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Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith

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3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  517 ratings  ·  53 reviews
In this groundbreaking work, J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., MD, with Clare Aukofer, offers a succinct yet comprehensive study of how and why the human mind generates religious belief. Dr. Thomson, a highly regarded psychiatrist known for his studies of suicide terrorism, investigates the components and causes of religious belief in the same way any scientist would investigate t ...more
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Published (first published 2011)
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Megan
This is an amazing little book. It's only 144 pages (including the foreword, preface, notes, and short glossary) but it packs quite a punch. Dr. Thomson succinctly and clearly explains why man has created and believed in gods since we evolved into homo sapiens and still believe in them today. He offers medical and psychological data and experiments as his evidence and understandable logic to guide you through his arguments (Michael Persinger's "God Helmet" experiments sounded especially fascinat ...more
Kurt
God is a creation of man's mind--not vice versa. That's the basic thesis of this work by psychiatrist Andy Thomson, with Clare Aukofer. Drawing on the latest research from the neurosciences and longstanding insights from cognitive psychology, it explains in clear, accessible language how and why the human mind is primed for (or, as the book says, hijacked by) religion and all the beliefs that religion entails. Sam Harris sums up the merits of the book the best with this line: "If you would like ...more
Monica
I decided to read this book to try to understand the point of view of scientists who believe that religion does not coincide with their version of science. I found the book to be interesting, however the fact that Thomson used Darwin's evolution theory throughout the book seemed repetitive. As a christian, I have found that the miracles of science can only be explained by admitting and accepting that there is a Creator. To think the world was created from a single cell organism or a "Big Bang" h ...more
Kelley Ross
This fascinating book studies the exact reasons why religion is alive and well in our society today by referring to both historical and chemical facts. Religion developed as a way for humans to comfort and excite themselves by unconsciously increasing the amount of chemicals their brains produced, like dopamine. For example, dancing was a part of the earliest religions and still survives today because it still provides the same effect. Thomson calls this immediate gratification the "fast-food" e ...more
Daniel
This book, slim as it is, offers a brilliant overview of the byproduct theory of religious belief, and, from the description given, it seems to be plenty valid. And though it is an overview, it still seems sufficiently thorough, and in depth. I feel like I have a good understanding of the subject matter, and could very well describe it to someone else (or, more likely, whip it out in an argument.) The text is full of interesting examples and hypotheticals, playing on experiences we've all had. I ...more
Julie
I won this book through Goodreads First Reads and I admit that I did not research it enough before I signed up to win it. In my defense, there were not many reviews at that time!
I really tried to keep an open mind as I read this book, but when statements such as - No one ever craves brussel sprouts - appear as a basis of arguement... that is a stretch to me... maybe that is because two nights ago I was craving green beans and therefore that is all I ate for dinner. I also do not get the "runner
...more
Wally
I am still full of questions. What existed before life forms? How did it come about from a singularity? Is time an illusion? Why am I here, and where am I going?
Jason
A real quick and easy read (I like quick and easy) that summarizes the latest theories on how the mind is prone toward religious belief. This is primarily a psychological account, but it touches upon anthropological and evolutionary causes as well, and has an interesting section on the role of various neurotransmitters.

This is written for an investigative audience interested in religion as a natural phenomenon (See Daniel Dennett's excellent Breaking the Spell). It's concise, gets to the point,
...more
Gwen Nicodemus
Religion is a by-product of evolutionary psychological adaptations

I read the text of the book first and then read the foreward and preface. Low and behold, the book is also a video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iMmvu... In fact, he made the video first and just expanded it a bit for the book. Whilst my family did not read the book, they did watch the video.

The book is an introduction, and it says "concise" on the cover. Remember that when you read it, because it IS an introduction and it IS
...more
Harris
While many of the scientific/psychological explanations for our propensity as a species to believe in god(s) are very intriguing and, in some cases (such as anthropomorphization), convincing, the book as a whole comes across as extremely dogmatic and condescending--not to mention, not very well written. Clearly, the author is unfamiliar with and an outsider to religious practice and the emotional responses we have to religions, using elementary understandings of prayer (for example) and other is ...more
Tom
(nb: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss)

This book’s thesis can be summed up as follows: God and religion are all in our heads.

Dr. Andy Thomson has been at the forefront of brain research, and in this slim volume—a hundred pages and change, not counting notes—he presents his findings in clear, surprisingly readable language. Most scientific texts are dry and stilted. “Why We Believe in God(s)” is a friendly read, a fact Dr. Thomson attributes to his co-writer, Clare Aukofer
...more
Todd Martin
In Why We Believe in God(s) , psychiatrist J. Anderson Thomson Jr. examines the hard-wired psychological factors that make humans predisposed to supernatural belief. There is a growing body of experimental evidence that shows that children are hard wired to have an attachment system to adult caretakers, to perceive mind/body dualism, to sense agency in natural events, etc. All of which lend themselves to belief in a superhuman caretaker, separate from physical reality, who makes things happen f ...more
Ahmet Kasapsaracoglu
As it has been said that the book was a thin one, that is true I have confirmed it too. The author mentions about the brain structure but in my opininon he can not explain the relationship between why we believe in something and the brain cortexes and the brain functioning

He did forget to talk about something crucial, that is we believe because we need to believe in something because we want to live forever, we want an eternal life, and we are constructing a framework in which there resides a me
...more
Bridget
I read this book in about two hours and it was two hours of pleasure! If you'd like a point-by-point, succinct explanation of why we believe in gods, this is the book for you!
Travis
Nice little primer on the science behind why we keep inventing religion. How it is a social and psychological construct, as well as an evolutionary one.
Covers the basics and leaves you with plenty interesting ideas and questions.
Lots of small bits of info on evolution, Darwin, science and the human to hook your attention. He definitely got me interested and wanted to find more books on the subject.

