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The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures Hardcover – 12 Nov 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; First Edition edition (12 Nov. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202281
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202285
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.7 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 573,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Highly intriguing...In this probing work of science reporting, "New York Times" correspondent Wade sheds light on what is sure to bea controversial new field of research in evolutionary psychology, genetics and anthropology...A turning point, and advancement, in the science-religion debate."
-"Kirkus Review"
"[In "The Faith Instinct"], longtime "New York Times" science reporter Wade deftly explores the evolutionary basis of religion. He draws on archaeology, social science, and natural science as he vigorously shows that the instinct for religious behavior is an evolved part of human nature...Wade's study compels us to reconsider the role of evolution in shaping even our most sacred human conditions."
-"Publishers Weekly"
""The Faith Instinct" is a big winner! Its highly intelligent and much- needed narrative about why religions have proved essential to human success kept me engrossed from its beginning to its final pages."
-James D. Watson, author of "The Double Helix"
"There is so this compact account, including cultural-evolutionary explanations of the three great monotheisms-enough, in fact, to make it a cornerstone of popular religion-and-science studies."
"It is a rare book that will be read as eagerly by religion's defenders as by its detractors. Building on his rightly admired "Before the Dawn," Nicholas Wade has written just such a book."
-Jack Miles, author of "God: A Biography"
"As he did earlier for human prehistory in "Before the Dawn," Nicholas Wade has delivered the most balanced and fact-based account available of a subject fundamental to human self-understanding. His scholarship is thorough, and his writing crystalline and exciting."
-Edward O. Wilson, author of "Consilience" and "The Future of Life"
"Instead of attacking or defending religion, as so many have done lately, the biggest challenge is to explain how we became the only religious primate. In a spell-binding and wide-ranging account, Nicholas Wade offers a natural history of religion and convincingly explains why the phenomenon is here to stay."
-Frans de Waal, author of "The Age of Empathy"
"Of all the recent books on religion, I believe "The Faith Instinct" is simultaneously the most complete, the most correct, and the most accessible to the general public. Wade tells an extraordinary story in which morality, community, and religion are three strands of the same rope. Free of jargon and partisanship, "The Faith Instinct" is full of fascinating and up-to-the- minute scientific discoveries."
-Jonathan Haidt, author of "The Happiness Hypothesis"
"With his new book, "New York Times" science reporter Nicholas Wade positions himself as a serious challenger to Steven Pinker for the title of Best Living Popularizer of the Human Sciences."
-The National Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Nicholas Wade received a BA in natural sciences from King's College, Cambridge. He was the deputy editor of "Nature" magazine in London and then became that journal's Washington correspondent. He joined "Science" magazine in Washington as a reporter and later moved to "The New York Times," where he has been an editorial writer, concentrating on issues of defense, space, science, medicine, technology, genetics, molecular biology, the environment, and public policy, a science reporter, and a science editor. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
Nicholas Wade, who also wrote the very fine Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors (2007) (see my review at Amazon), argues most convincingly here that religion, our sense of spirituality, and our moral instinct have been hardwired into our brains by the evolutionary process. This book, supported in part by the Templeton Foundation, is the first of its kind to put together the body of evidence that accounts for the fact that religion has been part of every known human society while explaining why.

Is religion adaptive in an evolutionary sense? is the first and most important question to be answered. The fact that religion is universal strongly suggests that it is. But until recently this idea was rejected by most biologists including some heavy hitters such as George Williams, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker. But, as Wade points out, Dawkins and Pinker in particular may have missed the boat because of personal biases. Wades writes that their opposition "seems to be driven less by any particular evidence than by the implicit premise that religion is bad, and therefore must be nonadaptive." (p. 67)

Moreover, Williams and Dawkins have been against the idea that religion is adaptive because of their belief that natural selection operates primarily at the level of the individual. For religion to be adaptive in the Darwinian sense, it helps a lot for selection to operate at the level of the group. Wade shows that biologists such as David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson, not mention Darwin himself, support the idea of group selection.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the most interesting books I have read recently. Nicholas Wade gives a clear, well written account of the origins and evolution of religion (note: this is NOT a knock-down of religion) with persuasive evidence that it is hereditary. He does not seek to account for the presence/absence of any deities and I recommend it for anyone with an inquiring mind regardless of their faith or lack thereof.
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Format: Paperback
This was recommended to me by a friend as the most interesting book he'd read; now I see why. This is a wonderful analysis of the history of religion and the role it plays in modern society. It illuminates, challenges and disturbs in a highly-accessible style. As entertaining as any thriller yet much deeper and more relevant. Read it - it will open your mind.
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Format: Hardcover
The proposition of this book, that faith is an evolved human trait, is presented in a largely convincing and easily read way. Unfortunately, as the author himself writes, there is a lack of relevant and reliable data available making it hard to analyse the subject matter in a purely scientific way, so there is a fair amount of assumption although the reasoning is generally sound. The relationship drawn between religion and music, dance, dreams and trance is particularly interesting and resonates with modern dance music culture.

The book loses a star for the chapter entitled 'The Tree of Religion' which is an unnecessary and weak attempt at framing world religions as pure fabrication, which actually adds nothing to the wider proposition. Yes there is interpolation and assimilation of texts and other religions into the local culture, but the author damages the trust in the rest of the book's rationale when he attempts to debunk Islam as some kind of conspiracy where its founder didn't even exists, then asserts it as a matter of fact. This leads the reader to suspect that reference material throughout has been selected to match the hypothesis rather than being looked at objectively. The author does manage to recover but the damage is done.

The rest of the book is an interesting and thought provoking read. It is unlikely to convince hardened creationists or atheists who reject the idea of religion being a contributing factor in their evolution, or survival of species being influenced by group fitness.
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Format: Hardcover
Nicholas Wade's "The Faith Instinct" begins promisingly but fizzles out, its argument unproven. It is lucidly written and contains several thought-provoking passages, but it is also padded with whole sections of pop-science banalities.

Wade is a science journalist (New York Times, Nature and Science magazines), not a scientific researcher. He draws on evidence from a broad range of fields, including archeology, sociology, anthropology, biology, neurology, religious scholarship and so on, to build his argument.

Wade argues that since a) religion has been a universal facet of human society for at least 50,000 years and b) religion enhances the survival of societies through building "emotional commitment to the common good" and reinforcing behavioral patterns around such things as planting crops, then c) religion is "written into our neural circuitry" and that it is an "adaptive behavior" which was advanced through natural selection. Neither a) nor b) is an original observation, and Wade is unable to deliver conclusive evidence for c). Science has not, at least yet, established either specific genes or a specific region of the brain associated with religion. He is thus forced to concede that "in the absence of direct evidence about.... genes...(the argument) can only be assessed indirectly." Also, Wade's case rests on theories of group selection, which are not accepted by mainstream evolutionists.

As Wade's main argument runs out of steam, he adds chapters on such things as the marketplace of religion, the ecology of religion, religion and warfare, religion and nation and the future of religion. These chapters are superficial and not particularly original; they contain some interesting snippets but do nothing to clinch his argument.
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