Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dissecting Religion Contd.

The latest New York Times book review has a scathing review of Daniel Dennett's latest book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Leon Wieseltier, who is the literary editor of New Republic, starts with calling the book, "a sorry instance of present day scientism", "a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions" and concludes with calling it "shallow and self-congratulatory"! Even though I haven't read the book in question, I think some of the remarks in the review are unfortunate and wrong. For example, he calls the adpatational theory of the origin of religion a "story". Well, a more accurate term for this would be "hypothesis". Sure there are other hypotheses about the origins of religion but there are objective, well-defined criteria with which one can choose the hypothesis from a set which has the "best" explanatory power (for example Occam's razor is one of the criteria). He also makes a very confusing remark about something like, if "reason" has a biological basis, it is not "reason" at all. I have no idea what that means!

I found this paragraph interesting though:

But why must we read literally in the realm of religion, when in so many other realms of human expression we read metaphorically, allegorically, symbolically, figuratively, analogically? We see kernels and husks everywhere. There are concepts in many of the fables of faith, philosophical propositions about the nature of the universe. They may be right or they may be wrong, but they are there.

If this is indeed the case there shouldn't be any problem. Let Bible tussle with Shakespeare then. Let Plato and Bhagvad-Gita stand up to each other. I am sure Dennett and Dawkins would have no issues with this. And I think this is what Dennett means by "Breaking the Spell". Only when the religion's spell is broken, will we be able to see Gita, Quran and Bible as just any other book of art, philosophy and history, fit to be judged purely on the basis of merit of its arguments and the honesty of its purpose.

The complete review page of the book. Contains links to reviews on other sites.

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