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The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life Kindle Edition
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Such ideas are not simply errant ways of thought invented by religious charismatics. In fact, it is part of our nature to think in a religious way. According to Bering, "culture develops and decorates the innate psychological building blocks of religious belief" (Kindle Loc.1835). These are adaptive illusions, because being observed by a supernatural audience promoted inhibitory decisions against ancestral biological drives, which in turn bolstered reproductive success. After all, being "good" would have been highly adaptive, especially since our verbal capacity of gossip often has the consequence of ostracism. Supernatural reasoning has served to restrain our selfish and impulsive behaviour, since it undermines the anonymity of the situation (cf. Kindle Loc.2844f). Says Bering:
"The cognitive illusion of an ever-present and keenly observant God worked for our genes, and that's reason enough for nature to have kept the illusion vividly alive in human brains." (Kindle Loc.2912f)
So this is an entirely different take than the hard-hat kind of atheism as represented by Richard Dawkins, for instance. According to Bering, God is an adaptive illusion, which means that the notion has been functional in human history. This opens up the question whether supernatural beliefs should be regarded *psychologically* real, since they have a pronounced effect on psychic and social life. After all, that which works is usually regarded real. Comparatively, our self-conscious ego is an illusion created by the brain. Although we know this, few people question the reality of their own ego. (This review has largely been retrieved from my article on synchronicity.)
Secondly and most interestingly, the book's last half drills down into research on how humans think about the supernatural - in particular the different conclusions between religious believers and non-believers. Related and also covered is research on the different thinking observed by the children of the religious vs. the children of non-religious parents.
The research Bering provides on [religious] belief reveals some interesting surprises amongst even atheists. In some areas up to 1/3 of some adult atheists aren't immune from our belief instinct.
The first half isn't all that illuminating if you're already well-read on the basics of theory of mind. The second half is easily worth the price of admission when it comes to parsing out the differences in thinking between believers and secularists. That and explaining why some humans refer to a god to explain death and tragic results; that's the chapter I found most interesting.