Taking Charge of Your Health

It’s wonderful to be back. I love this wonderful gathering. And you must be wondering, “What on earth? Have they put up the wrong slide?” No, no. Look at this magnificent beast, and ask the question: Who designed it? This is TED; this is
Technology, Entertainment, Design, and there’s a dairy cow. It’s a quite wonderfully designed animal. And I was thinking,
how do I introduce this? And I thought, well, maybe
that old doggerel by Joyce Kilmer, you know: “Poems are made by fools
like me, but only God can make a tree.” And you might say,
“Well, God designed the cow.” But, of course, God got a lot of help. This is the ancestor of cattle. This is the aurochs. And it was designed by natural selection, the process of natural selection,
over many millions of years. And then it became domesticated,
thousands of years ago. And human beings became its stewards, and, without even knowing
what they were doing, they gradually redesigned it
and redesigned it and redesigned it. And then more recently, they really began
to do reverse engineering on this beast and figure out just what
the parts were, how they worked and how they might be optimized —
how they might be made better. Now, why am I talking about cows? Because I want to say that
much the same thing is true of religions. Religions are natural phenomena —
they’re just as natural as cows. They have evolved over millennia. They have a biological base,
just like the aurochs. They have become domesticated, and human beings have been redesigning
their religions for thousands of years. This is TED, and I want
to talk about design. Because what I’ve been doing
for the last four years — really since the first time you saw me — some of you saw me at TED
when I was talking about religion — and in the last four years, I’ve been working
just about non-stop on this topic. And you might say it’s about
the reverse engineering of religions. Now that very idea, I think,
strikes terror in many people, or anger, or anxiety
of one sort or another. And that is the spell
that I want to break. I want to say, no, religions
are an important natural phenomenon. We should study them
with the same intensity that we study all the other
important natural phenomena, like global warming, as we heard
so eloquently last night from Al Gore. Today’s religions are brilliantly
designed — brilliantly designed. They are immensely powerful
social institutions and many of their features
can be traced back to earlier features that we can really make sense of
by reverse engineering. And, as with the cow, there’s a mixture
of evolutionary design — designed by natural selection itself — and intelligent design — more or less intelligent design — and redesigned by human beings who are trying
to redesign their religions. You don’t do book talks at TED, but I’m going to have
just one slide about my book, because there is one message in it which I think this group
really needs to hear. And I would be very interested
to get your responses to this. It’s the one policy proposal
that I make in the book, at this time, when I claim
not to know enough about religion to know what other
policy proposals to make. And it’s one that echoes remarks
that you’ve heard already today. Here’s my proposal, I’m going to just take a couple
of minutes to explain it: Education on world religions
for all of our children — in primary school, in high school, in public schools, in private schools
and in home schooling. So what I’m proposing is, just as we require reading, writing,
arithmetic, American history, so we should have a curriculum on facts
about all the religions of the world — about their history,
about their creeds, about their texts, their music, their symbolisms,
their prohibitions, their requirements. And this should be presented
factually, straightforwardly, with no particular spin,
to all of the children in the country. And as long as you teach them that, you can teach them anything else you like. That, I think, is maximal tolerance
for religious freedom. As long as you inform your children
about other religions, then you may — and as early as you like
and whatever you like — teach them whatever creed
you want them to learn. But also let them know
about other religions. Now, why do I say that? Because democracy depends
on an informed citizenship. Informed consent is the very bedrock
of our understanding of democracy. Misinformed consent is not worth it. It’s like a coin flip;
it doesn’t count, really. Democracy depends on informed consent. This is the way we treat people
as responsible adults. Now, children below the age of consent
are a special case. Parents — I’m going to use a word
that Pastor Rick just used — parents are stewards of their children. They don’t own them. You can’t own your children. You have a responsibility to the world, to the state, to them,
to take care of them right. You may teach them whatever creed
you think is most important, but I say you have a responsibility
to let them be informed about all the other creeds
in the world, too. The reason I’ve taken this time
