God Is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human Illustrated Edition, Kindle Edition
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"This broad, reasonable presentation is amply documented with anthropological and biological evidence that religious belief is a by-product of evolution... Highly recommended [for] lower-division undergraduates through faculty." --CHOICE
"A masterful synthesis of current research in the cognitive science of religion (CSR). It makes accessible a wide range of CSR literature to the general non-academic reader, while also providing a useful and compelling narrative of the extant literature for an academic audience." -- Mary H. Bugbee, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture
"Think God is good? Think again. In his stunning new book, God Is Watching You, Johnson pulls back the curtain on tens of thousands of years of human evolution to reveal how religion's enduring success lies almost entirely in our belief in divine wrath and an unforgiving universe. And before you say, 'speak for yourself,' read this book. As it turns out, even atheists aren't immune." --Jesse Bering, author of The Belief Instinct
"According to Dominic Johnson, religion comes naturally to us because it is a biological adaptation. But if so, could we--and should we--seek to replace religion with secular institutions that serve similar functions? This lucid and highly entertaining book offers some surprising answers that will stimulate debate for years to come." --Harvey Whitehouse, author of Modes of Religiosity
"God Is Watching You is a remarkable book. Dominic Johnson brings his unique multidisciplinary expertise to every page and I simply marvel at the breadth, clarity, and acuity of his exposition. Johnson not only offers a novel and strongly supported explanation of how religion evolved, but crucially, he astutely explores the important implications of this evolutionary legacy for our world today." --Richard Sosis, James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology, University of Connecticut
"In a world where creationists deny evolution and atheists decry belief in God, Dominic Johnson provides a lot of answers by explaining belief in gods as an evolutionary adaptation." --David Sloan Wilson, author of Darwin's Cathedral and Does Altruism Exist?
--This text refers to the hardcover edition.
About the Author
Dominic Johnson received a D.Phil. from Oxford University in evolutionary biology, and a Ph.D. from Geneva University in political science. Drawing on both disciplines, he is interested in how new research on evolution and human nature is challenging traditional understandings of international relations, conflict, cooperation and religion. He is the author of numerous scientific journal articles, as well as Overconfidence and War: The Havoc and Glory of Positive Illusions (2004) and, with Dominic Tierney, Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (2006). For more information see www.dominicdpjohnson.com.
--This text refers to the hardcover edition.
- File Size : 6451 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Publication Date : October 1, 2015
- Print Length : 304 pages
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; Illustrated Edition (October 1, 2015)
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B0146Y9TT8
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,371,156 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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(a) A religion is a kind of „cultural epidemic“, a 'mental flu' so to speak: useless and nasty (That's the message of the New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris)
(b) Religions are by-products of basic cognitive functions; in itself they are useless, neither beneficial nor harmful (see Pascal Boyer or Scott Atran).
( c) Religions are evolutionary adaptations, they can be found in all cultures because they have been positively selected in human evolution.
Dominic Johnson is clearly in favor of option c): „Because god-fearing people were better able to avoid raising the ire of their fellow man, lowering the costs of real world sanctions, and raising the rewards of cooperation“ (page 8)
Most of the (not very numerous) scholars who think that religions are an adaptation have been arguing that the group is the relevant unit or level of (positive) selection (see Matt Rossano, Ara Norenzayan, and – above all – David Sloan Wilson.) In their view, religions serve as a kind of social glue holding together the members of society, fostering cooperation, and giving the more cohesive group an edge in the competition of group versus group. There is a lot of debate among scholars whether the forces of group-level selection are strong enough to generate complex adaptations like religions. Most opine that is is not.
The point of departure of Dominic Johnson is different, because he thinks that good old individual selection is good enough to explain the benefits of religions, not for groups, but for individuals. The most important environment is not nature, but fellow human beings. According to Johnson the most important feature of religion is 'supernatural punishment', the feeling of being watched by God or ancestors, even when other (living) people are not looking. The awareness of being monitored served, and still serves, as a powerful brake against selfish impulses of individuals; „Our self-interst may be better served by following social rules and acting well in the eyes of others“ (page 144). And if when the human others are not looking, the supernatural Big Brother is always looking!
The alternative to the fear of supernatural punishment is the Machiavellian stance: Trying to maximize personal gains while outsmarting my competitors; acting nicely when somebody is watching in order to gain a positive reputation, but acting selfishly when there is a reasonable chance to get away with it. Johnson's argument goes like this: „God-fearers can outcompete Machiavellians, as long as the total expected costs of selfishness (…) is greater than the cost of missed opportunities for selfish rewards“ (page 167).
The problem with this theory is that it is all but impossible to calculate those 'costs'. Johnon simply assumes that the costs of Machiavellian behaviour are greater than the costs of God-fearing. I do not think that this assumption holds true or is even plausible. Behavioral economists have shown in numerous studies that 'moderate Machiavellians' fare best: Act prosocially when others are watching, thereby improving your reputation; but act selfishly if there is little chance of being caught and punished by other people. (Besides: Isn't this more or less the basic strategy most of us apply in our daily lives?).
There is another flaw of Johnson's theory: Religions evolved when humans still lived in close-knit bands of foragers. People in this situation simply had (and still have) very little 'privacy' and therefore few opportunities for acting selfishly without being monitored by someone else. In this social environment there simply was no need for extra fear of supernatural punishment to evolve because social punishment meted out by fellow humans was a constant and real threat, with real consequences. That's the reason why anthropologist Chris Boehm in his marvellous book „Moral origins“ can dispense with supernaturals agents in his explanation of the evolution of conscience by Social Selection.
What really piqued me about this book is that the author fails to take into account the dark side of religion. Religion is presented as a blessing for society, for any, even modern society. For example Ara Norenzayan in his book "Big Gods" presents a much more nuanced theory: In his opinion religion, especially "Big God" religions had an overall beneficial function during the formation of bigger, anonymous societies, in emergent states and cities after the Neolithic revolution. Religion was the ladder that permitted societies to grow and prosper, as long as there were no reliable secular institutions like police, courts of justice, parliaments etc... Now, in modern democratic societies, we have these institutions which allowed us to throw away this ladder, after having climbed it to the top.
And indeed: Today, the most democratic and peaceful societies (e.g. in Switzerland, in Scandinavian countries, or Japan) are also the least religious societies. Even if God-fearing helped suppress selfishness in former times, it obviously is no longer necessary for the maintenance of societal peace and stability. But Dominic Johnson argues as if this still was the case, caling religion a "vital cog" in the machine of society, insinuating that once we abandon the fear of God, havoc and unmitigated Machiavellism might again disrupt our societies. Sometimes the author sounds more like an apologist than a scientist.: "While religion may sometimes fan the flames of conflict or discourage freedom of thought, these costs may be insignificant compared to the (...) benefits of supernatural beliefs in the everyday lives of billions of believers" (page 238).
I disagree: Religion(s) today rather tend not to stabilize (heterogenous) societies, but to foment conflict and ingroup/outgroup clashes. Peaceful multiculturalism only functions inside a secular, democratic framework. At least on the societal level the fear of God is no longer useful; it causes more damage than good.
All one has to do is read the people the author thanks in his acknowledgements and his prejudices will be seen. He is obviously an unrepentant member of the evolutionary psychology school (formerly known as sociobiology); the belief in genetic determinism of human behaviour. On top of which, his book is funded by a grant from the Templeton Foundation whose project is to promote religion. I smell a con job here.