A writer dissects the origins of religious worship.
In his nonfiction debut, Frederick focuses on the ubiquity of deities and religious faith in human history and prehistory, noting that archaeological evidence of Paleolithic communities strongly indicates that they believed in gods and an afterlife. The author asserts that there’s probably a genetic component to the human propensity for belief in the divine, and its prehistoric expression formed the basis for later religious tendencies. “By the time that humans institutionalized religions, created theocratic bureaucracies, and established dogma,” he writes, “gods were long established as focal points of humans’ existence.” He works his way systematically through what is by now the standard process of such arguments, picking apart contradictions and inconsistencies in religious texts and linking them to purely mortal sources, repeatedly concluding that “God is a human creation.” Throughout his book, he references a wide variety of figures, from classical authors to the more predictable mentions of such New Atheist writers as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Frederick methodically undermines the science denial that’s so often a part of organized religion, steering his audience through a concise and readable breakdown of modern fields, including evolution (for which, he points out, the evidence is overwhelming) and genetics. In addition, he takes an intensely critical look at such comparatively recent developments as the “intelligent design” variation of creationism. “To speak about ID while intentionally dropping any reference to God,” he writes, “is a deceptive maneuver or façade intended to advance the hypothesis in such a way as to avoid a political vulnerability.” Frederick is a clear and straightforward prose stylist, and he’s uniformly respectful of his sources and antecedents. Readers familiar with the works of New Atheism won’t find much in these pages that’s particularly new. The author’s central contention that “God exists only in the brain” is, as he points out, hardly original. But his conviction keeps his content fresh, and the wide net he casts across many religious traditions gives the book a thought-provoking, comprehensive feel.
A thorough, engrossing, take-no-prisoners deconstruction of the human tendency to embrace religious beliefs.