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Charles Darwin  Erasmus Darwin  Leonard Darwin  Richard Dawkins  William Dembski  Daniel Dennett  Michael Denton  Alan Dershowitz 

Daniel Dennett  (b. 1942)  Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University  Web  Amazon  GP  AV

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has always fascinated me, but over the years I have found a surprising variety of thinkers who cannot conceal their discomfort with his great idea, ranging from nagging skepticism to outright hostility. I have found not just lay people and religious thinkers, but secular philosophers, psychologists, physisists, and even biologists who would prefer, it seems, that Darwin were wrong. This book is about why Darwin's idea is so powerful, and why it promises -- not threatens -- to put our most cherished visions of life on a new foundation.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.11

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.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.18

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-that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.18

Whenever Darwinism is the topic, the temperature rises, because more is at stake than just the empirical facts about how life on Earth evolved, or the correct logic of the theory that accounts for those facts. One of the precious things that is at stake is a vision of what it means to ask, and answer, the question "Why?" Darwin's new perspective turns several traditional assumptions upside down, undermining our standard ideas about what ought to count as satisfying answers to this ancient and in inescapable question. Here science and philosophy get completely intertwined. Scientists sometimes deceive themselves into thinking that philosophical ideas are only, at best, decorations or parasitic commentaries on the hard, objective triumphs of science, and that they themselves are immune to the confusions that philosophers devote their lives to dissolving. But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.21

Let me lay my cards on the table. If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone ever had, I'd give it to Darwin, ahead of even Newton or Einstein and everyone else. In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.21

Universal acid is a liquid so corrosive that it will eat through anything! The problem is: what do you keep it in? It dissolves glass bottles and stainless-steel canisters as readily as paper bags. What would happen if you some how came upon or created a dollop of universal acid? Would the whole planet eventually be destroyed? What would it leave in its wake? After everything had been transformed by its encounter with universal acid, what would the world look like? Little did I realize that in a few years I would encounter an idea -- Darwin's idea -- bearing an unmistakable likeness to universal acid: it eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.

Darwin's idea had been born as an answer to questions in biology, but it threatened to leak out, offering answers -- welcome or not -- to question in cosmology (going in one direction) and psychology (going in the other direction). If redesign could be a mindless, algorithmic process of evolution, why couldn't that whole process itself be the product of evolution, and so forth, all the way down?  And if mindless evolution could account for the breathtakingly clever artifacts of the biosphere, how could the products of our own "real" minds be exempt from an evolutionary explanation? Darwin's idea thus also threatened to spread all the way up, dissolving the illusion of our own authorship, our own divine spark of creativity and understanding.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.63

In the Theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer, so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL MACHINE IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express in a condensed form the essential purport of the Theory and to express in a few words all Mr Darwin's meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the achievements of creative skill. [MacKenzie 1868.]

Exactly! Darwin's "strange inversion of reasoning" was in fact a new and wonderful way of thinking; completely overturning the Mind-first way that John Locke "proved" and David Hume could see no way around... But the idea of treating Mind as an effect rather than as First Cause is too revolutionary for some -- an "awful stretcher" that their own minds cannot accommodate comfortably. This is as true today as it was in 1860, and it has always been as true of some of evolution's best friends as of its foes.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.65-6  see False Friends below  see also: TED

Do you believe, literally, in an anthropomorphic God? If not, then you must agree with me that the song is a beautiful, comforting falsehood. Is that simple song nevertheless a valuable meme? I certainly think it is. It is a modest but beautiful part of our heritage, a treasure to be preserved. But we must face the fact that, just as there were times when tigers would not have been viable, times are coming when they will no longer be viable, except in zoos and other preserves, and the same is true of many of the treasures in our cultural heritage.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.514

We cannot preserve all the features of the cultural world in which these treasures flourished. We wouldn't want to.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.514

But hasn't there been a tremendous rebirth of fundamentalist faith in all these creeds? Yes, unfortunately, there has been, and I think that there are no forces on this planet more dangerous to us all than the fanaticisms of fundamentalism, of all the species: Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, as well as countless smaller infections. Is there a conflict between science and religion here? There most certainly is.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.515

I know, I know, the lion is beautiful but dangerous; if you let the lion roam free, it would kill me; safety demands that it be put in a cage. Safety demands that religions be put in cages, too -- when absolutely necessary.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.515

Save the Baptists! Yes, of course, but not by all means. Not if it means tolerating the deliberate misinforming of children about the natural world. According to a recent poll, 48 percent of the people in the United States today believe that the book of Genesis is literally true. And 70 percent believe that "creation science" should be taught in school alongside evolution. Some recent writers recommend a policy in which parents would be able to "opt out" of materials they didn't want their children taught. Should evolution be taught in the schools? Should arithmetic be taught? Should history? Misinforming a child is a terrible offense.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.516

The message is clear: those who will not accommodate, who will not temper, who insist on keeping only the purest and wildest strain of their heritage alive, we will be obliged, reluctantly, to cage or disarm, and we will do our best to disable the memes they fight for.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.516

If you insist on teaching your children falsehoods -- 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 teaching 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.    Darwin's Dangerous Idea  (1995)  p.519

In the Theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer, so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL MACHINE IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express in a condensed form the essential purport of the Theory and to express in a few words all Mr Darwin's meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the achievements of creative skill. (MacKenzie  1868, p.217)

Mackenzie identifies what he calls a "strange inversion of reasoning," and he right on all counts. The Darwinian revolution is indeed an inversion of everyday reasoning in several regards, and it is, for that reason, strange: a foreign language, full of traps for the unwary, even after considerable practice, all the more so because there are so many terms that are what linguists call false friends -- terms that seem to be cognates or synonyms of terms from your other tongue but differ in treacherous ways.    Freedom Evolves  (2003)  p.47-8  see Awful Stretcher above

In the Conclusion, on page 136, Jones says “Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator [emphasis added].” I have not read the scientific experts’ testimony, and I wonder if Judge Jones has slightly distorted what they said. If they said that the theory of evolution in no way conflicts with the existence of a divine creator, then I must say that I find that claim to be disingenuous. The theory of evolution demolishes the best reason anyone has ever suggested for believing in a divine creator. This does not demonstrate that there is no divine creator, of course, but only shows that if there is one, it (He?) needn’t have bothered to create anything, since natural selection would have taken care of all that. Would the good judge similarly agree that when a defense team in a murder trial shows that the victim died of natural causes, that this in no way conflicts with the state’s contention that the death in question had an author, the accused? What’s the difference?    "The Kitzmiller Decision"  Butterflies and Wheels  January 25 2006

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