Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Why did so many find Charles Dar­win’s con­cept of nat­ur­al selec­tion so sub­ver­sive and dis­con­cert­ing straight from the begin­ning? Amer­i­can philoso­pher Daniel Den­nett explains. To get to the meat of things, you might want to skip to 1:16.

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Comments (16)
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  • Alexander says:

    Dar­win denied his whole the­o­ry (which he pre­vi­ous­ly stole from his granpa) right beofre his death. It’s amaz­ing to me peo­ple still talk about evo­lu­tion as Charles’ the­o­ry.
    It is even more amaz­ing peo­ple sill believe in that pure non­sense.

  • Jon Tillman says:

    @Alexander Not only is the sto­ry of his recan­ta­tion whol­ly false (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/ladyhope.html) and the idea of his “steal­ing” the the­o­ry, whether from Eras­mus (whose “Zoono­mia, or, The Laws of Organ­ic Life” was influ­en­tial on many sci­en­tists and nat­u­ral­ists work­ing in the field, or from Alfred Rus­sel Wal­lace who was work­ing on a com­pet­ing the­o­ry at the same time does not in any way detract from the the­o­ry itself.

    Indeed, even if Dar­win had repu­di­at­ed his own the­o­ry, it would have no effect on the the­o­ry itself. Evo­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry meets the cri­te­ria gen­er­al­ly accept­ed by sci­en­tists as defin­ing sci­ence, and thus is testable. Those tests deter­mine the truth or false­hood of a sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry, not the opin­ion of any­one; you, me, the pro­mul­ga­tor of the the­o­ry, Ted “Come to this restroom often?” Hag­gard, or any­one else. Pure non­sense would be some­thing that can­not be proven, has lit­tle to no chance of being true, and yet is still clung to by mil­lions of peo­ple for no rea­son oth­er than being incul­cat­ed in them when they were young and impres­sion­able.

  • michelle says:

    well said Jon, Alex if you are brave enough to chal­lenge your mind and faith read The God Delu­sion by Richard Dawkins

  • Alexander says:

    Jon, well said. Real­ly.
    Michelle, I am alway up for a chal­lenge. So I’ll check it out.
    & Berto. I read some of your pon­der­ing. You’re a smart guy. & I sug­gest you study the Bible, because it gives you all the answers to the con­tributes of God’s char­ac­ter. The very answers you asked.

  • Alban says:

    The view that evo­lu­tion and nat­ur­al selec­tion explains why I can’t have a soul, or be more than a body with a brain, fails entire­ly to account for expe­ri­ences like those of Jacques Lusseyran (“And There Was Light: Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resis­tance”) who should by all means be an inter­est­ing and chal­leng­ing study for any­one deal­ing with ques­tions of the mind. What if you are hal­lu­ci­nat­ing what you think to be real­i­ty, and all of this world is just your own imag­i­na­tion? Would you real­ly want it?

  • Hanoch says:

    The dar­win­ist-athe­ists always avoid one big ques­tion because it cre­ates an obvi­ous and sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem for their the­o­ry that the world and every­thing in it is mere­ly a prod­uct of ran­dom events. That is, even if you assume that life and the entire­ty of the uni­verse evolved from basic ele­ments over bil­lions of years, you still must account for where those basic ele­ments came from. Thus, irre­spec­tive of Dar­win’s the­o­ry, you even­tu­al­ly come back to the ques­tion of a Cre­ator. I have yet to hear any of these types address this issue head-on.

