Dennett on atheism denial

Here’s a really nice, well-delivered talk by Everyone’s Atheist Grandfather, Dr. Daniel Dennett. It stems from his work with Linda LaScola on preachers who are secret nonbelievers, and the topic is “You might be an atheist.” He gave it at the recent Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, and the YouTube caption says that there were 4,000 people in the audience!

I love his relaxed style of elocution and roguish humor (see the witticism/truism that starts at about 15:00).


  1. newenglandbob
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I watched this a few days ago. I always enjoy his lectures. He is so down-to-earth and i have seem him spending time after speaking with attendees answering questions one on one.

  2. Posted May 26, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on urbanperegrines and commented:
    Fun guy, too.

  3. gbjames
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this. Dan Dennett is one of the great communicators, IMO.

  4. Tim
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Isn’t is perfectly obvious why Dan Dennett is soft on Santa Claus?

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted May 26, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      And downright *mushy* on Darwin!


    • Sigh
      Posted May 26, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      DD is Santa’s cuddly twin.

  5. Posted May 26, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink


  6. emmageraln
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on emmageraln.

  7. bernardhurley
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I’ve already watched this twice, but I might just watch it again!

  8. Grania Spingies
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I love the concept of Deepity!

    It is such a brilliant way of showing why certain turns of phrase appeal to the emotions of people; and why in actual fact they mean essentially nothing.

    • shakyisles
      Posted May 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      I loved that too! Funny how it’s teens who are so good at coining catchy new words

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted May 26, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        When I was a teenager, we called phrases like that “banal profundities”, but I think “deepity” is even better.

  9. couchloc
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    What I like about Dennett’s lecture is that he gives a 45 minute talk that’s informative and funny and doesn’t include making a single comment about how “moronic” or “stupid” theoretical physicists are in the process. Some other popular atheist speakers out there could learn a thing or two from this philosopher.

    • Posted May 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Hmm… I’m missing the allusion there, couchloc…


      • couchloc
        Posted May 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        Lawrence Krauss

        • Posted May 26, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

          D’oh. I was being literal. I see what you did there, now.


          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted May 26, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

            I guess I still don’t get it? Must be a bit moronic today.

            • Posted May 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

              Krauss, a theoretical physicist, dissed philosophers.

              Dennett, a philosopher, refrains from dissing theoretical physicists.


        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted May 26, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

          Seriously? Can anyone recall an atheist talking about how moronic Krauss is? Or physicists in general? Not I.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted May 26, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        Me neither. One can only guess. I think sometimes people create deepities by saying the reverse of what they mean. It’s the cheapest form of irony that isn’t even actually ironic, but only allows a trivial remark to masquerade as something profound simply because it is a trifle puzzling. I suspect this is somehow a roundabout way of remarking on the tendency of atheists to point out how stupid religious faith is. Dennet is perhaps gentler than some, but in this particular talk, addressing those who “might be atheists,” some extra restraint is natural. Dennet isn’t particularly shy about giving dimwittedness its full share of credit when it is due.

        • couchloc
          Posted May 26, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

          Sorry if this was too vague a reference to Lawrence Krauss, but Ant at 3:19 has the correct understanding. I’m trying to suggest that Dennett gave a better talk in certain respects.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted May 26, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

            I think you’re over-generalising there.

            I think Lawrence Krauss was referring to ‘philosophers of science’, and some of them are absolutely full of obscurantist pseudo-scientistic BS, as Alan Sokal memorably demonstrated. I don’t think any group of physicists, however speculative their hypotheses may get, is guilty of the sort of misrepresentations and distortions that that group perpetrated.

            I don’t think Dan Dennett is in that group though. So why should he take aim at physicists?

            • couchloc
              Posted May 27, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

              This comment is a little confusing to me in its reference to philosophy of science. First, the authors who contributed to the journal “Social Text” that Sokal hoaxed were NOT philosophers of science, which is a field within american philosophy. The authors that contributed to that journal came from a completely different school of thought related to literary studies and postmodernism in English and Sociology programs (which is connected to French schools of thought that are outside american philosophy programs). The criticisms Sokal made of these schools of thought were criticisms that had already been made by american philosophers themselves, and Sokal himself is favorable towards philosophers of science like Putnam and Popper and refers to them positively in his books in fact.