Like how he is able to break down some pretty complicated ideas into easy straightforward explanati
...more
Allison
Interesting but vastly underdeveloped. Thomson ticks off the checkmarks of the various brain chemistries at work in the development and practice of his religious faith, but he is so insistent upon the superiority of atheism that it's hard to take him too seriously. He oversimplifies religion and occasionally lumps all religions into a single extreme fundamentalist blob; he does not deal in nuances and shade. It honestly feels like more of a list than a carefully constructed argument, and thus th ...more
Dan Kalmar
I enjoyed this book and I learned a great deal from it. I found it informative and concise, but I did have a problem with the way it was presented.

Whether you believe in some deity or you don't, you can agree on the premise of this book — human beings invent gods. If you're a Christian, you still believe that human beings invent gods in their mind. You think that Buddhists do it, you think that the ancient Greeks did it, essentially everyone accept for you. Because your god is real. Atheists ob
...more
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Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith by J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., MD with Clare Aukofer

"Why We Believe in God(s)" is the brief yet commendable book that studies faith through the eyes of science. This 144-page book is composed of ten chapters: 1. In the Beginning Was the Word: Our Propensity to Believe, 2. In the Image and Likeness: Evolution 101, 3. Our Daily Bread: Craving a Caretaker, 4. All That is Seen and Unseen: Conceiving Souls, 5. Because the Bible Tells Me
...more
David S. T.
Warning: I got this book from the goodreads first-reads giveaway, but I don't think that influenced my rating.

I think the question of why do so many humans have an innate drawing towards religion is a good one and its one which this book attempts to answer. I can't tell how many times I've heard we have a God shaped hole in us, this desire for the supernatural. Basically this book views religion as misfires from our evolution, a “fast-food” mentality. Fast-food analogy is used because fatty / s
...more
Thomas Lawson
Andy Thomson answers the question that I've always had on my mind: What was religion like before gods were invented? We merely have to take notice of Native American or African tribal dances and rituals. Ancient societies had a loose set of rules which were made up on the fly, i.e., if a young girl died and it rained, the next time rain was needed a young girl had to die. Ignoring, of course, the days it rained when it wasn't needed. In 2012, we have supposedly unalterable rules that were though ...more
David
May 04, 2012 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All curious about human nature and belief.
Recommended to David by: National Atheist Party
This was a very interesting buy and one that I would strongly recommend to believers and non-believers alike.

When believers are asked, "Why do you believe this way?" the most common answer is "Faith." So is one's belief in "faith" nurtured or learned? Dr. J. Anderson Thomson and medical writer Claire Aukofer suggests both.

Dr. Thomson is a “forensic psychiatrist,” and works with the University of Virginia and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. However, this does not mean this
...more
Graham Knight
A lightweight read dealing with the evolutionary cognitive neuroscience of religion. Drawing on evolution, anthropology and neuroscience, the author shows how religion is a byproduct of other mechanisms that have aided our survival. More of a general overview rather than an in depth study and for that reason it failed to satisfy me.
Les Gehman
This very concise book provides a great introduction to the evolutionary psychology of why the human brain seems so predisposed to a belief in the supernatural. While I would prefer footnotes to endnotes, that is simply a style preference. The material is well presented, and the endnotes do contain a large number of valuable references, some of which I will be adding to my reading list.
Azael Márquez
It is great for understanding the mechanisms that result in our propensity to believe in religious and mystic ideas, and how we fail to notice them, much less think about them.
Ben Frey
very interesting book. explains different psychological adaptations we evolved over time and how religions use those adaptations. being a psych major i think i gained more pleasure as i knew a lot of things dr thomson talks about, however its written so that anyone can pick it up and understand it. theres a small glossary in the back with key terms and a 24 page 'notes' section that gives background info and further reading for each chapter.

at less than 150 pages i recommend this book for anyon
...more
Ellen Marcolongo
This book was an amazingly quick read! Thomson provided strong evidence for why humans needed to create gods.
Swarup Mondal
From an atheist to a religious person, everyone must read this book. An exhilarating read.
Ryan
Insightful and eye-opening. I can't recommend this book enough. J. Anderson Thomson, a psychiatrist, presents the psychological evidence for the by-product theory for the human predisposition to believe in god(s). There are good reasons to think that we are predisposed to believe in god(s), even if no god(s) exist. Religion and religious experiences are highly psychological, so it’s important to understand a bit of psychology in order to understand religion. I highly recommend this book because ...more
Sarah Turky
interesting ideas, horribly done
Ryan Johnson
'Concise' is the key word in that title. This book is very short, basically just an extended essay. The thoughts and evidence put forth by the author are quite intriguing, but in a work so limited in length he was unable to elaborate and reinforce. If you, as the reader, don't already possess a certain working knowledge of the topic you may fail get much out of it.

On the positive side, this tease has piqued my interest into further investigation.
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J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., MD, is a Trustee of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and a staff psychiatrist for Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Virginia Student Health Center, as well as the University of Virginia's Institute for Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy. Thomson also has his own private practice, and is a forensic psychiatrist for Region Ten Co ...more
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