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Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural…

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Daniel C. Dennett

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Title:Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Authors:Daniel C. Dennett
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2007), Paperback, 464 pages
Collections:Your library

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Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett (2006)


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Daniel C. Dennett tries to remains as respectful and polite as he can, all while trying to take the idea of religion in purely logical terms. This attempt earned him nothing from his critics, but it's still a good read despite their lack of comfort with its writings. ( )
  Michael_Rose | Jan 10, 2016 |
In his book Dennett tries to describe a probable evolutionary progression of organized religions and argues that religions cannot scrutiny as anything else because of their 'holy' status. A bit hard to read but a food for thought nonetheless... ( )
  TheCrow2 | Aug 23, 2013 |
I found this book to be a refreshing take on the atheist argument in that Dennett focuses on the evolutionary function of religion within the human species. Dennett is not as "in your face" aggressive about the argument for atheism as say, Harris, Hitchens, or Dawkins. He is a bit kinder and just has a more methodical approach to his writing. As with the other "four horsemen" writers, I wonder what the intended audience is for these books. I am often left with the feeling that these books are written for the atheist as booster shots. They aren't, what I would call, atheist evangelism, or at least they aren't effective as such. If I had to pick one however, Dennett seems to be less focused on preaching to the choir and more interested in assuming the reader is a believer who is trying to give the atheist argument a fair shot. I tend to believe that if any meaningful dialog is going to come out of the believer/nonbeliever conflict, this type of approach is the only one that has any chance at working. I love reading Harris, Hitchens, or Dawkins because their tenacity is humorous, but they are polemical. I would never give one of their books to a Christian friend who was interested in understanding my point of view. I would consider giving them Dennett though. He explains that one is not stupid for having religious conviction, but there are measurable scientific ways of exploring why humans have those religious convictions and where they possibly came from in the first place. The idea that religious faith as a psychological element has certain evolutionary benefits makes some believers very uncomfortable. That's where Dennett's rubber meets the road. Once belief, even "belief in belief" as Dennett puts it, becomes testable than the magical thinking starts to wane. Believers begin to panic and we end up with a reason vs. unreason. Not a fun place to leave a friend when discussing this sensitive topic. I think this book helps on both sides a breaking down each chapter with summaries and self criticism.
  BenjaminHahn | May 15, 2012 |
Really makes sense of the human propensity to have a god. One of the best books I've ever read. ( )
  Savagemalloy | Feb 20, 2012 |
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He quotes himself (approvingly) as follows (p. 302): ‘‘Yes we have a soul; but it’s made of lots of tiny robots.’’ Thus, for Dennett, our beliefs reside not in our verbal and nonverbal behavioral patterns but in a set of mechanisms (the tiny robots) in our brains.... But, granted that no complete understanding of human behavior can be achieved without understanding internal mechanisms, if you knew everything there is to know about those tiny robots (and the tinier robots inside them, and those inside them) you would still not understand why people do the things they do and why they say the things they say. You will have ignored the most important scientific fact—the most important Darwinian fact— about those patterns (including religious patterns): their function in the person’s environment (including the social environment).
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Let me begin with an obvious fact: I am an American author, and this book is addressed in the first place to American readers. I shared drafts of this book with many readers, and most of my non-American readers found this fact not just obvious but distracting—even objectionable in some cases. Couldn't I make the book less provincial in outlook? Shouldn't I strive, as a philosopher, for the most universal target audience I could muster? No. Not in this case, and my non-American readers should consider what they can learn about the situation in America from what they find in this book. More compelling to me than the reaction of my non-American readers was the fact that so few of my American readers had any inkling of this bias—or, if they did, they didn't object. That is a pattern to ponder. It is commonly observed—both in America and abroad—that America is strikingly different from other First World nations in its attitudes to religion, and this book is, among other things, a sounding device intended to measure the depths of those differences.
Chapter One

Breaking Which Spell?

1 What's going on?

And he spoke many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up. —Matthew 13:3-4

If "survival of the fittest" has any validity as a slogan, then the Bible seems a fair candidate for the accolade of the fittest of texts.—Hugh Pyper, "The Selfish Text: The Bible and Memetics"

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. Why is the ant doing this? What benefit is it seeking for itself in this strenuous and unlikely activity? Wrong question, as it turns out. No biological benefit accrues to the ant. It is not trying to get a better view of the territory or seeking food or showing off to a potential mate, for instance. Its brain has been commandeered by a tiny parasite, a lancet fluke (Dicrocelium dendriticum), that needs to get itself into the stomach of a sheep or a cow in order to complete its reproductive cycle. This little brain worm is driving the ant into position to benefit its progeny, not the ant's. This is not an isolated phenomenon. Similarly manipulative parasites infect fish, and mice, among other species. These hitchhikers cause their hosts to behave in unlikely—even suicidal—ways, all for the benefit of the guest, not the host.¹
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Chi crede in Dio ha buone ragioni per farlo? Qual è il terreno psicologico e culturale in cui la religione ha messo radici? Si tratta di un cieco istinto evolutivo o di una scelta razionale? In questo libro, al centro del dibattito sull'ateismo, Daniel Dennett indaga il modo in cui la religione si è evoluta a partire da credenze popolari e sostiene che la fede non è che un risultato dell'evoluzione darwiniana. Una tesi provocatoria destinata a far discutere credenti e non credenti.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143038338, Paperback)

For all the thousands of books that have been written about religion, few until this one have attempted to examine it scientifically: to ask why—and how—it has shaped so many lives so strongly. Is religion a product of blind evolutionary instinct or rational choice? Is it truly the best way to live a moral life? Ranging through biology, history, and psychology, Daniel C. Dennett charts religion’s evolution from “wild” folk belief to “domesticated” dogma. Not an antireligious screed but an unblinking look beneath the veil of orthodoxy, Breaking the Spell will be read and debated by believers and skeptics alike.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:43 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Religion plays such a powerful role in the world that we should try to understand it in all its complexities, but most adherents bristle at anyone who wants to investigate their practices and beliefs in a scientific manner." "In this new book, Daniel C. Dennett seeks to uncover the origins of this remarkable family of phenomena that mean so much to so many people, and to discuss why - and how - they have commanded allegiance, become so potent, and shaped so many lives so strongly." "Breaking the Spell is not an antireligious screed but rather an eye-opening exploration of the role that religious belief plays in our lives, our interactions, and our country."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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