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In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence (Blackwell Public Philosophy Series) [Paperback]

John Teehan

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Book Description

9 April 2010 1405183810 978-1405183819 1
Religion is one of the most powerful forces running through human history, and although often presented as a force for good, its impact is frequently violent and divisive. This provocative work brings together cutting–edge research from both evolutionary and cognitive psychology to help readers understand the psychological structure of religious morality and the origins of religious violence. Introduces a fundamentally new approach to the analysis of religion in a style accessible to the general reader Applies insights from evolutionary and cognitive psychology to both Judaism and Christianity, and their texts, to help understand the origins of religious violence Argues that religious violence is grounded in the moral psychology of religion Illustrates its controversial argument with reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the response to the attacks from both the terrorists and the President. Suggests strategies for beginning to counter the divisive aspects of religion Discusses the role of religion and religious criticism in the contemporary world. Argues for a position sceptical of the moral authority of religion, while also critiquing the excesses of the “new atheists” for failing to appreciate the moral contributions of religion Awarded Honourable Mention, 2010 Prose Awards

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“In summary, this is an excellent book. It gives a good summary of current scientific understanding of evolution of morality and religion. It discusses religious violence as the other side of the moral coin. And there is a useful discussion of the problem of religion in modern society and ways we can overcome the negative aspects of our evolved moral and cognitive systems.”  ( Open Parachute , 27 October 2013) "This book is a contribution to the study of religion from an evolutionary perspective . . . Teehan carefully distinguishes between methodological and metaphysical naturalism and officially adopts the former but not the latter." (Theology, 1 September 2011) "All scholars interested in religious ethics but also in fresh approaches to reading the Bible will find something of value. This provocative book is a significant contribution to the ongoing discourse about religious ethics and for this reason deserves careful engagement." (Theological Book Review, 2011) "In the Name of God , by John Teehan, takes the evolutionary framework and applies it to the reading of religious texts. The result is a provocative discussion of the ubiquitous phenomenon of religious belief that can change the way we understand the role of religion in society... .Teehan’s analysis spans a wide range of material but his incisive and focused approach conveys arguments without overwhelming the reader....Overall, Teehan does a commendable job elucidating his thesis of religion as moral innovation while treating the material with sensitivity and respect... .The result is an enjoyable read packed with insights, covering research from a wide range of disciplines, which will appeal to both the researcher in the field as well as the interested layman. Anyone who has pondered the nature of religion and its apparent contradictions will find In the Name of God a gem and emerge with a deeper understanding of morality and the religious mind." ( Evolutionary Psychology, February, 2011) " In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence , John Teehan sets out an evolutionary–psychological account of the connection between religion, morality and violence... .What results is an intriguing and cogent theory that promises a significant advance in our understanding of the place of religion in human history and society."  ( Metapsychology, January, 2011) "In the Name of God is an excellent popular presentation of the scientific understanding of the origins of religion and morality. It also examines the origins of religious violence and opens a discussion on the way humanity may reduce these problems. Some people will find it controversial. But not because some trends in evolutionary psychology have discredited themselves with extravagant claims. In this case the controversy will be because, as Teehan puts it, ′this view of human nature – the very idea that there might be a human nature – smacks up against some strongly held political, moral, religious, and ideological positions.′ In summary, this is an excellent book. It gives a good summary of current scientific understanding of evolution of morality and religion. It discusses religious violence as the other side of the moral coin. And there is a useful discussion of the problem of religion in modern society and ways we can overcome the negative aspects of our evolved moral and cognitive systems.... .The evolutionary study of religion and morality is a new science, but already a fruitful one. This book provides the ideal introduction." ( Open Parachute , July 2010) "This is an exceedingly provocative study and one that merits careful attention from general readers and scholars alike. Highly recommended." ( Choice, December 2010) "After decades of discussing evolution–related arguments for and against the existence of God, scholars have become aware that the theory of evolution can possibly be seen as accounting for the existence of religion itself. If evolutionary biology does indeed explain the emergence of religion, what then? Will the claims of religion be irretrievably undermined? These questions form the backbone of Teehan’s impressive study. He concentrates on two aspects of the phenomenon of religion: morality and violence. For Teehan ... violence is not a corruption of religion but, in a way, one of its essential ingredients. He argues that the elements of religion that motivate pro–community moral attitudes are the very same elements that produce division, prejudice, aggression and violence... .Teehan’s main contribution comes from applying evolutionary psychology to gain exciting new insights into this area of anthropology....the inquiry needs to continue. The next step should start from where Teehan and others like him have achieved so far." ( Ars Disputandi , December 2010) "Drawing on evolutionary assumptions and evidence, Teehan argues that religion can be understood within the context of the natural development of human moral systems, apart from any actual transcendent moral agency. He succinctly and helpfully summarizes his evolutionary approach to the origins of human religiousness. Then he uses it to analyze the (Jewish) Ten Commandments and the (Christian) ethical teachings of Jesus and, finally, to show that religious violence is inherent in the in–group/out–group nature of religion itself... .Teehan′s naturalism is commendable ... .An informative ... study." ( Library Journal , July 2010) "Evolutionary and cognitive psychology are now at the forefront of explaining the origin and function of human morality. In this book, In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence , John Teehan offers a provocative discussion about the role of these exciting sub–disciplines of psychology in explaining religion and violence ... this book is very useful in exploring the potential of evolutionary psychology in explaining religious violence." ( Free Inquiry, August/September, 2010) "In terms of specifically ′religious′ expressions of social solidarity. His account of the dynamics of varying coalitions of them and us would be compatible with, and perhaps even mildly supplement, the standard social scientific understanding of the sources of group violence, for example, in international relations." ( Times Literary Supplement , 17 December 2010)


