These provocative questions lie at the heart of How We Believe, an illuminating study of God, faith, and religion. Best-selling author Michael Shermer offers fresh and often startling insights into age-old questions, including how and why humans put their faith in a higher power, even in the face of scientific skepticism. Shermer has updated the book to explore the latest research and theories of psychiatrists, neuroscientists, epidemiologists, and philosophers, as well as the role of faith in our increasingly diverse modern world. Whether believers or nonbelievers, we are all driven by the need to understand the universe and our place in it. How We Believe is a brilliant scientific tour of this ancient and mysterious desire.
©2000 Michael Shermer; (P)2008 Michael Shermer
Interesting book about how people believe the things they do. Focuses on human beings overwhelming belief in the supernatural, like gods, despite no evidence for such beliefs. I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in humans and how/why we believe the strange and interesting things we do, and people interested in the psychology of belief.
"A brilliant exploration of the mechanism of belief"
This is not another polemic against religion, in fact the book starts with a defense of skeptics who have faith in God - (it seems there are several on the board of skeptics.org). The purpose of the book is far more interesting - to examine the underlying mechanisms of belief. For that reason alone, I believe this book (or perhaps Shermer's more comprehensive work "The Believing Brain") should be taught in schools as an essential part of all religious education - if only to help us be critical of our own beliefs and wary of believing our own propaganda.
The book is read by Michael Shermer himself, and this adds real connection with the author. Like me, he has been on both sides of the line, and seems to respect the difference. What interests him (and me) is why human cultures universally believe in God/gods and how we maintain belief in e.g. answered prayer, or the benign providence of the universe, in the face of atrocities, natural disasters and the seeming indifference of nature. In his explanations he draws on psychology, neurophysiology and evolutionary theory, as well as describing his own experiences of "faith", and of becoming an agnostic.
In brief, we believe because evolution has selected us to be compulsive pattern seekers, and false positives (seeing a pattern where there isn't one) is usually far less costly than false negatives (not seeing a pattern - e.g. a predator hiding in the undergrowth - where there is one). What maintains belief is often our various biases e.g. confirmation bias, whereby we selectively notice things that confirm our beliefs. This is as true for science as for religion, and our ability to see patterns is the basis of both.
This is just one thesis put forward in the book, which is a rich examination of the many facets of belief, citing numerous research experiments along the way. If you are interested in understanding your own beliefs, and of others, I would recommend this book, or it's bigger sister "The Believing Brain".
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