  • Mike says:


    Muta­tion (or vari­a­tion) may be ran­dom, but there is noth­ing ran­dom about selec­tion. If nat­ur­al selec­tion were ran­dom, ugly girls would get asked to dance just as often as pret­ty ones. As for your “big ques­tion,” if you think it has­n’t been addressed head-on, you haven’t been read­ing much. You’re talk­ing about the First-Cause Argu­ment for the exis­tence of God. Since you say you haven’t heard “any of these (Dar­win­ist-athe­ist) types” address it, I will just quote Bertrand Rus­sell, address­ing this issue in 1927:

    “I may say that when I was a young man and was debat­ing these ques­tions very seri­ous­ly in my mind, I for a long time accept­ed the argu­ment of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eigh­teen, I read John Stu­art Mil­l’s Auto­bi­og­ra­phy, and I there found this sen­tence: ‘My father taught me that the ques­tion, Who made me? can­not be answered, since it imme­di­ate­ly sug­gests the fur­ther ques­tion, “Who made God?’ That very sim­ple sen­tence showed me, as I still think, the fal­la­cy in the argu­ment of the First Cause. If every­thing must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be any­thing with­out a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there can­not be any valid­i­ty to the argu­ment.”

    So there you have one athe­ist-type, Bertrand Rus­sell, address­ing the issue head-on, in agree­ment with anoth­er athe­ist-type, John Stu­art Mill.

    I just have one ques­tion for you, Hanoch, and I would like you to address it head-on: Have you actu­al­ly read Dar­win’s “On the Ori­gen of Species”?

  • Mike says:

    Spelling cor­rec­tion: ORIGIN of Species.

  • Hanoch says:


    Thanks for your com­ment, but I find it unsat­is­fy­ing for the fol­low­ing rea­son.

    There is a big prob­lem with posit­ing that if ele­ments require a cause for their exis­tence, then a Cre­ator does too. The for­mer are nat­ur­al objects which can­not cre­ate them­selves. How­ev­er, when one speaks of a Cre­ator of the nat­ur­al world, we are speak­ing of some­thing that is, by def­i­n­i­tion, super­nat­ur­al (i.e. above and out­side the laws of nature) and thus not sub­ject to the same nat­ur­al laws of cau­sa­tion.

    More to the point (and entire­ly con­sis­tent with my orig­i­nal state­ment), your Rus­sell quote does not answer the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion I raised, i.e., what caused the exis­tence of the basic ele­ments that began the process of evo­lu­tion? If an athe­ist were to argue that those ele­ments sim­ply exist with­out a cause, then it seems that that leap of faith is prob­a­bly greater (giv­en what we already know about the nat­ur­al world) than the one tak­en by those who posit a Cre­ator to explain their exis­tence.

  • Mike says:


    The Rus­sell quote bears direct­ly on your ques­tion. It demon­strates the illog­ic of arbi­trar­i­ly assign­ing a first cause (God or any­thing else) to explain those “basic ele­ments that began the process of evo­lu­tion” that you men­tion.

    As for your sug­ges­tion that an athe­ist would “argue that those ele­ments sim­ply exist with­out a cause,” I would sug­gest that you might want to speak with a wider range of athe­ists. In my expe­ri­ence, any­one with any intel­lec­tu­al integri­ty — not to men­tion humil­i­ty — will admit that he or she does know what the ulti­mate truth of the uni­verse is. To admit that one can­not cred­i­bly assign a first cause to the exis­tence of the ele­ments (by ele­ments here I mean some­thing more gen­er­al and fun­da­men­tal than the ele­ments of the peri­od­ic table) is not the same as say­ing that “those ele­ments sim­ply exist with­out a cause.” For all I know, the chain of cau­sa­tion might be infi­nite. I sim­ply don’t know. Do you?

    As for the asser­tion that what is nat­ur­al is the prod­uct of some­thing super­nat­ur­al, or that a thing which lies “out­side of cau­sa­tion” has “caused” the uni­ver­sal chain of causal­i­ty to com­mence is an absurd fiat.

    I will repeat my ques­tion: Have you actu­al­ly read Dar­win?

  • Mike says:

    I guess I can’t post a com­ment with­out mak­ing a typo. In the mid­dle para­graph, it should state that any­one with any intel­lec­tu­al integri­ty or humil­i­ty will admit that he or she does NOT know what the ulti­mate truth of the uni­verse is.

