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A new edition covering the latest scientific research on how the brain makes us believers or skeptics
Recent polls report that 96 percent of Americans believe in God, and 73 percent believe that angels regularly visit Earth. Why is this? Why, despite the rise of science, technology, and secular education, are people turning to religion in greater numbers than ever before? Why do people believe in God at all?
These provocative questions lie at the heart of How We Believe , an illuminating study of God, faith, and religion. Bestselling 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.
Shermer, who teaches critical thinking at Occidental College and is perhaps best known as the director of the Skeptics Society and publisher of Skeptic magazine, approaches religion not primarily as a delusion to be debunked but as a phenomenon to be explained. Shermer wonders why religious belief, traditional theistic belief in particular, remains widespread in contemporary America, confounding expectations that progress in science and technology should bring a corresponding decline in faith. One way to discover why people believe is to ask them, and Shermer has compiled original survey data to support his analysis. One noteworthy finding is that, although theists tend to explain their own faith in rational terms (e.g., observing design in nature or a pattern of God's activity in daily life), they explain the theistic beliefs of "most other people" primarily in emotional or pragmatic terms (e.g., faith brings comfort and hope). Shermer maintains that while believers' first-person awareness is misleading, their third-person perspective gets it right: religion can be explained quite adequately in functional terms. He reviews a range of theories from anthropology, evolutionary psychology and cognitive science that analyze religion as a means to social harmony or psychological stability. Although Shermer's arguments will probably not be decisive for debates between nonbelievers and believers (who generally agree that religion has strong pragmatic benefits), both will be able to appreciate this readable and generally fair-minded treatment of a subject that often provokes contentious dispute.