- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (2 Mar. 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0713997893
- ISBN-13: 978-0713997897
- Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 4.1 x 24.1 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 361,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Hardcover – 2 Mar 2006
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An elegant, sharp-minded essay on the need to study religion in a dispassionate way. ("The Economist")
Penetrating . . . a sharp synthesis of a library of evolutionary, anthropological and psychological research on the origin and spread of religion. ("Scientific American")
Rich and rewarding . . . the main business of the book is to give a scientific account of how religion may have developed among creatures such as us. . . . The product of an extremely bright mind. ("San Francisco Chronicle")
How would a visitor from Mars dispassionately explain human religion? . . . My guess is that the result would be something like this crystal-clear, constantly engaging, and enjoyable new book. (Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize?winning author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and "Collapse"
Ambitious . . . an accessible account of what might be called the natural history of religion. (The New Yorker)
How would a visitor from Mars dispassionately explain human religion? . . . My guess is that the result would be something like this crystal-clear, constantly engaging, and enjoyable new book. (Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prizewinning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse
Rich and rewarding . . . the main business of the book is to give a scientific account of how religion may have developed among creatures such as us. . . . The product of an extremely bright mind. (San Francisco Chronicle)
An elegant, sharp-minded essay on the need to study religion in a dispassionate way. (The Economist)
Penetrating . . . a sharp synthesis of a library of evolutionary, anthropological and psychological research on the origin and spread of religion. (Scientific American)" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Daniel Dennett is one of the most original and provocative thinkers in the world. A brilliant polemicist and philosopher, he is famous for challenging unexamined orthodoxies. His books include Brainstorms, Brainchildren, Elbow Room, Consciousness Explained, Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Freedom Evolves. He lives in North Andover, Massachusetts.
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Top Customer Reviews
Dawkins' "The God Delusion" is a powerful tirade against the excesses of religion, packed with examples both disturbing and hilarious. He argues that even 'moderate' religion cripples the mind, and vigorously unpicks the many claims for its truth and worth. His project is to show the wavering believer that blind faith, far from being a virtue, is an absurd and damaging waste of intellect, and calls for its abandonment in favour of an enlightened and healthy atheism: come on in, the water's fine!
Dennett's "Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon" takes a more measured and rigorous approach. Dennett (though an atheist) seeks not so much to attack religion as to explain it, and to do so without recourse to gods. The spell he wishes to break is the taboo that surrounds the debate, preventing the many and contradictory tenets of religion from being seriously examined.
Though Dawkins' heartfelt call is eloquent and impassioned, some readers may still find his sometimes abrasive tone sufficient excuse to dismiss his thesis. Dennett's book, however, rarely strays from the courteous and builds a careful and cogent argument that is potentially more persuasive - even unassailable. It's an elegant and fascinating read, and it's perhaps a shame that it won't have the same high-profile as Dawkins' fireworks.
Dennett makes the point that in any society where freedoms of thought, speech and faith are prized above all else, freedom of enquiry should be the natural extension. Yet the default position amongst the world's various faithful on the subject of religious investigation is almost invariably one of affronted refusal. His concern is that ignorance not only leads us towards potentially dangerous misunderstanding, but that it can also blind us to the finer qualities of the things we love.
Dennett is a committed atheist, but this does not make him an enemy of the religious. His arguments and analysis are fair and the book's purpose valuable: to illuminate the situation for all concerned (which means everyone) and to suggest possible ways to move forward. He does not offer solutions, but paves the way for the first steps toward greater understanding and does so with his typical clarity, depth and good humour. A very good book.
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 ›
It is written as a first foray into the study of religion from a biological and scientific (evolutionary, especially) viewpoint-- how and why have religions evolved? I enjoyed the inquisitive approach- he mainly provides lists and explanations of what kinds of questions researchers in this field should be asking, although he does provide some potential answers to these, even if he does not seem wedded to them (a good thing).
Moreover, I didn't see the writing as sour or venomous in any way; it is far kinder in tone than Dawkins's work. I suppose a strongly religious (or anti-intellectual) person would find it to be sour and venomous, as they would any such book regardless of the presence/absence of kid gloves in its handling. In fact, I was almost caught off guard by the often playful, even jolly approach. He clearly is enjoying thinking about the approach he outlines and VERY carefully laying out the logic (in proper philosopher's role) behind his arguments and queries. Quite elegant and smooth overall.
It is unlikely to change anyone's views unless they're teetering on the brink (and many are...) but Dennett knows that. People that will find this interesting are those that want to know more (especially something refreshingly new; not just the tired old atheism vs. theism fisticuffs) about religion and its relationship with science and reason. It's an easy read but intellectuals will also find it quite stimulating nonetheless.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An interesting read and glad I did, but Daniel Dennett is the least credible/skilful of the "4 horsemen'Published 8 months ago by Mr. S. J. Mckee
Oh dear. I am not going to read this since the author is not known for his honesty, clarity, or even for having anything important to say. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
Very thoughtful and engagingly written. This book puts into clear words some of my rather muffled ideas.Published 9 months ago by Pauline Buckland
Why, oh why doesn't the author propose that a believer in atheism (an idea) is as much a contender to be analogously (and destructively) infected with the parasitic 'lancet fluke'... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Mr. John Mainwaring