Posts Tagged ‘darwin’

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 | Books

In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett looks at Darwinian theory and what follows from that.

It is packed with interesting ideas but is also incredibly long. When your book is significantly longer than Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, your book is probably too long. I struggled to take a lot of it in, partly because there were so many ideas, but partly also because it was such a huge text to really look at in perspective.

Dennett explains how evolution is a algorithmic process and yet is simultaneously capable of creating the entire tree of life. This includes the human mind of course, which is perhaps the most controversial part of the theory, even though the only alternative theory that has been proposed so far is “god did it”.

Many of the concepts he uses to explain the theory are well-thought-out too. For example, skyhooks and cranes. SKyhooks are a miracle that just happen (Dennett claims none exist) whereas cranes are structures that build on top of each other in slow steps (how things actually work). Notably, once the structure has been built, the crane may then disappear, though there is often a trace of it left.

It is also important to look at things from an evolutionary perspective. Take sleep for example. One of my friends once said to me “you know, there is no reason for sleep – we can’t find any biological reason why we need to do it! What’s it for?”

I never knew the answer to that question. However, as Dennett points out, the answer could be that we are looking at it from the wrong way round. Sleep is safe. Plants, and many simple lifeforms spend their entire lives in this state. It is the default state. We assume that we are supposed to be awake but from an evolutionary perspective this might not be the case. It could be that being awake is something Mother Nature cooked up to allow us to find food and procreate easier, but once that is done there is no point wasting more energy.

Overall, I am not suggesting that the 3.7 billion years of life fighting for survive can be compared with my struggle to read Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and its many big words. They are different things entirely. Despite it being tough going, I am glad I read it as it contains some incredibly insightful ideas packaged into one text about the origin of life from a philosophical perspective.

We should feel special because most genetic lines are now dead. But not us. We have an unbroken chain of ancestors right back to 3.7 billion years ago. That is amazing. But do not feel too special, as every blade of grass you can see has that too…


Dan Dennett – A Darwinian Perspective

Friday, May 20th, 2011 | Humanism

At Atheist Society last week, they screened a Dan Dennett lecture given at Conway Hall. During the talk he made some excellent points including a new quote to go on my favourite quotes list: fairies are invisible – so how come everyone knows what they look like?

In the lecture he also answers the question often asked – if religion was just total rubbish, why is it still around? Surely it must be good for something? Dennett’s response was to give an analogy – think of the common cold. What is it good for? It’s good for itself. Similarly, what keeps religion alive is not because it’s good for society, or humanity – it’s just good at keeping itself around.

Day at the museum

Sunday, September 27th, 2009 | Distractions, Humanism

Friday saw A-Soc hit Leeds City Museum to take a look round the exhibit, notably the first edition of Origin of Species. We spent a good hour or two looking round the museum before they kicked us out, which is enough time to get round most of the stuff anyway. Unfortunately we forgot to get a group photo on the steps but there will be plenty of other opportunities no doubt.

Michael Money Bags Exhibit Leeds City Museum

Can Dawkins and Darwin replace the Holy Bible?

Sunday, May 17th, 2009 | Humanism

Yesterday at Skeptics in the Pub, Gijsbert delivered a talk regarding whether Dawkins and Darwin could truely replace the holy Bible – and the conclusion was no.

The theme of it was that as well as the “religious” stuff shall we say, religion also does a great job of catering for people’s emotional needs such as self esteem and gaining respect from your peers. Therefore is the non-beliver movement is going to grow as I’m sure many of us hope it will, we are going to have to have to find some what that people’s basic emotional needs can be catered for rather than just rubbishing their belief system.

Skeptics in the Pub Skeptics in the Pub Skeptics in the Pub

Crazy Tuesdays

Thursday, March 12th, 2009 | Events, Humanism, Life

Tuesday evening started off with the usual A-Soc committee meeting which brought up some interesting discussions, followed by the usual A-Soc meeting which this week was Michael’s talk which by all accounts was excellent.

Unfortunately I missed the talk as I was down at the Humanist Society of West Yorkshire attending their event on Ashley Montagu as a critic of Darwin which was also very interesting. Too many choices on Tuesday!

This was followed by hitting The Terrace for a few drinks at which we bashed out some great ideas (or as a titled the sheet at the time, ideas that seemed great when we were in the pub 😉 ) for Rationalist Week so hopefully some of them will actually be useful!


Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 | Humanism, Life

Well that’s it, I’m now a card carrying Humanist.

On the plus side, it would seem people are fairly receptive to moving the HSoWY meetings to a different night so we can finally end the clashing between HSoWY and A-Soc.

Last night’s talk was by Rich on Neodarwinism which was interesting. Meanwhile Norm lead a group discussion on Darwin at A-Soc, both events seemed to go down fairly well. Afterwards we converged in The Terrace so it was all good.

While I’m on the topic, congratulations to John and Zoltan who have been elected onto the committee at the EGM.

Rich and Kate Chris Liz and John