These provocative questions lie at the heart of How We Believe, an illuminating study of God, faith, and religion. Best-selling author Michael Shermer offers fresh and often startling insights into age-old questions, including how and why humans put their faith in a higher power, even in the face of scientific skepticism. Shermer has updated the book to explore the latest research and theories of psychiatrists, neuroscientists, epidemiologists, and philosophers, as well as the role of faith in our increasingly diverse modern world. Whether believers or nonbelievers, we are all driven by the need to understand the universe and our place in it. How We Believe is a brilliant scientific tour of this ancient and mysterious desire.
This is not another polemic against religion, in fact the book starts with a defense of skeptics who have faith in God - (it seems there are several on the board of skeptics.org). The purpose of the book is far more interesting - to examine the underlying mechanisms of belief. For that reason alone, I believe this book (or perhaps Shermer's more comprehensive work "The Believing Brain") should be taught in schools as an essential part of all religious education - if only to help us be critical of our own beliefs and wary of believing our own propaganda.
The book is read by Michael Shermer himself, and this adds real connection with the author. Like me, he has been on both sides of the line, and seems to respect the difference. What interests him (and me) is why human cultures universally believe in God/gods and how we maintain belief in e.g. answered prayer, or the benign providence of the universe, in the face of atrocities, natural disasters and the seeming indifference of nature. In his explanations he draws on psychology, neurophysiology and evolutionary theory, as well as describing his own experiences of "faith", and of becoming an agnostic.
In brief, we believe because evolution has selected us to be compulsive pattern seekers, and false positives (seeing a pattern where there isn't one) is usually far less costly than false negatives (not seeing a pattern - e.g. a predator hiding in the undergrowth - where there is one). What maintains belief is often our various biases e.g. confirmation bias, whereby we selectively notice things that confirm our beliefs. This is as true for science as for religion, and our ability to see patterns is the basis of both.
This is just one thesis put forward in the book, which is a rich examination of the many facets of belief, citing numerous research experiments along the way. If you are interested in understanding your own beliefs, and of others, I would recommend this book, or it's bigger sister "The Believing Brain".
What disappointed you about How We Believe?
Very contradictory and unbalanced arguments.
What was most disappointing about Michael Shermer’s story?
Very contradictory and unbalanced arguments.
Would you listen to another book narrated by Michael Shermer?
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Disbelief at how many people rated it 5 stars.
0 of 4 people found this review helpful
excellent it hits the nail on the head. we believe only to fill a god shaped void, which can be filled other more practical and realistic ways
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Author is clearly brilliant. Parts of the book were inspired but other parts boring. On the whole pretty good but too short
Shermer starts out assuring us that he and his society of skeptics are not all atheists, not even agnostics but a collection of both kinds and even some believers. However, one famous lady signed off in a furious huff when she 'discovered' that they were all report live atheists. This should have been expected. From long before Jesus to long after George Bush, the religionists have always believed that if you are not with them you are against them, and deserving of contempt and burning in eternal hell.
Once he sets out with those polite sentiments of friendly discussion, Shermen comes into his elements, tearing off every fabric of faith and putting scientific edifices in their place. It is a great spectacle as you close in towards the climax when Shermen unfetters himself from satans and demons, gods and wizards and ' disenfranchises' himself from the thoughts and commands from another time, another place. Thus he enjoys, he proclaims, the pleasures of life in full with no regrets, marvels at the vastness of the multitude of universes in which he is a product of a contingent evolution, prides in the sanctity of his wedding with his soulmate, Learns from thoughts of others in scientific thinking and makes his own small contribution.
A great read. Listen to the audible version with a Bluetooth set of earphones and enjoy the logic he rolls out.
Where does How We Believe rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
I am interested in why people believe things, so it was right on.
What was one of the most memorable moments of How We Believe?
Shermer's talk of pattern-seeking and myth was organized well. I also enjoyed his tolerance toward faith systems, only saying that it is when these pretend to be fact-based that they can become problematic.
Any additional comments?
Some reviewers have said Shermer's narration detracts from the book. I am of the opposite view. He sounds like Michael Shermer, not like a professional narrator. But his narration adds a personal element to the book, and his real voice is fits his writing voice just fine.