In 2006, Daniel Dennett was rushed to the hospital for a life-threatening tear in the major vessel carrying blood from his heart. Remarkably, during a nine hour surgery, doctors discovered that scar tissue from an earlier surgery had likely saved his life. Both critics and colleagues wondered if perhaps this experience would change Dennett’s outlook.
“As I now enter a gentle period of recuperation, I have much to reflect on,” he wrote in an open letter entitled “Thank Goodness!” “Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say ‘Thank goodness!’ this is not merely a euphemism for ‘Thank God!’ (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! . . . It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.
“What, though, do I say to those of my religious friends (and yes, I have quite a few religious friends) who have had the courage and honesty to tell me that they have been praying for me? I have gladly forgiven them, for there are few circumstances more frustrating than not being able to help a loved one in any more direct way. I confess to regretting that I could not pray (sincerely) for my friends and family in time of need, so I appreciate the urge, however clearly I recognize its futility.”
—Daniel C. Dennett, “Thank Goodness!”