This book’s thesis can be summed up as follows: God and religion are all in our heads.
Dr. Andy Thomson has been at the forefront of brain research, and in this slim volume—a hundred pages and change, not counting notes—he presents his findings in clear, surprisingly readable language. Most scientific texts are dry and stilted. “Why We Believe in God(s)” is a friendly read, a fact Dr. Thomson attributes to his co-writer, Clare Aukofer.
This won’t be a long review. I understood the points Dr. Thomson made, but there’s no way I could possibly recite them here.
A few more notable topics include:
• Religion satisfying the same cravings as fast food.
• Infants are born with an innate sense of morality—from a few months old, they can tell the difference between right and wrong, even without being taught.
• We have an innate need for order in our lives, and religion fills it
• Stimulating parts of the brain with magnetic waves will cause a test subject to feel a strange “presence”, despite being alone in the room.
This book deconstructs belief using neurology and psychology. The author is an atheist, and this book contains a foreword by noted atheist, Richard Dawkins.
I am not the most-religious person on the planet, but I am not an atheist. This book did not make me want to embrace atheism, either.
Those last two brief paragraphs are a sort of disclaimer, I guess, because I really enjoyed this book. The neurology and psychology were fascinating, and the writing made it all accessible—again, a rarity in most scientific tomes. I found the author’s voice to be non-confrontational. He presented his thesis—our brains are programmed to believe in God(s) by a number of different neurological processes and evolutionary traits—but he didn’t lapse into malice. He did NOT say that if you believe in God, then you’re an idiot. Again: he set up his thesis, and provided the scientific explanations to back it up.
Toward the end, he mentioned the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, when a Tennessee science teacher was arrested for teaching evolution. That seems so ridiculous now, nearly 90 years later, and yet today many states are grappling with “Intelligent Design” curricula. Dr. Thomson’s thought was that maybe, in 80 years or so, we’ll be treating religion-as-brain-function with the same general certainty we today treat evolution.
I don’t know if that will be the case, but if you have a curiosity about how our amazing minds work, you might want to give “Why We Believe in God(s)” a read. It’s not for everyone—some very religious readers will be less than thrilled by the scientific-atheistic premise—but if this non-atheist science geek enjoyed the book, perhaps you will too.
Recommended (with the caveats above)