Breaking the Spell (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
When Charles Darwin was wrestling with the problem of God’s existence, he, like many thinkers throughout history, was troubled by the problem of evil. Unlike his devout wife, who saw ample evidence of divine benevolence in the world, Darwin found an overabundance of needless suffering. For example, he could not understand why a benevolent god would design ichneumon wasps, which laid eggs inside living caterpillars so that their larvae could hatch and devour their hosts, who suffered excruciatingly.
Daniel Dennett, an ardent Darwinian, begins his book Breaking the Spell with a similar adaptation that seems more like the product of a Satanic Sadist than a Compassionate Creator. In this instance, parasitic worms take over the brains of certain ants, causing them to climb up blades of grass, where they are eaten by cows, sheep, or goats. The parasite does this because it needs to get into such ruminants to complete its reproductive cycle. This grim example leads Dennett to wonder whether religious ideas in human brains are like this parasite in an ant’s brain, compelling humans to behave irrationally, even self-destructively. This example also illustrates how Dennett’s negative attitude toward religion often surfaces in the framework and content of his inquiry.
Dennett, a militant atheist who is aware of the adverse connotations...
(The entire section is 1820 words.)
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(The entire section is 69 words.)