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How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,928 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
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? W
ebook, Second Edition, 368 pages
Published October 1st 2003 by Holt Paperbacks (first published September 1st 1999)
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Lee Harmon
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the director of the Skeptics Society, and host of the Skeptics Lecture Series. I don’t need to tell you what sort of direction this book is going to take. But even knowing what to expect, this was a fun book, well worth the read!

Shermer, noting that 96% of Americans believe in God and 73% believe that angels regular visit earth, asks one question: Why? Why do even 40% of scientists proclaim a belief in God? Why do more people believe
Alex Ristea
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
Michael Shermer is the founding editor of Skeptic Magazine and holds a Ph.D. in history of science.

This book take a deep, deep look at the fundamental, scientific reasons why we, as humans, tend to believe. How did these ideas develop in our history? How are they beneficial (or detrimental) to us? Do we even realize the true reason for certain things that we do?

Let me say that Shermer is not by any accounts a militant atheist. He is often kind and generous and examines God, religion, and myth "n
Scott Lerch
Feb 09, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
This book does a great job at explaining the origins of religion and how it was a necessary by product of evolution. After reading this is hard to deny that religion and the concept of God is not explainable through natural processes. Then given the choice between an understandable natural phenomena and a mysterious supernatural phenomena, why should anyone choose religion over science unless for comfort? Because of this book I changed my religious label to nontheist meaning I don’t believe reas ...more
David Svihel
Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, and director of the Skeptics society, has produced a work attempting to synthesize several academic fields including: anthropology, sociology, and biology to answer the question as to why humans hold to religious beliefs. Divided into two parts the book discusses I. God and Belief, and II. Religion and Science.

Part I begins with a chapter called “Do You Believe in God?” Shermer starts with his own story of conversion to the Christian faith and his
I found this book rather boring, maybe because I don't need to be convinced by the arguments he makes. I had already read some excellent books on the subject by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Even as a child, I was called "negative" and "critical" perhaps because I saw through people's self-delusions. However as a speaker, Dr. Shermer is excellent -- funny, relevant, concise.

I saw him give a talk at a university a couple of months ago. The event was listed in a Meetup group of which
Daniel Gonçalves
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Imagination is a powerful tool. Over millennia, it helped the human being survive the most calamitous scenarios, such was our will to succeed as a dominant species. As a result, gods were concocted. Religions were edified. Myths were invented, and successfully propagated.

The 21st century brought hope. Civilization is now able to use its cognitive powers to discover new ways of explaining reality. Science seems to be the definitive answer to ignorance. But how are people using this privileges?

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Not bad, but an urban legend oops and a caveat
On page 220, Shermer repeats one version of the QWERTY myth when he says the normal typewriter layout was "designed for nineteenth-century typewriters whose key striking mechanisms were too slow for human finger speed." He then goes on to point out the sequence DFGHJKL on the home row and says, "It appears that the original key arrangement was just a straight alphabetical sequence, which made sense in early experiments before testing was done to dete
Nicolas Shump
I have read the first edition, so I don't know what might have changed between editions. Shermer is the director of the Skeptic Society so it is not difficult to imagine his stance regarding belief and religion. Still, Shermer is obviously well-educated and makes a good case for his agnostic position.
However, I would have liked for Shermer to engage Catholicism more and better. He was a born-again Christian who lost his faith. This has resulted in what I see as a certain hostility, if not, patr
Jul 19, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After I read Why People Believe Weird Things, I really wanted to get a hold of more books by Michael Shermer, renowned skeptic and founder of Skeptic magazine. And while this book is enormously valuable, it sails far over my head sometimes. It is not as fun or readable as WPBWT, perhaps because that book was more of a general collection of self-contained essays and this books is a grand dissertation on a topic. Nevertheless, there is a lot here to think about.

The subject of the book is about ho
Sharudin Jamal
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is an irony. Micheal Shermer is a sceptic. And yet this book tells me more about God than to be sceptic about it. A well though off piece of work.
Jan 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
The thing I like about Michael Shermer is he holds a very precise view of the world - if you make a claim (about anything) then be prepared to prove it, with scientific evidence.

The survey of American's beliefs is fascinating (though frankly scary), the reasoning and conclusions as to how we believe odd things convincing, and the breadth of the research that has gone into this volume fairly impressive. The problem is I found the book cast a little wide to be able to be able focus on properly.

Mahbub Zaman
Listening to Shermer reading his "How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science" became interesting towards the end, where he expressed his (and shared by many others) feelings on freedom in a world without the necessity of a super-natural being for the meaning of our existence. How he finds more meaning in this given condition of meaninglessness, leaving us to the openness of defining our own meaning, living the life to the fullest, in absence of daemons and angels, fire and the heave ...more
Joel Justiss
x Happy is the man who finds wisdom…its profit better than gold… - Proverbs 3:13-18
xviii Contrary to what most religions preach about the need and importance of faith, most people believe because of reason.
27 When half a million men blanketed the Washington, D.C., Mall on October 4, 1997, it was the largest religious rally in American history.
95 Unless the supernatural exists, there can be no miracles. A miracle is really a name for something we cannot explain. The point of miracles is to inspir
Michael Shermer doesn't have a problem with you if you believe in God. What he has a problem with is the way that some people (he mainly focuses on Christians here) try to use science to prove God's existence. Moreso, they use BAD science with little understanding of the scientific method, and that really rankles.

