- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 28, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143118196
- ISBN-13: 978-0143118190
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures Paperback – September 28, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Taking up where he left off in Before the Dawn (2006), an engaging examination of human evolution in light of explorations in the human genome, longtime New York Times science reporter Wade deftly explores the evolutionary basis of religion. He draws on archeology, social science and natural science as he vigorously shows that the instinct for religious behavior is an evolved part of human nature because, like other human social traits that have evolved over many thousands of years, the practice of religion conferred a decided survival advantage to those who practiced it. Natural selection operates according to principles of survival and reproduction of offspring with heritable traits. Many of the social aspects of religious behavior offer advantages—such as internal cohesion—that lead to a society's members having more surviving children. More importantly, since religions have evolved as their societies have developed, is it possible, Wade asks, for religions to be reworked so that as many people as possible can exercise their innate religious instincts to their own and society's benefits? Sure to be controversial for its reduction of religion to a product of natural selection, Wade's study compels us to reconsider the role of evolution in shaping even our most sacred human creations. (Nov. 16)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Evolutionary studies have accumulated enough convincing explanations based on enough factual discovery for it to be indisputable that religion is biologically rooted. Wade, a science journalist whose vita includes stints with the revered journals Nature and Science before he joined the New York Times science section, draws on the most famous and influential researchers to synthesize the story of religion through the ages. While religion has utility for the individual, it is overwhelmingly important for group cohesion and loyalty, as evidenced by the mass dancing, chanting, and trance-seeking of hunter-gatherer cultures, in which what much later Christian idealists called the priesthood of all believers genuinely obtained. When stationary communities arose, hierarchies followed in all enterprises, including religion, and if anything, religion’s community-binding function became more crucial as populations and then technology burgeoned. By now, it should be obvious that religion not only won’t but can’t be expunged. There is so much more in this compact account, including cultural-evolutionary explanations of the three great monotheisms—enough, in fact, to make it a cornerstone of popular religion-and-science studies. --Ray Olson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
After the introductory chapter on the nature of religion, the book has an excellent chapter on the work of moral psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt and Mark Hauser. The work of moral psychologists at this point vindicates Hume over Kant because the evidence is overwhelming that sentiments are more important than reasoning in morality. This chapter is followed by three chapters that are at the crux of Wade's argument--"The Evolution of Religious Behavior", "Music, Dance and Trance", and "Ancestral Religion." All three chapters deal chiefly with ancestral religion drawing mainly from research on three contemporary hunting and gathering societies--the !Kung San, the Andaman Islanders, and Australian Aborigines. He says, "With all three peoples, religion was a major part of their daily lives. Religious practice involved all-night ceremonies with vigorous singing and dancing and intense emotional involvement. The emphasis was on ritual rather than belief...And the central purpose of the rites in all three groups was to bind the community together and fortify the social fabric"(p.118). Religion excites emotional attachment to one's group and manages to sometimes subsume self-interest to the good of the whole group, while at the same time, and for these reasons, fostering hatred of other groups.
The remainder of the book treats religion after the domestication of plants and the eventual emergence of states. Of course such religion is important but it is ancestral religion that is alone significant to comprehending how and why religion evolved and is adaptive. Unlike highly unequal agricultural societies, foraging societies were and are egalitarian, and religion more than anything else provided/provides the social glue that made it possible for societies to out-compete and/or defeat their neighbors. Ancestral religion was about social cohesion and cohesive social groups defeated other social groups when at war.
One of the most important sections in the book, titled "Religious Behavior and Group Selection" (pp.67-74), contained in the chapter "Evolution of Religious Behavior," describes the selective advantages of groups unified by religion. Wade discusses a recent article by David Sloan Wilson and E.O. Wilson arguing for the plausibility of group selection. David Sloan Wilson has been making this case for decades and ten years ago E.O. Wilson scoffed at the argument. The remarkable comeback of group selection is strongly indicated by the conversion of one of America's most influential evolutionary thinkers, E.O. Wilson.
This may seem an odd point to share a criticism of this superb book, but Wade fails to distinguish group selection of genes--which is theoretically possible but likely extremely rare--and group selection of (human) cultural variants. The latter has been the main focus of group selection theorists focused upon human beings, thinkers such as Robert Boyd, Peter Richerson, William Durham, and Herbert Gintis. This is, in fact, a significant and surprising lacuna, given how widely Wade reads, but one easily remedied by the eager and energetic if they read Wade first and then move to the work of these other thinkers.
Brad Lowell Stone
Wade's, The Faith Instinct: How religion evolved and why it endures offers a fascinating theory: The tendency toward religious belief has genetically evolved as an adaptive mechanism to help early human societies survive. Early belief in supernatural agencies, along with the associated rituals, made early hunter gather bands more cohesive, giving them the sense of community necessary to work together for their mutual benefit and to make them willing to risk their lives for the group during the many wars that have always been a fact of life.
Wade supports his argument with references from biology, sociology, anthropology and historic scholarship, quoting sources like Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin, Samuel Huntington, Emile Durkheim and the Bible.
While neither supporting or denigrating religion, Wade systematically spells out how it has had survival benefits, which continue to operate into modern times. He traces the evolution of religion, using early studies of isolated, primitive tribes, historical accounts of how new religions developed from older ones and the evolution from preliterate rituals to modern text based faiths.
The issue of group selection was a sticking point, with many biologists arguing against the idea that natural selection could operate at the group, rather than the individual level. However, it does seem that group selection need not be proposed for hunter gathers willing to risk their lives in warfare. A warrior does not fight assuming he will die, and in fact the majority survive. However, a brave warrior elevates his status, allowing him more opportunities to mate and pass on his genes to the next generation. War heroes make attractive mates.
While scholarship is divided on many of the points Wade raises, he makes a coherent case for the evolutionary benefits of religion, while illuminating its history, without addressing the thorny issue of the existence or non-existence of supernatural beings.
In the end I came away with a broader and deeper understanding of the issue, and that's the best thing one can say about a book. I consider this a must read for anyone interested in the subject of religion.