Daniel Dennett breaks his book up into three sections: the first deals with exactly what Darwin's dangerous idea is; the second section more or less examines the biology of evolution; and third part looks at how Darwinian evolution has transformed our understanding of who and what we are.
What is Darwin's dangerous idea? Darwin's idea is the single best idea anyone has ever had, argues Dennett. It is also the most dangerous one. What he means by this is that it burns, like a "Universal Acid," through any misconceptions we have about nature. Special Creation is burned away; the Cosmic Pyramid of God, Mind, Design Order, etc. is annihilated; Plato's essentialism is destroyed; Locke's primacy of Mind is no more. Darwin single handedly demystified the world with his reductionism and usurped all of our traditional understandings in one swoop. He replaced a "skyhook" designer with an algorithmic...
I wish I had gone to Tufts University and taken one of Prof. Dennett's courses. The meticulousness, good humor and sheer tenacity of his approach to a topic makes all his books a joy to read. Darwin's Dangerous Idea is no exception by seeing Darwin's natural selection as a collection of related algorithms with no more or less meaning than the imperative to make more copies of the genotype by tweaking the survival machine of the phenotype. Many intellectual luminaries of the mid-90's, when the book was written, are skewered for their search for "sky cranes" versus just "cranes" to do the incremental lifting of evolutionary design. Stephen Jay Gould is cast in a most unfavorable light for his creation of the terms spandrel and punctuated equilibrium as well as befogging the field of inquiry more generally. This book belongs right beside Dawkin's Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker.
This is a serious read for those seeking to understand the ramifications of Darwin's idea. Dennett is a philosopher, not a biologist, but he understands science. He writes impeccably, and as a PhD philosopher, he is aware of cognitive errors and is careful to explain complex ideas in a clear and unambiguous way.
One of the best books I've ever read.
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