Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
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Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  6,821 ratings  ·  161 reviews
One of the best descriptions of the nature and implications of Darwinian evolution ever written, it is firmly based in biological information and appropriately extrapolated to possible applications to engineering and cultural evolution. Dennett's analyses of the objections to evolutionary theory are unsurpassed. Extremely lucid, wonderfully written, and scientifically and...more
Published September 11th 1995 by Allen Lane (first published January 1st 1995)
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1. Roughly 47% of Americans believe the theories in this book to be complete and utter bullshit at best, and at worst the work of the devil. That same 47 percent of the population that doesn’t believe in evolution also do not believe in the Sumerians or Dinosaurs. There is nothing that can be said to make them see that they could possibly be wrong about the world being created roughly 6,500 years ago, but that is fine because I believe the world was actually created 10 seconds ago, and it was cr...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
"If you can approach the world's complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things."
— Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell

"Is this Tree of Life* a God one could worship? Pray to?...more
John Wiswell
Oct 01, 2007 John Wiswell rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pop evolution readers
This was by far the most annoying book I read in college. It isn't just wordy; it's bloated with needless
tangents and almost incomprehensibly dense passages. I watched an entire college science class misunderstand this for two excruciating weeks of debate and left thoroughly disappointed in Dennett's prose. It's simply too long and stuffy for its own good; and worse, for a 600-page monolith, it insists on simplifying things to "God did it by miracle" or "natural selection did it mindlessly." Thi...more
As I neared the end of my second month of slogging through this book, I asked myself, "What keeps you going? Each night you read a page or two, re-read half of those, and then start again the next night."

The answer is that this book is so dense and well written that it deserves to be savored and thought about. For an evolutionary neophyte like myself (both in evolutionary time, and in terms of how much I know about the concept of evolution) the book has some fairly difficult and complex sections...more
Philosopher Dan Dennett argues that the theory of natural selection is a 'universal acid', burning through our basic ideas about science and beyond, leaving a completely changed intellectual landscape. The revelation that mind did not design life inverts the traditional Christian-derived pyramid. Dennett shows that evolution needs 'no skyhooks' - no supernatural powers - and instead produced us and our artifacts and ideas using 'cranes', artefacts and strategies that accelerate development (the...more
Jeremy Lyon
In this book Dennett makes an authoritative case against the necessity of what he calls "skyhooks" in order to explain life and meaning. Skyhooks are the deus ex machina of science, invented to make the case for human exceptionalism. Dennett's able to show that evolutionary theory can dissolve just about any argument in favor of skyhooks into plain, old-fashioned incrementalism.

The vast majority of the book is devoted to this topic; considerably fewer pages are allocated to describing how morali...more
This book is purely about Darwin's theory of natural selection. IT'S NOT A BIOLOGY TEXT. It's not really about biology at all, but the larger, widely-applicable algorithmic process that happened to push forth original life. It covers a massive span of topics, most rather philosophical, including reactions to Darwinian thought (from Neo-Darwinist scientists, and others), issues in reductionism, possibility, 'evolutions' of meaning, 'evolutions' of morality, and a lot more. It's pretty unbelievabl...more
Craig Williams
I hate to abandon a book before I finish it, but some books just force my hand in the matter. I picked up this book because I had always heard of Daniel Dennett, as he is one of the infamous "Four Horsemen of Atheism" (also including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchins). I wanted to read some of his work, saw this book, and thought the title provocative.

However, the more I read, the more of a chore it became just to pick up the book. I don't want to give the wrong impression -...more
I picked up this book because I'm an atheist and I wanted to read something by one of the New Atheists, because the notion that anyone would want to capitalize "atheist" seemed somewhat anti-atheistic to me (aatheistic?), and Dennett appeared to be the least pig-headed. Somewhat unfortunately for my project, this book has nothing to do with atheism, but fortunately for me in general, it has everything to do with evolution by natural selection and its implications beyond biology, which is a prett...more
This is my first Dennett book, and he had me worried in the first chapter with all that philosophy. Then I recognized something from my study of of effective field theory:

"Here, then, is Darwin's dangerous idea: the algorithmic level is the level that best accounts for the speed of the antelope, the wing of the eagle, the shape of the orchid, the diversity of species, and the other occasions for wonder in the world of nature."

