You are on page 1of 6

1

Running Head: THE SECULAR PHILOSOPHY OF DANIEL DENNETT

The secular Philosophy of Daniel Dennett:

A Critical Essay

BW

October 3, 2009
2

The Secular Philosophy of Daniel Dennett:

A Critical Essay

(or, An Essay of Criticism?)

Daniel Dennett, an Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, was

interviewed by Robert Wright for “Meaningoflife.tv,” on December 16, 2008. I found this

“master” of philosophy’s use of “quantum physics” formulary, his use of “big” words, and his

ability to create “new” words (verbogenesis?) rather humorous but quite often insulting. In a

rather round-about way of answering questions, Dennett never really does come to any

conclusions about anything. He never allows himself to commit to an actual “yes” or “no”

answer to any of the questions posed him about God, free will, or evolution.

Dennett and his group of followers, inadequately named the “Brights,” believe there is no

such thing as anything supernatural. Dennett of course, states that the term “Brights” does not

refer to intelligence, but simply refers to a group of people who reject anything supernatural.

Dennett and his followers view those who believe in God as ones who have not yet “evolved”

into a higher state of mental capacity, as they have. They have no need of “fairytales” to give

them something to live for. They have the ‘god’ of Science and Intelligence and

“compatablistism!”

Sadly, the “brights” may not be so “bright” after all: If they truly believe nothing is

“supernatural,” and if one looks at the meaning of the very word “supernatural,” (“super”

meaning, “over and above; higher in quantity, quality, or degree than;” and “natural” of course

refers to nature), then because Dennett believes he is “above” nature, as he has “evolved” over it,

then Dennett has “philosophized” himself out of existence!


3

Nevertheless, there are much deeper problems with Dennett’s philosophy that go way beyond

his pious and simple word-play. Dennett’s “god” of science has reduced the human being - the

most precious creation of the Living God, Yahweh - into simple “harm avoiding” machines with

no purpose, no reason for even being, except to “pass genes onto the next generation.”

But take heart, everyone! According to Dennett, we have endless potential! He states very

proudly how, “natural selection is an explosion of evitability. We’ve had huge increases in the

degrees of freedom (or mastery over nature?). The powers that the products (is he actually

referring to people as products?) of evolution have the accrued, this is one of the most obvious

facts in the physical world – this growth evitability.” Nothing is impossible for us “products,”

according to Dennett. Quantum-physically speaking, product potential is “truly indeterminate,”

meaning that people (or products?) could potentially have endless potential – but to what

potential end is potentially all this potential? The world looks to philosophers like Dennett for

answers. Can he give the world some hope? Does he have the answer to the very meaning of

life? I think not (wait, does that now mean that “I am not?”).

The “great” philosopher of our day can only offers potential alternate realities. He states that,

“all the varieties of free will that [we are] wanting [to] have, we can have in a deterministic

world. I can define varieties of free will that are incompatible with determinism, but they’re

pointless. They don’t give you anything that matters. They aren’t needed for moral

responsibility. They aren’t needed to give your life meaning. They are completely gratuitous, sort

of bizarre metaphysical conceits. They don’t pull their weight; you don’t need them, who cares.”

In other words, there is no meaning of life; “Your truth may or may not be my truth;” or,

“whatever reality works for you may not work for me.”
4

What does matter to you, Daniel Dennett? Do you see what your “god” has done? If

“truth is relative” and life doesn’t matter, to what end and purpose are we so-called “evolving?”

If this is the type of mindset is being used to teach our children, it is no wonder we have “Kip

Kinkle’s Columbine” and “uni-bombers.” It is no surprise that global suicide rates have

increased over 60% in the past 45 years. On average, one person commits suicide somewhere in

the world, every 40 seconds. According to statistics, over one million people die by suicide

worldwide each year.

I completely agree with Walsh and Middleton (1984); that we are living in an age of

crumbling secularism – “we have sown the seeds of our own destruction by breaking the creation

covenant (Walsh and Middleton, 1984. p. 129).” Our secular gods have failed us. As King

Solomon (a true Great Philosopher) said, “I became great and excelled more than all who were

before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not

keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my

labor; and this was my reward from my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had

done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.

There was no profit under the sun,” Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 (NKJV).

There is still hope for the world – the God I serve is able to do anything and reach

anyone. Even the “great” philosopher of our day cannot deny the possibility (or should I say,

plausibility?) of the existence of God. The two reasons Dennett gives us for his inability to prove

the existence of God are extremely weak (and therefore, also crumbling). First, Dennett believes

that because there are some people who view nature as god, and as he believes nature in itself is

not “supernatural;” there is therefore no God.


5

The second reason is even more “incompatableizingly” silly - Dennett believes it is

impossible to prove Gods exists on the basis of his other belief (which lacks even theoretical

evidence) that no two people believe in the same “god.” However, I believe in the God of the

Bible, Who is the same God of the Torah , the same God Who wrote the Ten Commandments,

the same God that King Solomon believed in, the same God Adam and Eve believed in , and the

same God that even Einstein believed in (albeit, in his later years). In reviewing the evidence,

Dennett’s theory falls apart. My belief in God is not a “fairytale” or a “legend” used to prop

myself up in times of trouble (what was it someone said? Something like, “grabbing hold of our

God and our Guns in times of trouble?”); nor am I the only one who believes in this same God.

My belief and knowledge of God is based on historical, scientific, and geologic evidence, as well

as experience and relationship. What more proof do I need?

Dennett cannot prove God, nor can he deny God. He agrees there is a “potential” designer

of the universe, as he agrees there is some evidence in favor of a hypothesis of design (if there is

a “design,” then there must be a “Designer”). During his interview, Robert Wright states, “In

observing [the] inner development of an organism, [one can see] that it has its directional

movement toward functionality, by design and that’s, in fact, the hallmark of design.” Wright

then asks Dennett about the potential of design, “to the extent that evolution on this planet turned

out to have comparable properties that would work, at least to some extent, in favor of the

hypothesis of design?” I can almost hear Wrights’ very soul – the innermost parts of who Wright

is, the “personage” created by God – crying out for an answer – “is there a God? Is it possible

that I am wrong?” And to this, the Great Philosopher Daniel Dennett answers, “Yeah, I guess.”
6

Reference:

Walsh, Middleton, (1984). The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View. Downers
Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press

McDowell, J. (1972, revised 1979) Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Volume I. San Bernadino,
CA. Here’s Life Publishers, Inc (Also listed: Tomas Nelson Publishing Compnany, and
Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc). ISBN: 0-918956-46-3

Wright, R. (2009). Robert Wright’s Interview with Daniel Dennett (transcript). Retrieved from
http://meaningoflife.tv/transcript.php?speaker=dennett

Suicide Prevention, Statistics, and Support (2009). Statistics on world-wide suicide; most recent
since 2004. Retrieved from www.Suicide.org