Daniel Dennett (1942-) is an American philosopher and atheist who argues that the mind operates like a computer. For Dennett, the sum total of our experiences shape and prod us from day-one of our existence.
Does this include space for individual free-will? Dennett argues that, although some activities may seem intentionally planned and chosen by an agent or agents, behind that lies an original intention not derived from any individual agent or collection of agents—i.e. Nature has endowed us with an original intention to protect our genes, and everything follows from that.
For Dennett the conscious aspect of the self that expresses a particular viewpoint arises from the act of expressing that viewpoint, much like electricity is generated by the spinning of a rotor within a coil.
He usually refuses to debate with other thinkers because he is so thoroughly convinced that his terminology is right and theirs is riddled with errors.
My refusal to play ball with my colleagues is deliberate, of course, since I view the standard philosophical terminology as worse than useless — a major obstacle to progress since it consists of so many errors.¹
He also implies that his view is more comprehensive than other philosophical views because, being more abstract, it can account for differences among philosophers.
But theologians could use the same type of argument to account for differences between Dennett and other philosophers who, themselves, believe that their views are closer to the truth than Dennett’s. Indeed, theologians could maintain that theirs is the more comprehensive view, one which proves incorrect Dennett’s initial assumptions about original intentionality and its relation to consciousness. Specifically, the theologian could say that Dennett overlooks the two essential agencies of human free-will and divine inspiration.
Dennett’s views have sparked much debate, most likely because he employs technological metaphors to explain consciousness. He has also opened the door to speculation among those who believe that encoding human brain patterns within a computer’s memory might be a plausible ticket to immortality within the not-too-distant future. In this case, eternal life would reside – or, perhaps, be trapped – in a silicon chip or its technological successor.
¹ Daniel Dennett, The Message is: There is no Medium, cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Dennett
- A Conversation Between Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (patheos.com)
- Is the Internet the End of Religion? (religiondispatches.org)
- Philosophy of Mind – “Zombies Within” – Chalmers, Dennett, Noë (zombielaw.wordpress.com)
- Daniel Dennett sorta zombies (zombielaw.wordpress.com)
- Dennett on atheism denial (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- The Magic of Consciousness (popalx.wordpress.com)
- Full Length Talk – ‘How To Tell You’re An Atheist’ – Dan Dennett – YouTube – TheClergyProject (richarddawkins.net)
- William Lane Craig vs atheist Daniel Dennett on cosmology and fine-tuning (winteryknight.wordpress.com)
- Darwin & Turing: The Evolution of Artificial Intelligence (bigthink.com)