32 Best Breaking the Spell Quotes

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (and happy birthday to me)! Last week I gave my review of Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and this week as everything slows down during the holidays, I’m giving my blog post over to him. Here are 32 of my favorite Dennett quotes from Breaking the Spell!

  1. “We others have no right to intrude on their private practices, so long as we can be quite sure that they are not injuring others. But it is getting harder and harder to be sure about when this is the case.” pp. 13-14
  2. “Eventually, we must arrive at questions about ultimate values, and no factual investigation could answer them. Instead, we can do no better than to sit down and reason together, a political process of mutual persuasion and education that we can try to conduct in good faith . . . Those who refuse to participate (because they already know the answers in their hearts) are, from the point of view of the rest of us, part of the problem.” p. 14
  3. “There is asymmetry: atheists in general welcome the most intensive and objective examination of their views, practices, and reasons . . . The religious, in contrast, often bristle at the impertinence, the lack of respect, the sacrilege, implied by anybody who wants to investigate their views.” pp. 16-17
  4. “An indefensible mutual presumption can be kept aloft for years or even centuries because each person assumes that somebody else has some very good reasons for maintaining it.” p. 18
  5. “They think that they should be close-minded when it comes to certain topics. They know that they share the planet with others who disagree with them, but they don’t want to enter into dialogue with those others.” p. 23
  6. “I am not suggesting that science should try to do what religion does, but that it should study, scientifically, what religion does.” pp. 30-31
  7. “Religion seems to many people to be the source of many wonderful things, but others doubt this, for compelling reasons, and we shouldn’t just concede the point out of a misplaced respect for tradition. Perhaps this very respect is like the protective outer shell that often conceals deadly viruses from our immune system, a sort of camouflage that disengages much-needed criticism.” p. 45
  8. “Knowledge really is power, for good and for ill. Knowledge can have the power to disrupt ancient patterns of belief and action, the power to subvert authority, the power to change minds.” p. 48
  9. “Since Judgment Day is just around the corner, there is no reason to plan for the future. If you are one of these, here is what I hope will be a sobering reflection: have you considered that you are perhaps being irresponsible?” p. 50
  10. “Anybody can quote the Bible to prove anything, which is why you ought to worry about being overconfident.” p. 51
  11. “I, for one, am not in awe of your faith. I am appalled by your arrogance, by your unreasonable certainty that you have all the answers.” p. 51
  12. “They will see me as just another liberal professor trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that—that’s what I am, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.” p. 53
  13. “The price you must pay for any claim about the virtue of your religion or any other religion is the willingness to see your claim put squarely to the test.” p. 56
  14. “…apostates often look back on their earlier days as a period of affliction which they have somehow survived…” p. 85
  15. “Boyer lists more than half a dozen distinct cognitive systems that feed effects into this recipe for religion—an agent-detector, a memory-manager, a cheater-detector, a moral-intuition-generator, a sweet tooth for stories and storytelling, various alarm systems, and what I call the intentional stance.” p. 108
  16. “Where there is no ambient doubt to speak of, there is no need to speak of faith.” p. 161
  17. “What do people do when they discover that they no longer believe in God? Some of them don’t do anything; they don’t stop going to church, they don’t even tell their loved ones. They just quietly get on with their lives, living as morally (or immorally) as they did before.” p. 204
  18. “In general, the world would be a better place if people shared more truths and believed fewer falsehoods.” p. 222
  19. “You can’t just make yourself believe something by trying, so what are you to do?” p. 228
  20. “There is a big difference between religions faith and scientific faith: what has driven the changes in concepts in physics is not just heightened skepticism from an increasingly worldly and sophisticated clientele, but a tidal wave of exquisitely detailed positive results.” p. 233
  21. “The historical arguments are apparently satisfying to those who accept them, but they simply cannot be introduced into a serious investigation, since they are manifestly question-begging.” p. 240
  22. “Has our evolved capacity for romantic love been exploited by religious memes? . . . It would get people to think that it was actually honorable to take offense, to attack all skeptics with fury, to lash out wildly and without concern for their own safety—let alone the safety of the person they are attacking . . . I hope they will pause to consider that any such action would actually bring dishonor to their faith.” p. 256
  23. “An important task for religious people of all faiths in the twenty-first century will be spreading the conviction that there are no acts more dishonorable than harming ‘infidels’ of one stripe or another for ‘disrespecting’ a flag, a cross, a holy text.” p. 257
  24. “I, too, want the world to be a better place. This is my reason for wanting people to understand and accept evolutionary theory . . . So isn’t my belief that believe in evolution is the path to salvation a religion? No . . . So I feel a moral imperative to spread the word of evolution, but evolution is not my religion. I don’t have a religion.” p. 268
  25. “[William] James noted that religions had indeed evolved, in spite of all of their claims to ‘eternal’ and ‘immutable’ principles, and he noted that this evolution had always been responsive to human value judgments.” p. 268
  26. “Perhaps it would be foolish perfectionism, and an act of moral ineptitude, to distract ourselves with minor conflicts of dogma when there is so much work to be done making the world a better place.” p. 283
  27. “There is no reason at all why a disbelief in the immateriality or immortality of the soul should make a person less caring, less moral, less committed to the well-being of everybody on Earth than somebody who believes in ‘the spirit.'” p. 305
  28. “So here is the only prescription I will make categorically and without reservation: Do more research.” p. 311
  29. “There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of young people turning their backs on religious traditions after years of immersion and walking away with a shrug and a smile and no physical ill effects.” p. 324
  30. “If you have to hoodwink—or blindfold—your children to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct.” p. 328
  31. “False advertising is false advertising, and if we start holding religious organizations accountable for their claims—not by taking them to court but just by pointing out, often and in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, that of course these claims are ludicrous—perhaps we can slowly get the culture of credulity to evaporate.” p. 335
  32. “So, in the end, my central policy recommendation is that we gently, firmly educate the people of the world, so that they can make truly informed choices about their lives.” p. 339

