Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Paperback – Feb 6 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more ("Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future"). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion. (Feb. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
A century and a half after Darwin rattled religionists with his revolutionary theory of human origins, one of his disciples has intensified the challenge to faith by advancing an evolutionary account of religion itself. Weaving together research in anthropology, genetics, and psychology, Dennett argues that religion first emerged not as a divine gift but rather as a thoroughly natural adaptation for enhancing the reproductive success of the species. Even more provocatively, Dennett further argues that religion--like language--has subsequently evolved so as to ensure its own survival in the ceaseless winnowing of cultural mutations. The pious in most faiths will likely protest that this approach gives only the husk, not the spirit, of religion, but Dennett insists that his study will ultimately benefit society by exposing the myths that empower fanatical terrorists. Remarkably bold, Dennett's agenda includes plans for preventing overzealous parents from instilling their faith in their children and for deploying the technology of mass advertising to foster religious doubt. A book certain to spark heated controversy. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
You watch an ant in a meadow, laboriously climbing up a blade of grass, higher and higher until it falls, then climbs again, and again, like Sisyphus rolling his rock, always striving to reach the top. Read the first page
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Top Customer Reviews
The beginning chapter, "Opening Pandora's Box", reminds us that what was long considered inexplicable or mysterious can be revealed. He anticipates the criticism that "spiritual" things or "faith" aren't qualities that submit to analysis. The task, he acknowledges, is immense, but can be accomplished. Certain elements must be agreed upon, such as the definition of "religion". What we call religion, Dennett, contends, ought to exclude "spiritualism", fanatic devotion to secular items such as ethnic groups or idolizing sports figures. On the other hand religion is a dynamic and variable concept and tight demarcation is neither possible or desirable. Religion, then, is a social system incorporating supernatural agents that can reward or punish. Writers preceding him, such as Robert Atran, Pascal Boyer and Walter Burkert are acknowledged as good starting points. Dennett cites them often as contributors to his thinking. His distant, but highly influential, mentor is William James.
Although Dennett's atheism is well known, this book is anything but a call for the abolition of religion. Quite the reverse.Read more ›
Using his broad, yet deep, knowledge about philosophy and biology, Dennett describes how traits that are more likely to be possessed by religious people could have arisen in our evolutionary past, as well as other aspects of ritual, belief, belief in belief and morality without religion. Do not expect a fully developed theory, but do anticipate a fully developed analysis of what kinds of theories currently exist and what kinds of theories we would likely want to pursue.
As a way of engaging the religious, I found two of Dennett's arguments particularly cogent:
(1) If your God has personally told you how the world is and how we should act, please tell the rest of us because He has not done that (yet) to the rest of us.Read more ›
I strongly agree with putting religion to scrutiny - especially scientific one. (Fine chance to weed out all the New Age, astrology & crystals mumbo-jumbo claiming a scientific basis). However, the scientific approach cuts both ways: either one accepts its truths or not. Manipulating scientific facts and mixing them with speculations does not lead to solid conclusions.
FACT: since over 90% of humans follow some religion (Dennet fans please remember that there are more than 5 billion people besides North Americans) this can only mean that there is a survival or reproductive advantage in being religious. In other words, Evolution decided that it was advantageous for humans to be religious.
The proposition of memes (Dawkins, 1976) may be a useful tool in order to approach cultural phenomena as genetic traits.
FACT: although useful, memes never have been proven to be more than a useful abstraction - similar to Freud's id, ego and super-ego, very useful for psychoanalysis but can anyone please point to me the brain locus of the ego?
Nevertheless, Dennet builds almost his entire argumentative structure on this "ideas propagating even by harming their hosts, just like viruses" basis. Very weak under any light. Not to mention that he consciously seems to ignore the fact that they may benefit an equal (at least) number of people. Hence: the "Spell" may not necessarily be the negative thing he implies.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Dry. I had high expectations but ended up skim reading most of it. Dennett, in my opinion, is a much better speaker than he is a writer.Published 5 days ago by Gerhard Jason Geick
Anyone who is a fan of Dawkins and Hitchens will appreciate Dan Dennetts workPublished 12 months ago by Josiah Grimmitt
If you have not read Dennett now is the time to get started. Buy this book and everthing else he has writtenPublished 14 months ago by ernest reinhart
One star. No linking of footnotes is absolutely inexcusable in an ebook at this price point. What the hell, publishers? Read morePublished on April 22 2013 by Amazon Customer
Dennett takes a revolutionary approach to the already well studied atheistic viewpoints and gathers them altogether in an enjoyable and easy to follow argument against organized... Read morePublished on March 31 2013 by Marjorie Lynn Allen
I haven't started reading the book so I can't comment on that but it arrived with the cover on backwards and it looks used or handled ????Published on Feb. 13 2013 by jwal
First and foremost, for those delving into Daniel C. Dennett's book with preconceived notions of it being filled with anti-religious rhetoric, I hate to be the one to break your... Read morePublished on Sept. 18 2011 by Matt Sanderson
Many people have said that Dennett's book was the one that completely destroyed their faith in god.
This is an incredible book that should replace the bible. Read more
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