Breaking the Spell

I just got Dennett’s Breaking the Spell from the library.

From the introduction:

Those who are religious and believe religion to be the best hope of humankind cannot reasonably expect those of us who are skeptical to refrain from expressing our doubts if they themselves are unwilling to put their convictions under the microscope. If they are right  – especially if they are obviously right, on further reflection – we skeptics will not only concede this but enthusiastically join the cause. We want what they (mostly) say they want: a world at peace, with as little suffering as we can manage, with freedom and justice and well-being and meaning for all. If the case for their path cannot be made, this is something that they themselves should want to know. It is as simple as that. They claim the moral high ground: maybe they deserve it and maybe they don’t. Let’s find out.

Sounds promising.

Published by

Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

5 thoughts on “Breaking the Spell”

  1. Not sure what putting their beliefs under a microscope means. I hope it’s not “how can a bush spontaneously burst into flame” or “well what about these dinosaur bones” stuff. I look forward to your final report.

    On a related note, the Economist reviewed “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”

    http://www.economist.com/books/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9253863&CFID=8549570&CFTOKEN=562257

    If that link doesn’t work, you can try searching for “Hitchens” on Economist.com

    One quote from the article that might spark debate “….Religious folk often do the right thing for what Mr. Hitchens would call the wrong reasons. Taking faith away would in many cases take away the will to do them. That cost is worth considering.”

    Perhaps not, and if so, perhaps not for this thread.

  2. I am a couple of chapters into it and it is quite excellent so far. The gist of it is that religion is an important and powerful phenomenon and is worthy of study. Every other human phenomenon of similar importance has been studied extensively (music, economics, sex, societies) – usually for the betterment of the phenomenon. It’s possible that religion might benefit similarly – or not – and wouldn’t it be nice to know.

    He’s not talking about miracles and such – so far at least. He is talking about the power of prayer, prophecy, morality, enrichment, wars. He wants religion to be studied by neurologists, sociologists, economists, moral philosophers, anthropologists, historians and anyone else who might help us to understand the costs and benefits of religions.

    He is basically saying – ‘Hey! Wouldn’t it be nice to know?’

    It’s very respectful unlike, say, Dawkins, Hitchens & Harris.

  3. Isn’t it studied lots? My cousin got a degree in Rel Studies (not theology), I think…

    For example: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~csrel

    P’raps he’s emphasizing more non traditional aspects (rather than the areas pertaining to history/philosophy/anthropology, etc.). Or merely saying “there should be more”…

  4. According to DD, it has been studied with a particular bias by people with a particular agenda. It has never been studied from a dispassionate, scientific point of view.

    I don’t have a degree in religious studies but I imagine it would cover the history angle and maybe religious texts as literature…but not the kind of things that SS wants to study. Nothing that would be published in Nature or The Lancet for example.

    It’s possible that DD is completely wrong and he just doesn’t know about Harvard’s RS degree course. I have bookmarked your link for further study.

  5. I looked at the Harvard web site. It certainly seemed to fit the bill. You’d think Dennett would know what he’s talking about though as he was at Harvard.

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