Universal acid

Editorial: An analysis of Daniel Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.

Dangerous Idea

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is the title of atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett’s influential book.1 By this he doesn’t mean the belief, predating Darwin, that one kind gave rise to another. He means the idea that natural selection, acting on chance variations, has been capable of creating all the wonders of the natural world, while producing the illusion of design.

He likens Darwin’s notion to a ‘universal acid’ which is so corrosive that nothing can contain it. Darwinism ‘eats through virtually every traditional concept’2—mankind’s most cherished beliefs about God, value, meaning, purpose, culture, morality—everything. While lashing out at creationists, Dennett says that they are ‘right about one thing; Darwin’s dangerous idea cuts much deeper into the fabric of our most fundamental beliefs than many of [Darwinism’s] sophisticated apologists have yet admitted, even to themselves. Even today, many people still have not come to terms with its mind-boggling implications.’2

Many theistic evolutionists, particularly academics eager to preserve credibility in both camps, try to dismiss the atheistic implications of Darwinism as merely the overreaction of a few extremists. But it is turning out to be impossible to ‘contain’ this universal acid. Atheism is now almost universally espoused by the leaders of evolutionary science.

Once you accept that chance and selection, the mindless processes of Darwinism, produced our bodies and our brains, why should our minds be excluded from this process? Which means that the products of our minds (thoughts, culture, ideas and behaviour of all sorts) are ultimately the results of this same mindless process. The philosophical choice has always been starkly clear. Either the universe is the product of intelligence, or intelligence is the product of the universe.

Dennett points out that there is no logical stopping point for Christians and others who want to flirt with Darwinism. For him, the question is not whether, but when this universal acid will have totally dissolved the Christian worldview in our society.

Over the last century and more, the Darwinian ‘acid’ has seriously corroded all of Western culture. Evolutionary thinking has long been implicit (there is no such thing as absolute values or meaning in life except your own opinion). It is becoming ever more explicit—such things as ‘Darwinian medicine’ are increasingly pushed. Or Darwinian psychology, which ‘explains’ everything previously labelled as ‘sin’ in evolutionary terms.

Those clinging to a ‘big bang’ idea as a last bastion for a divine act of creation are having that ground corroded out from under them by the universal acid—the universe’s origin is now being ‘explained’ by Darwinian–style selection from an array of eternally replicating and varying universes.

Many evangelical Bible colleges and the like have already suffered major corrosion from the inside as a result of allowing this universal acid (and its closely related stablemate, ‘progressive creation’) into the fold. Here, too, there is no logical barrier to prevent it eating its way to ultimate unbelief.

Accept that the Bible is wrong about something as major and as obvious as no death/bloodshed before sin, or the global nature of the Flood judgment, then maybe it is wrong about other things concerning the nature of sin, the wrongfulness of homosexual behaviour, Jesus Christ’s Virginal Conception, Bodily Resurrection, Atonement for our sins, and so on. The acid just eats away until there is not even the vaguest resemblance to the ‘faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3).

The good news is that there is an antidote to this ‘universal acid’. We need to rebuild all of our thinking, not just about science and origins, on the written Word of God. Creation magazine is a powerful part of the antidote—sprinkle it around widely in your corner of the world, and watch the ‘fizz’. May God continue to bring the light of His glorious Gospel to many through these pages.

Further reading


  1. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Simon & Schuster, 1995.
  2. D. Dennett, ‘Darwin’s dangerous idea’, The Sciences, pp. 34–40, May–June, 1995. Dennett is director of the Centre for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, Massachusetts.
Published: 14 October 2009