Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought


Pascal Boyer - 2001
    And Man Creates God tells readers, for the first time, what religious feeling is really about, what it consists of, and how it originates. It is a beautifully written, very accessible book by an anthropologist who is highly respected on both sides of the Atlantic. As a scientific explanation for religious feeling, it is sure to arouse controversy.

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


J. Anderson Thomson - 2011
    Anderson Thomson, Jr., MD, with Clare Aukofer, offers a succinct yet comprehensive study of how and why the human mind generates religious belief. Dr. Thomson, a highly respected practicing psychiatrist with credentials in forensic psychiatry and evolutionary psychology, methodically investigates the components and causes of religious belief in the same way any scientist would investigate the movement of astronomical bodies or the evolution of life over time—that is, as a purely natural phenomenon. Providing compelling evidence from psychology, the cognitive neurosciences, and related fields, he, with Ms. Aukofer, presents an easily accessible and exceptionally convincing case that god(s) were created by man—not vice versa. With this slim volume, Dr. Thomson establishes himself as a must-read thinker and leading voice on the primacy of reason and science over superstition and religion.

The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures


Nicholas Wade - 2009
    Noted science writer Nicholas Wade offers for the first time a convincing case based on a broad range of scientific evidence for the evolutionary basis of religion.

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon


Daniel C. Dennett - 2006
    It is an integral part of their marriage, child rearing, and community. In this daring new book, distinguished philosopher Daniel C. Dennett takes a hard look at this phenomenon and asks why. Where does our devotion to God come from and what purpose does it serve? Is religion a blind evolutionary compulsion or a rational choice? In "Breaking the Spell," Dennett argues that the time has come to shed the light of science on the fundamental questions of faith. In a spirited narrative that ranges widely through history, philosophy, and psychology, Dennett explores how organized religion evolved from folk beliefs and why it is such a potent force today. Deftly and lucidly, he contends that the "belief in belief" has fogged any attempt to rationally consider the existence of God and the relationship between divinity and human need."Breaking the Spell" is not an antireligious screed but rather an eyeopening exploration of the role that belief plays in our lives, our interactions, and our country. With the gulf between rationalists and adherents of "intelligent design" widening daily, Dennett has written a timely and provocative book that will be read and passionately debated by believers and nonbelievers alike.

Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science's Greatest Idea


Carter Phipps - 2012
    But the idea of evolution is far more profound—and far-reaching. Today, a movement of visionary scientists, philosophers, and spiritual thinkers is forging a new understanding of evolution that honors science, reframes culture, and radically updates spirituality. Carter Phipps calls them Evolutionaries. His groundbreaking book provides the first popular guide to these exciting minds who are illuminating the secrets of our past and expanding the vistas of our future.What They're Saying:“Carter Phipps brilliantly expands our understanding of evolution by showing us that a new science is emerging—one that will holistically integrate our understanding of consciousness, cosmology, and evolution.” -Deepak Chopra, Author of How to Know God“This beautifully written book is a splendid survey of evolutionary thought and a significant contribution to the increasingly important conversation between the natural sciences and our spiritual traditions.” -John F. Haught, Senior Fellow at Georgetown’s Woodstock Theological Center“As we search for a new orientation that will serve us for the next millennium, it would be hard to find a better guide than Carter Phipps.” -Brian Swimme Ph.D., California Institute of Integral Studies, author of The Universe Story“A profound and profoundly important new work… absolutely indispensable for lay and professional. The very highest recommendation!” -Ken Wilber, Author of The Integral Vision“Essential reading for anyone who cares about humanity’s future and our role in creating a better one. Evolutionaries, is a brilliant, accessibly written, and eye-opening book.” -Barbara Marx Hubbard, Author of Heal Your Life“A rare book, equally delightful and deep, Phipps explores how our growing knowledge about the evolutionary process catalyzes nothing less than a revolutionary understanding of our selves.” -Elizabeth Debold, Author of Mother Daughter Revolution: From Good Girls to Great Women

