Daniel C. Dennett
Darwin's Dangerous Idea : Evolution and the Meanings of Life

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 philosophically impeccable. Highest Recommendation!

An exploration at a consistently high level of discourse of the implications of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, which extend far beyond biology. Dennett goes directly to the crux of the natural selection controversy: its implicit denial that a divine "first cause" is needed to account for the origin of life. While Darwin discreetly avoided a confrontation with orthodox religion, he could not prevent the proponents of divine creation from launching preemptive attacks against his theory. Dennett takes a rationalist tack, pointing out that any theory of a creator begs the question of how life began: If complex DNA molecules cannot have come into being without a creator, must not that creator have been even more complex to have designed the molecules?

He argues his points more from a philosophical and logical position than from analysis of the scientific literature on evolution, of which he openly admits only an amateur's understanding. (On the other hand, few of the critics of Darwinian selection have any deeper knowledge of the subject.) Among the fascinating subjects he brings up in passing are the laws of probability, computer simulations of evolution, and the revisionist Darwinian theories of Stephen Jay Gould and Roger Penrose.

Ultimately, he contends, the Darwinian revolution's greatest achievement is the denial of the supernatural explanation of the universe, replacing it with an even more miraculous natural explanation. Readers had best be prepared to think long and hard about the points Dennett raises, but those who stay with the author will be amply rewarded for their efforts. Included are 40 black & white line drawings.

In this groundbreaking and very accessible book, Daniel C. Dennett, the acclaimed author of Consciousness Explained, demonstrates the power of the theory of natural selection and shows how Darwin's great idea transforms and illuminates our traditional view of our place in the universe. Following Darwinian thinking to its logical conclusions is a risky business, with pitfalls for everybody. Creationists and others who reject evolution are not the only ones to fall into the traps. Many who accept the validity of Darwin's conclusions hesitate before their implications and distort his theory, fearful that it is politically incorrect or antireligious, or that it robs life of all spirituality. Dennett explains the scientific theory of natural selection in vivid terms, and shows how it extends far beyond biology.

Table of Contents


Pt. I. Starting in the Middle
Ch. 1. Tell Me Why
Ch. 2. An Idea Is Born
Ch. 3. Universal Acid
Ch. 4. The Tree of Life
Ch. 5. The Possible and the Actual
Ch. 6. Threads of Actuality in Design Space
Pt. II. Darwinian Thinking in Biology
Ch. 7. Priming Darwin's Pump
Ch. 8. Biology Is Engineering
Ch. 9. Searching for Quality
Ch. 10. Bully for Brontosaurus
Ch. 11. Controversies Contained
Pt. III. Mind, Meaning, Mathematics, and Morality
Ch. 12. The Cranes of Culture
Ch. 13. Losing Our Minds to Darwin
Ch. 14. The Evolution of Meanings
Ch. 15. The Emperor's New Mind, and Other Fables
Ch. 16. On the Origin of Morality
Ch. 17. Redesigning Morality
Ch. 18. The Future of an Idea


"Dennett is a philosopher of rare originality, rigor, and wit. Here he does one of the things philosophers are supposed to be good at: clearing up conceptual muddles in the sciences."
-- The Wall Street Journal

"A surpassingly brilliant book. Where creative, it lifts the reader to new intellectual heights. Where critical, it is devastating."
-- Richard Dawkins

Errors in Darwin's Dangerous Idea