How We Believe, 2nd Edition: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God

How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God - Michael Shermer 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.

To summarise however, Shermer believes (with supporting evidence!) that man's belief in God is due to his pattern recognising brain and it's ability to correctly and incorrectly attribute things as true or not true. In our primitive past, correctly identifying a true pattern as true resulted in longer life whereas incorrectly identifying a true pattern as false resulted in shorter life. Since incorrectly identifying a false pattern as true rarely results in death, there is an evolutionary bias to correctly identify true patterns, but no bias against incorrectly identifying false patterns. Thus there is way in for superstition and Gods. This is the same logic that predicts that pigeons will stand on one leg to obtain food from a dispenser if this has in the past resulted in food being dispensed (really they do - pigeons are as superstitious as people!).

Anyone committed to their God or Religion is unlikely to chime with Shermer's view (although Shermer is at pains to explain he is not anti-God), however as review of the current state of the God vs Science 'debate' as of about 10 years ago, it is not bad.