He also refers to Darwin's dangerous idea as a universal acid, able to...more
“Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” by Daniel C. Dennett is one of the better books on Evolution available. Dennett is probably best known as one of The Four Horsemen (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris), i.e. atheists who speak out against the problems that organized religion causes in our society. Of the four, though, Dennett tends to stay away from the blood-boiling criticism in which the others sometimes engage. Instead, Dennett spends his time discussing the state of the science. This book is a v...more
Sep 25, 2007 Krishan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: evolutionists
A long and diffucult book, but well worth the effort. Here Dennett explores the implications of natural selection on other areas of philosophy. The material ranges far and wide, from human consciousness, morality, the evolution of theories of evolution, consciousness and morality.

The meat of the book is devastating criticism of attempts by philosophers and scientists to find attributes that are beyond evolutionary analysis. In particular, he does a thorough job of exposing the shortcomings of t...more
I'm teaching this book for a philosophy of biology course this semester, so I'm read this with its potential for pedagogy in mind. All in all, I thought it was a pretty good explanation and defense of the dominant neo-Darwinian ("adaptationist") paradigm in biology, and that it spelled out some consequences of this paradigm for others area of research (philosophy of mind, linguistics, computer science, even physics). Dennett's basic theses might be summarized as follows: "We are all made of up l...more
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Comprehensive discussion of the theory of evolution

Daniel C. Dennett’s book is worthy of its subject matter. That is to say, beautiful in its essence, but complex in its details. Dennett is not trying just to explain Darwin’s core ideas about evolution or natural selection. Rather, he is trying to explain how evolution fits into humanity’s understanding of itself, life and the world. To do so, he has to explain his views on evolution’s context, its implications for human understanding, and the...more
This is by far the best book I have read this year. It uses the narrative of Darwin's deceptively simple idea of making complex things from a very simple algorithm. The author beats this thought in to the reader and at the same time covers how the world changed because of that.

The book is really more philosophical than scientific but it's accessible to the non-philosopher like me. He starts by telling the listener the mindset during Darwin's time. Plato's universal forms would lead to absolute c...more
Dave Peticolas

A book about the philosophical implications of Darwinism. Written with humor and keen insight, this book has many good references for further reading.

I read this book with great interest because one of its topics -- the effect the theory of evolution has on ideas in non-biological settings like religion and culture -- has fascinated me for some time. Although many people do not find any conflict (or even relationship) between evolution and religion, I have found it difficult to see evolution as

The biggest fault of the book is that it spends more time in refuting than explaining. At many points, the objective of the book is less about enlightening the reader and more about proving some of author’s contemporaries and/or adversaries wrong. This makes the book not only needlessly pedagogic but also long and boring in parts.

The main topic is critically important and the author is immensely knowledgable. The deductive reasoning and logical dismantling of counterpoints throughout is some of...more
I enjoyed reading some of the philosophical implications of accepting evolution by natural selection. How it makes us look at ethics, morality, language, and life is fascinating. Hearing about the tug o war between accepting or refuting Darwin's idea in the fields of psychology, and linguistics was eye opening.

Here is a quote I enjoyed: "The evidence for evolution pours in, not only from geology, paleontology, biogeography, and anatomy (Darwin's chief sources), but of course from molecular biol...more
Cheryl in CC NV
(almost gave it four stars) A little bit too preachy for those of us already convinced that evolution is fact and the bible is a story.
Ivo Westerneng
I think that Danil C. Dennett is too much conclusive. Science is a discussion. You can also see Cantor his axiom of infinite as proof and Claude Shannon' Mathematical Theory of Communication as proof that we can't possibly proof science by ways of experiment or a postiori. So science' conclusions are not physically provable, only a priori provable. We must trust computers that they churn out the right numbers as proof that M-Theory and supersymmetry are true and tested theorems. But Dennett conc...more
Jerry Hilts
It's been almost 20 years since I first read this book. It was even better the second time around. Ostensibly the book is about the philosophical and scientific implications that result from the theory of evolution. What the book really is, is an excellent primer on thinking about how to think.

The first part of the book presents a good overview of evolution, but also one of the best introductory examples of the philosophy science is and how it works. It seriously ought to be required reading by...more
Emmanuel Gustin

In this book Dennett explores what he judges to be the concept and, more crucially, the consequences of evolutionary biology. He ranges far and wide, from the origin of life to ethics. He is rather verbose, and not always convincing, being at times clearly too eager to present his personal opinion as logical fact. His main theme is that an explanation of the world may require complex and counter-intuitive "cranes" to build complex systems from simple systems, but does not require the "skyhooks"...more
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Henri Hämäläinen
Evolution theory and all the things related to it, has been an interest for me. This time I wanted to dig deeper and read Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel C. Dennett. It is highly appreciated book with good reviews. It was a book I wanted to check out.

