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WHY WE BELIEVE IN GOD(S) by J. Anderson Thomson, Jr.


A Concise Guide To the Science of Faith

by J. Anderson Thomson, Jr. with Clare Aukofer

Pub Date: June 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9844932-1-0
Publisher: Pitchstone Publishing

A brief look at religion as evolutionary by-product.

Psychiatrist Thomson (Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy/Univ. of Virginia; Facing Bipolar: The Young Adult’s Guide to Dealing with Bipolar Disorder, 2010) takes readers on a very quick tour of evolutionary theory as it relates to religion. His goal is to demonstrate “exactly how and why human minds not only accept the impossible but also have created cults of it.” He maintains that a number of psychological features, resulting from human evolution, have come together over the eons to create, perfect and perpetuate supernatural belief systems. Though the argument has its complexities, he writes, “[i]f you understand the psychology of craving fast food…you can fully comprehend the psychology of religion.” Just as humans now crave foods that were once hard to find (sugar, salt, fats), they also now crave a caretaker, as well as the sense of social belonging and order brought about through religion. But, Thomson cautions, too much of what we crave can be bad for us. While the author is not overtly anti-religious, he does make it clear that he believes religion in modern society is, on the whole, an impediment to humanity. What readers will not be able to ignore, however, is the contradiction Thomson poses to his own argument. He falls into the exact evolutionary trap he has described—of having to believe in something—with his idolization of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. He speaks uncritically of Darwin at every turn, begins each chapter with a Darwin quote that he pairs with a scriptural or otherwise religious phrase and speaks of him in such admiring prose that readers will come to see Darwin as the author’s own saint or deliverer.

Mildly thought-provoking but unconvincing.