Embracing meme theory is a bit like finding out that the Earth is really a supercomputer created by mice in order to calculate the ultimate question to Life, the Universe, and Everything (the answer, of course, being 42). In his new book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena (Viking Books, 2006), Daniel C. Dennett strives to ease readers into the general principles of memetics and how contemporary religion may be rooted in what he calls a “Good Trick.”
“Many of us brights,” (that’s a Dennett neologism for a nonbeliever. See his essay entitled “The Bright Stuff”), “have devoted considerable time and energy at some point in our lives to looking at the arguments for and against the existence of God. . . But not I,” says Dennet. “I decided some time ago that diminishing returns had set in on the arguments about God’s existence, and I doubt that any breakthroughs are in the offing, from either side. . . So what, then, is the point of religion?”
Dennett believes it is “high time that we subject religion as a global phenomenon to the most intensive multidisciplinary research we can muster, calling on our best minds on the planet. Why? Because religion is too important for us to remain ignorant about.” Ironically, the Dalai Lama has spearheaded a somewhat similar campaign on the religious side. Last month he kicked off a series of religious teachings by ordering Buddhist monks to question superstition and learn more about science.
Though Dennett neglects to specifically address Buddhism in his book, he had ample opportunity to probe his former classmate (Phillips-Exeter), Professor of Buddhism Robert A. F. Thurman, last night in a public conversation at the Miller Theatre on the campus of Columbia University. The event was part of the Theatre of Ideas Lecture Series, and was the first of many talks Dennett will be giving during his 2006 book tour.ༀ