"This lucid and fascinating study explores religious ethics from the angle of evolutionary psychology, focusing especially on religious violence, including the terrorism of 9/11 and its militant response. Even those readers who are skeptics of a sociobiological explanation for religion will find this intriguing book to be a thoughtful inquiry and a feast for the imagination." — Mark Juergensmeyer , author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence "This is a thoughtful and sophisticated attempt to bring scholarship in evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology to bear on religious ethics. Building on a masterful synthesis of current work in the sciences, Teehan roots both the nobler, pro–social and the darker, more violent aspects of Christian and Jewish ethical teachings in the evolved psychology of in–group / out–group distinctions. Contrary to those who emphasize either the positive or the negative ethical aspects of these religious traditions, Teehan argues that the violence can′t simply be excised as an aberation and instead suggests pragmatic strategies intended to moderate our tendency to favor our own group over others." — Ann Taves , University of California at Santa Barbara, author of Religious Experience Reconsidered "John Teehan’s book will soon be recognized as a classic in several fields—it is a wonderful example of how to build successfully conceptual bridges across different disciplines, shortchanging none of them and contributing substantially to each of them. What a treasure Teehan is: few scholars write with such clarity across such an impressive range of disciplines. How fortunate that we have him to navigate us though historical and recent work investigating religion from an evolutionary perspective." — Todd K. Shackelford , Florida Atlantic University

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deconstructing God 10 May 2010
By O. Pineño - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Have you ever wondered how science meets the challenge of explaining the origin of religious morality? Here's how.

In his "In the name of God", John Teehan shows how evolutionary psychology can provide us with an understanding of religious moral thinking. Although Teehan focuses on two of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judaism and Christianity), his analysis and conclusions could well apply to most forms of religious thinking: as long as there is an IN-GROUP (pro-social ethics), there must always be an OUT-GROUP (violence).

As one might expect, this book is critical of religions. Violence in the name of God is not an exceptional aberration that happens in spite of religious virtue (as believers usually claim), it is intrinsic to religion. To the extent that religions ride on our evolved psychology, religious morality will contain both sides of our nature, good and evil. To me, this is a central message in Teehan's book: we cannot ignore the ugly side of religious ethics (violence) or downplay it as an exception to the rule.

This is not a "new atheism" book, however, for Teehan never lets his analysis become a tool to criticize religion. Because of its unusually neutral approach, this book offers a great opportunity to the believer to better understand the real roots of her/his faith. In fact, in the last chapter Teehan devotes a section to admonish the "new atheists" (Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett) for their radical attitude which, ironically, creates another in-group/out-group dichotomy (just like religions do, according to Teehan).

T. Dobzhansky famously said that "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution". Teehan's book invites us to replace "biology" with "religion". Darwin would be very happy to see the far reach of his theory. Ironically, not only does religion not pose a real threat to evolutionary theory -- it has become its subject of study.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Religious by name, human by nature 27 July 2011
By Stefaan Blancke - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Over the past two decades, the study of religion and religious morality from an evolutionary and cognitive perspective has made considerable progress. John Teehan sets out to apply the developments within this research to study the moral codes conveyed by the two most important religious texts in the Western world, the Torah and the New Testament. The first two chapters offer a thorough overview of the evolutionary study of morality (chapter 1) and the cognitive study of religion (chapter 2). These chapters are so clearly written, well-structured and informative that, by themselves, they will make it more than worth your while to consult the book. In the following two chapters, based on a close reading of both the Old and the New Testament, Teehan forcefully demonstrates how the Jewish and Christian religious moral systems, including even Jesus' message of universal love, do not escape from the evolutionary logic, in spite of the exclusivism often claimed by its followers. Next, Teehan uses the same logic to explain why religious violence is not an aberration of religion, supposedly based on a misunderstanding of what religion stands for, but is actually inherent in religious moral systems. In his conclusion, Teehan acknowledges that, given its strong appeal to the human mind, it is very unlikely that religion will disappear. Instead of simply lamenting this fact, however, he offers some very interesting suggestions as to how society can prevent religion from showing its ugly face.
Overall, this book will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in the study of religion and/or morality, and not just for those with a cognitive and evolutionary background.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How we got here 4 May 2013
By Jean Herzog - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you ever find yourself in a disagreement with someone who claims that without religion there would be no morality this book will give you plenty of reasons why they are wrong.
Starting with care for our kin it shows how we evolved to expand our moral care to others and how this helped us to survive and prosper.
The morality was already there, religion was tacked on so that morality could be expanded to much larger groups of people and how religion has evolved and changed to met our needs.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Balm for Violence 21 Sep 2012
By Hank Rainwater - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
`In the Name of God' was the most balanced presentation of the application of evolutionary psychology to biblical exegesis that could be desired. While many may dismiss the perspective brought by this new cognitive science as a `just so story', Teehan's treatment of the evolution of religious ethics and violence should serve as a classic in years to come. The thoroughness of his arguments as well as an extensive bibliography makes this book outstanding.
The introductory chapters prepare the reader with a clear understanding of how evolution has shaped both our mind and the morality of the societies in which we live. Building on this foundation, Teehan brings fresh insight into a reading of the Old and New Testaments. His recommendations for minimizing the role of religion's amplification of our instinctive need to defend our group's beliefs are really needed in this post-911 world.
5.0 out of 5 stars Religion, Morality & Violence 22 Dec 2012
By Blaine E. Crowther - Published on
An excellent book that clarified my thinking on the role of religion in legitimizing morality and enforcing the boundaries of the in-group/out-group dynamic. Christianity, as a universal religion, was still not successful in widening the circle of inclusion to all mankind, but it did make some progress. Well worth a read.
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