Philosopher and atheist Daniel C. Dennett, author of "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," recently had a close brush with death.
An ambulance sped him to a hospital, where a C-T scan revealed he had a dissection of the aorta. The lining of the main output vessel carrying blood from his heart was torn, creating a two-channel pipe where there should be one.
Some of the people who loved him prayed for him during his recovery. He responds to those friends in this essay, thanking "goodness," not God, and explains why.
As I now enter a gentle period of recuperation, I have much to reflect on, about the harrowing experience itself and even more about the flood of supporting messages I've received since word got out about my latest adventure. Friends were anxious to learn if I had had a near-death experience, and if so, what effect it had had on my longstanding public atheism. Had I had an epiphany? Was I going to follow in the footsteps of Ayer (who recovered his aplomb and insisted a few days later "what I should have said is that my experiences have weakened, not my belief that there is no life after death, but my inflexible attitude towards that belief"), or was my atheism still intact and unchanged?
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! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.