Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385511049
- ISBN-10 : 0385511043
- Product Dimensions : 6.42 x 1.04 x 9.52 inches
- Publisher : Doubleday Religion; 1st Edition (January 16, 2007)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,034,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I enjoyed reading the book and mentally exploring the paths the author has led me on.
Religion, King asserts, is deeply rooted in what she terms "meaning-making". In a social species with good community identity, this creates "belongingness", a rather cumbersome term spanning self and group awareness, empathy, and a sense of common goals and values. Even the other apes, she argues, display similar characteristics. Gorillas, chimpanzees and, to a very limited extent even monkeys develop a sense of this belongingness. "Meaning-making" derives from "belongingness" by adding human forms of expression to what we inherited from our ape ancestors. Rightly inferring that modern ape behaviours have deep roots, perhaps as far back as our last common ancestor, King examines the paths humans took in their migrations and the behaviours they might have carried with them.
The best part of the book follows with fine depictions of the origins and wanderings of our ancestors over the globe. Examples of early hominin fossils are located and explained well, although few of the palaeontologists are mentioned. Starting with the emergence of primates 70 million years ago, she explains their distinctions from other mammals: grasping hand, binocular vision, large brains and a long duration given to upbringing. Each is further elucidated by their social implications. Grasping hands, for example, allowed infants to tightly bond with the mother who carried them about while foraging. All these features became "greater than the sum of their parts" as these creatures moved over the land. Most important, King insists on recognising that development was continuous - there is no "missing link" when a particular species, bearing unique traits replaced any other. Many varieties lived concurrently, but all likely exhibited aspects of those behaviour patterns we see in the apes. Not until symbolism, seen in various hominin species, including the Neanderthal, emerged in the form of burial artefacts, does a truly new feature appear. Related to those grave goods must be the notion of an "afterlife", she contends.
The issue of "evolving god", implied by the title, actually receives short shrift in King's account. Part of the reason for the lack, of course, is the paucity of information. Gods, tenuous at best, leave neither fossil artefacts - until humans began making images of them - nor expressions of changes in human behaviour. The one point at which this omission might have been more closely addressed, the cave paintings in Western Europe, are described with awe by King, then misinterpreted entirely. She attributes the painting to hunting ritual, a proposal long ago dismissed. Although she introduces David Lewis-Williams, she omits entirely his analysis of the paintings. Right or wrong, Lewis-Williams' idea would have contributed much to her theme of evolving human ideas of gods. She repeats the error in her dealings with "shamanism", a badly conceived term at best. The practices of shamans in "meaning-making" in a community might have enhanced her presentation, but as a primatologist, she apparently has no familiarity with such human activities. Why the author would ignore so much that might have contributed to her concept remains an enigma.
Worst of all is King's fixation with Dean Hamer's recent book, "The God Gene". King is obsessed with demolishing any genetic foundation for the human generation of "God, gods and spirits" - a phrase she repeats so often the reader is soon prepared to rip it from the pages. Hamer, who is taken seriously by nobody but himself and the media, has been refuted by better commentators than King. Yet, he asked many of the right questions, and if King truly seeks an evolutionary foundation for the human idea of gods, she might have entertained his notions more willingly. In deference to her US readers, King further launches an assault on such figures as Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett. She denounces them both as "out-right hostile" to religion. However valid that may be, it's irrelevant to her concept of gods being the product of evolutionary forces. Although she bemoans the prevalence of "belief" among her fellow countrymen, she has failed to demonstrate that gods are a mental contrivance for social purposes. Until that situation is fully addressed, which King fails miserably to do, the situation in her nation will only worsen. King starts her book well, keeping her speculations under control and balanced with good information. She would have done better, however, to focus more on the supportive data instead of going off on irrelevant tangents. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Top reviews from other countries
A long time ago there was a mutational accident and two individuals emerged. One wanted to be in a group and the other was a loner. The group ganged upon the loner and beat him up having the advantage of numbers. Hence the group had the survival advantage.
Later, another mutational accident occurred and two individuals emerged. One wanted to lead the group by bullying them. The other (the new smarter mutant) told the group about a higher spirit he had met when possessed having a seizure. The spirit would protect them and make them extra strong through their belief. The group resented the bully and beat him up and followed the spiritual leader. This group became extremely large and beat up non believers. The evolution of religion - another provocative view.