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← Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith

Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith - Comments

Sample's Avatar Comment 1 by Sample

Sounds Sapolsky-esque...could be good.

Mike

Mon, 09 May 2011 04:01:04 UTC | #624765

Bumblebat's Avatar Comment 2 by Bumblebat

I have not yet read the book and look forward to doing so.

I would have thought governed as we are by genes which generate powerful survival instincts plus a brain that is capable of generating complex ideas about the future, that a wish for 'everlasting survival' would follow quite naturally. If there is to be a 'god gene' then it must surely be associated with our drives for survival.

Mon, 09 May 2011 04:27:14 UTC | #624771

scattering-like-light's Avatar Comment 3 by scattering-like-light

Looking forward to becoming more conversant in these things than previously ! Great idea for a short, easily accessible book.

Mon, 09 May 2011 04:38:21 UTC | #624772

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 4 by Alovrin

I look forward to reading it. As a lay person I've known this research has been going on, and I've been waiting for it to reach out to a wider audience. Like me on the fringes I guess.

But please have you tried mentioning religion at the dinner table?

There are better social occasions to pick, times when another, or others are receptive to listening. Tho' I remember times when I haven't given a toss - my courage usually fortified - who the company was and launched into a debunking of all religions. Cathartic I guess.

Now I'm usually meh! But I am surrounded by nice middle class people who just want everyone to get along. I'd have to go out of my way to cause trouble here. Now you Americans OTOH....

Mon, 09 May 2011 05:09:17 UTC | #624775

rjohn19's Avatar Comment 5 by rjohn19

I look forward to seeing it but only tepidly. I'd be surprised if anything earthshaking came out.

As opposed to, say, certain aspects of theoratical physics that are counterintuitive to the nth degree, why people believe in gods seems as plain as the red nose on a beaten boxer's face.

People want easy answers to difficult questions so they can worry about more imprtant things like who's bringing the sacremental wine to the church picnic.

People don't want to die.

People want to see deceased loved ones again.

People want to add a layer of unfalsifiable punishment as a discouragment to those who might do them harm.

People want to feel they have the power to help and be men of action against all odds. "I'll pray for you, my friend."

People (most) would rather be led than take resposibility for their own decisions.

I could go on and on here but I hope you see my point. I cannot imagine a new epiphany from this book. The best I hope for is new language to further my own ability to debate.

Mon, 09 May 2011 05:41:25 UTC | #624780

Murtaugh7's Avatar Comment 6 by Murtaugh7

I look forward to reading this. Sounds interesting. Like the previous comment, it would definitely add greatly to little debates I have with people on religion.

Mon, 09 May 2011 06:36:18 UTC | #624791

RichardC's Avatar Comment 7 by RichardC

Comment Removed by Author

Mon, 09 May 2011 07:21:58 UTC | #624797

Vorlund's Avatar Comment 8 by Vorlund

I'm going to get the book. Having seen some of his recorded lectures it'll be an enlightening read.

Mon, 09 May 2011 07:24:00 UTC | #624799

RichardC's Avatar Comment 9 by RichardC

Strange that he says at 3:38 "Anything we can do to minimise the destructiveness of religion is a blow for civilisation." - Surely he means the opposite as a "blow for civilisation" implies that it would be bad for civilisation. He should have said something like "a benefit for civilisation" instead.

Mon, 09 May 2011 07:30:29 UTC | #624800

RomeStu's Avatar Comment 10 by RomeStu

@rjohn19 (comment 5)

"People want to feel they have the power to help and be men of action against all odds. "I'll pray for you, my friend."

Great list, and really spot on IMHO. I'd add an angle to the reason above however.....

People also want to feel/look like they are doing something to help (ie praying) without getting off their arse and doing something to actually help. It's a kind of moral laziness filter, to assuage the hypocrisy of not following the tenets of their religion.

I find the mental gymnastics involved in prayer to be considerable in terms of self-delusion. If the prayed for event actually happens for whatever reason, then there is contentment and satisfaction that "god" is on their side, and that they are partly responsible for the good outcome. If the event does not come to pass, it is either neatly forgotten, or else rationalised by the idea that one's faith was not strong enough, thus increasing the religiosity. Win - Win for the religion gene.

