74 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Thoughtful analysis of the origin of religious beliefs,
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This review is from: In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition Series) (Paperback)
There have been a slew of recent books by scientists on religion which fall basically into two camps. The first, exemplified by Sam Harris' "The End of Faith," are essentially attacks on the logical plausibility of the major religious belief systems. For those who have already realized that these sorts of beliefs are absurd, such works are entertaining but are a bit like preaching to the choir, if you'll excuse the metaphor. The second camp, exemplified by Pascal Boyer's "Religion Explained," are attempts at explaining WHY people believe in such absurdities, from the perspectives of cognitive neuropsychology and anthropology. Atran's book is in the latter camp, and in fact overlaps to some extent with Boyer's book, published at about the same time, although each author has unique insights. I especially liked Atran's analysis of the origin of beliefs in the supernatural as stemming from a cognitive module predisposed to interpret environmental stimuli as coming from a potential predator, and I also found his analysis of "meme theory" to be enlightening (he strongly discounts it). Atran's book is the harder to read of the two and is largely missing the dry sense of humor in Boyer's book, which is why I docked it one star. I also disagree with the pessimism in Atran's last chapter about why religions are likely to endure indefinitely; I believe the secular trends present especially since Darwin must ultimately prevail. But his book is certainly a valuable contribution to the discussion of the origins of religious thought and behavior, which is of paramount importance in understanding today's world of religious fanaticism.