Darwin's Dangerous Idea


Due Wed 4/6

Ch 1:

1. What is the basic problem to be dealt with in this book?


2. What was Locke's argument? How did it involve a Mind-first view of design?


3. How did Hume anticipate Natural selection? Why couldn't he take the idea seriously?



Ch 2.

1. What is essentialism? How did Darwin Challenge it?


2. What is Darwin's great idea, evolution by natural selection?


3. What is an algorithmic process?


4. What is Darwin's dangerous idea stated in terms of algorithmic processes?



Due Friday 4/8


1. How does Dawkins define complexity?


1. What is cumulative selection and why is it more powerful than single step selection?

2. What are reproduction, developement, and evolution? What role does each play in the process by which new forms arise through natural selection?



Due Monday 4/11  

Ch 3:

1. What is the difference between order and design?


2. What is the principle of accumulation of design? How does it agree with the earlier arguments of Paley?


3. What is the difference between a skyhook and a crane?


4. What is the difference between good and greedy reductionism?


Ch 5:

1. Explain the difference between logical, physical, biological, and historical possibility.


2. What is the Library of Mendel?


3. What definition of possibility does Dennett give in terms of accessibility?



Chapter 7

Due Wed. 4/13



1. What paradox or vicious circle is involved in the evolution or origin of self-replicating molecules?

2. What is the anthropic principle?

3. How does the principle involve a simple mistake in logic, according to Dennett.

4. How does Dennett use the illustration of the Game of Life to undermine the idea, implicit in the anthropic principle,that God created the laws of physics to allow the possibility of the origin of life.

5. What is the Library of Einstein? How does Dennett use this to explain a possible origin of the universe?

6. What answer does Dennett give the question; "Why is there something rather than nothing?"?


Ch 14,18
Due Wed 4/20


Ch. 14:

1. What is derived intentionality?

2. Explain the point of Dennett's example of the two-bitser? How does he use it to answer Putnam's Twin Earth argument?

3. What does the example of the two black boxes purport to show?

4. What is the point of Dennett's example of the time capsule in section 4? How does he use it to explain how real meaning might emerge from a meaningless universe?


Ch. 18

1. What does Dennett think should be the fate of religious faith ?

2. What is Dennett's thesis about whether Darwin's Theory of evolution robs Life of its meaning?



Chapter 15

Due Fri. 4/22 (based on readings from 4/18 as well)


  1. What is the Chinese Room argument?
  2. What is Dennettís response to it?
  3. What does Godelís Theorem say?
  4. How has Godelís theorem been used to argue that the mind could not be an algorithm?
  5. What is Dennettís response to this argument?