Regarding the book, I doubt many strongly-religious types will read it, but if it helps borderline non-theists to understand the genetic and societal pull they must feel to conform to some religion or other, then it will serve a great purpose. As it will be short and succint it will reach people who may not read a heavy theoretical text. Good job.

A final couple of thoughts .... If religiosity is genetic, and if we can isolate the gene, would it be ethical to selectively breed out the pre-disposition to religious adherence? And if the number of actively religious people in a given society declines below a certain level, would the religion gene lead people to join other more successful social groups? (ie is the religion gene really a social conformity gene?)

Mon, 09 May 2011 07:39:55 UTC | #624803

RomeStu's Avatar Comment 11 by RomeStu

Comment 9 by RichardC :

Strange that he says at 3:38 "Anything we can do to minimise the destructiveness of religion is a blow for civilisation." - Surely he means the opposite as a "blow for civilisation" implies that it would be bad for civilisation. He should have said something like "a benefit for civilisation" instead.

It sounded ambiguous to me at first, but I take it that he meant it in the sense of "striking a blow" for civilisation (positive) rather being a blow to civilisation.

Mon, 09 May 2011 07:45:24 UTC | #624805

Graham1's Avatar Comment 12 by Graham1

Out of stock on Amazon UK.

Mon, 09 May 2011 07:53:38 UTC | #624808

louis14's Avatar Comment 13 by louis14

Comment 9 by RichardC :

Strange that he says at 3:38 "Anything we can do to minimise the destructiveness of religion is a blow for civilisation." - Surely he means the opposite as a "blow for civilisation" implies that it would be bad for civilisation. He should have said something like "a benefit for civilisation" instead.

No, a blow to civilisation would imply bad for civilisation.

Mon, 09 May 2011 09:01:24 UTC | #624822

andersemil's Avatar Comment 14 by andersemil

I guess the book is an expansion on the talk Dr Thomson gave at American Atheist 2009 convention in Atlanta, Georgia, which is available on Youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iMmvu9eMrg

Mon, 09 May 2011 10:34:32 UTC | #624845

bluecastle's Avatar Comment 15 by bluecastle

Thank you for that great list @rjohn19 (comment 5).

I would add one more topic: people want to create the outward impression to be good people.

I even think this is one of the major reasons why people practise religion. So it should be our aim to put reasons why it is immoral to be a christian into the public awareness. E.g.: It is immoral to seek forgiveness by god, you can only seek and get forgiveness by the person or group you inflicted damage on.

Gerhard

Mon, 09 May 2011 11:24:01 UTC | #624863

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 16 by Cook@Tahiti

"we're on the verge" of complete understanding

"we're starting to understand"

The title reminds me of Pinker's How the Mind Works or Dennett's Conscious Explained... i.e. guilty of over-selling an answer. We don't know anything about consciousness. Any one theory has too many exceptions. If you say "people are religious because they're not educated", then what about all the many educated religious people, like CofE clergy and theologians & apologists in Oxbridge? From the lower working class to the middle class, religiosity actually rises with education.

People like deities that meter out justice? What about Buddhists? There's almost a billion Buddhists that don't even have a deity.

If the Abrahamic God model of religion is innate, how come monotheism is only 2000-3000 years old when homo sapiens are 250,000 years old? Most the religions in the history of humanity have been polytheistic. The concept of a distinct immaterial soul having an afterlife is only a relatively recent invention. Before that, it was the resurrection of the body that was believed in - even the Jews believed in Earthly paradises, not heaven. Too many exceptions for one unifying theory.

We don't know shit.

Mon, 09 May 2011 11:46:46 UTC | #624873

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 17 by God fearing Atheist

This book kinda crept up on me. A few days ago I moved my browser window to the right of my screen and then noticed the advert on the left of this web site. Looking on Amazon, I see that it hasn't been published yet, but there is one review! Or is that the paperback edition, the hardback having been published earlier? A confusing non-event of a launch, but I'll put the book on my "to read" list anyway.

Mon, 09 May 2011 11:47:31 UTC | #624874

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 18 by AtheistEgbert

Cognitive science may be the best approach to understanding human ethics. If we understand our mental mechanisms (including emotions) and our ability to use our imagination, our memories, we are able to rehearse many different situations where problems are solved by certain ethical judgements.

