Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being

Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being

by Agustin Fuentes


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A wide-ranging argument by a renowned anthropologist that the capacity to believe is what makes us human
Why are so many humans religious? Why do we daydream, imagine, and hope? Philosophers, theologians, social scientists, and historians have offered explanations for centuries, but their accounts often ignore or even avoid human evolution. Evolutionary scientists answer with proposals for why ritual, religion, and faith make sense as adaptations to past challenges or as by-products of our hyper-complex cognitive capacities.
But what if the focus on religion is too narrow? Renowned anthropologist Agustín Fuentes argues that the capacity to be religious is actually a small part of a larger and deeper human capacity to believe. Why believe in religion, economies, love? A fascinating intervention into some of the most common misconceptions about human nature, this book employs evolutionary, neurobiological, and anthropological evidence to argue that belief—the ability to commit passionately and wholeheartedly to an idea—is central to the human way of being in the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300243994
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 09/24/2019
Series: Foundational Questions in Science
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 278,703
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Agustín Fuentes is a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. He is an active public scientist, a well-known blogger, lecturer, tweeter, and an explorer for National Geographic. Fuentes received the Inaugural Communication & Outreach Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the President’s Award from the American Anthropological Association, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Table of Contents

Preface: Why We Believe ix

Part 1 Who Are We and How Did We Come to Believe?

1 Belief, Evolution, and Our Place in the World 3

2 What Makes Us Human? 19

3 Constructing the Human Niche 31

4 Animals, Plants, Buildings, and Pottery 47

Part 2 How Do We Believe?

5 What Is Culture? 77

6 How Culture Works 97

Part 3 Religion, Economies, Love, and Our Future

7 Why We Believe versus What We Believe 115

8 Religion 121

9 Economies 147

10 Love 173

11 Does Belief Matter? 191

Acknowledgments 205

Notes 207

Bibliography 227

Index 251

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