Religion from the Outside

Freeman J. Dyson reviews Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett, in the New York Review of Books:

Dennett_daniel20060622Dennett is a philosopher. In this book he is confronting the philosophical questions arising from religion in the modern world. Why does religion exist? Why does it have such a powerful grip on people in many different cultures? Are the practical effects of religion preponderantly good or preponderantly evil? Is religion useful as a basis for public morality? What can we do to counter the spread of religious movements that we consider dangerous? Can the tools and methods of science help us to understand religion as a natural phenomenon? Dennett remarks at the beginning that he will proceed

not by answering the big questions that motivate the whole enterprise but by asking them, as carefully as I can, and pointing out what we already know about how to answer them, and showing why we need to answer them.

I am a philosopher, not a biologist or an anthropologist or a sociologist or historian or theologian. We philosophers are better at asking questions than at answering them….

Dennett practices what he preaches. He does not answer the questions, but takes four hundred pages to ask them. The book proceeds at a leisurely pace, with an easy conversational style and many digressions.

More here. There is more about Dennett’s book at 3QD here, including a link to my own review.