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The Evolution of Everything

How New Ideas Emerge

By Matt Ridley
13-minute read
Audio available
The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge by Matt Ridley

The Evolution of Everything (2015) argues that the phenomenon of evolution – gradual change without goal or end – reaches far beyond genetics. Evolution happens all around us in economic markets, our language, technology and customs, and is what’s behind nearly all changes that occur in these fields.

  • Liberal thinkers
  • Anyone curious about the power and beauty of evolution outside biology

Matt Ridley is the author of several bestselling books including The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters and The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. Ridley writes for The Times and the Wall Street Journal and is a member of the UK House of Lords.

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The Evolution of Everything

How New Ideas Emerge

By Matt Ridley
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge by Matt Ridley
Synopsis

The Evolution of Everything (2015) argues that the phenomenon of evolution – gradual change without goal or end – reaches far beyond genetics. Evolution happens all around us in economic markets, our language, technology and customs, and is what’s behind nearly all changes that occur in these fields.

Key idea 1 of 8

With few exceptions, the history of Western thought is shaped by a creationist perspective.

When we think of evolution, we often think of biology, Charles Darwin and his evolutionary theory. But the word “evolution” doesn’t just denote genetics. Originally, “evolution” meant “unfolding” and described how things gradually changed without a plan.

And yet, the history of Western thought has been dominated by a creationist mode of thinking. That is, explaining the world through design and planning.

Consider a few examples:

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato thought that society functioned by mimicking a designed cosmic order; in The Iliad, Homer had gods deciding the outcome of battles; much later, the Christian reformer Martin Luther stated that our fate lay in the hands of God; the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that healthy societies were made by the plans of powerful leaders; and Karl Marx claimed that a planned state was the best means to encourage economic and social progress.

The list goes on. Again and again, we see top-down descriptions of how the world is designed or should be organized. However, there are a few exceptions to this creationist mode of thinking. Just take the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus.

Epicurus believed that the physical world, including society and morality, emerged spontaneously, needing no divinity or royal power to explain it. Everything, he said, was made of invisible atoms which followed the laws of nature rather than the laws of God.

The Roman poet Lucretius adopted Epicurus’s stance, stating that the world was made of invisible particles. He believed the world had no creator and life had no end or purpose.

Epicurus and Lucretius were thus precursors to Darwin. We’ll explore this in detail in the blink.

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