              Secondly, the philosopher of science Krauss was referring to was David Albert, who is hardly “full of obscurantist pseudo-scientistic BS”. Albert has a PhD in theoretical physics and has published in very respectable physics journals on quantum mechanics. So this reference is a bit misplaced since Albert’s work has nothing to do with the work published by postmodernists and he would be completely against those views, being himself trained in physics.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted May 28, 2012 at 12:27 am | Permalink

                It seems I aimed at the wrong target 😉

                Though, “Krauss, a theoretical physicist, dissed philosophers. Dennett, a philosopher, refrains from dissing theoretical physicists” certainly presents a very wide target (Ant said it but you confirmed it). That’s my only (partial) excuse for my aim being so far off. That, and the fact that Krauss (from my recollection of reading the interview) was not aiming just at Albert and ‘dissed phhilosophers’ implies far more than one.

                I was misled by the fact that postmodern philosophers seem to be notoriously partial to pseudo-scientism. I gather from your comment that they are very different from ‘philosophers of science’ and when you mention Popper the difference is obvious.

                But this is all very wide of the point and my apologies for the red herring.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 28, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

                FWIW, Krauss did apologize for having been over-broad in his dissing of philosophers.

    • DV
      Posted May 27, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      >>doesn’t include making a single comment about how “moronic” or “stupid” theoretical physicists are in the process

      Because he can’t.

      “theoretical physicist” and “stupid” simply can’t go together in the same sentence. That would be like trying to insult rocket scientists – it would make you look like the stupid one.

      • Posted May 27, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        “I was a theoretical physicist, and I can be pretty stupid sometimes.”

        So, yes they can.


        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted May 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          You have reminded me of a funny thing from way back. In 1977, as a freshman physics student, I went to the Physics department picnic to welcome new students. There was a small keg of beer, commonly called a pony keg. It wasn’t tapped yet, and the tap was laying on the picnic table near the keg. One of the professors set about trying to tap the keg. He was having a bit of trouble getting the tap installed, so another professor offered his help. Pretty soon there were five full professors of Physics (I think two theoreticians and three experimentalists) working on the “problem”. There was plenty of head scratching and discussion and attempts to orient the tap at every possible angle. After about two minutes of this a student pointed out that the tap was for a large keg, and could not be used with this small keg. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, in a geeky physics sort of way.

          So any brilliant (or even average) physicist can be pretty moronic by layman standards when it comes to practical matters.

          • Posted May 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

            And with that the joke “How many Physics professors does it take to tap a keg?” was born 🙂

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted May 28, 2012 at 12:31 am | Permalink

            This probably ties in with Randi’s observation that scientists are the easiest to fool with illusions.

  10. Posted May 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Love the idea of a deepity. I’ve been getting one from a theist I argue with on local online forums.

    “God is INFINITE!”

    He just says that in response to any criticisms or requests of evidence or rationalizations of his magic sky fairy. That’s the best they got.

    I also notice that the more fundie/crazy they get, the more they use all caps and misspell. Capitalization != more valid argument.

    • Posted May 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Hmm… I don’t think that’s a deepity, according to the definition Dan provides, as it doesn’t have a trivially true sense.


  11. Newman
    Posted May 27, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Great talk. I just watched the entire thing. “Breaking the Spell” was one of the books that brought me around, but I’ve only watched a couple of talks by him.

  12. Sastra
    Posted May 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been using the term “deepity” to refer to those Trojan-horse words and statements that can (and are) flipped back and forth from the reasonable interpretation to the controversial interpretation — so that the second meaning can borrow credibility from the first. Sometimes this is due to sly intent; sometimes this is the result of sloppy thinking; and sometimes it reflects a desire to deflect criticism by offering an ostensible way that both believer and skeptic can both be “right.”

    My current favorite deepity is “We have the capacity of changing reality with the power of our intentional Minds.” A moment’s reflection is all it takes to figure out how this statement could be interpreted as true but trivial — how this statement could be translated as extraordinary but false — and how the deepity could be shifted from one meaning to the other as part of a bait-n-switch strategy designed to make the supernaturalist look positive and the naturalist look like a quitter.

    I really hate when they do that.

  13. ManOutOfTime
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this video. Along with the Mencken Week series, just a really fabulous set of posts that have made my Memorial Day Weekend. Thank Ceiling Cat for the WEIT blog!

  14. Posted May 31, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I love it!! DD says “…we cannot take the Pope’s utterances at face value.”

    I would substitute ‘faith’ for ‘face’ in this instance:-)

    I really enjoy DD; he is smart without cant.

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