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Meditation 595
Breaking the Spell: A Review

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett. Viking 2006 425 pp

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This is a significantly better book than Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion which was reviewed earlier, even though it is clear Dennett shares Dawkins' disdain for religious belief.

Dennett, who is a philosopher, argues that the tools of science should be applied to religion. What he want is a "forthright, scientific, no-holds-barred investigation of religion as one natural phenomenon among many." He is taking on not just believers who claim that their beliefs are not subject to study, but also those non-believers who have accepted, at least in part, Stephen Jay Gould's concept of Nonoverlapping Magisteria (NOMA) which suggests that science and religion are separate domains which cannot comment on each other

In my view, he makes a good case against NOMA which may change the minds of many non-believers who have bought into it. He also makes a strong case against the arguments that believers use to exclude religion from scientific study.

Unfortunately, Dennett is unable to conceal his own negative views on religion. He wants to convince believers, but there are just too many snide little comments - such as suggesting that scientifically studying religion is equivalent to someone with cancer symptoms to seeing a physician for tests. His arguments directed towards believers to make them more open to science will go unheard because they will have been turned off. The book would also have been better without any reference to "the brights," in my view, a dimly thought-out term for non-believers which conveys arrogance, intended or not.

Nevertheless, this is a good and readable book well worth the time. If you do read it, don't pass up on the appendices, which though a little heavier, are worth the effort.