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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forceful, persuasive presentation of natural selection, March 24, 2001
This review is from: DARWIN'S DANGEROUS IDEA: EVOLUTION AND THE MEANINGS OF LIFE (Paperback)
Richard Dawkins books, starting with The "Selfish Gene," brought Darwin's dangerous idea of natural selection to a new widespread recognition. He addressed an audience that otherwise might not have been inspired to engage Darwin, and left them with the amazing and somewhat disturbing implications of a world guided by the Darwinian hand of selection and adaptation rather than the divine hand of the Bible.
In "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," Dennett takes the flag of natural selection on to its next step, toward a secular view of nature where meaning may be found in natural history. Dennett is a forceful and persuasive polemicist capable of making Darwin's core idea both understandable and hard to argue.
Sure, many will remain unconvinced that the "universal acid" of Darwin's algorithm of variation and selection reveals the bare bones of just about anything, as Dennett argues. But Dennett does exactly what we expect from an excellent analytic philosopher of his calibre, and all too often don't get, a powerful and enduring argument for the usefulness of a very basic idea.
The greatest danger of Darwin's idea is not, as many religious conservatives seem to fear, that Darwin will erode faith in God. As powerful as Darwin's dangerous idea is, it has not itself been a threat to religious faith. The faithful have always had a way to reconcile their faith with the modern view of natural history along Darwinian lines. The greatest danger is that Darwin's idea seduces us into telling second rate evolutionary stories that don't add to our real understanding the way Darwin's core concept does. As Dennett says, the greatest danger of Darwin's idea is its seductiveness.
Dennett brings the power of Darwin's view of nature to us in a renewed and clarified form, and makes many of its implication startlingly clear. But then he leaves us to wonder what is left once the "universal acid" of Darwinism had eroded the rest of our cherished ideas.
Dennett doesn't always convince me that he has quite eroded *all* of the other ways of viewing nature by making such a forceful case for Darwin's selection and adaptation, but he does make it clear that these are ideas that must be understood and applied if we are to truly understand our role in nature. Whether we can take them as far as Dennett does, that's left to the reader to decide.
While I can't agree with all of the nuances and implications of Dennett's arguments here, it is very hard to find specific fault with them, and I certainly was left with the feeling that Dennett is more right then wrong in his conclusions. The greatest weakness of this book, like Dawkins' Selfish Gene, is that it is perhaps _too_ compelling, it seems to lead us beyond science and into a secular religion of sorts.
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