Planet with a Purpose

If Earth is an organism getting ever more complex, doesn't that mean humans might have been made for a reason?

When Charles Darwin unveiled his theory of natural selection, he said there was no inherent contradiction between it and religious belief. Maybe, for example, God had used natural selection as the instrument for creating intelligent life. One Anglican clergyman, in a letter to Darwin, suggested that this was actually a "loftier" conception of God than the old-fashioned idea of God creating humans the easy way, by just molding them out of dust.

Yet today many intellectuals think that if they're going to be true Darwinians, they should give up on any notion of divinity, any hope of higher purpose. Why? In no small part because of the widely read philosopher Daniel Dennett. In his influential 1995 book "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," Dennett insisted that evolution is "purposeless"-and that, indeed, this lack of purpose is part of the "fundamental idea" of Darwinism. More recently, in a New York Times op-ed piece, he urged his fellow non-believers to unite and fight for their rights, depicting belief in God as contrary to a "naturalist" worldview.

I have some bad news for Dennett's many atheist devotees. He recently declared that life on earth shows signs of having a higher purpose. Worse still, he did it on videotape, during an interview for my website


. (You can watch the relevant clip


, though I recommend reading a bit further first so you'll have enough background to follow the logic.)

[Editor's Note: Since this article was published, Dennett has claimed that it misrepresents his views. Robert Wright responds to Dennett here.]

Dennett didn't volunteer this opinion enthusiastically, or for that matter volunteer it at all. He conceded it in the course of a dialogue with me-and extracting the concession was a little like pulling teeth. But his initial resistance makes his final judgment all the more important. People who see evidence of some larger purpose in the universe are often accused of arguing with their heart, not their head. That's a credibility problem Dennett doesn't face. When you watch him validate an argument for higher purpose, you're watching that argument pass a severe test. In fact, given that he's one of the best-known philosophers in the world, it may not be too much to say that you're watching a minor intellectual milestone get erected.

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Robert Wright
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