Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

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The New York Times bestseller – a “crystal-clear, constantly engaging” (Jared Diamond) exploration of the role that religious belief plays in our lives and our interactions

For all the thousands of books that have been written about religion, few until this one have attempted to examine it scientifically: to ask why—and how—it has shaped so many lives so strongly. Is religion a product of blind evolutionary instinct or rational choice? Is it truly the best way to live a moral life? Ranging through biology, history, and psychology, Daniel C. Dennett charts religion’s evolution from “wild” folk belief to “domesticated” dogma. Not an antireligious screed but an unblinking look beneath the veil of orthodoxy, Breaking the Spell will be read and debated by believers and skeptics alike.
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About the author

Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor, professor of philosophy, and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. His books include From Bacteria to Bach and Back, Freedom Evolves, Consciousness Explained and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, a finalist for the National Book Award.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Penguin
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Published on
Feb 2, 2006
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Pages
464
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ISBN
9781101218860
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / Philosophy
Religion / Religion & Science
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A landmark book in the debate over free will that makes the case for compatibilism.

In this landmark 1984 work on free will, Daniel Dennett makes a case for compatibilism. His aim, as he writes in the preface to this new edition, was a cleanup job, “saving everything that mattered about the everyday concept of free will, while jettisoning the impediments.” In Elbow Room, Dennett argues that the varieties of free will worth wanting—those that underwrite moral and artistic responsibility—are not threatened by advances in science but distinguished, explained, and justified in detail.

Dennett tackles the question of free will in a highly original and witty manner, drawing on the theories and concepts of fields that range from physics and evolutionary biology to engineering, automata theory, and artificial intelligence. He shows how the classical formulations of the problem in philosophy depend on misuses of imagination, and he disentangles the philosophical problems of real interest from the “family of anxieties” in which they are often enmeshed—imaginary agents and bogeymen, including the Peremptory Puppeteer, the Nefarious Neurosurgeon, and the Cosmic Child Whose Dolls We Are. Putting sociobiology in its rightful place, he concludes that we can have free will and science too. He explores reason, control and self-control, the meaning of “can” and “could have done otherwise,” responsibility and punishment, and why we would want free will in the first place. A fresh reading of Dennett's book shows how much it can still contribute to current discussions of free will.

This edition includes as its afterword Dennett's 2012 Erasmus Prize essay.

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