Daniel C. Dennett, philosopher and evolution enthusiast, dies at 82

Daniel C. Dennett.

Daniel C. Dennett. Photo by Mathias Schindler. CC 3.0.

The philosopher Daniel C. Dennett died on April 19, 2024, at the age of 82, according to the obituary in The New York Times (April 19, 2024), which described him as "one of the most widely read and debated American philosophers, whose prolific works explored consciousness, free will, religion and evolutionary biology." Among his influential books, aimed as much at the general reader as at his philosophical colleagues, were Consciousness Explained (1991), Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), Freedom Evolves (2003), and Breaking the Spell (2006). His memoir I've Been Thinking (2023) was recently published.

Famously describing the idea of evolution by natural selection as "the single best idea anyone has ever had," Dennett devoted his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea to trying to "get thinkers in other disciplines to take evolutionary theory seriously, to show them how they have been underestimating it, and to show them why they have been listening to the wrong sirens." His provocative and lively presentation was applauded and criticized in equal measure, with a chapter attacking Stephen Jay Gould's popular writings on evolution particularly exciting controversy. Dennett tended not to engage creationism directly, peremptorily condemning "creation science" as "a pathetic hodge-podge of pious pseudo-science" in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, but he contributed "The Hoax of Intelligent Design and How It Was Perpetrated" to John Brockman's post-Kitzmiller v. Dover collection Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement (2006). In the following year, Breaking the Spell referred to NCSE's website as "one of the best" presenting criticisms of "intelligent design." And in 1997, Dennett, along with Gould among other luminaries, signed a fundraising letter (PDF) for NCSE saying, "There may be things we disagree about, but one thing we can all agree upon, is that the National Center for Science Education is an organization that deserves your support."

Dennett was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 28, 1942. He received a B.A. in philosophy from Harvard University in 1963 and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Oxford University in 1965. After a stint at the University of California, Irvine, he spent the bulk of his career at Tufts University, where he was the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies. He was honored for his scholarly work with the Jean Nicod Prize in 2001, the Mind & Brain Prize in 2011, and the Erasmus Prize in 2012; he was also named the Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association in 2004.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.