[Marxism] Examining religion

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 6 07:37:25 MST 2006

WSWS : Book Review
Dennett's dangerous idea
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Dennett, 
Viking Adult, 2006, 464 pages, $26
By James Brookfield
6 November 2006

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American philosopher Daniel Dennett's latest book, Breaking the Spell: 
Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, was attacked from the right last February 
in the pages of the New York Times Book Review by Leon Wieseltier, the 
literary editor of The New Republic.

This attack prompted a reply that was posted on the World Socialist Web 
Site. The reply promised that a review of the book itself would soon appear 
on the site. The review follows here.

The central thrust of Dennett's book is that the methods of science should 
be used to scrutinize religion. Dennett argues that religion is of such 
immense social and political significance that it behooves mankind to turn 
the attention of the "best minds on the planet" to its study. All taboos 
should be set aside.

As Dennett says, "Up to now, there has been a largely unexamined mutual 
agreement that scientists and other researchers will leave religion alone, 
or restrict themselves to a few sidelong glances, since people get so upset 
at the mere thought of a more intensive inquiry. I propose to disrupt this 
presumption, and examine it."

This "unexamined mutual agreement" is the first spell that must be broken. 
The second, Dennett writes, is the spell of religion itself.

For Dennett, religion, though it requires belief in the supernatural, is 
itself a natural process, "a human phenomenon composed of events, 
organisms, objects, structures, patterns and the like that obey all the 
laws of physics and biology, and hence do not involve miracles." To frame 
the issue this way, Dennett points out, makes no claim about the existence 
of a supernatural being, only that the processes of religious observance 
are natural ones and therefore subject to rational inquiry and scrutiny.

This claim is what provoked the ire of Wieseltier and others who want to 
preserve the hallowed status of religion and shield it from examination.

full: http://wsws.org/articles/2006/nov2006/spel-n06.shtml



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