is I’ve been fascinated to hear some of the reactions to this. One reviewer for a Roman Catholic
newspaper called it “totalitarian.” It strikes me as practically libertarian. Is it totalitarian to require
reading, writing and arithmetic? I don’t think so. All I’m saying is — and facts, facts only;
no values, just facts — about all the world’s religions. Another reviewer called it “hilarious.” Well, I’m really bothered by the fact that anybody would think
that was hilarious. It seems to me to be such a plausible, natural extension of the democratic
principles we already have that I’m shocked to think anybody
would find that just ridiculous. I know many religions are so anxious about preserving the purity
of their faith among their children that they are intent on keeping
their children ignorant of other faiths. I don’t think that’s defensible. But I’d really be pleased
to get your answers on that — any reactions to that — later. But now I’m going to move on. Back to the cow. This picture, which I pulled
off the web — the fellow on the left is really
an important part of this picture. That’s the steward. Cows couldn’t live without human
stewards — they’re domesticated. They’re a sort of ectosymbiont. They depend on us for their survival. And Pastor Rick
was just talking about sheep. I’m going to talk about sheep, too. There’s a lot of serendipitous
convergence here. How clever it was of sheep
to acquire shepherds! (Laughter) Think of what this got them. They could outsource all their problems: protection from predators,
food-finding … (Laughter) … health maintenance. (Laughter) The only cost in most flocks —
not even this — a loss of free mating. What a deal! “How clever of sheep!” you might say. Except, of course,
it wasn’t the sheep’s cleverness. We all know sheep are not exactly rocket
scientists — they’re not very smart. It wasn’t the cleverness
of the sheep at all. They were clueless. But it was a very clever move. Whose clever move was it? It was the clever move
of natural selection itself. Francis Crick, the co-discoverer
of the structure of DNA with Jim Watson, once joked about what he called
Orgel’s Second Rule. Leslie Orgel is a molecular
biologist, brilliant guy, and Orgel’s Second Rule is: Evolution is cleverer than you are. Now, that is not Intelligent Design —
not from Francis Crick. Evolution is cleverer than you are. If you understand Orgel’s Second Rule,
then you understand why the Intelligent Design movement
is basically a hoax. The designs discovered
by the process of natural selection are brilliant, unbelievably brilliant. Again and again biologists are fascinated
with the brilliance of what’s discovered. But the process itself is without purpose, without foresight, without design. When I was here four years ago, I told the story about an ant
climbing a blade of grass. And why the ant was doing it
was because its brain had been infected with a lancet fluke that was needed
to get into the belly of a sheep or a cow in order to reproduce. So it was sort of a spooky story. And I think some people
may have misunderstood. Lancet flukes aren’t smart. I submit that the intelligence
of a lancet fluke is down there, somewhere between petunia and carrot. They’re not really bright.
They don’t have to be. The lesson we learn from this is: you don’t have to have a mind
to be a beneficiary. The design is there in nature,
but it’s not in anybody’s head. It doesn’t have to be. That’s the way evolution works. Question: Was domestication
good for sheep? It was great for their genetic fitness. And here I want to remind you
of a wonderful point that Paul MacCready made
at TED three years ago. Here’s what he said: “Ten thousand years ago,
at the dawn of agriculture, human population, plus livestock and pets, was approximately a tenth of one percent
of the terrestrial vertebrate landmass.” That was just 10,000 years ago. Yesterday, in biological terms. What is it today? Does anybody
remember what he told us? 98 percent. That is what we have done on this planet. Now, I talked to Paul afterwards —
I wanted to check to find out how he’d calculated this, and get
the sources and so forth — and he also gave me a paper
that he had written on this. And there was a passage in it
which he did not present here and I think it is so good,
I’m going to read it to you: “Over billions of years
on a unique sphere, chance has painted
a thin covering of life: complex, improbable,
wonderful and fragile. Suddenly, we humans —
a recently arrived species no longer subject to the checks
and balances inherent in nature — have grown in population,
technology and intelligence to a position of terrible power. We now wield the paintbrush.” We heard about the atmosphere
as a thin layer of varnish. Life itself is just a thin coat
of paint on this planet. And we’re the ones
that hold the paintbrush. And how can we do that? The key to our domination
of the planet is culture. And the key to culture is religion. Suppose Martian scientists came to Earth. They would be puzzled by many things. Anybody know what this is?
