Atheists 1, Foxholes 0

Readers of these pages will certainly be familiar with Daniel Dennett, the prominent Tufts University philosopher who has done important work over the last several decades on the subjects of free will, evolutionary theory, and, most notably, the philosophy of mind. Dennett has also been a major player lately in the increasingly voluble science-vs. religion debate; his book Breaking the Spell is must reading for those who have an interest — from either perspective — in this vital dialogue.

Well, our Dan has been through quite a lot in the past few months; in October he suffered an aortic dissection, and nearly died.

Thanks to modern medical science and technique, however, he has lived to tell the tale. And tell it he does, in a tart and lively essay at In this piece Dennett relates several aspects of his harrowing experience to the examination of religion that has dominated his professional activity in recent years; among other things, he reassures us that he experienced no “deathbed conversion”, and that there may indeed be more atheists in foxholes than folk wisdom would have us believe. His response to being delivered from the uttermost brink of death is to say “thank goodness”, and looking around he sees an awful lot of goodness to thank. I’m thankful too; Dennett has a first-rate mind, one that has already given us a great deal of insight into many of our most difficult problems, and I want to see it in production for many years to come.

You can read the essay here.

Related content from Sphere


  1. “Hi Dan,
    I’m glad your’e on the mend, is that o.k.? Many of the team that brought you through your near death experience, which was just that, without David Hume at the end of a tunnel; would have been believers in a deity of some kind. Those two streams of scientific/rational and religious/non-rational do not run contrary to each other as you believe but are different contexts, background intentionality and all that. You’re still not prepped Socratically for the operation of nous, you don’t know that you don’t know.

    Put down that bed pan now.

    Posted March 26, 2007 at 4:29 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Michael, and thanks as always for reading and commenting.

    I’d like to think that Dennett might stop by to receive your message; sadly, I don’t think I’ve snagged him as a reader yet.

    I’m sure you are right that many of the team who saved his life are believers in God, though of course that carries no weight as far as the truth of their beliefs is concerned.

    The religious/nonrational “stream” certainly is different from the rational one that we depend on for the progress of medicine, etc., (in fact, for everything except religion) although they indeed can be contrary to one another, and often are.

    Posted March 26, 2007 at 10:35 am | Permalink