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Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought Paperback – May 2, 2002
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That gods and spirits are construed very much like persons is probably one of the best-known traits of religion. Indeed, the Greeks had already noticed that people create gods in their own image.... All this is familiar, indeed so familiar that for a long time anthropologists forgot that this propensity requires an explanation. Why then are gods and spirits so much like humans?
Peppering his study with examples from all over the world, particularly the Fang people of Africa, Boyer offers plenty of evidence for his theory that religious institutions exist to maintain particular threads of social integrity. Though he uses the tools of evolutionary psychology, he is more careful than most EP proponents to avoid ad hoc and circular arguments. Best of all, at least to those unmortified at the idea of examining religion critically, his theories are potentially testable. Even if he turns out to be dead wrong, at least Religion Explained offers a new and powerful framework for thinking about our spiritual lives. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Boyer's book is one of the best examples of making good use of evolutionary thinking from the young science of evolutionary psychology and the proto-science of memetics to bring new insights to anthropological data. His concepts become not just a way of explaining away "weird beliefs" but explanations for broad patterns in human belief in general. Boyer applies a coherent evolutionary epistemology to human belief and especially to the concepts and practices we consider religion.
The result is fascinating speculation with a new perspective and a good foundation. Since this is the kind of book that tries to explain why we believe what we believe, people starting with a different set of metaphysical assumptions will find it difficult to appreciate. Just as skeptics are fun to read until they attack our own beliefs, people of one religion will probably find Boyer's explanations fit well to other religions, but not their own. Such is life I suppose. To what extent can the same kind of explanations apply to scientific theories? Boyer addresses this by emphasizing that scientific ideas are very counter-intuitive and result from a lot of hard work to formulate and communicate them in specific ways, making them distinguishable from other kinds of concepts that arise more naturally.Read more ›
What he shows is that these beliefs result from the operation of several different inference systems. Lost? You really have to follow his exposition to be convinced. (For background, and detail on inference systems, he refers the reader to Pinker's HOW THE MIND WORKS, and I think I'll take a look at that next.) If you're familiar with Shermer's HOW WE BELIEVE, which has a great section on the evolution of religion, Boyer argues that Shermer's approach is too simple, and he backs up his position with extensive research findings.
The absolute strength of Boyer's approach is his rigorous, logical application of the scientific method, based on two types of evidence -- 1) the anthropological data on the variety of religious beliefs, and 2) psychological experiments which indicate the mechanisms of belief. Since neither of these are commonly known, and since neither correspond to the common sense of a typical American (or substitute any other society/culture), the reader is taken around the bend by Boyer into a totally unfamiliar way of thinking.
Personally, though, my response, though not quite "Aha!" was a more drawn out "...yes, this makes a lot of sense.Read more ›
It took me 2 hours to read the last 50 pages, and then I immediately started another book ("The Third Chimpanzee, by Jared Diamond) and I read 100 pages in 2 hours. This gives you an idea about Boyer's writing style which can be slow to read.
However, if you are interested in this topic, you will want to read this book. The basic thesis expounds how the social human mind is predisposed to believe in religious concepts despite their implausibility. Boyer explicates with precision these deep-seated psychological roots of religion.
If you find Boyer's style just too grating to read the entire book, but still want to get the meat of his argument, I would recommend chapters 1-3 and 9. Although if this subject is as fascinating to you as it is to me, you will want to eventually finish it in its entirety.
Some of the most interesting parts of this book are when the author reviews traditional skeptical arguments skeptically. In other words, he challenges common explanations of belief and usually finds significant problems with them. But he attempts to replace dismissive accounts of religion with a genuinely scientific explanation. Although he doesn't present a religious vision, he certainly isn't passively supporting ordinary skepticism.
I can't imagine someone from any major religion losing their faith over this book, although it could challenge beliefs in ghosts, personal messages from god and so on. I think an educated, thoughtful religious person would find his theories less challenging than traditional skeptics.
The author is an anthropologist, but he is one of the first in that field to be strongly influenced by sociobiology and cognitive science. If you're familiar with Matt Ridley, Robert Wright, or especially Stephen Pinker, Boyer's theory will sound familiar. Boyer's writing isn't as exciting, and often not as well-organized as theirs, but he makes his case. The book's biggest weakness is that the author doesn't argue some points thoroughly enough. Someone unfamiliar with social psychology might not pick up on the strengths and weaknesses of his arguments. Someone with a good background in anthropology might find some of his perspectives shocking.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is based on many unnamed premises. I expected a clear scientific approach. Instead it is based on great storytelling and natural sensemaking attemps. Read morePublished 2 months ago by A. Tolk
I have never read a more stimulating presentation on the brain and religion. I kept a dictionary close at hand. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Dake Skillman
This book was a bit of a disappointment. I expected it to focus why humans have religion. Instead it focused on how various religions developed.Published 6 months ago by R. D. Veitch
Kindle edition: The table of Contents exists only in the GOTO tabs. The headings are too long to read there. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
One thing that most humans have in common is a religion of one kind or another. If an unexplained event, good or bad, occurs in your life, then you can blame, or thank, one of... Read morePublished 8 months ago by LastRanger
Fascinating stuff, now over 10 years old, about modularity of mind and how the nature of the brain/mind and evolutionary necessity has left us vulnerable to superstition. Read morePublished 9 months ago by D K
I'm reading this book in conjunction with the coursera.com class, "A Brief History of Humankind." The course professor, Dr. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Julia Mira
This is one of the best books about the issue of religion that I ever read. Informative and insightful! I strongly recommend this book to everyone who wants to understand more.Published 16 months ago by Martin Palecek