Dennett’s latest book, Breaking the Spell, is a vigorous attempt to preach atheism to the unconverted.
No, it’s not. It’s been reported as such, but that’s not true. Dennett’s book is about investigating religion as a phenomenon, and positing the theory that religion has evolved for its own survival, rather than as a byproduct of humanity’s survival (if my understanding is correct.) Much like a meme, religion evolves to survive in different societies, Dennett says. The book is an analysis of this process and is trying to break the ‘spell’ of ‘religion must not be investigated’. It’s not specificially arguing against the existence of a deity, although Dennett is an avowed atheist, it’s simply looking at religion as an institution and trying to explain it, and there’s a big difference between the two. Dennett has in fact stated that he would not want to get rid of religion.
Norm then yet again1 takes the opportunity to tell Richard Dawkins how silly he is for saying religion causes all evil, which is also arguing against a big straw man. Dawkins argued strongly against the “Root of all Evil?” title of the channel 4 programme, as this isn’t at all an accurate representation of the argument. This misunderstanding has unfortunately been a major topic of debate, while the issues raised in the shows have been neglected to an extent.
The Point of Inquiry podcast recently interviewed both Dennett and Dawkins, and put exactly this kind of question to both men. Their answers are fascinating, and a long way from their portrayals in the media.
- I know it’s been argued more extensively, but these one-liners do keep appearing [↩]