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

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  3,487 ratings  ·  65 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
Paperback, Second Edition, 368 pages
Published October 1st 2003 by Holt Paperbacks (first published September 1st 1999)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Lee Harmon
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
David Svihel
May 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Scott Lerch
Feb 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
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
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?

Apr 25, 2018 rated it liked it
A great book detailing why people believe what they do. This book went over several different standpoints on God and religion for example, Agnosticism, Atheism, and obviously Christianity. One of my favorite discussions in the book is, in an age of science are religious people becoming scarce or are they on the rise. The quick answer would be that people believe in God more than they used to, but I would highly suggest that you read the polls and studies done they are very fascinating. I really ...more
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be incredibly frustrating multiple times through the book. As background, Shermer and I have similar backgrounds in fairly literalist christianity but have moved into more skeptical stances as adults. He is, of course, a fairly devout skeptic, while I am a fideist similar to the types he discusses in the book. (Note that anyone who discussed with me would call me a theist, but I'm NOT a theist according to the definition he gives near the end of the book, one of many little ...more
 Celia  Sánchez
Nov 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, atheism
"In her left hand are riches and honor
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace;
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called happy .
(Proverbs :3:13 -18)
The Hubble Telescope Deep feild photograph revelas as never before the rich density of galaxies in our neck of the universe,is as grand a statement about the sacred as any medieval cathedral.How vast is the cosmos.How contingent is our place.Yet out of this apparent insignifica
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shermer is very sharp! I'm not sure why, but I kept hearing some of these sentences in Carl Sagan's voice. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, he illustrates why the scientific method is the best way to learn about ourselves, our world, and the universe. Not a believer in any traditional way, he treats believers with respect, and I prefer that approach to, for example, Richard Dawkins' in-your-face confrontational stance. I've had discussions with both believers and non-believers and find that ...more
Dave Pusey
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the first chapter the most of this book. I found chapter 2 and 3 a wee bit drawn out, still good just a little long. I'm looking forward to seeing what else Michael Shermer has written as I find his perspective on religion interesting.
The main thing I appreciated in this book is how the author doesn't engage in proving or disproving a supernatural being as that seems insoluble.
Eduardo Barraza
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful explanation of why the mind makes up things that aren't real.
Overall a very good and worthwhile read. I think some of the material needs to be re-evaluated and updated at this point in time.
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
Jul 19, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Nicolas Shump
Jan 17, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Jan 27, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Mar 30, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Feb 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
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
Jan 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Allen Price
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
May 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Jun 12, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
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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

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