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Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995) is a controversial book by Daniel Dennett that puts forward the principle that Darwinian evolution is the central organising force not only in biology, but also in most other aspects of the Universe, including the human mind (see Neural Darwinism).

Dennett regards Darwinism as a "universal acid" that eats through virtually all traditional beliefs, especially Christianity. He calls Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection "the single best idea anybody ever had."

People "used to think of meaning coming from on high and being ordained from the top down," Dennett says, but we must now "replace the traditional idea of God the creator with the idea of the process of natural selection doing the creating."

Selected quotations (page numbers in parentheses):

  • "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." (18)

  • "To put it bluntly but fairly, anyone today who doubts that the variety of life on this planet was produced by a process of evolution is simply ignorant--inexcusably ignorant." (46)

  • "Evolutionists who see no conflict between evolution and their religious beliefs have been careful not to look as closely as we have been looking, or else hold a religious view that gives God what we might call a merely ceremonial role to play." (310)

  • "Those whose visions dictate that they cannot peacefully coexist with the rest of us we will have to quarantine as best we can. . . . 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 teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at the earliest opportunity. Our future well-being--the well-being of all of us on this planet--depends on the education of our descendants. What, then, of all the glories of our religious traditions? They should certainly be preserved, as should the languages, the art, the costumes, the rituals, the monuments." (519)

  • [Dennett recommends that religion be] "preserved in cultural zoos. . . ."

  • "Is something sacred? Yes, I say with Nietzsche. I could not pray to it, but I can stand in affirmation of its magnificence. This world is sacred." (520)

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life ISBN 068482471X

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