The Religious Case Against Belief


James P. Carse - 2008
    In distinguishing religions from belief systems, Carse works to reveal how belief—with its restriction on thought and encouragement of hostility—has corrupted religion and spawned violence the world over. Galileo, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus Christ—using their stories Carse creates his own brand of parable and establishes a new vocabulary with which to study conflict in the modern world. The Religious Case Against Belief introduces three kinds of ignorance: ordinary ignorance (a mundane lack of knowledge, such as ignorance of tomorrow’s weather or the reason why your stove is malfunctioning), willful ignorance (an intentional avoidance of accessible knowledge), and finally higher ignorance (a learned understanding that no matter how many truths we may accumulate, our knowledge falls infinitely short of the truth). While ordinary ignorance is common to all people, Carse associates the strongest manifestation of willful ignorance with the most fervent (and dangerous) of believers. He points to the historic conflict between Martin Luther and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V both to reveal this seemingly religious collision as a clash of belief and to identify belief ’s inherently destructive characteristics. From Luther to the contemporary Christian right, we learn that believers construct identity by erecting boundaries and by fostering aggression between the believer and the other. This is why belief systems choose—at great cost—to remain locked in bloody conflict rather than to engage in dialogue, recognizing the great deal they have in common. This is willful ignorance. In fierce contrast to willful ignorance, higher ignorance is an acquired state enhanced by religion. Those traveling the path to higher ignorance recognize faith teachings (such as the Bible) as poetry intended to promote contemplation, interpretation, and a sense of wonder. For evidence of religion’s deeply embedded rejection of singular truth and its acceptance of diverse dialogue, Carse looks to the many faces of Jesus presented in the books of the Bible and elsewhere. Uncontaminated by belief systems, religion rejects the imagined boundaries that falsely divide people and ideas, working to expand horizons. The Religious Case Against Belief exposes a world in which religion and belief have become erroneously (and terrifyingly) conflated. In strengthening their association with powerful belief systems, religions have departed from their essential purpose as agencies of higher ignorance. Carse uses his wideranging understanding of religion to find a viable and vital path away from what he calls the Age of Faith II and toward open-ended global dialogue. Far from abstract philosophical musing, The Religious Case Against Belief is required reading for our age.

The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief


Sam Harris - 2009
    Nor is it known whether religious believers and nonbelievers differ in how they evaluate statements of fact. Our lab previously has used functional neuroimaging to study belief as a general mode of cognition [1], and others have looked specifically at religious belief [2]. However, no research has compared these two states of mind directly.Methodology/Principal FindingsWe used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure signal changes in the brains of thirty subjects—fifteen committed Christians and fifteen nonbelievers—as they evaluated the truth and falsity of religious and nonreligious propositions. For both groups, and in both categories of stimuli, belief (judgments of “true” vs judgments of “false”) was associated with greater signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area important for self-representation [3], [4], [5], [6], emotional associations [7], reward [8], [9], [10], and goal-driven behavior [11]. This region showed greater signal whether subjects believed statements about God, the Virgin Birth, etc. or statements about ordinary facts. A comparison of both stimulus categories suggests that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation, and cognitive conflict, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks.Conclusions/SignificanceWhile religious and nonreligious thinking differentially engage broad regions of the frontal, parietal, and medial temporal lobes, the difference between belief and disbelief appears to be content-independent. Our study compares religious thinking with ordinary cognition and, as such, constitutes a step toward developing a neuropsychology of religion. However, these findings may also further our understanding of how the brain accepts statements of all kinds to be valid descriptions of the world.Author ContributionsConceived and designed the experiments: Sam Harris, Jonas T. Kaplan, Marco Iacoboni, Mark S. Cohen. Performed the experiments: Jonas T. Kaplan. Analyzed the data: Sam Harris, Jonas T. Kaplan, Marco Iacoboni, Mark S. Cohen. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: Marco Iacoboni, Mark S. Cohen. Wrote the paper: Sam Harris, Jonas T. Kaplan. Performed all subject recruitment, telephone screenings, and psychometric assessments prior to scanning: Ashley Curiel. Supervised our psychological assessment procedures and consulted on subject exclusions: Susan Y. Bookheimer. Gave extensive notes on the manuscript: Mark S. Cohen, Marco Iacoboni.

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion


Scott Atran - 2002
    A cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, Scott Atran argues that religion is a by-product of human evolution just as the cognitive intervention, cultural selection, and historical survival of religion is an accommodation of certain existential and moral elements that have evolved in the human condition.

The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule


Michael Shermer - 2004
    Just as evolutionary biologists study why we are hungry (to motivate us to eat) or why sex is enjoyable (to motivate us to procreate), they are now searching for the very nature of humanity.In The Science of Good and Evil, science historian Michael Shermer explores how humans evolved from social primates to moral primates; how and why morality motivates the human animal; and how the foundation of moral principles can be built upon empirical evidence.Along the way he explains the implications of scientific findings for fate and free will, the existence of pure good and pure evil, and the development of early moral sentiments among the first humans. As he closes the divide between science and morality, Shermer draws on stories from the Yanamamö, infamously known as the "fierce people" of the tropical rain forest, to the Stanford studies on jailers' behavior in prisons. The Science of Good and Evil is ultimately a profound look at the moral animal, belief, and the scientific pursuit of truth.

