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Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion [Hardcover]

David Lewis-Williams
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

8 Mar 2010
At once polemical, insightful and thought-provoking, Conceiving God is essential reading for all those interested in the origins of religious thought, and the respective roles of science and religion in contemporary society. Building on the insights and discoveries of his two earlier books, The Mind in the Cave and Inside the Neolithic Mind, cognitive archaeologist David Lewis-Williams explores how science developed within the cocoon of religion and then shows how the natural functioning of the human brain creates experiences that can lead to belief in the supernatural realm.

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Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion + Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods + The Prehistory Of The Mind: A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion and Science
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; First UK Edition edition (8 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 050005164X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500051641
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3.4 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 91,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A well-informed and steady march through the history of religion and its conflict with science'
--A C Grayling, New Statesman

'A volume more intriguing, inspiring and uncompromising than any so far ... Lewis-Williams debunks many of the contemporary canards about the science/religion divide. He is brilliantly acerbic'
--Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

'Wide-ranging, information-rich and thought-provoking ... historically informed and well reasoned ... open and closed minds alike will find much to ponder'
--Theology

'Insightful and thought-provoking'
--Watkins Review

'A likeable and carefully reasoned tract'
--The Times Literary Supplement

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two warring empires of the mind 20 Nov 2010
By Sphex
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
At the end of the introduction to this fascinating study of religion, David Lewis-Williams asks: "Why is it that belief in religious revelation continues to exist alongside rational thinking?" This invites all sorts of answers, from religious apologists, historians, politicians, social scientists and so on, but for cognitive archaeologist Lewis-Williams this is primarily an epistemological question, and one that "lies at the root of the present conflict between religion and science". Not for him the polite accommodation favoured by many: he is in no doubt that science and religion "are contradictory, not complementary". The idea of a parallel supernatural realm occupied by beings who intervene in the material world is a scientific one ("virgin births and resurrections are scientific statements") and therefore open to scrutiny. Not only have the past few centuries of modern scientific enquiry found no evidence of a supernatural realm, we are now beginning to understand why we ever thought there was such a realm in the first place. Religious faith in the end doesn't care about the evidence, of course, and its elimination cannot be brought about by appeal to reason alone. Reassurance is also needed, and Lewis-Williams denies that disbelief in supernatural forces and beings necessarily leads to despair. His hopeful message is that, on the contrary, such disbelief is liberation.

In the first third of the book, Lewis-Williams takes us on a whirlwind tour of Greek philosophy, Christian theology and the emergence of science "from the cocoon of religion". This draws out deep-seated continuities that "cannot merely be products of specific historical events and processes" but which "point to something innate in human beings".
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This is an interesting and thought-provoking book, constituting an important addition to the multitude of books been published on the subject of Religion.
Written by an eminent South African scholar and expert on the culture of Bushmen, it is a multifaceted book dealing with Paleontology (from patterns engraved 75000 years ago by Blombos in South Africa to the astonishing finds of the Volp Caves in the Ariege Department of France, but also with the culture of the primitives (San, Kalahari) and their trance dances which often bring them to hallucinatory states.
The author, tracing the origin of Religion to such altered stages of consciousness, not only provides a thorough account and classification of these states (the origin of which he attributes to the right temporal lobe) but links them to important religious thinkers and mystics from the apostle Paul, via St.Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas to Hildegard Von Bingen.
The historical narrative is extended to the other side (of evolution) with rich biographical details of Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace (poor Wallace had he had not made the error of sending his manuscript to Darwin but directly to a scientific journal he might be claimed today as the discoverer of Evolution and we could be talking today of Wallacism instead of Darwinism).
The two sides, Religion (and thus Creationalism) and Evolution are contrasted and discussed and the author, being an atheist, does not mince his words to exhibit the irrationality of religion. The arguments however are not passionate or hostile. On the contrary they are presented in a sober and even relaxing style becoming thus more persuasive. The author is not a polemicist of the kind that Dawkins, Hitchens or Bennet are.
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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Draw a breath David! 31 Mar 2010
Format:Hardcover
Following on from his two other deservedly acclaimed preceding books, Mr Williams delves deeper into the origins of religion, the central message being that all religious activity stems from neurological activity in the brain. Ok, no arguement with that. He also draws fascinating parallels between medieval mysticism and the visions of the San bushmen. Terrific stuff, even though he then seems to postulate that virtually every deep religious experience or spiritual vision can be explained by a migraine attack. Not sure about that but it's a good challenge to wrestle with. What mars the book in my opinion is the relentless, almost suffocating attack on the Catholic church and the Bible. I can quite happily live without either so I have no axe to grind but the constant bile detracts from the rest of the book. I concede quite happily that any debate between science and religion has resulted in a retreat or reinterpretation on the part of religion. I wouldn't agree though that no useful material has ever resulted from the use of hallucinogenics. It's quite likely that the cave paintings Mr Williams admires so much were created or inspired in some part by magic mushrooms or cannabis rather than migraine. And as a child of the 60's much of the music I love seeped out from a drug-hazed creativity. And the assertion that no Shaman can make it rain or mend a broken leg is to my mind, pure, inexcusable ignorance. So - four stars rather than five only because of the caustic overspill that stains much of the book. Something or someone has rattled Mr Williams' cage and he obviously feels compelled to make a stand for science. I respect that, but his case is somewhat overstated and he's in danger of becoming pigeon-holed as just another atheist one trick pony a la the oft quoted but misunderstood Richard Dawkins. Otherwise a good, lucid read.You don't have to agree with a lot of the findings but I admire passion and intelligence - and a good arguement.
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