I’ll tell you what it is. This is a million people gathering
on the banks of the Ganges in 2001, perhaps the largest single gathering
of human beings ever, as seen from satellite photograph. Here’s a big crowd. Here’s another crowd in Mecca. Martians would be amazed by this. They’d want to know how it originated, what it was for
and how it perpetuates itself. Actually, I’m going to pass over this. The ant isn’t alone. There’s all sorts of wonderful cases
of species which — in that case — A parasite gets into a mouse
and needs to get into the belly of a cat. And it turns the mouse
into Mighty Mouse, makes it fearless, so it runs out in the open,
where it’ll be eaten by a cat. True story. In other words, we have these hijackers — you’ve seen this slide before,
from four years ago — a parasite that infects the brain
and induces even suicidal behavior, on behalf of a cause
other than one’s own genetic fitness. Does that ever happen to us? Yes, it does — quite wonderfully. The Arabic word “Islam”
means “submission.” It means “surrender of self-interest
to the will of Allah.” But I’m not just talking about Islam. I’m talking also about Christianity. This is a parchment music page
that I found in a Paris bookstall 50 years ago. And on it, it says, in Latin: “Semen est verbum Dei.
Sator autem Christus.” The word of God is the seed
and the sower of the seed is Christ. Same idea. Well, not quite. But in fact, Christians, too … glory in the fact
that they have surrendered to God. I’ll give you a few quotes. “The heart of worship is surrender. Surrendered people obey God’s words,
even if it doesn’t make sense.” Those words are by Rick Warren. Those are from “The Purpose Driven Life.” And I want to turn now, briefly,
to talk about that book, which I’ve read. You’ve all got a copy, and you’ve just heard the man. And what I want to do now
is say a bit about this book from the design standpoint, because I think it’s actually
a brilliant book. First of all, the goal — and you
heard just now what the goal is — it’s to bring purpose to the lives
of millions, and he has succeeded. Is it a good goal? In itself, I’m sure
we all agree, it is a wonderful goal. He’s absolutely right. There are lots of people out there
who don’t have purpose in their life, and bringing purpose to their life
is a wonderful goal. I give him an A+ on this. (Laughter) Is the goal achieved? Yes. Thirty million copies of this book. Al Gore, eat your heart out. (Laughter) Just exactly what Al is trying
to do, Rick is doing. This is a fantastic achievement. And the means — how does he do it? It’s a brilliant redesign
of traditional religious themes — updating them, quietly dropping
obsolete features, putting new interpretations
on other features. This is the evolution of religion that’s
been going on for thousands of years, and he’s just the latest
brilliant practitioner of it. I don’t have to tell you this;
you just heard the man. Excellent insights into human psychology,
wise advice on every page. Moreover, he invites us
to look under the hood. I really appreciated that. For instance, he has an appendix
where he explains his choice of translations
of different Bible verses. The book is clear, vivid, accessible,
beautifully formatted. Just enough repetition. That’s really important. Every time you read it or say it,
you make another copy in your brain. Every time you read it or say it,
you make another copy in your brain. (Laughter) With me, everybody — (Audience and Dan Dennett)
Every time you read it or say it, you make another copy in your brain. Thank you. And now we come to my problem. Because I’m absolutely sincere
in my appreciation of all that I said about this book. But I wish it were better. I have some problems with the book. And it would just be insincere of me
not to address those problems. I wish he could do this with a revision, a Mark 2 version of his book. “The truth will set you free.” That’s what it says in the Bible, and it’s something
that I want to live by, too. My problem is, some of the bits in it
I don’t think are true. Now some of this
is a difference of opinion. And that’s not my main complaint,
that’s worth mentioning. Here’s a passage — it’s very much
what he said, anyway: “If there was no God
we would all be accidents, the result of astronomical
random chance in the Universe. You could stop reading this book
because life would have no purpose or meaning or significance. There would be no right or wrong and no hope beyond
your brief years on Earth.” Now, I just do not believe that. By the way, I find — Homer Groening’s
film presented a beautiful alternative to that very claim. Yes, there is meaning and a reason
for right or wrong. We don’t need a belief in God
to be good or to have meaning in us. But that, as I said,
is just a difference of opinion. That’s not what I’m really worried about. How about this: “God designed
this planet’s environment just so we could live in it.” I’m afraid that a lot of people
take that sentiment to mean that we don’t have to do
the sorts of things that Al Gore is trying so hard
to get us to do. I am not happy with that sentiment at all. And then I find this: “All the evidence
available in the biological sciences supports the core proposition that
the cosmos is a specially designed whole with life and mankind
as its fundamental goal and purpose, a whole in which all facets
of reality have their meaning and explanation in this central fact.” Well, that’s Michael Denton.
