David B. Hart crucifies Daniel Dennett

You will all, by now, be familiar with the masterful rebuttle of Richard Dawkins by Terry Eagleton. Well, David B. Hart has done a similar (but perhaps even more devastating) job on the recent book by Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

Hart’s approach is really very clever. He casts Dennett as the Bellman in Lewis Carroll’s absurdist poem “The Hunting of the Snark”, except that the “Snark” in this case is “religion”. Just as the characters in Carroll’s poem are doomed to search for a beast which they neither know or understand or really have any idea about at all, so Dennett is setting out to hunt down a vague thing called “religion”, which (Hart claims) he not only does not define or understand but is in fact incapable of either defining or understanding.

This is the fatal flaw in Dennett’s project: he never makes it quite clear what he is arguing against. The nature of “religion” is simply assumed to be known by all, and therefore Dennett can use whatever weapons in the hunt he likes, as he variously defines his quarry. Like the Snark in Carroll’s poem, he ends up seeking it “with thimbles”, “with care”, “with forks and hope” while trying to “threaten its life with a railway-share” and “charm it with smiles and soap”.

The world of faith is all a terra incognita to Dennett; the only map he knows of it is, like the map used by the Bellman, a “perfect and absolute blank!”-though, in Dennett’s case, bearing a warning that “Here there be dragons.” Or, perhaps, “Here there be Boojums”.

My only criticism of Hart’s essay is that it is perhaps a little to long. His point is well made by about half-way through. Nevertheless, once he has Dennett down, he keeps on kicking.

I haven’t read Dennett’s book, but I am not likely too either. The only people likely to read it (at least to the end) are those who already sympathetic to Dennett’s animosity toward religious faith, and the only one’s who will think that it is a good book are those who do not need to be convinced by any kind of argument.

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One Response to David B. Hart crucifies Daniel Dennett

  1. Anonymous says:

    it is indeed a rare review that leaves the audience believing that the author of the reviewed book may in fact be retarded.

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