Darwin's Dangerous Idea
In a book that is both groundbreaking and accessible, Daniel C. Dennett, whom Chet Raymo of "The Boston Globe" calls "one of the most provocative thinkers on the planet, " focuses his unerringly logical mind on the theory of natural...
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In a book that is both groundbreaking and accessible, Daniel C. Dennett, whom Chet Raymo of "The Boston Globe" calls "one of the most provocative thinkers on the planet, " focuses his unerringly logical mind on the theory of natural selection, showing how Darwin's great idea transforms and illuminates our traditional view of humanity's place in the universe. Dennett vividly describes the theory itself and then extends Darwin's vision with impeccable arguments to their often surprising conclusions, challenging the views of some of the most famous scientists of our day.
Chapter 1 Tell Me Why 1. Is Nothing Sacred? We used to sing a lot when I was a child, around the campfire at summer camp, at school and Sunday school, or gathered around the piano at home. One of my favorite songs was "Tell Me Why." (For those whose personal memories don't already embrace this little treasure, the music is provided in the appendix. The simple melody and easy harmony line are surprisingly beautiful.) Tell me why the stars do shine, Tell me why the ivy twines, Tell me why the sky's so blue. Then I will tell you just why I love you. Because God made the stars to shine, Because God made the ivy twine, Because God made the sky so blue. Because God made you, that's why I love you. This straightforward, sentimental declaration still brings a lump to my throat -- so sweet, so innocent, so reassuring a vision of life! And then along comes Darwin and spoils the picnic. Or does he? That is the topic of this book. From the moment of the publication ofOrigin of Speciesin 1859, Charles Darwin's fundamental idea has inspired intense reactions ranging from ferocious condemnation to ecstatic allegiance, sometimes tantamount to religious zeal. Darwin's theory has been abused and misrepresented by friend and foe alike. It has been misappropriated to lend scientific respectability to appalling political and social doctrines. It has been pilloried in caricature by opponents, some of whom would have it compete in our children's schools with "creation science," a pathetic hodgepodge of pious pseudo-science. Almost no one is indifferent to Darwin, and no one should be. The Darwinian theory is a scientific theory, and a great one, but that is not all it is. The creationists who oppose it so bitterly are right about one thing: Darwin's dangerous idea cuts much deeper into the fabric of our most fundamental beliefs than many of its sophisticated apologists have yet admitted, even to themselves. The sweet, simple vision of the song, taken literally, is one that most of us have outgrown, however fondly we may recall it. The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us (all creatures great and small) and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight --thatGod is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in.ThatGod must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether. Not all scientists and philosophers are atheists, and many who are believers declare that their idea of God can live in peaceful coexistence with, or even find support from, the Darwinian framework of ideas. Theirs is not an anthropomorphic Handicrafter God, but still a God worthy of worship in their eyes, capable of giving consolation and meaning to their lives. Others ground their highest concerns in entirely secular philosophies, views of the meaning of life that stave oft despair without the aid of any concept of a Supreme Being -- other than the Universe itself. Somethingissacred to these thinkers, but they do not call it God; they call it, perhaps, Life, or Love, or Goodness, or Intelligence, or Beauty, or Humanity. What both groups share, in spite of the differences in their deepest creeds, is a conviction that life does have meaning, that goodness matters. But cananyversion of this attitude of wonder and purpose be sustained in the face of Darwinism? From the outset, there have been those who thought they saw Darwin letting the worst possible cat out of the bag: nihilism. They thought that if Darwin was right, the implication would be that nothing could be sacred. To put it bluntly, nothing could have any point. Is this just an overreaction? What exactly are the implications of Darwin's idea -- and, in any case, has it been scientifically proven or is it still "just a theory"? Perhaps, you may think, we could make a us
Daniel Dennett is the author of Brainstorms, Elbow Room, and Consciousness Explained. He is currently the Distinguished Arts and Sciences Professor and Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He lives in North Andover, Massachusetts, with his wife and has two children.
Born in Boston in 1942, Daniel Clement Dennett explores the philosophical links between mind and brain. His first book, Content and Consciousness (1969) was one of the earliest to examine this issue. It is one that he expands on in his other books, including Consciousness Explained (1991), where he uses philosophical "materialism" to examine the link between mind and body. Dennett is a Distinguished Arts and Sciences Professor, a Professor of Philosophy and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University in Medford Mass. He is interested in the development of artificial intelligence, was the co-founder of the Curricular Software Studio at Tufts, and has aided in the design of computer exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Science in Boston and the Computer Museum in Boston.