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Can We Be Good Without God?: Biology, Behavior, and the Need to Believe Hardcover – November 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (November 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573929743
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573929745
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,714,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"...clear and accessible ... provides a very helpful survey of current ideas on nonreligious approaches to morality." -- Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology

"Buckman's got it right--a realistic and positive moral blueprint for being good." -- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

"This well-written book ... could help protect the world from the kinds of horrors we have seen in the 20th century." -- Free Inquiry, Winter 2002

About the Author

Robert Buckman, M.D. (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) is a cancer specialist, professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto, the current president of the Humanist Association of Canada, and the author (with Karl Sabbagh) of Magic or Medicine?

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Customer Reviews

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I learned so much from this book ... it's an unprejudiced look at belief.
Ann
He offers an excellent collection of readings to supplement his contentions and to assist those seeking ideas on how to implement a more rational society.
Stephen A. Haines
Great use of science, in particular neuroscience to explain key concepts of the book.
Book Shark

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on January 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
With this hint Robert Buckman opens a valuable study of the roots of human belief. He goes on to discuss how these roots become expressed in forms of behaviour. He deftly sidesteps the question of whether gods exist, instead explains the roots of faith as reaction to natural mysteries. Deities, then, are things surpassing human experience or explanation. Buckman defines them as "external intelligence" - what we don't understand we attribute to outside causes. The causes become "supra-human" - forces outside our ken, but useful, particularly when we give them identities.

Early societies used this foundation to establish "animism," a "primitive" [he doesn't like the term, but it's "useful"] form of religion. Animism then evolved by reducing the number of spirits attributed with the powers of nature. In our society, this number was finally reduced to one, an All-Powerful One. This winnowing was accompanied by the establishment of a hierarchy to interpret phenomenon for the remainder of the populace. Shamans/priests became the explainers of divine edicts, often able to direct the activities of the entire society. Every unusual phenomenon required interpretation and this circumstance still leads to the establishment of "new religions" such as the "cargo cults" amongPacific Islanders today. "Faith" is a highly dynamic social force in Buckman's view. These aren't new ideas, but Buckman's summary in opening the book is among the better efforts.

Buckman accepts that the human "need to believe" is an immense force. In his chapter on "Worship" he examines the social and individual expressions of who and what we revere. He uses Thomas Carlyle as an example of the idea that heroes [and deities] are born, and not thrown up by circumstances - "the man makes the times.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on June 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I remember being caught off guard and a little offended 20 year ago when a Christian friend - a professional educated person - stated it was impossible to be good without God. "If I weren't a believer," he added, "I'm sure I'd be out creating havoc, raping, pillaging, etc," insinuating he had no inherent human inhibitions. At that time, I didn't realize what a common belief it was amongst certain groups to be so righteously indignant (jealous with a halo) about this issue. Buckman spends most of his pages in foreplay but the groundwork is well worth it:

1. Aspects of neurophysiology - Although the last million (or so) years of pre-human and human evolution added layer after layer of analytical cerebral cortex, the limbic system was not removed. Therefore, primitive instinctual aggression remained to preempt rational behavior.
2. Gregarious human behavior was beneficial - even essential - in hunter-gatherer cultures, resulting in extensive evolutionary development of social skills. These worked well in small groups, but caused an "us versus them" mentality when the small groups confronted each other.
3. As good as religion may have been for certain aspects of society, it has been called upon frequently to augment that inherent us versus them mentality - resulting in some very negative results.
4. Religion is joined by nationalism, racism, and other idealisms, as rationalizations for wars and genocides.

Finally, the last 1/3 of the book got to the issue of ethics not being tied to religion. For verification that ethics are inherent in man's evolutionary development, Buckman (President of the Humanist association in Canada) relies on non-theist core principles from the Humanist association guidelines. He adds easy to read commentary throughout, producing a delightful book that I can't say enough good about, except that I think I will make an effort to reread it every year.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 22, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Can We Be Good Without God?: Biology, Behavior, and the Need to Believe by Robert Buckman

"Can We Be Good Without God?" is an interesting book on the biology of belief with emphasis on religious beliefs. With the use of sound science and logic Dr. Buckman proceeds to build an intellectual foundation that addresses the key premise of his book, can we be good without God? This 276-page book is broken out in the following three parts: Part One - To Believe is Human, Part Two - Belief and Behavior, and Part Three - Can We Do Better?

Positives:
1. Well written, accessible prose for the masses.
2. Great use of science, in particular neuroscience to explain key concepts of the book.
3. Even-handed, respectful tone throughout.
4. Great logical format that builds the foundation of key concepts that ultimately lead the reader to a satisfactory conclusion.
5. Educational and insightful.
6. Fascinating look at the concept of causality and the afterlife.
7. Interesting look at religious rituals.
8. The purpose of religion.
9. Beliefs and human societies. The strong predilection for worship. Humankind and the relationship with mythology.
10. Great wisdom and thought-provoking ideas: "What all myths have in common is very important: they all illustrate humankind's very deep longing, almost an ache-to be rescued. We all yearn for redemption, the deep primeval hope that whatever our current problems, there is somebody out there who will come in and rescue us. The ultimate longing, of course, is for salvation from death, the hope of an everlasting afterlife, a resurrection."
11. The problem with myths.
12. The neurology of belief.
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