The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures

The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures

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by Nicholas Wade
     
 

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For the last 50,000 years, and probably much longer, people have practiced religion. Yet little attention has been given to the question of whether this universal human behavior might have been implanted in human nature. In this original and thought-provoking work, New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade traces how religion grew to be so essential to early

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Overview

For the last 50,000 years, and probably much longer, people have practiced religion. Yet little attention has been given to the question of whether this universal human behavior might have been implanted in human nature. In this original and thought-provoking work, New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade traces how religion grew to be so essential to early societies in their struggle for survival, how an instinct for faith became hardwired into human nature, and how it provided the impetus for law and government. The Faith Instinct offers an objective and nonpolemical exploration of humanity's quest for spiritual transcendence.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Highly intriguing...In this probing work of science reporting, New York Times correspondent Wade sheds light on what is sure to bea controversial new field of research in evolutionary psychology, genetics and anthropology...A turning point, and advancement, in the science-religion debate."
-Kirkus Review

"[In The Faith Instinct], longtime New York Times science reporter Wade deftly explores the evolutionary basis of religion. He draws on archaeology, social science, and natural science as he vigorously shows that the instinct for religious behavior is an evolved part of human nature...Wade's study compels us to reconsider the role of evolution in shaping even our most sacred human conditions."
-Publishers Weekly

"The Faith Instinct is a big winner! Its highly intelligent and much- needed narrative about why religions have proved essential to human success kept me engrossed from its beginning to its final pages."
-James D. Watson, author of The Double Helix

"There is so much...in this compact account, including cultural-evolutionary explanations of the three great monotheisms-enough, in fact, to make it a cornerstone of popular religion-and-science studies."
-Booklist

"It is a rare book that will be read as eagerly by religion's defenders as by its detractors. Building on his rightly admired Before the Dawn, Nicholas Wade has written just such a book."
-Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography

"As he did earlier for human prehistory in Before the Dawn, Nicholas Wade has delivered the most balanced and fact-based account available of a subject fundamental to human self-understanding. His scholarship is thorough, and his writing crystalline and exciting."
-Edward O. Wilson, author of Consilience and The Future of Life

"Instead of attacking or defending religion, as so many have done lately, the biggest challenge is to explain how we became the only religious primate. In a spell-binding and wide-ranging account, Nicholas Wade offers a natural history of religion and convincingly explains why the phenomenon is here to stay."
-Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy

"Of all the recent books on religion, I believe The Faith Instinct is simultaneously the most complete, the most correct, and the most accessible to the general public. Wade tells an extraordinary story in which morality, community, and religion are three strands of the same rope. Free of jargon and partisanship, The Faith Instinct is full of fascinating and up-to-the- minute scientific discoveries."
-Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis

"With his new book, New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade positions himself as a serious challenger to Steven Pinker for the title of Best Living Popularizer of the Human Sciences."
-The National Review

