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The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life Hardcover – 10 Feb 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing (10 Feb. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857885600
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857885606
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.7 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 889,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Book Description

In this entertaining and thought-provoking book, Jesse Bering unravels the evolutionary mystery of why we grapple for meaning, purpose and destiny in life. He argues that God is not merely an idea to be entertained or discarded based on the evidence. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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. What he said on page 190 of a book just 205 pages long was "as we've seen, God was born of theory of mind", so I turned back to the explanation on page 37. Here he starts his argument "what if I were to tell you that God's mental states (too) were all in your mind?" and I though, oh God, he really does mean God with a capital "G". Further down the page he goes on to describe a "strangely sticky sense that God `wilfully' creates us as individuals and `knows' about our otherwise private actions, `communicates' messages to us in code through natural events, and `intends' to meet us after we die" and suggests our Pleistocene ancestors would have felt this too.

The trouble is that the God Jesse is discussing is very recent in terms of human evolution. It's obvious that He is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, such as the One revealed to Moses. I can't find out when this was reckoned to have happened but the Israelites are thought to have entered Canaan circa 1,000BC already cognisant of the Ten Commandments. Circa 1,500BC the radical pharaoh, Akhenaton, tried to introduce monotheism in Egypt. He failed, but perhaps Moses came down from the mountain with his tablets of stone around the same time. Even so, this was a mere 3,500 years ago. Compare this trifle with three million years. If the australopithecine, Lucy, could be said to be part human, she lived longer ago than that.
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