Daniel C. Dennett

On this date in 1942, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett was born in Boston, the son of a historian of the same name. He earned his B.A. in philosophy at Harvard in 1963, and his doctorate in philosophy from Oxford in 1965. Since 1971, he has taught at Tufts, with the exception of visiting professorships, and is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy there. His specialty is consciousness. He often writes about the philosophy of the mind and of science. Dennett is considered a leading proponent of "neural Darwinism." Among his many books are Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995) and Freedom Evolves (2003). His well-known 2003 New York Times piece, endorsing the use of the term "Bright" to describe the nonreligious, began: "The time has come for us brights to come out of the closet. What is a bright? A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view. We brights don't believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny--or God. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic--and life after death." His topical bestseller, "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," came out in 2006, netting Dennett a place among the “Four Horsemen” of literary atheism also including Richard Dawkins, Chrisopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Dennett received the Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2008 and gave an acceptance speech, urging atheists to “come out of the closet.” He is also an Honorary Officer of FFRF. Dennett lives in Andover with his wife, and has two children and one grandchild.

“ . . . I've come to realize it's time to sound the alarm.

Whether we brights are a minority or, as I am inclined to believe, a silent majority, our deepest convictions are increasingly dismissed, belittled and condemned by those in power -- by politicians who go out of their way to invoke God and to stand, self-righteously preening, on what they call 'the side of the angels.'

. . . Politicians don't think they even have to pay us lip service, and leaders who wouldn't be caught dead making religious or ethnic slurs don't hesitate to disparage the 'godless' among us.

From the White House down, bright-bashing is seen as a low-risk vote-getter. And, of course, the assault isn't only rhetorical: the Bush administration has advocated changes in government rules and policies to increase the role of religious organizations in daily life, a serious subversion of the Constitution. It is time to halt this erosion and to take a stand: the United States is not a religious state, it is a secular state that tolerates all religions and--yes--all manner of nonreligious ethical beliefs as well.”

—Daniel C. Dennett, "The Bright Stuff," The New York Times, July 12, 2003Photo by Brent Nicastro

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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