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Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion Hardcover – March 2, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"With economical breadth and depth, Todd Tremlin has accomplished what no author has done previously. He has penned an introduction to the cognitive science of religion that coherently displays the major achievements of the field while providing enough material from cognate disciplines to render the themes and insights accessible to students from the natural sciences, social sciences, or humanities. Minds and Gods will likely become a touchstone text for the cognitive science of religion."--Justin L. Barrett, author of Why Would Anyone Believe in God?

"Minds and Gods is the best introduction to the cognitive science of religion available, but it is so much more. Tremlin offers new insights and advances novel arguments and positions of his own. He constructively and profitably addresses long-standing issues not just in religious studies but also in cognitive science and in philosophy. Minds and Gods nicely illustrates the point that the wide array of projects currently underway in the cognitive science of religion have not only improved our understanding of religion, but also our understanding of cognition. Finally, Tremlin's prose is eminently readable and consistently engaging. He is a master of the telling example and the illuminating analogy."--Robert N. McCauley, coauthor of Rethinking Religion and of Bringing Ritual to Mind

"Minds and Gods is an erudite and yet highly accessible introduction to the cognitive science of religion. Tremlin takes the reader to a fascinating tour through human evolution and the development of the complex cognitive architecture that has made possible the diverse ideas about gods and other supernatural agents. Tremlin's penetrating analysis turns age-old mysteries into well defined research questions with amazing ease. The reader is convinced that a new era is turning for the scientific study of religion. Mind and Gods is highly rewarding reading for anyone interested in the religious dimension of human existence."--Ilkka Pyysi¨ainen, author of Magic, Miracles, and Religion: A Scientist's Perspective

"While many scholars have begun to explore the relationship between the evolution of human cognition and the development of religious ideas, there has been no single text that attempts to consolidate all the evidence into a single unified presentation. In Gods and Minds: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion, Todd Tremlin begins to fill this critical lacuna."--John Sarnecki, Philosophical Psychology

About the Author

Todd Tremlin is Assistant Professor of Religion at Central Michigan University. His work has appeared in volumes like Mind and Religion: Psychological and Cognitive Foundations of Religion and several periodicals, including the Journal of Cognition and Culture.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195305345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195305340
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.8 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,940,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Tremlin's book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the cognitive foundations of religion. It is well-written, scholarly, and effective in summarizing and distilling some of the main contemporary ideas concerning the cognitive/biological bases of belief in supernatural agents.

The book primarily defends the thesis that belief in gods and other supernatural agents is an evolutionary by-product of cognitive faculties- specifically, agency detection and 'theory of mind'- that evolved to serve the more mundane adaptive function of dealing with complex social environments.

Although plausible naturalistic explanations for the origins of religious belief may contribute, in the context of a broader argument, to undermining the case for the objective existence of gods, Tremlin does not discuss the potential relevance of such explanations to the question of God's existence in this book. Whether or not this is a positive or negative omission will be up to individual readers to decide.

My primary criticism of the book is that it neglects to adequately discuss the powerful emotional motivations for belief in supernatural agents as entities capable of relieving existential anxieties (fear of death, disease, misfortune). Any theory which attempts to explain the origins and persistence of religion without considering the emotional needs satisfied by god beliefs is, I feel, critically incomplete.

Emotional motivations underlying God beliefs are discussed more fully in S. Atran's excellent book (which defends a similar thesis to Tremlin's), In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion and in M.D. Faber's book, The Psychological Roots Of Religious Belief: Searching For Angels And The Parent-god. I recommend also R.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tremlin gives us an outstanding book that looks to the mental machinery of homo sapiens in order to find where indeed God and his spiritual brethren live. In excellent fashion, the book introduces the reader to an up-to-date account of the evolutionary origins of the human mind and offers convincing speculation grounded in the evidence that there is of the selective pressures that produced such a wonder that sits atop our spinal column.

A key insight given to the reader is that agents (namely other people) were one of the most, if not certainly the most important aspects of our evolutionary environment. Detecting other agents (which also includes animals) and being attuned to clues that often signal them drove our mind to evolve the ADD or agency detection device. Every time that you hear an unfamiliar creak in the middle of the night and your mind seriously entertains the notion that it was a burglar's step and not temperature contraction among the boards, you know you have a working ADD. Every time a hunter sees a leaf move and raises a rifle, you know they have a working ADD.

Tremlin goes on to persuasively argue that the ADD is one of the most crucial aspects for building a mind capable of seriously entertaining and believing in the notion of supernatural beings. Why did you have that car accident immediately following entertaining thoughts of cheating on your spouse? There must have been an agent involved who knew your impure thoughts and became displeased with you! And this agent must have special powers to interrupt normal physical causality with psychological causality!

But detecting and entertaining the notions of agents that probably aren't really there doesn't give us God or Apollo or Thor.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wish I could have read my own review of this book before I bought it. Tremlin does have a couple of important things to say, but they could have been said in ten or twelve pages. If you can grasp the following, you probably don't need to read this: humans have evolved as social animals, therefore we are highly skilled at figuring out what others are thinking--so good, in fact, that we tend to imagine that non-human entities of various kinds (from Mickey Mouse to a haunted house) are also busily engaged in motivated thought. We humans are also highly skilled at figuring out which objects in the world are "agents" (active causes of effects)--so good, that we tend to look for the "agents" behind events which in fact don't have direct causes. Put those two together, and you have what Tremlin claims to be the basis for religious cognition. Useful and probably valid information--but, the writing here is so very labored and is so filled with unnecessary exemplars that the pace is slowed to an agonizing crawl. The book also contains too many generalizations--the author downplays "personality types" and differing cognitive modalities, evidently finding it irresistibly convenient simply to lump us all together. Finally, the author defines a number of things in ways that I simply don't recognize. "Art," for instance, is defined here as an organized system. And death, according to Tremlin, is something we humans understand intuitively.
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Format: Hardcover
I'll just say that Todd really does a good job solidifying his arguments, and doesn't leave much out. He chooses his words very carefully and draws heavily on previous peoples work (Justin Barrett, Ilka Pyysiainen, Pascal Boyer are constantly being referenced). His careful wording, in turn, requires that much more attention when reading. Sometimes I would get through 5 pages and feel totally wiped out mentally. And this was my first experience with a book on this subject. But when I got done I felt like I had such a solid understanding of how religion works. It's about 200 pages. Great book.

My Summary:

Modularity: Tremlin describes that the brain is composed of several specialized locations. These specialized locations are called modules. The brain has a very large number of modules. One module might be in charge of mathematics, another area might be in charge of knowing who your mother is. There are lots and lots of modules in the brain, all of them combined give rise to consciousness.

Agency Detection Device (ADD): Tremlin describes our ability as humans to see agents. We know the lion is deadly when it's hungry. The shaking bush, could have a snake in it, makes us nervous. Our ability to see these "agents" is extremely widespread. Gods are always agents, actively influencing our lives.

Theory of Mind Mechanism (ToMM): Humans are extremely good at knowing what other people are thinking. When we see someones expression alone we usually have a handle on where their mind is at. This is known as our theory of mind mechanism. And gods are almost always aware of what we are thinking, and know our deepest secrets. They are usually involved in exploiting this subject; which is so vastly important to us as humans.
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