He’s a creationist. And here, I think, “Wait a minute.”
I read this again. I read it three or four times and I think, “Is he really endorsing
Intelligent Design? Is he endorsing creationism here?” And you can’t tell. So I’m sort of thinking,
“Well, I don’t know, I don’t know if I want
to get upset with this yet.” But then I read on, and I read this:
“First, Noah had never seen rain, because prior to the Flood, God irrigated
the earth from the ground up.” I wish that sentence weren’t in there,
because I think it is false. And I think that thinking this way
about the history of the planet, after we’ve just been hearing
about the history of the planet over millions of years, discourages people
from scientific understanding. Now, Rick Warren uses scientific terms and scientific factoids and information
in a very interesting way. Here’s one: “God deliberately shaped
and formed you to serve him in a way that makes your ministry unique. He carefully mixed the DNA cocktail
that created you.” I think that’s false. Now, maybe we want to treat it
as metaphorical. Here’s another one: “For instance,
your brain can store 100 trillion facts. Your mind can handle
15,000 decisions a second.” Well, it would be interesting
to find the interpretation where I would accept that. There might be some way
of treating that as true. “Anthropologists have noted
that worship is a universal urge, hardwired by God into
the very fiber of our being — an inbuilt need to connect with God.” Well, the sense of which I agree with him, except I think it has
an evolutionary explanation. And what I find
deeply troubling in this book is that he seems to be arguing
that if you want to be moral, if you want to have meaning in your life, you have to be an Intelligent Designer, you have to deny the theory of evolution
by natural selection. And I think, on the contrary, that it is very important
to solving the world’s problems that we take evolutionary
biology seriously. Whose truth are we going to listen to? Well, this is from
“The Purpose Driven Life”: “The Bible must become
the authoritative standard for my life: the compass I rely on for direction, the counsel I listen to
for making wise decisions, and the benchmark I use
for evaluating everything.” Well maybe, OK, but what’s going
to follow from this? And here’s one that does concern me. Remember I quoted him
before with this line: “Surrendered people obey God’s word,
even if it doesn’t make sense.” And that’s a problem. (Sighs) “Don’t ever argue with the Devil. He’s better at arguing than you are, having had thousands
of years to practice.” Now, Rick Warren
didn’t invent this clever move. It’s an old move. It’s a very clever
adaptation of religions. It’s a wild card for disarming
any reasonable criticism. “You don’t like my interpretation? You’ve got a reasonable objection to it? Don’t listen, don’t listen! That’s the Devil speaking.” This discourages the sort
of reasoning citizenship it seems to me that we want to have. I’ve got one more problem,
then I’m through. And I’d really like to get
a response if Rick is able to do it. “In the Great Commission, Jesus said, ‘Go to all people of all nations
and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do
everything I’ve told you.'” The Bible says Jesus is the only one
who can save the world. We’ve seen many wonderful maps
of the world in the last day or so. Here’s one, not as beautiful
as the others; it simply shows
the religions of the world. Here’s one that shows the sort of current
breakdown of the different religions. Do we really want to commit ourselves to engulfing all the other religions, when their holy books are telling them, “Don’t listen to the other side,
that’s just Satan talking!”? It seems to me that
that’s a very problematic ship to get on for the future. I found this sign as I was driving
to Maine recently, in front of a church:
“Good without God becomes zero.” Sort of cute. A very clever little meme. I don’t believe it and I think this idea,
popular as it is — not in this guise, but in general — is itself one of the main
problems that we face. If you are like me, you know
many wonderful, committed, engaged atheists, agnostics, who are being
very good without God. And you also know many religious people
who hide behind their sanctity instead of doing good works. So, I wish we could drop this meme. I wish this meme would go extinct. Thanks very much for your attention. (Applause)

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