Publishers Weekly
Taking up where he left off in Before the Dawn (2006), an engaging examination of human evolution in light of explorations in the human genome, longtime New York Times science reporter Wade deftly explores the evolutionary basis of religion. He draws on archeology, social science and natural science as he vigorously shows that the instinct for religious behavior is an evolved part of human nature because, like other human social traits that have evolved over many thousands of years, the practice of religion conferred a decided survival advantage to those who practiced it. Natural selection operates according to principles of survival and reproduction of offspring with heritable traits. Many of the social aspects of religious behavior offer advantages—such as internal cohesion—that lead to a society’s members having more surviving children. More importantly, since religions have evolved as their societies have developed, is it possible, Wade asks, for religions to be reworked so that as many people as possible can exercise their innate religious instincts to their own and society’s benefits? Sure to be controversial for its reduction of religion to a product of natural selection, Wade’s study compels us to reconsider the role of evolution in shaping even our most sacred human creations. (Nov. 16)
Library Journal
Science reporter Wade (New York Times) has written an intriguing case for religion and belief in "God" being wired into our human genetics, rather than being something that is learned. He asserts that we are born with a natural tendency to believe in a higher power or a system of religion much like our natural aptitude to learn a language. Religion provided early societies with the structures necessary to organize governments and systems of law. Wade chronicles the development of religious practices through the ages and shows how religion builds community, along with loyalties, and causes differences from place to place that are responsible for many conflicts and wars. Gathering input from numerous experts in their fields, he collects data to support the scientific and behavioral basis for religious thought being part of our physical and mental selves. Similar books that study this topic are Karen Armstrong's The Case for God and Lee Strobel's The Case for the Creator. VERDICT This book will be enjoyed by readers interested in cross-disciplinary studies among science, anthropology, and theology, presented accessibly. Both students and general readers may be interested.—Cynde Suite, Bartow Cty. P.L. Syst., Cartersville, GA\
Kirkus Reviews
A provocative account of the development of religion. People have been practicing religion for thousands of years, but they have been practicing morality even longer. In this probing work of science reporting, New York Times correspondent Wade (Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, 2006, etc.) sheds light on what is sure to be a controversial new field of research in evolutionary psychology, genetics and anthropology. The author asserts that morality and religion are in fact products of evolution. Belief in a higher power and belief in doing unto others as you would have done unto you served important functions in humankind's development-providing social order and cohesion in the absence of law and government. The more order within early hunter-gatherer societies, the more likely the chance of survival and procreation. In simple, straightforward prose, Wade takes the reader on a tour of intellectual history, digressing occasionally to discuss new research into the hard-wired nature of religion-comparing it to language and the power of empathy-and to address such figures as Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and others who have launched and influenced the so-called new atheism movement. After matter-of-factly presenting their stances, Wade writes that each seems "driven less by any particular evidence than by an implicit premise that religion is bad, and therefore must be nonadaptive." Such is the attitude and even-keeled tone even the most skeptical readers- believers and materialists alike-can expect from this highly intriguing new book. A turning point, and advancement, in the science-religion debate. Agent: Peter Matson/Sterling Lord Literistic

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143118190
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/28/2010
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
386,307
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

James D. Watson
"The Faith Instinct is a big winner! Its highly intelligent and much-needed narrative about why religions have proved essential to human success kept me engrossed from its beginning to its final pages."
Jack Miles
"It is a rare book that will be read as eagerly by religion's defenders as by its detractors. Building on his rightly admired Before the Dawn, Nicholas Wade has written just such a book."--(Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography)
Fransd de Waal
"Instead of attacking or defending religion, as so many have done lately, the biggest challenge is to explain how we became the only religious primate. In a spell-binding and wide-ranging account, Nicholas Wade offers a natural history of religion and convincingly explains why the phenomenon is here to stay."--(Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy)
From the Publisher
"Highly intriguing...In this probing work of science reporting, New York Times correspondent Wade sheds light on what is sure to bea controversial new field of research in evolutionary psychology, genetics and anthropology...A turning point, and advancement, in the science-religion debate."
-Kirkus Review

"[In The Faith Instinct], longtime New York Times science reporter Wade deftly explores the evolutionary basis of religion. He draws on archaeology, social science, and natural science as he vigorously shows that the instinct for religious behavior is an evolved part of human nature...Wade's study compels us to reconsider the role of evolution in shaping even our most sacred human conditions."
-Publishers Weekly

"The Faith Instinct is a big winner! Its highly intelligent and much- needed narrative about why religions have proved essential to human success kept me engrossed from its beginning to its final pages."
-James D. Watson, author of The Double Helix

"There is so much...in this compact account, including cultural-evolutionary explanations of the three great monotheisms-enough, in fact, to make it a cornerstone of popular religion-and-science studies."
-Booklist

"It is a rare book that will be read as eagerly by religion's defenders as by its detractors. Building on his rightly admired Before the Dawn, Nicholas Wade has written just such a book."
-Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography

"As he did earlier for human prehistory in Before the Dawn, Nicholas Wade has delivered the most balanced and fact-based account available of a subject fundamental to human self-understanding. His scholarship is thorough, and his writing crystalline and exciting."
-Edward O. Wilson, author of Consilience and The Future of Life

"Instead of attacking or defending religion, as so many have done lately, the biggest challenge is to explain how we became the only religious primate. In a spell-binding and wide-ranging account, Nicholas Wade offers a natural history of religion and convincingly explains why the phenomenon is here to stay."
-Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy

