Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon [Book Review]

Journal of Mind and Behavior 27 (3-4):357-366 (2006)

Leslie Marsh
University of British Columbia
The thesis that Dennett argues for in Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon has a double aspect. First, religion being but one natural phenomenon among many should be subject to scientific investigation. Resistance to this notion constitutes the first spell or taboo and is in complicity with the second “master” spell, that of the phenomenon of religion itself. Dennett’s tentative naturalistic recommendation is two-pronged: he primarily deploys an evolutionary biology perspective, and derivatively a highly suggestive appeal to memetics. To acknowledge that religion is natural “is only the beginning of the answer, not the end”. Religion as a natural phenomenon has to answer to Dennett’s Darwinist refrain — cui bono? (to whose advantage?). And derivatively, how or why highly exotic and implausible supernatural religious ideas (or memes) are transmitted and sustained? Humankind, naturally disposed cause-seeking creatures, are inclined to hypostasize all manner of beliefs (virtual agents free to evolve to amplify our yearnings or our dreads — when explanation of some phenomenon is not forthcoming — this constitutes the “master” spell.
Keywords religion  consciousness  evolutionary psychology  philosophy of religion  intelligent design  creationism
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