A provocative account of the development of religion.
People have been practicing religion for thousands of years, but they have been practicing morality even longer. In this probing work of science reporting, New York Times correspondent Wade (Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, 2006, etc.) sheds light on what is sure to be a controversial new field of research in evolutionary psychology, genetics and anthropology. The author asserts that morality and religion are in fact products of evolution. Belief in a higher power and belief in doing unto others as you would have done unto you served important functions in humankind’s development—providing social order and cohesion in the absence of law and government. The more order within early hunter-gatherer societies, the more likely the chance of survival and procreation. In simple, straightforward prose, Wade takes the reader on a tour of intellectual history, digressing occasionally to discuss new research into the hard-wired nature of religion—comparing it to language and the power of empathy—and to address such figures as Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and others who have launched and influenced the so-called new atheism movement. After matter-of-factly presenting their stances, Wade writes that each seems “driven less by any particular evidence than by an implicit premise that religion is bad, and therefore must be nonadaptive.” Such is the attitude and even-keeled tone even the most skeptical readers— believers and materialists alike—can expect from this highly intriguing new book.
A turning point, and advancement, in the science-religion debate.