"Of all the recent books on religion, I believe The Faith Instinct is simultaneously the most complete, the most correct, and the most accessible to the general public. Wade tells an extraordinary story in which morality, community, and religion are three strands of the same rope. Free of jargon and partisanship, The Faith Instinct is full of fascinating and up-to-the- minute scientific discoveries."
-Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis

"With his new book, New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade positions himself as a serious challenger to Steven Pinker for the title of Best Living Popularizer of the Human Sciences."
-The National Review

Edward O. Wilson
"As he did earlier for human prehistory in Before the Dawn, Nicholas Wade has delivered the most balanced and fact-based account available of a subject fundamental to human self-understanding. His scholarship is thorough, and his writing crystalline and exciting."--(Edward O. Wilson, author of Consilience and The Future of Life)

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Meet the Author

Nicholas Wade received a BA in natural sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He was the deputy editor of Nature magazine in London and then became that journal’s Washington correspondent. He joined Science magazine in Washington as a reporter and later moved to The New York Times, where he has been an editorial writer, concentrating on issues of defense, space, science, medicine, technology, genetics, molecular biology, the environment, and public policy, a science reporter, and a science editor.

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The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Charles_S More than 1 year ago
Homo sapiens has survived for about 150,000 years so far, but in the post 9/11 world the interface between science and religion has come under intense scrutiny. Our present technical power and population growth demand a commensurate growth in a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place on the planet (a new eco-morality?) if we are to continue to survive and prosper in future milenia. 'The Faith Instinct' contributes to this vitally important task in a broad ranging account of the origin of human religious identity. Surprisingly, prehistoric religion emerges as an essential military tool to unify a tribal society and help bring victory in the incessant pre-historic warfare with neighboring tribes. Tribes without religion to bind them did not survive and hence religion evolved to be an almost universal aspect of the human experience ever since. Chapters discuss the moral instinct, the origins of music dance and trance, ancestral religion, morality trust and trade, and the relation between religion and warfare. It is a thoughtful and highly stimulating book that advances our understanding of our identity as human beings and our response to the threats now posed by radical Islam armed with modern technology. However some of the conclusions in the book are debatable. The author argues for religion as the essential source of morality but he also cites the decline of organized religion in Europe where for example only 5% of the Swedish public attends church weekly (p. 270). How is it then that Scandanavian countries lead the world in charitable outreach to the less fortunate? Even in the US the 'red - bible-belt' areas of the country record higher rates of divorce and crime than the more secular 'blue' coasts (see http://www.topalli.com/blue/ http://www.topalli.com/blue/). Yes, but even a small percentage of religious people can be enough to provide the essential moral foundation for society, posits the author. This argument reminds one of the tragic story of the African Xhosa cattle also related in the book (p.220). Why does the author not make the obvious connection between the belief that the few remaining cattle were preventing the promised supernatural rewards and his belief that the few remaining churchgoers are the foundation of morality in Scandanivia ? Has the author succumbed to the process he attributes to Haight (p. 21) where an intuitive judgment that religion is essential to society is then rationalized by specious arguments. The author cites studies by Frans der Waals of the emergence of rudimentary morality in chimpanzees. Surely religion cannot be the source of morality then, rather the codification or amplification of a behavioural trait that evolved in primates and was then co-opted as a political tool by the priest-kings of history. Religion is also proposed as the source of our liking for dance and music (Ch.4). Very recent work reported on the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/projects/magazine/ideas/2009/#natural_science-8) shows that primates also appreciate music written in their emotional language so musical roots must antedate religion. A fascinating connection between repetitive motion (such found in dance) and brain neurophysiology (seratonin levels) was made by Barry Jacobs in an article in the American Scientist Vol. 82 p. 462. A minor quibble is the skimpy treatment of non-monotheistic religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Shinto that also must have evolved.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wade puts it all together so very well; things we've all noticed, and most of us have known, but not brought to the forefront of our thoughts. I'm only half finished and am buying three more as gifts!
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DomSaxum More than 1 year ago
Why a 'must read'? Because there are very few books in English on Philosophical Anthropology, even fewer which are as well written. And, I know of NO other work which covers this topic so well, even Karen Armstrong.
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