In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence / Edition 1

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"This lucid and fascinating study explores religious ethics from the angle of evolutionary psychology, focusing especially on religious violence, including the terrorism of 9/11 and its militant response. Even those readers who are skeptics of a sociobiological explanation for religion will find this intriguing book to be a thoughtful inquiry and a feast for the imagination." "This is a thoughtful and sophisticated attempt to bring scholarship in evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology to bear on religious ethics. Building on a masterful synthesis of current work in the sciences, Teehan roots both the nobler, pro-social and the darker, more violent aspects of Christian and Jewish ethical teachings in the evolved psychology of in-group / out-group distinctions."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In summary, this is an excellent book. It gives a good summary of current scientific understanding of evolution of morality and religion. It discusses religious violence as the other side of the moral coin. And there is a useful discussion of the problem of religion in modern society and ways we can overcome the negative aspects of our evolved moral and cognitive systems.”  (Open Parachute, 27 October 2013)

"This book is a contribution to the study of religion from an evolutionary perspective . . . Teehan carefully distinguishes between methodological and metaphysical naturalism and officially adopts the former but not the latter." (Theology, September 2011)

"In the Name of God, by John Teehan, takes the evolutionary framework and applies it to the reading of religious texts. The result is a provocative discussion of the ubiquitous phenomenon of religious belief that can change the way we understand the role of religion in society... .Teehan’s analysis spans a wide range of material but his incisive and focused approach conveys arguments without overwhelming the reader....Overall, Teehan does a commendable job elucidating his thesis of religion as moral innovation while treating the material with sensitivity and respect... .The result is an enjoyable read packed with insights, covering research from a wide range of disciplines, which will appeal to both the researcher in the field as well as the interested layman. Anyone who has pondered the nature of religion and its apparent contradictions will find In the Name of God a gem and emerge with a deeper understanding of morality and the religious mind." (Evolutionary Psychology, February, 2011)

"In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence, John Teehan sets out an evolutionary-psychological account of the connection between religion, morality and violence... .What results is an intriguing and cogent theory that promises a significant advance in our understanding of the place of religion in human history and society."  (Metapsychology, January, 2011)

"In the Name of God is an excellent popular presentation of the scientific understanding of the origins of religion and morality. It also examines the origins of religious violence and opens a discussion on the way humanity may reduce these problems. Some people will find it controversial. But not because some trends in evolutionary psychology have discredited themselves with extravagant claims. In this case the controversy will be because, as Teehan puts it, 'this view of human nature – the very idea that there might be a human nature – smacks up against some strongly held political, moral, religious, and ideological positions.' In summary, this is an excellent book. It gives a good summary of current scientific understanding of evolution of morality and religion. It discusses religious violence as the other side of the moral coin. And there is a useful discussion of the problem of religion in modern society and ways we can overcome the negative aspects of our evolved moral and cognitive systems.... .The evolutionary study of religion and morality is a new science, but already a fruitful one. This book provides the ideal introduction." (Open Parachute, July 2010)

"This is an exceedingly provocative study and one that merits careful attention from general readers and scholars alike. Highly recommended." (Choice, December 2010)

"After decades of discussing evolution-related arguments for and against the existence of God, scholars have become aware that the theory of evolution can possibly be seen as accounting for the existence of religion itself. If evolutionary biology does indeed explain the emergence of religion, what then? Will the claims of religion be irretrievably undermined? These questions form the backbone of Teehan’s impressive study. He concentrates on two aspects of the phenomenon of religion: morality and violence. For Teehan ... violence is not a corruption of religion but, in a way, one of its essential ingredients. He argues that the elements of religion that motivate pro-community moral attitudes are the very same elements that produce division, prejudice, aggression and violence... .Teehan’s main contribution comes from applying evolutionary psychology to gain exciting new insights into this area of anthropology....the inquiry needs to continue. The next step should start from where Teehan and others like him have achieved so far." (Ars Disputandi, December 2010)

"Drawing on evolutionary assumptions and evidence, Teehan argues that religion can be understood within the context of the natural development of human moral systems, apart from any actual transcendent moral agency. He succinctly and helpfully summarizes his evolutionary approach to the origins of human religiousness. Then he uses it to analyze the (Jewish) Ten Commandments and the (Christian) ethical teachings of Jesus and, finally, to show that religious violence is inherent in the in-group/out-group nature of religion itself... .Teehan's naturalism is commendable ... .An informative ... study." (Library Journal, July 2010)

"Evolutionary and cognitive psychology are now at the forefront of explaining the origin and function of human morality. In this book, In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence, John Teehan offers a provocative discussion about the role of these exciting sub-disciplines of psychology in explaining religion and violence ... this book is very useful in exploring the potential of evolutionary psychology in explaining religious violence." (Free Inquiry, August/September, 2010)

"In terms of specifically 'religious' expressions of social solidarity. His account of the dynamics of varying coalitions of them and us would be compatible with, and perhaps even mildly supplement, the standard social scientific understanding of the sources of group violence, for example, in international relations." (Times Literary Supplement, 17 December 2010)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781405183826
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 5/3/2010
  • Series: Blackwell Public Philosophy Series, #19
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John Teehan is Associate Professor of Religion at Hofstra University. He is the author of numerous articles on the impact of evolutionary studies on morality and religion, as well as studies on the philosophy of John Dewey.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Evolution and Mind 1

1 The Evolution of Morality 9

Setting the Task 9

The Moral Brain 15

The First Layer: Kin Selection 21

The Second Layer: Reciprocal Altruism 25

A Third Layer: Indirect Reciprocity 27

A Fourth Layer: Cultural Group Selection 32

A Fifth Layer: The Moral Emotions 36

Conclusion: From Moral Grammar to Moral Systems 41

2 The Evolution of Moral Religions 43

Setting the Task 43

The Evolution of the Religious Mind 45

Conceptualizing the Almighty 53

The Moral Function of Gods 62

3 Evolutionary Religious Ethics: Judaism 72

Setting the Task 72

Constructing Yahweh 74

The Ten Commandments: An Evolutionary Interpretation 80

Conclusion: The Evolved Law 101

4 Evolutionary Religious Ethics: Christianity 104

Setting the Task 104

Constructing the Christ 107

Setting the Boundaries: Christian and/or Jew? 114

The Third Race: Christians as In-Group 124

Putting on Christ: Christianity's Signals of Commitment 129

Loving Your Neighbor and Turning the Other Cheek 135

5 Religion, Violence, and the Evolved Mind 144

Setting the Task 144

Devoted to Destruction: Sanctified Violence and Judaism 147

The Blood of the Lamb 160

A Case Study in the Evolved Psychology of Religious Violence: 9/11 174

6 Religion Evolving 180

Setting the Task 180

Varieties of Religious Expressions 182

If There Were No God... 186

Religion, Ethics, and Violence: An Assessment 193

Responding to Religion, Ethics, and Violence: Some Proposals 202

Conclusions 215

Notes 220

Bibliography 243

Index 259

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