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July 16, 2011 / Daniel

Daniel Dennett, Designed by Natural Selection?

Yesterday I watched a video where Daniel Dennett addresses Rick Warren‘s The Purpose Driven Life.   Dennett is known as one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism.  I first came across Dennett in college when I had to read one of his articles for a philosophy class.

Now I should preface my remarks by stating that I’m not a scientist.  I don’t pretend to  understand evolutionary theory.   However, there is something in the introduction of Dennett’s speech that struck me as odd.

He begins his lecture by showing pictures of two different cows on the screen.  The first cow is a dairy cow.   The second is an auroch, an ancestor to the modern dairy cow.    Dennett comments that the first cow was breed to enhance her ability to produce milk.   This was done intentionally by human beings.  However, an auroch was developed by natural selection.    What’s strange is how Dennett describes this process.  He states that the auroch was “designed by the process of natural selection”  (my emphasis).

Doesn’t the term “designed” imply that there is a conscious designer behind this process?   Now it could be that Dennett uses the word “designed” to create intentional irony.  But this is not the first time that I have heard naturalists use the word “design” to describe the evolutionary process.   In 2007,  Liza Mundy, the author of Everything Conceivable on NPRstated, “Our bodies have been very carefully designed by evolution to ensure that generally we are only going to ovuate one egg per month.”

How can something be designed by random thoughtless process?


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