The Origins and History of Consciousness


Erich Neumann - 1949
    Neumann, one of Jung's most creative students and a renowned practitioner of analytical psychology in his own right, shows how the stages begin and end with the symbol of the Uroboros, or tail-eating serpent. The intermediate stages are projected in the universal myths of the World Creation, Great Mother, Separation of the World Parents, Birth of the Hero, Slaying of the Dragon, Rescue of the Captive, and Transformation and Deification of the Hero. Throughout the sequence the Hero is the evolving ego consciousness.

An Atheist's History of Belief: Understanding Our Most Extraordinary Invention


Matthew Kneale - 2013
    The gods we created have evolved and mutated with us through a narrative fraught with human sacrifice, political upheaval and bloody wars.Belief was man's most epic labor of invention. It has been our closest companion, and has followed mankind across the continents and through history.

Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age


Katherine Ozment - 2015
    Most Americans are raised in a religious tradition, but in recent decades many have begun to leave religion, and with it their ancient rituals, mythic narratives, and sense of belonging.So how do the nonreligious fill the need for ritual, story, community, and, above all, purpose and meaning without the one-stop shop of religion? What do they do with the space left after religion? With Nones swelling to one-fourth of American adults, and more than one-third of those under thirty, these questions have never been more urgent.Writer, journalist, and secular mother of three Katherine Ozment came face-to-face with the fundamental issue of the Nones when her son asked her the simplest of questions: “what are we?” Unsettled by her reply—“Nothing”—she set out on a journey to find a better answer. She traversed the frontier of American secular life, sought guidance in science and the humanities, talked with noted scholars, and wrestled with her own family’s attempts to find meaning and connection after religion.Insightful, surprising, and compelling, Grace Without God is both a personal and critical exploration of the many ways nonreligious Americans create their own meaning and purpose in an increasingly secular age.

Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society


David Sloan Wilson - 2002
    Until now, they have been considered completely irreconcilable theories of origin and existence. David Sloan Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral takes the radical step of joining the two, in the process proposing an evolutionary theory of religion that shakes both evolutionary biology and social theory at their foundations.The key, argues Wilson, is to think of society as an organism, an old idea that has received new life based on recent developments in evolutionary biology. If society is an organism, can we then think of morality and religion as biologically and culturally evolved adaptations that enable human groups to function as single units rather than mere collections of individuals? Wilson brings a variety of evidence to bear on this question, from both the biological and social sciences. From Calvinism in sixteenth-century Geneva to Balinese water temples, from hunter-gatherer societies to urban America, Wilson demonstrates how religions have enabled people to achieve by collective action what they never could do alone. He also includes a chapter considering forgiveness from an evolutionary perspective and concludes by discussing how all social organizations, including science, could benefit by incorporating elements of religion.Religious believers often compare their communities to single organisms and even to insect colonies. Astoundingly, Wilson shows that they might be literally correct. Intended for any educated reader, Darwin's Cathedral will change forever the way we view the relations among evolution, religion, and human society.

The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired Into Our Genes


Dean H. Hamer - 2004
    In The God Gene, Dr. Dean Hamer reveals that this inclination towards religious faith is in good measure due to our genes and may even offer an evolutionary advantage by helping us get through difficulties, reducing stress, preventing disease, and extending life. Popular science at its best, The God Gene is an in-depth, fully accessible inquiry into cutting-edge research that can change the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Written with balance, integrity, and admirable scientific objectivity, this is a book for readers of science and religion alike.

50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God


Guy P. Harrison - 2008
    This is undoubtably an ineffective way of encouraging people to develop critical thinking about religion. This unique approach to skepticism presents fifty commonly heard reasons people often give for believing in a God and then raises legitimate questions regarding these reasons, showing in each case that there is much room for doubt. Whether you're a believer, a complete skeptic, or somewhere in between, you'll find this review of traditional and more recent arguments for the existence of God refreshing, approachable, and enlightening.From religion as the foundation of morality to the authority of sacred books, the compelling religious testimony of influential people, near-death experiences, arguments from Intelligent Design, and much more, Harrison respectfully describes each rationale for belief and then politely shows the deficiencies that any good skeptic would point out. As a journalist who has traveled widely and interviewed many highly accomplished people, quite a number of whom are believers, the author appreciates the variety of belief and the ways in which people seek to make religion compatible with scientific thought. Nonetheless, he shows that, despite the prevalence of belief in God or religious belief in intelligent people, in the end there are no unassailable reasons for believing in a God.For skeptics looking for appealing ways to approach their believing friends or believers who are not afraid to consider a skeptical challenge, this book makes for very stimulating reading.