I had assumptions that this book dives in to the subject deep, but still I got amazed how deep it went. It started from old philosophic thoughts and then worked its way to Darwin and to latest thoughts in 1990's. All the topics were covered thorou...more
Considering the subject matter, this book was surprisingly clear and accessible. Dennett's conceptualization of natural selection as an algorithm is well-reasoned and helps to clarify the overall issue. Dennett's arguments for how the acknowledgement of the algorithmic function of natural selection changes traditional thinking in a multitude of areas is equally clear and quite thorough, and he also does an admirable job of anticipating and puncturing counterarguments. He's also good about not st...more
Biologists try to answer questions beginning with Who, What, and How, but they claim that "Why" questions are better left to the philosophers. Dennett tries to take up this mantle, putting the impact of Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection through a philosopher's lens. Although this is a technical book (with a 25 page bibliography) he tries to make it accessible for the layman. He tries to use illustrative analogies. (I particularly liked his analogy to Conway's game of life ww...more
A masterpiece of Darwinian philosophy. Dennett is very meticulous about showing how just about anything can be explained without needing an appeal to the divine or otherwise metaphysical. Darwin's theory is like a "universal acid" which dissolved anything it touched it the realm of science and philosophy to totally transform it into what we know understand to be a much more wholesome explanation of how design came out of chaos without the aid of mind.

In this tome, he really paint a good picture...more
Ehsan Shams
This book is an excellent presentation of evolution or as Dennett prefers to call it, Darwin's dangerous idea. Dennett calls Darwin's idea Universal Acid. An idea that in his terms is so powerful that cannot be contained by any limits. Throughout the book he tries to explain, brilliantly and successfully in my opinion, why evolution has answers to our most important questions about the world we live in.
Dennett contrasts between two central notions in the book and draws on this extensively all t...more
Nov 28, 2008 DJ rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everybody
Shelves: evolution
This book is not "yet another pop-sci book on evolution." It does not set out to convince the reader with a series of well-known arguments that evolution is true. Instead, it assumes you've accepted the idea and explores it as an abstract framework for understanding the world. It is the first and only book I've encountered that takes evolution as a worldview and not just a biological explanation of speciation.

I drew far too many wonderful ideas and frameworks from...more
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"Daniel Clement Dennett (born March 28, 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts) is a prominent American philosopher whose research centers on philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philoso...more
More about Daniel C. Dennett...
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Consciousness Explained The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul Freedom Evolves Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness

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“If you want to teach your children that they are the tools of God, you had better not teach them that they are God's rifles, or we will have to stand firmly opposed to you: your doctrine has no glory, no special rights, no intrinsic and inalienable merit. If you insist on teaching your children false-hoods—that the Earth is flat, that "Man" is not a product of evolution by natural selection—then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity. Our future well-being—the well-being of all of us on the planet—depends on the education of our descendants.” 36 likes
“One reader of an early draft of this chapter complained at this point, saying that by treating the hypothesis of God as just one more scientific hypothesis, to be evaluated by the standards of science in particular and rational thought in general, Dawkins and I are ignoring the very widespread claim by believers in God that their faith is quite beyond reason, not a matter to which such mundane methods of testing applies. It is not just unsympathetic, he claimed, but strictly unwarranted for me simply to assume that the scientific method continues to apply with full force in this domain of truth.

Very well, let's consider the objection. I doubt that the defender of religion will find it attractive, once we explore it carefully.

The philosopher Ronaldo de Souza once memorably described philosophical theology as "intellectual tennis without a net," and I readily allow that I have indeed been assuming without comment or question up to now that the net of rational judgement was up. But we can lower it if you really want to.

It's your serve.

Whatever you serve, suppose I return service rudely as follows: "What you say implies that God is a ham sandwich wrapped in tin foil. That's not much of a God to worship!". If you then volley back, demanding to know how I can logically justify my claim that your serve has such a preposterous implication, I will reply: "oh, do you want the net up for my returns, but not for your serves?

Either way the net stays up, or it stays down. If the net is down there are no rules and anybody can say anything, a mug's game if there ever was one. I have been giving you the benefit of the assumption that you would not waste your own time or mine by playing with the net down.”
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