Saturday, February 11, 2006

Dissecting Religion

Daniel Dennett, philosopher, atheist and the author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, has a new book out. It is called Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon and as the title indicates, it is about the need to study religion in impersonal and scientific terms. Nothing new I guess. David Hume argued the same thing a few hundred years ago. And William James wrote a very influential book on the psychological origins of mystical and religious experiences too (Both Hume and James have been on my reading list for some years now!). Anyway, there is an interesting (although mixed) review of Dennett's book here. (Link via Arts and Letters Daily):

By showing that we evolved to believe, Mr. Dennett hopes to reduce belief to the status of an ordinary human disposition, no more mysterious than our appetite for sweets or our sexual drives. And from there, he hopes, it will be only a short hop to demolishing belief altogether, as a vestige of our prehistory that has become maladaptive in an advanced civilization.

Much as I deplore the reactions against the Danish cartoons, I think the whole affair has played into the hands of propagandists of religion. How I wish Muslims and other faithfuls could read Dennett. And Dawkins, and Pinker, and Wilson. And Russell and Voltaire. And James and Hume!

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