Make your own free website on Tripod.com

EVOLUTIONARY THEORY DEVELOPING

Darwin somehow invented or discovered the idea of evolution is the implicit idea conveyed by Dennett throughout the book and in standard Darwinian mythology (Løvtrup, 1987), although he (Dennett, 1995b, p. 21) states elsewhere that "Darwin's great idea [was] not the idea of evolution, but the idea of evolution by natural selection", which he calls "the single best idea anyone has ever had" (Dennett, 1995b, p. 21). Then, following a discussion of the if...then logic of natural selection (see later), Dennett modifies this to say that what Darwin really discovered was an algorithm, and that "[t]he idea that all the fruits of evolution can be explained as the product of an algorithmic process, is Darwin's dangerous idea" (p. 60).

Subsequently, in a different place, the idea that evolution by natural selection constites an algorithmic process is transformed into the idea that "[i]ncredible as it may seem the entire biosphere is the outcome of nothing but a cascade of algorithmic processes...", and that "[w]hat Darwin discovered was not really one algorithm, but, rather, a large class of related algorithms..." (Dennett, 1995b, p. 52) referring to "the phylum of evolutionary algorithms" (Dennett, 1995b, p. 53), and making it clear that he is now erroneously conflating the process of natural selection with that which it works upon. Continuing and expanding on the confusion several pages later Dennett (1995b, p. 60) then says that "Darwin's dangerous idea is that Design can emerge from mere Order via an algorithmic process that makes no use of pre-existing Mind" (Dennett, 1995b, p. 60), and finally, much later in the book he asserts that "heart and power of the Darwinian idea...[is that a] robotic, mindless little scrap of molecular machinery (an algorithm or "macro") is the ultimate basis of all agency, and hence meaning, and hence consciousness, in the universe" (Dennett, 1995b, p. 203). From this he concludes that each of us and each of our grandmothers, and our grandmother's grandmother etc. have all descended from robots (algorithms or macros; p. 206). Dangerous, great, or not, these are multiple claims, and not a single idea. In addition, by and large, they were not Darwin's. Further, the ideas relating to algorithms, in fact, as will be discussed later, conflict with ideas that were Darwin's.

The Idea Of Evolution

Even though it is widely known that Darwin, as Huxley (1982, p. 3), has written, "was certainly not the originator of the idea of evolution", the popular misconception to the contrary has been relentlessly promoted, either directly or indirectly, by texts such as Dennett's that make Darwin "the hero or founding father in the creation-myth of modern evolutionism" (Bowler, 1988, p. 16) and dramatically marginalize the contributions of others to make it seem as though the history of evolution and the history of Darwinism are one and the same. So successful has this enterprise been in making the history of evolutionary theory seem like a "one-man show" with the idea of evolution somehow "singlehandedly introduced and populararized" by Darwin (Bowler, 1988, p. 16) that today the terms "evolution" and "Darwinism" are typically taken to be synonymous (Løvtrup, 1987). Popular misconceptions aside, however, the widely held view that evolutionary theory effectively began (and in some sense ended) with Darwin, is an extreme and glaring piece of revisionism (e.g., Bowler, 1988, 1989; Carneiro, 1972; Gilson, 1984). Contrary to the impression given by Dennett, the subject of evolution had been under widespread discussion for years before Darwin ever publicly expressed a word of it, and not just amongst the educated elite that comprised Darwin's social circle, but square in the face of the general public.

 back

 contents

 next