Jan 9, 2010

The Snark

I haven't read Daniel Dennett's book "Breaking the Spell" yet, but after skimming through this large review by (Orthodox theologian) David Hart, I'm quite looking forward to fitting it in sometime. The capacity that learned men (and perhaps women, but it isn't so clear) have to laughingly dismiss their intellectual opponents seldom ceases to amuse/amaze me.
This is a work of art:

"The prose is rebarbative, moreover, and the book is unpleasantly shapeless: It labors to begin and then tediously meanders to an inconclusive conclusion. There is, as well, the utter tone-deafness evident in Dennett's attempts to describe how persons of faith speak or think, or what they have been taught, or how they react to challenges to their convictions. He even invents an antagonist for himself whom he christens Professor Faith, a sort of ventriloquist's doll that he compels to utter the sort of insipid bromides he imagines typical of the believer's native idiom.

In fact, Dennett expends a surprising amount of energy debating, cajoling, insulting, quoting, and taking umbrage at nonexistent persons. In the book's insufferably prolonged overture, he repeatedly tells his imaginary religious readers—in a tenderly hectoring tone, as if talking to small children or idiots—that they will probably not read his book to the end, that they may well think it immoral even to consider doing so, and that they are not courageous enough to entertain the doubts it will induce in them. Actually, there is nothing in the book that could possibly shake anyone's faith, and the only thing likely to dissuade religious readers from finishing it is its author's interminable proleptic effort to overcome their reluctance. But Dennett is convinced he is dealing with intransigent oafs, and his frustration at their inexplicably unbroken silence occasionally erupts into fury. “I for one am not in awe of your faith,” he fulminates at one juncture. “I am appalled by your arrogance, by your unreasonable certainty that you have all the answers.” And this demented apostrophe occurs on the fifty-first page of the book, at which point Dennett still has not commenced his argument in earnest."

In summary of the review, it appears that, as with a number of those in his camp, Dennett fails to engage with the substance of truth claims made by religions and; assuming this claim to be true; at best provides a nice book-length illustration of the genetic fallacy.

I may update this after I've found the book & read it. As there is a stack to digest, it may be a while.

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