Understanding Genetics – Daniel Dennett Interview

These are some excerpts from an interview with Daniel Dennett. The series are titled Understanding Genetics. Points of View. Source: www.thetech.org/genetics.

Questions are very much related with the content of two of the Books written by Dennett: ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life’ and ‘Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon’.

  • Part 1: What is it about Darwin’s Idea that is so dangerous?

  • Part 2: You’ve described the design of natural selection as “brilliant” but “mindless”. Can you explain?

Orgel’s Second Rule: Evolution is cleverer than you are. Francis Crick (British molecular biologist, 1916-2004 ) quoted by Daniel C. Dennett in Elbow Room (1984).

  • Part 3: How do you explain evolution to skeptics? How can you convince them? Can you?

There exist more parts of this interview but as they are more related to religions I haven’t added them here.

The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online

In the context of evolutionary computing it is very interesting to know that from October 2006 the University of Cambridge offers the complete work of Charles Darwin online at darwin-online.org.uk.

The site contains more than 50,000 searchable text pages and 40,000 images of both publications and handwritten manuscripts. There is also the most comprehensive Darwin bibliography ever published and the largest manuscript catalogue ever assembled. More than 150 ancillary texts are also included, ranging from secondary reference works to contemporary reviews, obituaries, published descriptions of Darwin’s Beagle specimens and important related works for understanding Darwin’s context.

There are other two websites referenced in Darwin-Online home providing complementary Darwin materials:


Press release (Oct. 2006)
The largest collection of Darwin’s writings ever published will appear on the website The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online (http://darwin-online.org.uk/) on 19 October 2006. Never before has so much Darwin material, and so many rare and widely dispersed items, been brought together in one place and made available free of charge. This site currently offers more than 50,000 pages of searchable text and 40,000 images of both publications and transcribed manuscripts. Most of the materials are available both as fully formatted electronic text and colour images of the originals. Darwin’s works are also available as free machine-read audio mp3 files. The project, designed and directed by Dr John van Wyhe of Christ’s College, Cambridge, is hosted by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities at the University of Cambridge. The launch marks the end of the first year of the three-year’s funding awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The website also includes the largest Darwin bibliography ever produced, based on the work of R. B. Freeman, and the largest catalogue of manuscripts (with over 30,000 entries) ever published. More than 150 supplementary documents are also provided, from secondary reference works to contemporary reviews, obituaries, published descriptions of Darwin’s Beagle specimens and important related works for studying and understanding Darwin and his work. Each work containing illustrations or maps is provided with an overview page of thumbnail images allowing readers to see in seconds all the illustrations which are scattered throughout hundreds of pages. The thumbnails take readers directly to the larger version of the image in its context within the original work.

Most of the materials provided are appearing online for the first time such as the first edition of the Journal of Researches (1839) (or Voyage of the</I> Beagle), The descent of Man (1871), The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1838-43) and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the Origin of species. There are also many newly transcribed and never before published manuscripts such as Darwin’s Beagle field notebooks. One of these, the notebook in which Darwin recorded his immediate thoughts on the Galapagos, was stolen in the early 1980s and is still missing, but the text has been transcribed from microfilm. The many contributors and benefactors who have kindly helped to create this milestone in Darwin studies can be found on the website’s acknowledgements.
As vast as the collection now is, there is much still to come. The site currently contains about 50% of the materials that will be provided by 2009, the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of species. Forthcoming materials include further editions and translations, images of the majority of the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University Library, more editorial introductions, notes, transcriptions and technical facilities for printing and larger images. New content is continually being added.

For more information contact:
The Director, Dr John van Wyhe
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities
University of Cambridge