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Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion Hardcover – 8 Mar 2010

3.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 01 edition (8 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 050005164X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500051641
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 0.3 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 364,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Endlessly fascinating... Gives countless insights... A must for any anthropology studies collection.


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3.7 out of 5 stars
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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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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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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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