  • Alban says:

    @Mike and Hanoch:
    Only a mad­man would claim that God cre­at­ed the world as seen by the human mind. God by def­i­n­i­tion is eter­nal and per­fect. Cre­ation is exten­sion. There­fore, what He cre­ates shares His attrib­ut­es. This world is not eter­nal, there­fore, it can’t be real.

    It is only a “class­room” you have cho­sen to learn that you can­not be but per­fect as God cre­at­ed you. Once this is known again, it will dis­ap­pear into the noth­ing­ness it came from. A dream is a dream is a dream.

    Regard­ing your dis­pute about first cause, maybe it would help to look at the fact that you are look­ing at con­cepts and ideas. They only exist in your mind as well as the per­cep­tion of the world you talk about. If you go back far enough in time, you would still be faced with your mind. You are faced with the dilem­ma that you are see­ing as exter­nal to your mind what is still in your mind. God is the Mind with Which you think.

  • Stan says:


    What is the evi­dence for your claims about the nature of God? There is a lot of evi­dence about evo­lu­tion, but none that I know of about the nature, or even the exis­tence, of God. In case you want to claim the Bible as the evi­dence: sim­ply because a book claims to be the rev­e­la­tion from God does not mean that it is. Oth­er reli­gions make exact­ly the same claim about their sto­ries. Sim­i­lar­ly, in case you want to claim that you know this to be true based on your own expe­ri­ence, there are innu­mer­able oth­er peo­ple who have “known” about the nature of God based on their own expe­ri­ence. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, most of them have had a total­ly dif­fer­ent belief than you do, and have been just as cer­tain about it.

    As to the argu­ment about the source of the mate­r­i­al in the uni­verse, claim­ing that the orig­i­nal cause is super­nat­ur­al does­n’t get you any­where. Even if it were true, that only gets you to a deist view. It would tell you noth­ing about whether a super­nat­ur­al cre­ator cares about us at all. Giv­en the infin­i­tes­i­mal part of the uni­verse — both phys­i­cal­ly and tem­po­ral­ly — in which humans have exist­ed, it seems to me that you would need to have a lot of evi­dence to sup­port the claim that the cre­ator of the uni­verse cre­at­ed all of this just so he could suf­fer and die for us!

  • deltacentauri says:

    To add to the argu­ment of how ele­ments come about, well E=MC^2 explains this. Know­ing ener­gy and mass is inter­changable, know­ing if you take enough ener­gy you can cre­ate mass. If the first atom­ic bombs, explo­sive diam­e­ter of mere­ly a few miles is just a release of a few gram of radioac­tive mass, what about an explo­sion of a star or the big bang for that mat­ter. The big bang is just a the­o­ry and its truth is still beyond our imag­i­na­tion, just as how ener­gy and mass inter­chaga­bil­i­ty was beyond the imag­i­na­tion of sci­en­tists 100 years ago. At least we have some thought on how the uni­verse is cre­ate rather than a more vague super­nat­ur­al the­o­ry of a cre­ator of the uni­verse will­ing to die for us.

  • Dagwood says:

    In these debates about the nat­ur­al world, it’s aston­ish­ing how the sec­u­lar­ists so con­sis­tent­ly and utter­ly trounce the cre­ation­ists, who always, and quick­ly, wind up say­ing, “I don’t care what you say, it just is as I believe, peri­od.” One ter­ri­ble flaw in the cre­ation­ists’ strat­e­gy is (always, as far as I can tell) to assert that if they can find ANY imper­fec­tion in their oppo­nents’ accounts, ANY as-yet-unex­plained datum, then some­how that PROVES their entire the­o­ry. This is absurd! Ask the cre­ation­ists to offer spe­cif­ic, testable hypothe­ses about their account (when was the world cre­at­ed?, for exam­ple; where?; what was it cre­at­ed from?) and they run off. This makes the entire debate, very quick­ly, bor­ing and proves that it’s not about the nat­ur­al world at all. Yawn, already…or I would yawn if they did­n’t con­tin­ue to insist that chil­dren be taught their “the­o­ry” (which isn’t one).

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