Religion Explainedby Pascal Boyer
Pub. Date: 05/21/2001
Publisher: Basic Books
Many of our questions about religion, says the internationally renowned anthropologist Pascal Boyer, were once mysteries, but they no longer are: we are beginning to know how to answer questions such as "Why do people have religion?" and "Why is religion the way it is?" Using findings from anthropology, cognitive science, linguistics, and evolutionary biology,
Many of our questions about religion, says the internationally renowned anthropologist Pascal Boyer, were once mysteries, but they no longer are: we are beginning to know how to answer questions such as "Why do people have religion?" and "Why is religion the way it is?" Using findings from anthropology, cognitive science, linguistics, and evolutionary biology, Boyer shows how one of the most fascinating aspects of human consciousness is increasingly admissible to coherent, naturalistic explanation. 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.
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If you base your buying decision on Anonymous' review, you will deprive yourself of some fascinating reading. Far from being "rligion trivialized an nauseum" (sic), it is an attempt to ask the crucial question of what compels people to believe what they believe, and whether there are any biological and psychological reasons for it. This has nothing to do with whether religion was a force for good or bad. "Flight from profundity in postmodern academia today ..." Oh, please ! We are not talking here about postmodern interpretations of Shakespeare. What we do (art, religion, politics etc) has to be somewhat anchored in biology and psychology. Not too long ago we dealt with schizophrenics by either locking them up or believing they were divinely inspired. Today we medicate them so they can live more productive lives. Whether we want it or not, science will scrutinize everything, and nothing is off the table. Once again, this is _not_ an attack on religion, or the study of whether religion is ultimately useful or detrimental, but a look at why we believe what we believe - an examination of belief. I don't see how this trivializes religion.
I am a psychologist with a lifelong interest in religion. I never cease to be struck by its tremendous psychological power in producing group solidarity, healing, overcoming hardship, even facing death itself. Evolutionary psychologists are yet to realize its full significance in early human survival. Equally significant is religion's horrendous power for malevolent destruction: e.g. the ancient Hebrew 'ban' allowing total mass murder of women and children in war, the medieval Christian slaughter of witches and heritics, the thousands of young Muslims being indoctrinated as suicidal mass murders today.... Yet 'religion Explained' blithly dismisses all of the above, citing ad hoc reasons unsupported by hard evidence. Instead it chooses to utilize the still undeveloped method of cognitive science to 'explain' all of religion. It does so by citing imagined mini-systems of the mind inferred from computer simulations and the like (e.g. social inclinations, linguistic tendencies, confirmation bias,dissonance reduction, mental decoupling, etc. etc.). these supposed mental systems are expounded with no matching correlates in the human brain. Moreover, they are not specifically related to religion at all, but to human behavior in general. 'Explaining' religion by citing trivial, mental mini-systems is tantamount to 'explaining' Einstein's relativity equations by citing the ways he made chalk marks on the blackboard. Apparently the new cognitive science as presented here is so far merely an unwitting offshoot from the postmodern emphasis on mental fragmentation and its centerless lack of depth in all modes of thought. A more appropriate title for the book might be 'Rligion Trivialized Ad Nausium'. However, I do recommend this book to shcolars and educatid laypersons alike if only to scrutinize the studied flight from profundity in postmodern academia today.