A by-product if all these mechanisms is fiction. From simple literature--fairy stories, legends, myths--to contemporary literary fiction.

Mon, 09 May 2011 12:01:02 UTC | #624879

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 19 by Cook@Tahiti

Comment 5 by rjohn19 :

I look forward to seeing it but only tepidly. I'd be surprised if anything earthshaking came out.

As opposed to, say, certain aspects of theoratical physics that are counterintuitive to the nth degree, why people believe in gods seems as plain as the red nose on a beaten boxer's face.

People want easy answers to difficult questions so they can worry about more imprtant things like who's bringing the sacremental wine to the church picnic.

People don't want to die.

People want to see deceased loved ones again.

People want to add a layer of unfalsifiable punishment as a discouragment to those who might do them harm.

People want to feel they have the power to help and be men of action against all odds. "I'll pray for you, my friend."

People (most) would rather be led than take resposibility for their own decisions.

I could go on and on here but I hope you see my point. I cannot imagine a new epiphany from this book. The best I hope for is new language to further my own ability to debate.

Good summary. One can distil these further: Death, justice, power.

Some others:

One's own prejudices are given divine authority

Divine Plan implies life is not meaningless eat-sleep-work-breed

That's about the best that can be said. And those reasons were pretty obvious to the first free-thinkers in the 18th century.

Mon, 09 May 2011 12:01:18 UTC | #624880

rjohn19's Avatar Comment 20 by rjohn19

Good additions and I have another for my own list-

Even smart people can be made to believe anything if the payoff is big enough- just ask the victims of Bernie Madoff. And what bigger payoff could there be than immortality.

Sounds a bit dull to me though. After a couple hundred thousand years and saying after the ten thousandth tsunami, "Oh my. Well played sir!" I think I'd have had enough.

Mon, 09 May 2011 13:20:04 UTC | #624899

andersemil's Avatar Comment 21 by andersemil

Comment 5 by rjohn19 :

Additionally, people do not want to accept responsibility for their ill "fate" (or accept that other people would have that kind of power), but would rather leave it up to divine forces, ones which might even be able to hear your prayers and reverse the events or compensate for them.

Mon, 09 May 2011 14:04:30 UTC | #624914

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 22 by Cook@Tahiti

The counter-argument to the "religion-as-wish-fulfilment' hypothesis is that no one would invent Hell, but I've never met a religious person who was worried that he might be going down there. Even the literalists don't seem worried about the 'fine print'.

This lackadaisical attitude towards Hell by most faith-heads doesn't make sense within its own premise. If Hell were actually a real place, and every behavioural mistake or even thought-crime could mean an eternity of torture, you'd think you'd want to get the rules right. But so many Christians are happy to take their religion a la carte and only have the most causal familiarity with the Bible, and dismiss their chances of going to Hell with a vague "God is merciful".

Mon, 09 May 2011 15:41:59 UTC | #624938

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 23 by Red Dog

It sounds like a book I would want to read but the video was disappointing, just a commercial for the book, he didn't even touch on the main ideas. Also, it sounds to me as if the author may have a built-in bias that religion is completely evil, serves no good purpose at all. I think that's a bad place for a scientist trying to be objective to start. Also, as an atheist its not consistent with what I've seen of religion. Of course there are many bad consequences of religion and I think the bad out weigh the good. But its also obvious to me that religion has and still does serve some good. It helps people stay on substance abuse programs. It provides extended support communities, etc. If he starts with the bias that religion is and always has been completely bad he isn't being very objective.

Mon, 09 May 2011 16:23:15 UTC | #624949

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 24 by Red Dog

Comment 14 by andersemil :

I guess the book is an expansion on the talk Dr Thomson gave at American Atheist 2009 convention in Atlanta, Georgia, which is available on Youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iMmvu9eMrg

Thanks for that link. Just starting to watch now, so far very interesting.

Mon, 09 May 2011 16:32:19 UTC | #624951

Sparkly1's Avatar Comment 25 by Sparkly1

While I agree that religion, as defined as "a particular system of faith and belief" is inherently divisive and dangerous, personal belief is not. What is needed is respect of each others' right to hold a personal belief, until, ultimately we have the answer to the debate. My ideal in the US Supreme Court, where, although each member has a very complex belief system regarding religion and numerous other matters, he or she is able to set that set of beliefs aside to render objective opinions. It is that mentality to which we should aspire.

