiding the Intelligent Design movement
as a result.
Dennett: Michael is just trying to put the implications of Darwin's insights
into soft focus and to reassure people that there is not as much conflict
between the perspective of evolutionary biology and their traditional ways
SPIEGEL: And what about the accusation that you are aiding Intelligent
Dennett: There is probably an element of truth to it. I've just finished
writing a book in which I look at religion from the perspective of
evolutionary biology. I think you can, should, and even must take this
route. Others say 'no, hands off! Just don't let evolution get anywhere near
the social sciences.' I think that's terrible advice. The idea that we
should protect the social sciences and humanity from evolutionary thinking
is a recipe for disaster.
Dennett: I would give Darwin the gold medal for the best idea anybody ever
had. It unifies the world of meaning and purpose and goals and freedom with
the world of science, with the world of the physical sciences. I mean, we
talk about the great gap between social science and natural science. What
closes that gap? Darwin -- by showing us how purpose and design, meaning,
can arise out of purposelessness, out of just brute matter.
SPIEGEL: Is Darwinism at work every time something new is created? Even at
the creation of the universe for example?
Part II: "Religious right is socially irresponsible"
Dennett: It's at least interesting to see that quasi- or pseudo-Darwinian
ideas are also popular in physics. They postulate a huge diversity from
which there has, in a certain sense, been a selection. The result is that
here we are and this is the only part of this huge diversity that we
witness. That's not the Darwinian idea, but it's a relative. The philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche had the idea -- I would guess perhaps inspired by Darwin
-- of eternal recurrence: The idea that all the possibilities are played out
and if the time is infinite and matter is infinite then every permutation
will be tried, not once, but a trillion times.
SPIEGEL: Another idea of Nietzsche's was that God is dead. Is that also a
logical conclusion reached by Darwinism?
Dennett: It is a very clear consequence. The argument for design, I think,
has always been the best argument for the existence of God and when Darwin
comes along, he pulls the rug out from under that.
SPIEGEL: Evolution, in other words, leaves no room for God?
Dennett: One has to understand that God's role has been diminished over the
eons. First we had God, as you said, making Adam and making every creature
with his hands, plucking the rib from Adam and making Eve from that rib.
Then we trade that God in for the God who sets evolution in motion. And then
you say you don't even need that God -- the law giver -- because if we take
these ideas from cosmology seriously then there are other places and other
laws and life evolves where it can. So now we no longer have God the law
finder or the law giver, but just God the master of ceremonies. When God is
the master of ceremonies and doesn't actually play any role any more in the
universe, he's sort of diminished and no longer intervenes in any way.
SPIEGEL: How is it, then, that many natural scientists are religious? How
does that go together with their work?
Dennett: It goes together by not looking too closely at how it goes
together. It's a trick we can all do. We all have our ways of
compartmentalizing our lives so that we confront contradictions as seldom as
SPIEGEL: But this compartmentalizing has a positive side as well: Natural
science talks about life whereas religion deals with the meaning of life.
Dennett: Fine. A boundary. But the trouble is that the boundary moves. And
as it moves, the job description for God shrinks. I, too, stand in awe of
the universe. It's wonderful, I'm so happy to be here, I think it's a great
place for all its faults, I love being alive. The problem is: There's nobody
to be grateful to. There's nobody to express my gratitude to.
SPIEGEL: But religion surely gives us moral standards and provides guidance
on how to behave.
Dennett: If that's what religion does, then I don't think it is such a silly
idea. But it doesn't. Religions at their best serve as excellent social
organizers. They make moral teamwork a much more effective force than it
otherwise would be. This, however, is a two-edged sword. Because moral
teamwork depends to a very large degree on ceding your own moral judgment to
the authority of the group. And that can be extremely dangerous, as we know.
SPIEGEL: But religion still helps us to set moral standards.
Dennett: But are we only morally good so that we get rewarded in heaven; so
that God will punish us for our sins and reward us for good behavior? I
find this idea extremely patronizing. It is offensive in that it suggests
that that's the only reason people are moral. Do we only, for example,
behave well to get 76 virgins in paradise? That's an idea that many in the
West would scoff at.
SPIEGEL: Why then do pretty much all cultures have religion?
Dennett: I think the answer to that question is partly historical in the
sense that traditions that survive evolve adaptations for surviving. So that
religions themselves are extremely well designed cultural phenomena that
have evolved to survive.
SPIEGEL: Like a biological species.Does religion provide us with a moral
Dennett: Absolutely. A religion's design is completely unconscious in
exactly the way the design of animals and plants is completely unconscious.
SPIEGEL: Do successful religions have similar features?
Dennett: They all have to have features for prolonging their own identity --
and a lot of these are actually interestingly similar to what you find in
SPIEGEL: Can you give an example?
Dennett: Many religions started before there was writing. How do you get
high fidelity preservation of texts before you have texts? Group singing and
recitation are efficient mechanisms for maintaining and spreading
information. And then we have other features too, like you really want to
make sure there are some parts of religion that are really incomprehensible.
Dennett: Because then people have to fall back on rote memorization. The
very idea of the Eucharist is a lovely example: The idea that the bread is
symbolic of the body of Christ, that the wine is symbolic of the blood of
Christ, that's just not exciting enough. The idea needs to be made strictly
incomprehensible: The bread is Christ's body and the wine is his blood. Only
then will it hold your attention. Then it will win in competition against
more boring ideas simply because you can't quite get your head around it.
It's sort of like when you have a sore tooth and you can't keep your tongue
off it. Every good Muslim is supposed to pray five times a day no matter
SPIEGEL: You see that too as an evolutionary strategy to keep the religion
Dennett: It's very possible. The Israeli evolutionary biologist Amotz Zahavi
argues that behaviors which are costly -- which are hard to imitate -- are
those that can best be handed down because non-costly signals can and will
be faked. This principle of costly behaviors is well established in biology
and it is present in religion. It is important to make sacrifices. The
costliness is a feature you tamper with at your peril. If the imams got
together and decided to remove that feature they would be damaging one of
the most powerful adaptations of Islam.
SPIEGEL: By using this type of argumentation, can you predict which
religions will win out in the end?
Dennett: My colleagues Rodney Stark and Roger Finke have researched why some
religions spread quickly and others don't. They're adapting supply side
economics to this and saying that there's a sort of unlimited market for
what religions can give but only if they're costly. So they have an
explanation for why the very bland and liberal Protestant religions are
losing members and why the most extreme, intense religions are gaining
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for why the belief in Intelligent Design
is nowhere so widespread as in the United States?
Dennett: No, unfortunately I don't. But I can say, the alliance between
fundamentalists or evangelical religion and right wing politics is a very
troubling phenomenon and this is certainly one of the most potent reasons
for it. What's really scary is that a lot of them seem to think that the
second coming is around the corner -- the idea that we're going to have
Armageddon anyway so it doesn't make much difference. I find that to be
socially irresponsible on the highest order. It's scary.
SPIEGEL: Professor Dennett, thank you very much for this interview.
Interview conducted by Jörg Blech and Johann Grolle
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2005
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
* I didn't ask Spiegel for permission to reproduce this here. I consider
speakers of English to have a prior patent.
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