The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures

The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures

by Nicholas Wade
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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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