This is a really interesting book to read if you're curious about the history of the intersection of God and science, and if you are looking for something less adamantly atheistic than
Jul 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-reread, favorites
This book isn’t concerned with the truth of claims made by religions, but is merely interested in examining belief from cultural, behavioral, psychological, philosophical, and scientific perspectives.

The big question here is: why does religion exist? What purpose does it serve? What aspects of religion can be explained by science, and what makes religions similar and different?

The book covers much that Daniel Dennett’s book "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" does, but Shermer
Allen Price
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very formative book in my current thinking of how we come to believe what we do. Scientific, religious, or otherwise. Schermer writes a column which I like in Scientific American, so i anticipated this being a good book. I wasn't disappointed. He's done his homework and looked human perception in the eye and yet writes without judgement.

He asserts we are a "pattern-seeking, social animal" that bring to adulthood what our parents taught us. The challenge we encounter then is how do we d
Sep 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: belief, evolution
Shermer illustrates that our "belief machine", our mechanism for understanding the world, arose from our need to believe _something_ in that believing true things and disbelieving false things increases our chances of survival. Unfortunately, that same mechanism easily picks up and believes false things and disbelieves true things, especially where those mistakes don't cost us too much. At the same time, he helpfully illustrates the features of worldwide cults and religions that are shared with ...more
Jul 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pros: Shermer uses caution and wields his skepticism with care in this excellent description of the human desire for something to believe in. While he is quick to debunk, he often doesn't beat the horse too long after it is dead (forever).

Cons: There are a few isntances where Shermer's skepticism forces him to come to conclusions that reason alone may not support. Other than that, the material starts to get saggy in the middle. It's not horrible, just a little dry for its length.

Overall: I am a
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very clearly written and well-researched book on religion and belief in god. I've often wondered how religion came to have such a secure place in most people's lives and whether religion is a cultural construct that humanity may one day discard. After reading this book it is clear how religion evolved with humanity. The prognostication for the path of continued evolution is not so clear. As we have profoundly changed our environment, we may find this trait has lost its survival value. ...more
May 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfict, psych, science
This was very interesting. I read Gould's book about the "nonoverlapping magisteria" so that part of Shermer's thesis was familiar. (The idea is faith and science have nothing to do with one another - you cannot "prove" god exists because "proof" is in the domain of science - it is a reasonable, logical thing. You either believe or not (or are not sure, or haven't made up your mind, etc) You also cannot have faith in science - you either have a proof available or not)

Shermer also discussed shar
Jim Razinha
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this fascinating, as I have Shermer's other books. The amount of research he does is amazing. The statistics, while dated, are disturbing and if the election and reelection of George Bush is any indicator, American irrationality is a disease that is growing. Beliefs are based on emotion and environment and at least one news network fans the flames of ignorance, capitalizing on those emotions.
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in the philosophy of religion or sociology and spiritual seekers
Recommended to Dave by: A unitarian universalist friend
Shelves: non-fiction-read
A book about the psychology of belief. Written from a perspective of evolutionary impact on culture. Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine, describes his own early religious conversion and later move into upbeat skepticism. He describes evolutionary forces that might affect group selection and community identity. A very interesting book with plausible, intelligible and fruitful ideas.
Jun 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is an eyeopener! It brings together history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and biology together to weave the human story of belief. It is truly a phenomenal book, full of critically thought concepts! It is also quite readable! I finished in a little less than a week and learned so much! Loved it!
Oct 29, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, but not terribly enlightening. The pattern-recognition as basis for religion was pretty interesting, and the introductory chapter, in which Shermer discusses how his personal friend and fellow skeptic Dr. Laura (yes, THAT Dr. Laura) turned into a batshit crazy religious nutcase thus putting a strain on their friendship, is definitely worth reading.
A little too technical at times, but interesting. Shermer doesn't totally dump on believers, having been a born-again Christian at one point. He now is skeptical of religion, but allows that many others might not be. Not so much looking at how religion rose, but just an overall view of how/why people today believe.
Mar 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only read about half the chapters in the book (was instructed to!), but Michael Shermer presents very interesting and engaging ideas about why people believe in higher powers. He was a Christian, then an atheist, and is now agnostic, so it's hard to dislike him or his views because he is pretty fair. He gives a good, secular perspective for Christians to be aware of.
(Too be said in a loud booming voice..) IN THE BEGINNING was Michael Shermer saying, oh so sweetly, he didn't write this book to try to convince anyone there isn't a God, and then spends the next 300 pages doing exactly that. He definitely loves the sound of what he must presume is the melodious sound of his voice. Instead of sugar I found sour instead. Bored to tears through most of it.
Aug 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book did a great job of breaking down our instincts as humans to believe in something supernatural. Michael Shermer's is very persuasive and a compelling writer. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the psychological need to believe.
Sep 11, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fellow Skeptics
Michael Shermer is one of the great minds in current publc discourse - he has the courage to constantly stand up against the Religious Right and shine the very unpopular light of Skepticism. His writings will challenge you, make you think, and dare you to question...
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Michael Brant Shermer (born September 8, 1954 in Glendale, California) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members.

Shermer is also the producer and co-host of t
More about Michael Shermer...