cover image Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanins of Life

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanins of Life

Daniel C. Dennett, Author Simon & Schuster $30 (592p) ISBN 978-0-684-80290-9

Darwin's ``dangerous idea,'' as defined by orthodox neo-Darwinist Dennett (Consciousness Explained), is the belief that evolution, a mindless, mechanistic, purposeless process, gave rise to the single, branching tree of life and, further, that this process eliminates the need for invoking an intelligent God as the source of design. In a grand, provocative, gripping synthesis, Dennett, director of Tufts University Center for Cognitive Studies in Massachusetts, presents a lucid, elegant account of Darwinian evolution and its far-reaching implications for understanding human behavior and culture. He systematically attacks Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould's theory of ``punctuated equilibria,'' which attempts to explain the sudden emergence of new species. Gould's various revisions of orthodox Darwinism are superfluous ``false alarms,'' according to Dennett, who also lambastes E.O. Wilson, Roger Penrose, Noam Chomsky, B.F. Skinner and others. Expanding on biologist Richard Dawkins's concept of ``memes,'' self-replicating ideas that are subject to natural selection, Dennett explores how language, mind, culture and morality could have evolved by Darwinian mechanisms. Illustrated. Newbridge Book Club main selection; BOMC, History Book Club and QPB alternates; author tour. (May)