Looking forward to the sequel "Why We Don't Believe In God(s)" written by a theist.

Mon, 09 May 2011 17:00:07 UTC | #624964

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 26 by Red Dog

Comment 25 by Sparkly1 :

While I agree that religion, as defined as "a particular system of faith and belief" is inherently divisive and dangerous, personal belief is not. What is needed is respect of each others' right to hold a personal belief, until, ultimately we have the answer to the debate. My ideal in the US Supreme Court, where, although each member has a very complex belief system regarding religion and numerous other matters, he or she is able to set that set of beliefs aside to render objective opinions. It is that mentality to which we should aspire.

Looking forward to the sequel "Why We Don't Believe In God(s)" written by a theist.

I agree with a lot of what you said but I disagree on some of the details. First, even though I'm an atheist I don't believe that religion as you defined it is only " inherently divisive and dangerous". Certainly it often is but not always. Unitarians and Quakers for example are very accepting and tolerant. I also don't think its right to say that religions as systems are ONLY "divisive and dangerous". Even religions that I think are inherently divisive such as most forms of Christianity and most forms of Islam have their value. I worked in a psych hospital and as an atheist I was impressed with how important faith was for the recovery of almost all the substance abuse patients.

On the other hand I don't agree that personal beliefs can nor should never be questioned or harmful as you seem to think. Mentally ill people can have some very destructive obviously false personal beliefs as can terrorists and others.

Also, I'm not sure if you were implying this but if you are saying that people like Dawkins are out of line for questioning people's religious beliefs I disagree. Its one thing to say that everyone has the right to believe what they want. Its another to say that no one has the right to point out logical fallacies in someone else's belief system.

Mon, 09 May 2011 18:15:43 UTC | #625000

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 27 by ZenDruid

The origins of religion parallel the development of human language and imagination. Supposing that the imagination evolved at a pace commensurate with the ability to use tools, it doesn't seem too hard to imagine that the darkness of night consistently brought sheer terror to the hearts of primitive people. At least, before they learned to use fire.

Likewise, it is easy to imagine that some elder would assuage the children's fears of the dark, by introducing an imaginary heroic protector. After all, for those on the verge of hysteria, any clever declaration from a trusted elder has a calming effect.

Confer a tribal identity upon this hero, attach a social code, fold in some pat answers to the universal human questions, and voila! you have a religion: a one-stop shop for a primitive answer to any question.

(BTW, is it anathema to use the words 'imagine' and 'imagination' on this site? I've been here about a year, and haven't seen any treatment of the subject.)

Mon, 09 May 2011 21:37:40 UTC | #625101

rjohn19's Avatar Comment 28 by rjohn19

Needs and wish lists aside, I think it got its start with a series of natural disasters or what would have passed for disasters in the day. Zen D- Here's what I imagine...

There were heavy rains complete with booming thunder and lightning- a bolt of which fries poor Oog.

His tribe-mates, agency-seeking beings like the rest of us, had a confab and decided someone or something was doing this to them deliberately. They reasoned they had better figure out what it wanted to make it stop.

Trying to share their edible plants didn't do it. They tried killing and setting fire to dumb animals and the rain stopped. When that failed the next time, they started whacking each other and haven't quit the practice to this day.

Tue, 10 May 2011 02:20:11 UTC | #625185

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 29 by jameshogg

Don't know if I'll buy. There will be lots of stuff in there that I'll know already, probably.

But the bottom line is: religion is an inevitable consequence of the evolution of our minds' attempts at trying to understand nature, and our tendencies to be emotionally attached to our lives. It will probably be the same thing for any other potential conscious species whether on this planet or another.

Humanity is overrated. And to be honest, consciousness is overrated too.

Tue, 10 May 2011 02:56:13 UTC | #625196

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 30 by Schrodinger's Cat

I'd be far more interested in any case, though it's hard to see how one could exist, of a person totally isolated from society who came to believe in god(s) independently and of their own accord. That would surely strongly make the case. Otherwise its hard to avoid that the most obvious reason people believe in god(s) is that they are told to.

Tue, 10 May 2011 06:18:44 UTC | #625215