Daniel Dennet shares theory of how religion evolved

As the speech opened with an illustration of the United States shaded in and labeled ‘Jesusland,’ it was sure to be an unusual one.

American philosopher and social theorist Daniel Dennett’s lecture Monday continued in that vein for the rest of the night, balancing tongue-in-cheek humor with the serious topic of religion as a natural phenomenon.

The discussion’s main points included why religion may have developed, its evolution and subsequent domestication.

“Religions are brilliantly designed products with an evolutionary history,” Dennett said. “There is no good reason to believe in Allah. There are good reasons to say you do.”

Dennett made the argument that cultural homogenization in the world will lead to the death of many languages and cultures.

“Religion has changed more in the past 100 years then the previous 2,000,” said Dennett.

Social and technological developments are the cause of the many changes, Dennett said.

He believes that in the future, among other things, religions may retain only their moral and pagan elements, while leaving behind the actual religion.

Ultimately, Dennett hypothesizes that the Vatican may be renamed the “European Museum of Roman Catholicism,” and that Mecca may become “Disney’s Magic Kingdom of Allah.”

He proposes that each child should be educated on all world religions in public, private and home schools. The policy would, according to Dennett, act as an “inoculation principle” to teach both adults and children about cultural differences.

Speaking to a packed house in the Banquet Rooms in the Oakland Center, Dennett’s lecture was not only advertised by OU. Southeastern Michigan’s branch of Center for Inquiry has been promoting his lecture for several months.

“CFI is a non-theistic organization with a naturalist viewpoint,” said CFI coordinator Mark Thompson. “Dan Dennett has written for Free Inquiry, and has been active in several CFI national events.”

Thompson was also at the event to determine the number of students present. He, along with other CFI members, are trying to initiate an OU student group, similar to the one already located at Michigan State University. 

Overall, the discussion was well-received by the audience, many of whom had previously heard lectures or read books by Dennett.

“I drove from Ann Arbor, but this is the third time I’ve heard him speak,” said audience member Ellen Teller. “This time was the best.”

There were also many student attendees, along with a great number of faculty members.

“I agree with Dennett’s proposal,” said junior Philosophy major Tom Schlaich. “You can’t get a truthful choice without understanding of other religions.”

Dennett’s speech was the latest in the Richard J. Burke series of philosophy lectures. The lecture was made possible through Burke’s retirement as an OU professor and endowment to the university.

The series is in its fourth year, and has featured speakers such as Peter Singer, who spoke on euthanasia. This year, however, was the first lecture that focused on a specifically religious topic.