What are some of your favorite Dennett or atheist quotes, or favorite quotes in general? As always, let me know in the comments or on Twitter! Happy holidays!


Work cited:

Dennett, D. C. (2007). Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Penguin Books.

13 Replies to “32 Best Breaking the Spell Quotes”

  1. As George Carlin put it in his book Braindroppings: “It turned out I was pretty good in science. But again, because of the small budget, in science class we couldn’t afford to do experiments in order to prove theories. We just believed everything. Actually, I think that class was called Religion. Religion was always an easy class. All you had to do was suspend the logic and reasoning you were being taught in all the other classes.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Another mighty fine and useful post. Before you asked, I kept notes and selected 11, 14, and 19 as favorites. They apply to me in a very direct way. I would add that I ask myself ‘why did I even try?’

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If there is a god, and it is a perfect being, it would have no need to be worshipped. But the monotheistic Abrahamic god insists on being worshipped. Therefore it is not a perfect being. And therefore by not being perfect, it cannot be a god. There is no god.
    –rawgod

    Liked by 2 people

    1. exactly, rawgod: and beyond there being no such creature out there, if there were a god, he would have no need of a book to explain things. We would just, flat out, know this stuff. Everyone would believe, everyone would behave.

      (actually, that does sound kinda boring…)

      And Happy Birthday, CA.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Very boring. But maybe he/she/it would make us think it was exciting– yeah, sure.
        “Everyone would believe, everyone would behave.” This is the part I do not understand about believers. It god was truth, we would have no choice but to believe. Everyone believes we need oxygen to live, there is no way to disbelieve it. But there are many ways not only to disbelieve, but to disagree on what god means and does. This proves any truth there might be in belief in god is not known, and in fact unknowable. Unknowable suggests non-existent. A real god would have to be knowable, in some way, shape, or fashion. Thanks for the corollary, Judy.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. my pleasure, rawgod.
          i find it the height of arrogance when someone insists that god drives the car (and satan causes the accidents), is responsible for every breath we take, and takes the time out of his busy schedule to make sure our hearts are beating.

          And why are Adam and Eve always portrayed as having belly buttons? =)

          Like

          1. Good question. I can only assume it is because they did have belly buttons, and were born of woman, not god. After all, there were already people living outside the garden, but the Bible ignores them in its creation story until Cain needs a wife. Where did she, and her people come from? All these little problems the Bible ignores, kinda like a work of fiction just assumes people are there before a story, and after it ends. A matter of convenience, one might say, lol…

            Liked by 1 person

  4. These are all excellent.
    I’ve never read Dennett, but I have watched a couple of videos.
    I remember hearing him ask if people who claimed to be religious merely believed that they believed while, in truth not actually believing.
    Or something like this.
    It made sense when I heard him say it! 🙂
    And happy birthday.

    Liked by 2 people

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