Is there such a thing as an atheist oratorio, a Handel’s Messiah for for the non-religious? If not sacred texts, what material would it use? Without a liturgical tradition to draw on, what music would inspire its creation?
Scott Johnson has created Mind Out of Matter as an answer to these questions—a work examining religion from an atheist point of view. Instead of choirs singing biblical texts, Mind Out of Matter uses the recorded voice of Daniel C. Dennett, talking about the ideas in his book Breaking the Spell (Religion as a Natural Phenomenon). Johnson combines musical styles as disparate as Baroque recitative and retro-funk in order to illuminate Dennett’s central claim: just as plants and animals evolve in the physical environment, so do ideas and traditions compete within ecosystems made up of human minds and cultures. Religious ideas populate our minds, multiply within our cultures, and spread.
Mind Out Of Matter offers a meditation on a human consciousness capable of gradually discovering its own origins in the physical universe, or of obscuring matters with supernatural stories when reality seems too complex, mysterious, or unfair. Scott has tried to imbue this music with the sense of awe and wonder that lie at the heart of Dennett’s scientifically informed philosophy, while still emulating Dennett’s gift for crafting a disarmingly playful presentation. With the humanistic values of the Enlightenment under perennial threat, Dennett brings infectious good humor and warmth to his optimistic account of our species’ steadily advancing understanding of how the world actually works.