Sunday, November 30, 2014

    Bookworm Report #4 by Russell Pizer "why we believe in gods"

    why we believe in god(s) (143pp, © 2011)
    “A concise Guide to the Science of Faith”
    by J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., MD with Clare Aukofer
    with a forward by Richard Dawkins
    •  •  •  •  •
    This is an unusually small book.  Though it has 143 numbered pages, it is really only about half that length because it measures 4½” wide by 7” high and ¾” thick.  A fast reader could probably finish this in a few hours.  However, it is a book the reader will probably want to read two or maybe even three times.  This is because of the large number of endnotes that contain related and/or  apropos information.

    The title is in lower case letters probably because the author purposely did not want to spell the word “god” with a upper case letter G.

    The Forward by Richard Dawkins has this to say, “Darwin, though not religious in his maturity, understood the religious impulse. He was a benefactor of Down Church and regularly walked his family there on Sundays then continued his walk while they went inside. He had been trained to the life of a clergyman.  William Paley’s Natural Theology was his favored undergraduate reading.  Darwin killed natural theology’s answer stone dead, but he never lost his preoccupation with its question: the question of function. It is no surprise that he was intrigued by the functional question of religiosity.  Why do most people . . . harbor religious belief? . . .

    “‘Fast food’ is a leitmotif of the book: ‘if you understand the psychology of fast food, you understand the psychology of religion.’  Sugar is another good example.  It was impossible for our wild ancestors to get enough of it so we have inherited an open-ended craving that, now that it is easily met, damages our health.”

    “Thomson’s chapters identify a series of evolved mental faculties exploited by religion, each one beguilingly  labeled with a line familiar from scripture or liturgy; ‘Our Daily Bread,’ ‘Deliver Us from Evil,’ ‘Thy Will be Done,’  ‘Lest Ye Be Judged.’ . . .

    “To most of us, the arms-extended gesture of the worshipers looks merely foolish. After reading Thomson we shall see it through more penetrating eyes: it is not just foolish, it is infantile. . .”

    The Preface ends with: “We [the non-religious] now know why and how our minds manufacture and spread beliefs in god(s). [N]ew research continues to add to what we know. This knowledge can free us. Anything we can do, no matter how small, to loosen fundamentalist religious’s grasp on humanity strikes a blow for civilization and boosts the chances for truly global civil society – and perhaps even for our species’ long-term survival. . .”

    Mr. Thomson concludes his amazingly logical, carefully researched and scientifically based explanation as to why people believe in god(s) with this:

    “It is . . . so much easier to believe. Religions offer sets of rules and, when combined with all of our adaptive mental mechanisms, eliminates the need for serious thought about the issue.  The 2010 Pew Poll on Religion actually found that agnostics and atheists were more knowledgeable about the world’s religions than believers were, which would seem to indicate a higher level of thought about the issues involved.

    “But there is hope.  In a June 6, 2010, ABC News interview, physicist Steven Hawking, considered by many to be one of the greatest scientific minds of our or any time, said, ‘There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority; and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.’ As most people know, without the aid of science, Hawking would long ago have succumbed to the ravages of amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’) no matter how many people prayed for him. Instead, his fine mind survives and continues to learn and teach, aided by an array of technological accouterments. . . .

    “As demonstrated in this book, science – specifically the cognitive and social neurosciences – shows us how and why human minds generate religious beliefs. More than an outline is apparent and with each passing day, psychological mechanisms, the neuroanatomy, and the neurochemistry of religion continue to come into sharper focus. . . .

    “Religion may offer comfort in a harsh world; it may foster community; it may incite conflict.  In short, it may have its uses – for good and for evil. But it was created by human beings, and this will be a better world if we cease confusing it with fact.”


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