Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon 1st Edition
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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.
- Publisher : Viking Adult; 1st edition (February 2, 2006)
- Language: : English
- Hardcover : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 067003472X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0670034727
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Item Weight : 1.75 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.32 x 1.52 x 9.24 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #695,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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As for Dennett's arguments, I think they show real insight and genuine concern for the human condition. However, I was left with the sense that while Dennett's microscope uncovers many important facets of religion, he may be missing the point that the central difference between a religious person and a "bright" like Dennett is their epistempology - their stance on what is the source of truth. Dennett asserts often in the book that the religious have an obligation to justify their views, but he wants them justified on his terms, reason, not theirs, personal revelation.
Dennett quotes Avery Cardinal Dulles who writes that ".... the key question is how God comes to us and opens up a world of meaning not accessible to human investigative powers. The answer, I suggest is testimony ... Personal testimony calls for an epistemology quite distinct from the scientific, as commonly understood." The point of view expressed by this quote seems to me on target, and essential to understanding religion as a natural phenomenon, however Dennett won't have it. When Dulles later in his writing acknowledges the value of science, Dennett derides Dulles for "cherry picking", relying on science only when it helps his cause (p. 364).
I think what Dennett really wants, to put religion under clear-eyed scrutiny, is "... not to bulldoze people with science, but to get them to see things they already know, or could know, have implications for how they should want to respond to the issues under discussion." (p. 378) In other words, to acknowledge the importance of reason to human life in general, and in considering religion in particular. If Dennett wants to convert the converted, he needs to convert their epistemology.
Dear J & J,
Friday night, I decided to slowly read through a book on "religion as a natural phenomenon. As long as I have been in religious circles, no one has attempted to explain to me or even discuss where this idea of religion originated. However, not all religions are the same in regards to intent. Dr. Dennett wrote that sharks and dolphins may have similar attributes and can swim in the same waters, however, as often observed, the shark’s intent is definitely not the same as a dolphin.
In his book “Breaking the Spell” by Daniel C. Dennett wrote “Religious cults (or pseudo religions) and political fanatics are not the only casters of evil spells today. Think of the people who are addicted to drugs, or gambling, or alcohol, or child pornography.” Dr. Dennett also states that religion in America is not the same as religions in other countries.
It seems that religion is important to most of our family members and many Americans. Just look at all the televangelists begging for money and getting it. I might suggest that all of us step back and look at the idea of what is religion in the first place. I suggest not waiting until you are lying in bed sick or lying in bed dying before you attempt to understand this idea of religion. Just because it has been handed down to us through traditions does not make it correct in the first place.
In fact, Jesus practiced a lesson similar to Socrates; as a teacher, he never put someone down because a student does not agree. Thomas is known as doubting Thomas and Jesus never put him down; I prefer to call Thomas a skeptic. In my experience, healthy skepticism might have kept me from participating in a pseudo religion for thirteen years. In my view, healthy skepticism is another way of saying "intellectual honesty." One thing I know for sure is that nothing in life to a human is certain, nothing. None of us really knows anything for sure.
This book is well worth the read for true believers and skeptics.
Good luck to you all.
Steven L. H.
Top reviews from other countries
Compared to his atheist cohorts (in particular, his fellow horsemen Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins), Dennett is less interested in attacking religion than in understanding what we can learn about this curious phenomenon, in particular from its origins and development. Objections are pre-empted and answered calmly and persuasively. Statements are qualified and clarified to a degree that might even infuriate some readers. Bringing with him a wealth of evolutionary, anthropological and psychological research, he is never afraid to point out where more research is needed, even if this means holding back from winning an argument. Don't, however, dismiss Dennett's book as an apology; it should be welcomed as a rigorous and respectful contribution to the debate.
The title and opening chapter title tend to give away a great deal about the thinking though; "... the Spell" and "Opening Pandora's Box". Spells tend to suggest the irrational under another's control and all the evils of the world released from "Pandora's Box" - Pandora, the "all-gifted" - suggests a mind-set. However, do not let this detract from his considered thinking.
His first section, divided into three, then sub-divided into fives, examines the nature of religion, its relationship (if any) to science and various linked ideas to the idea of religion as a natural phenomenon but also asking the question "Cui bono"?
The second section, divided into eight then sub-divided into up to eight, looks at religion's early and modern days, the organisation of religion and ends with "Does God Exist?" The best until last?
Section three is divided into three sections, sub-divided into fours, beginning with "The Buyer's Guide to Religions" and ending with "Now What do We Do?" after a short section on Richard Dawkin's "memes" theory (also explored extensively by Susan Blackmore).
The appendices are thirty pages long, notes twenty-three and the bibliography fourteen. This is not an irrational diatribe by an evangelising fundamentalist with a badge stating the agenda, although he does have one and his position is very clear, particularly to anyone who is familiar with his writing. It is a series of inter-connected ideas outlining why he believes what he does and tackling some of the major issues in this arena, e.g. does science have anything to say to or about religion (and "vice versa"?).
For reasons I cannot remember but probably more to do with the book's arrival than a deliberate choice of holiday reading, I found myself carrying it around the Acropolis into the temple of Athena Parthenos,the Erechtheum and Parthenon; anyone who has climbed the Athenean Acropolis in the Greek summer will know it is a struggle not for the faint-hearted. Carrying this heavy tome in an already heavy camera bag made it even more of an adventure. However, on arriving at an even keel, it made fascinating, restful reading in the coffee shop, Dennett and a cooling drink in front, the temples behind.
The approach is a slightly irritating and an odd mixture of academic, discursive, and occasionally colloquial styles(lots of asides in brackets finishing with an exclamation mark!). Dennett does sometimes go off on a tangent and you may find yourself flicking ahead to see when the book will get interesting again.
However, if you can get past the ideosyncratic writing there are lots of very interesting ideas and original ways of looking at religion and spirituality.
If you enjoyed Richard Dawkins, then this is a new perspective on some of his ideas. It isn't as easy to follow but it is worth exploring.