Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Group 1: Dennett (belated)

I intended to put up a few comments on our assigned essay earlier today, but I somehow got sidetracked into writing a (rather lengthy!) comment on another post (I'm looking at you, Nagy.)

Since this essay was by Daniel Dennett, my critique will be short and sweet. As we all know, Dennett is one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism. As such, his words (both written and spoken) are to be taken as not only literal truth, but true for all time and in all situations. If his insights seem to be at odds with our modern sensibilities, we may rest assured that it is our interpretation of Dennett, not Dennett himself, that is mistaken. Therefore, it is our duty to defer to his infallible opinion, and guard against such pride as would cause us to question the great man's wisdom.

If proof of Dennett's exhalted status is needed, one need only refer to his recounting of his miraculous recovery from a dissected aorta. In the face of incredible odds (only 2 out of 3!) and with nothing but the help of the sum total of humanity's hard won medical knowledge and an extended hospital stay, he emerged victorious over death (until such time as old age or some other malady claims him.)

Read his essay, and despair of ever being worthy of the great Dennett's attention. Not one is rational among you, no not one.


  1. Factual question: What does Dennett suggest is an awesome question to keep asking oneself to guard against faith, tradition, and dogma of all types?

    Answer: "What if I'm wrong?" *

    *not to be asked of Dennett himself, of course, since he cannot by definition *be* wrong (just misinterpreted.)

  2. Something tells me there's more to your story regarding the Great Man, David. Have you encountered him at close range and in person? Do you revile his style of philosophizing, his "explanation" of consciousness, his organ playing...?

    1. Revile or revere? I imagine that you meant revere ;-)

      The whole comment was tongue-in-cheek, of course, and I forgot to leave the #satire hashtag at the end.

      I like to make the point that there are no sacred cows in the New Atheist movement, not even our "revered leaders."

      And Jamie, I think Dennett is in the same camp as James. He understands and appreciates the impulse, even if the specific manifestation that impulse takes is ridiculous and absurd.

  3. I thought that Dennett was sort of self-contradictory on at least one point. He talked about having to "forgive" his believer friends for praying for him, biting back the urge to make witty comments to the effect of them hiring a voodoo doctor or sacrificing a goat for him.

    But he talked about being warmed by and enjoying the people deeply wishing with all their hearts for his recovery, even though by his own admission it is "just as useless".

    I do understand that perhaps he is simply saying one comes from the person themselves, the other from a mistaken belief in God. But it seems if you're going to object to things on the grounds they aren't useful/real, you should at least be consistent about it.

  4. I have to agree with Jamie, i really liked how Dennett was happy and joyful about believers praying for him. that makes me happy to realize that some people aren't so closed minded!

  5. On balance I think he was more snarky than joyful, but on re-reading I realize my earlier impression of Dennett's ingratitude was more due to Dawkins' recounting than to the original telling. In any case, and unexpectedly, Hitch was far more gracious than Dennett in acknowledging those who felt compelled to pray for him.

    If I'm ever in that situation and you offer to pray for me, I'll try to be nice and grateful too. But I think I'd rather you spent that time researching my illness and possible treatments, instead of praying for divine intercession or a miracle cure.