Dennett points to (1995: 412, 426) the “gradual emergence of meaning” which is “none the less real for being the effect of millions of years of mindless, algorithmic… [research and development] instead of a gift from on high.” He characterizes (1995: 520) design work as that:
wonderful wedding of chance and necessity, happening in a trillion places at once, at a trillion different levels. And what miracle caused it? None. It just happened to happen in the fullness of time… the tree of life created itself. Not in a miraculous, instantaneous whoosh, but slowly, slowly over billions of years.
Our interests and intentions can be various and we are ready to act upon them. We can envisage many different kinds of life projects. Dennett’s implicit question (1995: 328) is what will we choose to put on life’s metaphoric pedestal?
You can do something for your own sake, or for the sake of the children, or for the sake of art, or for the sake of democracy, or for the sake of... the well being and flourishing of peanut butter above all else, but peanut butter can be put on the pedestal just as readily as art or the children can.
The absurdity of the peanut butter example is standard fare for a philosopher; but is “the well being and flourishing of peanut butter above all else” anymore obscure or arbitrary than cultural fads (like foot binding, or cultivating black tulips) or some of the more obsessive, arcane hobbies of individual?. In similar vein, Dennett recognizes (1995: 330) that “bearing and raising offspring is just one of life’s possible projects, and by no means the most important.” He provides another example (1995: 362) that seems even more counterintuitive to the notion of reproductive fitness.
A suicidal meme can spread, a when a dramatic and well-publicized martyrdom inspires others to die for a deeply loved cause…
Dennet, Daniel C. (1995) Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Touchstone, New York.