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Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith Paperback – June 1, 2011
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"This book about the evolutionary drivers of religiosity would have delighted [Darwin].... One by one the components of religion receive the Thomson treatment. Every point he makes has the ring of truth, abetted by a crisp style and vivid imagery. Andy Thomson is an outstandingly persuasive lecturer, and it shines through his writing. This short, punchy book will be swiftly read—and long remembered."
—Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, from the foreword of Why We Believe in God(s)
"Andy Thomson, with Clare Aukofer, has written a wonderfully concise introduction to our growing scientific understanding of religion. If you would like to learn, in the span of an hour, why we have every reason to believe that God is man-made—this is the book to read."
—Sam Harris, author of the New York Times best sellers The Moral Landscape, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The End of Faith
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Over time organisms and people have adapted to their environments in order to survive, live, celebrate and pass on life. One method for doing this has been to bond through song, dance and rituals. Even though there are different attachment styles, we are all wired to bond and it has been felt that one way to employ both our bonding neuro networks and the need for feel-good-because-we're-safe chemicals has been to imagine a "sky parent" for example looking after us. This has taken place all around the world. The author notes that you can take members from any religion, put them under a brain scanner and they will all produce, more or less, the same brain scans when talking about their beliefs. These scans are also identical to their own thoughts, feelings and fantasies about the people in their lives and themselves.
Let's say people long ago heard some wind blowing through the trees. To promote safety and survival, their brains decided that it needed to have the ability to imagine that it could be possible that the sound was coming from a lion and not just the wind, thus the birth of being able to have the ability to imagine things without knowing if they're true or not. This ability along with the above are just three of the ingredients covered in the book. Religion in this context is not to be confused with spirituality as noted in the joke: "Religion is for those who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for those who have been there." The author doesn't disagree with the beauty and mystery of things. The metaphorical/motif take on religion isn't discussed (ie: birth-death-re-birth motif representing the three stages life; virgin birth as discovering that one is pregnant with new potential once the false self is recognized; etc)
Apparently some therapists are taught by their supervisors to consider the possibility that for some people, religion, to one degree or another, serves as a surrogate ego for them. (The word ego in this context means consciousness/observing-thinking skills.) And as a result, they need to keep that in mind when offering interpretations. These supervisors feel that religion is a defense mechanism against facing personal intra-psychic conflicts ("hell') whereas spirituality can be considered a form of getting to know them.
"The believer is happy; the doubter is wise." Hungarian proverb
This book takes only one hour to read and is basically a transcript of his talk on the subject.
I think "Habits of a Happy Brain," formerly entitled "Meet Your Happy Chemicals," by Loretta Bruening would be a good follow up to this book.
What Thomson does admirably well is to write in a concise, crisp style that favors substance and clear explanations over jargon-laden technospeak. This is an accessible book written for intelligent, thoughtful people, but a science degree is not required.
If the reasons how and why religious people cling to their traditional beliefs interest you, Thomson's book will be both fascinating and an appetite stimulant. And in the tradition of all good science writing, Thomson never asserts. He provides citations for the journal articles, researchers, and papers that the discussions in each chapter draw from. You will find not one unsupported claim in this book -- oxygen for free thinkers; poison air for the religious.
The Kindle version is well edited and formatted and for around $8 you can't go wrong with this little gem.
Richard Dawkins, who wrote the forward to this book, reduces the essence of the book to two main questions. They are also two of the main questions I have asked myself in my own studies of the various religions of the world. (1) Why do most people, and all peoples, harbor religious beliefs? And (2) How does religiosity contribute to the survival of genes promoting it? This little book (144 pages) answers both of those questions quite nicely. And it does so without bogging the reader down with all kinds of scientific and philosophical jargon. Dr. Thomson has the ability to reduce complex concepts into easy-to-understand arguments that are hard to refute.
The basic premise of the book is that all religions and all gods are products of the human mind. The book then goes on to explain how our brains, our societies, our cultures, and our physical and psychological needs have all worked together over time to "generate and sustain" religious beliefs. Like everything else, religions have been a part of our evolutionary development from mankind's hunter-gatherer stage right up to our present-day world of international connectedness and megalopolises. Dr. Thomson even sheds light on one of religion's darkest and most tragic results: suicide bombers and the cult of death that has captured and destroyed so many lives in so many different parts of the world.
From beginning to end, this is an excellent book that explores a subject that is in need of a careful and objective examination. It is another step forward in our long and arduous journey toward emotional, intellectual, and philosophical freedom. Will the human race ever be totally free of the myths and illusions and delusions that we call religion? Only with the help of books like this.