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The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life [Hardcover]

Jesse Bering
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Nov 2010
There is no bigger subject than the new science of religion. The God Instinct is a surprising and original take on why we believe in God - and how this belief led to our success as a species. Why does even the most committed atheist turn to God when a family member falls seriously ill, or they find themselves in close personal danger? Using the latest scientific evidence, Jesse Bering explores how people s everyday thoughts, behaviours and emotions betray an innate tendency to reason as though God were deeply invested in their public lives and secret affairs.

In this entertaining and thought-provoking book, he argues that this religious reflex is not an irrational aberration, and that God is not a cultural invention or an existential band-aid, but an intrinsic human trait, developed over millennia, that carries powerful evolutionary benefits. Breaking new ground, The God Instinct uses hard science to show that God is not a delusion, but a sophisticated cognitive illusion. Bering reveals the roots of religion in our ability to think beyond our immediate surroundings, and explains why this capacity for belief sets us apart from other animals. From a respected psychologist and award-winning columnist, this is the only book to explain belief in God from a scientific perspective. Jesse Bering not only presents serious ideas in an accessible and engaging way, but also takes a more considered, rational approach than the extreme views so often found on either side of the great debate.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing (18 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857885600
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857885606
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 420,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jesse Bering, PhD, began his career as a psychology professor at the University of Arkansas and is the former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen's University Belfast. In 2011, he left his academic post and returned to the U.S. to write full time, settling in Ithaca, New York with his partner, Juan Quiles, along with their kindly, obese cat and two pathologically friendly border terriers. Notable for his frank and humorous handling of controversial issues, especially those dealing with sex, evolution, religion, and morality, Bering is a regular contributor to Scientific American and Slate, and has written for many other outlets, including New York Magazine, The Guardian, The New Republic, The New York Times, and Discover. The Sunday Times has referred to his work as "deeply thought-provoking as well as shallowly provocative," whilst the New York Observer calls it "equal parts sedulous and silly." Bering's latest book is Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us (Doubleday). For more, go to www.jessebering.com.

Product Description

Review

'Thanks to evolution we naturally expect there to be a god - or gods - watching over us. Our brains interpret the world around us in ways that created God; the notion of the divine is a scratch on our psychological lenses, says psychologist Jesse Bering. Bering admits that explaining away God in this way is radical and possibly dangerous, but he handles it deftly. His writing is witty, crammed with pop-culture references, and he employs examples and analogies that make his arguments seem like common sense rather than the hard-earned scientific insights they really are. This fascinating book presents gentle, nuanced but convincing arguments for atheism. Bering knows he can't change the world, though. Thoroughly and permanently removing God from our heads would require a neurosurgeon not a science teacher, he says.'
New Scientist

'A balanced and considered approach to this often inflammatory topic'
Nature

'Jesse Bering is a brilliant young psychologist, a gifted storyteller and a very funny man. And his first book, The God Instinct, is a triumph-a moving, provocative, and entertaining exploration of the human search for meaning.'
Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University, author of How Pleasure Works

'There's a place in our minds where God goes. This spellbinding book explains how: We humans find the idea of God inviting because we evolved to perceive minds all around us. Bering's own clever research on children s perceptions of the supernatural is the centerpiece in his rich portrayal of the newly unfolding science of belief in God.'
Daniel M. Wegner, Harvard University, author of The Illusion of Conscious Will

----

Since God didn't exist, our human ancestors found it necessary to invent him. In this scintillating book, Jesse Bering explains, with characteristic wit and wisdom, how, in the course of human evolution, God returned the compliment -- by helping individuals, despite themselves, lead better lives. --

--Nicholas Humphrey, Emeritus Professor London School of Economics and author of Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness

Since God didn't exist, our human ancestors found it necessary to invent him. In this scintillating book, Jesse Bering explains, with characteristic wit and wisdom, how, in the course of human evolution, God returned the compliment -- by helping individuals, despite themselves, lead better lives. --Nicholas Humphrey, Emeritus Professor London School of Economics and author of Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness

About the Author

Jesse Bering is Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at the Queen s University, Belfast. He is a co-principal investigator in the Oxford University-based 'Explaining Religion' project, a three-year, 2 million project funded by the European Commission. Bering is also a co-principal investigator in a John Templeton Foundation project to study the evolutionary relationship between cooperation, morality and religion. Working primarily on human social behaviour, with current topics ranging from belief in the afterlife to moral disgust over social offences, the Institute has projects running all over the world, from Samoa, Ecuador and Guatemala City to Mongolia, India, Mali and Cyprus. In addition to his numerous scientific publications, Jesse is well known for his frank and humorous handling of controversial issues in psychological science. His popular weekly column 'Bering in Mind' for the Scientific American website was chosen as a 2010 Webby Award Honoree in the 'blog-cultural' category. He lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, thoughtful and entertaining read! 6 July 2011
By Ross
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. I am somebody who takes a fair bit of interest in psychology of religion discussions and found Bering's book extremely accessible. It is written with humour, humility and intelligence. His conclusions may not be pleasing or make comfortable reading for theists; however his argument does not make necessarily comfortable reading for agnostics or atheists either! Significantly, Bering distances himself from the Dawkins-type argument that sees religion as some sort of erroneous misfiring. Rather, Bering proposes an interesting theory about religion which places it firmly within the epic narrative of evolution. I particularly enjoyed reading the empirical work which he and others have engaged in with respect to theory of mind research. As a student of pyschology I was especially intrigued by the 'Princess Alice' experiments which are discussed within these pages.

