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Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Paperback – February 6, 2007
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From Scientific American
George Johnson, a 2005 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion, is author of Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order and six other books. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
- "Science can explain everything". But the book isn't about everything: it's about psychology and sociology, which are sciences.
- "Dennett's an atheist". Well, yes, but he acknowledges that religion is pervasive; the book is about trying to understand why people act and think the way they do, not to change what they believe. (Unless you think that to understand religious belief is to destroy it - but you'd better be able to justify that.)
- "Dennett doesn't understand philosophy". A silly accusation to make of a distinguished professor of philosophy. Yes, Dennett dismisses traditional phil.of.relig. for this debate, but that's because it has nothing to say about the phenomenon of belief.
- "Dennett's account of religion is about as reliable as a Nazi's account of Judaism". I don't understand: the definition he uses is remarkably mainstream, and owes a lot to William James.
The comon thread running through these critics is one of taboo: Dennett ought not to be investigating this stuff. Nobody offers an alternative theory, and in that respect the attacks feel a bit like Intelligent Design wedgies. The criticism is not of the idea, but the person. And (of course) nobody tries to justify the taboo.
As I wrote in the review on my blog at geoffarnold.com, the book has three sections:
- a careful definition and justification (over-cautious to an atheist like myself)
- a sample explanatory narrative, synthesizing much of the state of the art in this field, acknowledged to probably be mostly wrong, but comprehensively indicating the areas that future, better researched theories should address
- an optimistic but unconvincing plea for future dialogue.
Overall it is a solid step in the right direction.
The character that does the unmasking is undoubtedly unpopular, which is why it was given to Toto rather than to innocent Dorothy or other likeable humanoid characters. Any surprise that a liberal university professor, professional philosopher, and outspoken atheist should take on the unmasking role?
Neither the sort of academic qualifications Dennett holds nor the theme of piercing the protective veil which enshrines religious belief is anything entirely new in the literature analyzing religion. What is new is the improvement of the tools for accomplishing the task and the improvement of the sort of questions we can ask. Dennett deftly and accessibly reviews the primary themes from a wealth of psychological, anthropological, and biological literature and along the way offers his own interpretation of each theme and identifies the directions he thinks future research should take.
As a result, this is a book that asks more questions than it answers. Its primary goal is to pull back the curtain of mystery with which we have enshrined religious belief, not to suggest final answers to all of the serious questions raised.Read more ›
Dennett surveys various theories of religion:
From Scott Atran - Religion is (1) a community's costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agent(s) (3) who master peoples' existential anxieties, such as death and deception (4) leading to ritualistic and rhythmic co-ordination of 1, 2, and 3; such as communion. This tendency to invent a supernatural agency is an evolutionary by-product - which involves exaggerated use of everyday cognitive processes - to produce unreal worlds that easily attract attention, are readily memorable, and are subject to cultural transmission, selection, and survival. Add a few hopeful solutions to the problems involving the tragedies of life, and you get religion.
From Pascal Boyer - Every religion has these common features:
(1) A supernatural agent who takes a specific ontologic form (animal, tree, human, etc.)
(2) There is something memorably different about this agent (the animal talks, the tree records conversation, the human is born of a virgin) which is an ontologic violation.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Dennett discussess with geniality and politeness this so hard and relevant subject, and shows to anyone who will look at the matter with an open mind (and open eyes) how religion... Read morePublished 8 days ago by Amazon Customer
This is a good book, but it is not as riveting as Daniel Dennett is when he lectures.Published 9 days ago by Andrew
The author makes fascinating and challenging arguments into the nature and origin of religion, but the prolix passages overwhelm the sense, and reading the book becomes a major... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Mark A. Wilson
Let me start by saying that Daniel Dennett and I are on the same side of the intellectual fight but as a reviewer I need to be honest in my assessment. Read morePublished 5 months ago by David Swan
I really enjoyed this book. It is dense in parts but very well reasoned and logically laid out. If only the people that really needed to would be open to reading books like this... Read morePublished 5 months ago by S. Langley
Dennett's ability to dismantle 20 centuries of "religiousness" while avoiding the trap of "offending" faith-based ideologies, is what makes this book a monumental... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Holly Tennyson Hands
Dennett is a very good philosopher and writer. He raises many questions about what religion is and why it should be studied scientifically. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Multiverse
An excellent book. Philosophical arguments that God does not exist.
Dennett writes, "Philosophers have spent two millennia and more concocting and criticizing arguments... Read more
Very good read, exactly what you would expect from Dennet. Thought-provoking and engaging all the way through.Published 7 months ago by Big T