dennett: Understanding magnifies delight and awe


How would you answer to the objection that the scientific study of religion misses the target because it addresses answers to questions on the sense (of life, of the world) with an instrument (science) that doesn’t exactly deal with that sense (of life, of the world)?

Science better than any other activity, does deal with facts regarding experience, belief, knowledge, evidence. Science doesn’t attempt to create beauty (the way the arts do, for instance) but science can study how the arts create beauty—to put it with deliberate oversimplification. Similarly, science doesn’t attempt to do what religion attempts to do, but science can study, scientifically, what religion attempts to do, and how it does it.

Don’t you believe that the naturalisation of phenomena like religion (but also philosophy) stiffens and simplifies the multiplicity of human experience too much?

No, on the contrary, I think naturalisation improves our understanding, makes the phenomena both more intense and clearer, more wonderful. The scientific account of the solar system and the ‘heavens’ is far more awe-inspiring than the old myths about gods and flaming chariots being pulled across the sky. I think nature lovers who don’t know anything about biological theory are like music lovers who don’t know how to read music, who don’t know about harmony, theory, etc. Understanding magnifies delight and awe.

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