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Daniel C. Dennett

On this date in 1942, philosopher Daniel Clement Dennett III was born in Boston, the son of Ruth Marjorie (née Leck) and Daniel Clement Dennett Jr. 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.

His 1992 book Consciousness Explained is widely credited with advancing the understanding of how various parallel brain processes contribute to consciousness. He also writes often about the philosophy of the mind and of science and is considered a leading proponent of "neural Darwinism."

Among his many books are Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), Freedom Evolves (2003), Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006), Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness (1997), Science and Religion (2010), Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (with Linda LaScola, 2013) and From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (2017).

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 scholarship has earned Dennett a place among the “Four Horsemen” of literary atheism, also including Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Dennett received FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2008 and in his acceptance speech urged atheists to “come out of the closet.” He was a co-founder of the Clergy Project in 2011 and is an FFRF honorary officer. He and Susan Bell were married in 1962 and live in North Andover, Mass. They have a son and a daughter.

"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.”

—Dennett, "The Bright Stuff," New York Times (July 12, 2003); photo by Brent Nicastro

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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