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How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science Paperback – November 1, 2000

3.7 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

One hundred years ago social scientists predicted that belief in God would decrease by the year 2000. "In fact ... the opposite is has occurred," Shermer writes in his introduction. "Never in history have so many, and such a high percentage of the population, believed in God. Not only is God not dead as Nietzche proclaimed, but he has never been more alive."

Why do so many believe in the existence of something so inexplicable? That's exactly what Shermer answers in this comprehensive, intelligent, and highly readable discussion about the nature of faith. "People believe in God because the evidence of their senses tell them so," claims Shermer, who is the publisher of Skeptics magazine. Having been a believer and a student of the history of science, Shermer (now an agnostic) is more interested in knowing why and how people believe in God rather than trying to prove who's right or wrong. As a result, this book is not only even-handed and thorough, it is also destined to become a timeless contribution to spirituality as well as science. --Gail Hudson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Shermer, who teaches critical thinking at Occidental College and is perhaps best known as the director of the Skeptics Society and publisher of Skeptic magazine, approaches religion not primarily as a delusion to be debunked but as a phenomenon to be explained. Shermer wonders why religious belief, traditional theistic belief in particular, remains widespread in contemporary America, confounding expectations that progress in science and technology should bring a corresponding decline in faith. One way to discover why people believe is to ask them, and Shermer has compiled original survey data to support his analysis. One noteworthy finding is that, although theists tend to explain their own faith in rational terms (e.g., observing design in nature or a pattern of God's activity in daily life), they explain the theistic beliefs of "most other people" primarily in emotional or pragmatic terms (e.g., faith brings comfort and hope). Shermer maintains that while believers' first-person awareness is misleading, their third-person perspective gets it right: religion can be explained quite adequately in functional terms. He reviews a range of theories from anthropology, evolutionary psychology and cognitive science that analyze religion as a means to social harmony or psychological stability. Although Shermer's arguments will probably not be decisive for debates between nonbelievers and believers (who generally agree that religion has strong pragmatic benefits), both will be able to appreciate this readable and generally fair-minded treatment of a subject that often provokes contentious dispute. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 302 pages
  • Publisher: W. H. Freeman; 1st edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071674161X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0716741619
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,844,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To me the title of this book suggested a treatise essentially on the psychology of belief systems. Indeed we are presented with quite interesting material in this regard. Mr. Schermer uses the fields of psychology, evolutionary biology, sociology, philosophy, and anthropology, amongst others, to help explain belief systems.
While I found that almost all the book held my interest, it seemed somewhat disjointed. Some of the material is also quite controversial. While such matters only serve to entertain me, others may get offended - Christians may take umbrage at having their beliefs repeatedly referred to as "myths".
The book presents intriguing survey results on why people believe in God. What is most fascinating is that respondents felt that other people believe in God for reasons that differ considerably from their own. Shermer moves on into a discussion of evolutionary biology and a "belief module" (more controversy). Then, surprisingly, we move into a section concerned with traditional philosophical arguments (primarily those of Thomas Aquinas) for belief in God. When you get right down to it, no one embraces religious belief purely on the basis of philosophical arguments. Creationists will be offended by a section on their beliefs. A chunk of the book is given to the Indian Ghost Dance of the 1890s, and we read a discussion on a mathematical refutation of the recent best seller The Bible Code. Good stuff, but its like reading a collection of essays that are not often obviously related to each other.
The final chapter had me scratching my head the most. It's a section discussing the controversy surrounding Stephen Jay Gould's theories of evolution regarding necessity/contingency/chance.
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Format: Hardcover
As one goldfish said to the other, "if there is no god, who changes the water?", Michael Shermer gazes through the bowl at the possibilities and the distorting refractions caused by it and tries to get a clearer picture. I can't imagine a better summary of such a vast amount of material on such a universal subject. Why so many people have always believed in a divine being based on so little evidence other than the fact that we're constantly amazed by our own consciousness and the "orderly" world around us is his main interest. He discusses these issues so that almost anyone paying attention can understand all the facets of this multifaceted subject and how the arguments have played out down through the ages right up to the present day. I'm sure he must have left something out but after I put the book down I couldn't imagine what. He gives you all the basic imformation you could ever want and just leaves you with yourself to wonder and think and reach your own conclusions. I can assure you that your conclusions will be of a higher quality after having read this book than not. Enjoy.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the finest and most comprehensive books I have ever read on our beliefs and why we believe the way we do. I truly have to give Michael Shermer the utmost respect for being so rational and not going out to bash, but to unearth reality. Michael Shermer is truly a person whom has well researched his information and made his study, research, and findings understandable by showing how we as human beings have become the way we are. At the same time, prepared his information in an understandable way that focuses on logical thinking, not mythical, which so many of us like to do so often. The bottom line, this book illustrates how we have created a very mystical world to help us better cope with life. Hey, Shermer does not feel it is bad to believe in a supreme being as it offers many people needed comfort, at the same time, he urges us to "Think for Yourself"-Cogita tute, which is absolutely one of the greatest messages within this book because it points out some serious errors humankind have made in their belief organisms, in turn, generating great pain and affliction that could have been circumvented through placing trust in themselves by using good old common sense and by thinking for themselves. Shermer does not ask you to take his word for it, he simply states, you shouldn't believe what I say or anyone else, "Think for yourself" and if it makes sense then, believe. This is a definite read!
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Shermer is the founder and leader of the Skeptic's Society, and in this, his most recent book, he takes on religion in a collection of essays. Although his direction seems to meander, the research that went into this book provides an excellent aggregation of facts and ideas that explore why people believe in anything or anybody, from James Van Praagh to God himself. Shermer's proposal of a Belief Engine is an interesting one and explains how humans, as pattern-seeking creatures, could have evolved an inherent propensity to believe. Unfortunately, I feel that this book will offend religious folk (rather than create skeptical converts), despite Shermer's claims that he means only to understand.
In my opinion, the religious and the skeptical are always at one another's throats because neither accepts the other's criteria for acceptance of an idea. The skeptic relies on science to discover the truth; the answers to his or her questions are things to be discovered. Someone with a more religious outlook starts at the opposite end of the spectrum. That is, all answers can be found through faith in God and it is up to us to conform our worldview to confirm that philosophy. With one group seeking an answer and the other starting with the answer, it's no wonder that both wouldn't mind seeing the other ousted from schools, government, and other positions of influence.
Having said all that, I wonder if anyone's mind will actually be changed by this book, or if it will serve only as a rallying point for like-minded skeptics as a sort of skeptical equivalent of _Evidence That Demands a Verdict_. No matter the eventual outcome of the science-religion conflict, this book provides a solid intellectual foothold for the skeptic.
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