Daniel Dennett

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Note to readers: Dr. Dennett has a much better beard than you do.

Daniel Clement Dennett is an American author and philosopher. He is currently co-director at the Center for Cognitive Studies and teaches as Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University.


Views, beliefs and a little confusion

Dennett is a prominent atheist and a Bright and looks a lot like Father Christmas, or maybe Cap'n Birds Eye (not the "up-to-date" younger version who looked a bit like he hung around outside schools at getting-out time or swimming pools during the junior session, but the other one, who looked a lot like Daniel Dennett[1]). Actually, he (Dennett, not Cap'n Bird's Eye) also looks a bit like The Amazing Randi, who is also a Bright. This suggests a pattern that connects beardiness and atheism (seriously, TheAmazingAtheist, Thunderf00t and AronRa all have unkempt chin-fluff, although the religious beliefs of Captain Birdseye are undisclosed) making Richard Dawkins kind of an exception.

Preachers Who Are Not Believers

One of Dennett's more interesting studies involved five Protestant preachers who no longer believe what their church teaches. They were interviewed; three were from liberal churches and two from churches that take the bible literally.[2][3][4] Yet all three of them chose to remain in the clergy, not beling qualified for similarly paid work elsewhere feeling there is still good work to be done.


  • "Jack" (real name withheld) - Jack's views come from a tradition of a literal reading of the bible. As he began to study, he found it unreasonable that an omnipotent and omniscient God could have created such a poorly thought out world. God’s son had to die for God's lack of forethought in design, and Christian believers should feel lifelong remorse that God's son was killed for such imperfection. Jack also feels parts of the Bible strain credulity[5]. As he studied, he also figured out that the moral message of the Bible is contradictory - violent in some places and sacrificially loving in others. Jack's final argument is that a God wanting to reveal himself would find an unquestionable way of doing this. Any divine message would be clear rather than in code that only linguists can interpret.

Two clergymen became atheists partly from reading authors Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, both of whom are New Atheists.

  • "Adam" read wp:God Is Not Great and finally saw the book was reasonable, though he had believed as a minister for years. There is, Adam feels, something wrong about a god who needed humans to say how magnificent he is. Adam is now convinced atheist arguments are stronger. Adam is in a conservative church and still works there because he has no other source of income but feels he is play acting.
  • “Wes” Methodist, believed literally in Adam and Eve on starting Christian further education but no longer believes in God except as some kind of poetic imagery. His congregation are quite liberal but do not know about his atheism. His fellow clergymen (also women?) do not believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus, a literal Virgin birth and the like.
  • “Rick” had stopped believing in God before he left college, he joined a very liberal church thinking he could not succeed in a traditional church. Rick does not believe in, “creedal stuff” like the incarnation of Christ or the necessity of salvation but stays a clergyman because he knows the types of people there. He preaches as if he believed but admits reluctantly that he is an atheist.
  • “Darryl” openly admits he stays in the clergy primarily to provide financially for his family.
  • “John” works for the Southern Baptists and originally saw Christianity as a religion of love. Reluctantly John became an atheist to avoid intellectual dishonesty but carries on his work because he cannot pay off everything and needs the money.


Definitions of Christian doctrines have become so vague that it is sometimes hard to decide who is a believer and who is not.


He (Dennett, not Randi or the other chin-fluff wearers. Look, are you keeping up with this?) is probably best known for a number of books based on the subject of popular psychology, but extending into subjects such as Darwinism and religion, including:

  • Consciousness Explained
A book that... well... (looks at title) it explains consciousness, I suppose. 'Nuff sed?
  • Darwin's Dangerous Idea
Describes the theory of evolution in terms of an algorithmic process and spends some time telling us that we shouldn't be upset or worried by this. Predictably, Stephen Jay Gould was not impressed.[6]
  • Breaking the Spell
A challenge to religious types to analyse their beliefs in a sceptical manner.

Recently, at a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Dennett had a debate with Alvin Plantinga, where Plantinga presented the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.[7]


Born in Boston in 1942, he is married and lives in North Andover, Massachusetts, and has a daughter, son, and grandson. [8]

In 2006 Dennett suffered from an aortic dissection (which sounds pretty nasty, and probably is) and was hospitalised for some time. To get a measure of the man, it's well worth reading his commentary on the matter in "The Edge."[9]

In popular culture

Eliezer Yudkowsky used Dennett as a character in his philosophical zombie movie.[10]

Selected books

  • The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul, with D. R. Hofstadter (Bantam 1985)
  • The Intentional Stance (MIT Press 1989)
  • Consciousness Explained (Back Bay Books 1992)
  • Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (Simon & Schuster 1996)
  • Freedom Evolves (Viking Press 2003).
  • Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Penguin Group 2006)

See also


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