This book is easy to read, entertaining and one of the better books of its type out there on the market. Enjoy!
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative, stimulating, and witty 27 Nov 2010
Format:Hardcover
I found the "The God Instinct" to be a wonderfully written, provocative, and intellectually stimulating book. Bering brings the latest research and theory from several areas of psychology (cognitive, developmental, evolutionary, and the psychology of religion) to explain how human's evolved tendencies to "read the minds" of others leads inexorably to a belief in the supernatural and all that entails. The scholarship is first rate (I loved reading the more detailed notes that accompany the text), the arguments clean and clear, and the book can be appreciated by the professional and layperson alike. It is written with great wit, and there was barely a page in which I didn't crack a smile.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting 20 Feb 2011
Format:Hardcover
I was simply blown away by this book. The title makes it sound like another dud but do not be put off by that -- this is an engaging (addictive!) read that will completely flip your worldview and have you questioning things that you did not even know needed questioning. I have been around a long time and have seen it all. This book is special: beautifully written and as much a work of literature as it is pop science. I do not define myself either as religious or atheist and care little for such discussions. Theology bores me to tears. You won't find any of that in The God Instinct. However, if you are a fan of existential philosophy (as I am) in the spirit of Camus, Sartre, Dostoyevsky and their ilk, you will love, love, love Bering. It is not an uplifting book by any stretch of the imagination but if you want reality informed by science this is a MUST READ.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 3 Jan 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I wanted to find out about why religion (established or new age) is so important to some people and what compels a person to believe so wholeheartedly in something that seems so strange and distant to me. I'm not coming from an academic background, simply curious and in need of a good read and found this book really thought provoking, well constructed and highly accessible to the layman, certainly plenty for me to chew on while I go walking! The writing is engaging and a delight to read. Definitely worth reading.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting inside the mind of God 5 Jan 2011
By Sphex TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Given their apparent ubiquity, minds can be very elusive. Each one of us has firsthand experience of our own mind, of course, but by definition we cannot similarly experience other people's minds. In fact, we can't see these other minds, or feel or weigh them in any literal sense. Instead, we must infer their existence by observing the behaviour of other people. We "reason about what others see, know, feel, believe, or intend" and arrive at our own beliefs about their mental states. Such beliefs about beliefs are an example of second-order intentionality, or theory of mind, which comes into play naturally and effortlessly whenever we think of friends and family. We can also assume the intentional stance toward strangers we have never met or fictional characters who don't even exist. Throughout this absorbing book, Jesse Bering shows how this aspect of human psychology underpins the diversity of religion and accounts for the tenacity of superstitious belief. He concludes that "God was born of theory of mind" and explores the possibility that God evolved in human minds as an "adaptive illusion", one that directly helped our ancestors solve the unique problem of human gossip.

This capacity to think about minds is very likely the one big difference between humans and other animals. There is no question that many other species have sophisticated minds capable of all sorts of marvellous cognitive feats, but we should resist the temptation to imagine the only differences are of degree and not of kind. There is an ongoing scientific debate over whether the human species is "unique in being able to conceptualize unobservable mental states" but what is not in doubt is "that we're uniquely good at it": human beings "are exquisitely attuned to the unseen psychological world".
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb. A must read! 6 Feb 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is brilliant and challenging. Personally it through light on and turned upside down alot of my own preconceptions, assumptions and cognitive illusions and for anyone interested in evolutionary psychology and the cognitive architecture of the human species this is a must. Jesse Bering pulls no punches but boy he strikes with a humble, humorous and witty intelligence and a sophisticated penmanship that makes this the most enjoyable psychological science book I have read. I am not going to comment on the content of this book as another reviewer has concisely provided an excellent over-view of Jesse Bering's fascinating and powerful psychological proposal based on empirical evidence derived from some brilliant creative research (including his own) in the fields of 'theory of mind' and related cognitive processes.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Lamentably bad
I very rarely give up on a book, especially one on this sort of topic. I am happy if someone makes an argument I think is wrong, provided they do it validly, and preverably... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Dr. C. Jeynes
3.0 out of 5 stars Close, but no cigar
This is an interesting book, but the author's reasons for concluding that we have a "God instinct" don't ring wholly true for me. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Hilary Shearer
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and incisive
A very thought provoking and intelligent analysis of human behaviour. The explanations of why humans have been and are still attracted to religion, should make you question any... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars What about those old gods and goddesses?
When I reached page 190 of Jesse Bering's attempt to show belief in God as evolutionary, I knew I'd been sold down the river, not that the journey hadn't been interesting. Read more
Published on 14 Mar 2011 by Naomi Bowman
5.0 out of 5 stars God, for the non-believer.
An insightful, and indeed humorous, look at why we necessarily invent/need/depend on God and his cohorts. Theory of mind is everything to humankind, but is it a good thing? Read more
Published on 17 Feb 2011 by G. Blackburn
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, informative but ....
I've just finished "The God Instinct". It's something I've had all my adult life, although I don't now have a strong belief in a personal god. Read more
Published on 16 Feb 2011 by David Carter
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