Personal book review: The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why it Persists by Nicholas Wade

I'm on break and had hoped to write more than this, but nevermind. At least I'm reading a few decent books of my choosing.

I've been thinking for a bit that the basic philosophy behind my approach to religion is something like "Religious beliefs should be treated like other forms of knowledge. They aren't exempt from rational inquiry or healthy skepticism if they seem wrong or crazy." Probably no biggie for most people, but this philosophy became personally and emotionally important for me back in the days when my conservative Christianity, with its insistence that religious beliefs were to be taken on faith and not questioned despite the evidence, was feeling more and more disconnected from the reality that I was learning. When I was in college, it was all about evolution for me, and moving from a place where I felt that my religion prohibited belief in evolution to a place where I felt that religion was crazy for prohibiting belief in evolution. The cognitive dissonance was too much: eventually reason had to win out in order to maintain my sanity, so I moved to New Zealand and wrote a Masters thesis on the relationship between Christianity and Evolutionary biology.

Which, I suppose, is why I love the aforementioned book by Nicholas Wade - The Faith Instinct. It's about, essentially, how and why religious practice arose from, and in the context of, biological evolution. The basic argument being that religion, as a universal human endeavor, is very likely to have some adaptive value that has helped humanity to survive and thrive and functions at an instinctual level as well as being a conscious set of beliefs. I've been on this topic for quite some time, and this is the most accessible and comprehensive book that I've found so far. You should read it. Some people are afraid or dismissive of this kind of idea, but from my perspective there's both a sensible rationality and a real beauty in the narrative, and in the idea that being religious is both deeply human and deeply natural, and fulfills a set of human needs that are inherent in who we are.

At some level the evolutionary narrative has become a substitute religious narrative for me, and I think for a lot of other people. I don't think that religious and scientific narratives have to be mutually exclusive, but I've found the evolutionary story to provide concrete connections to the past, and to the natural world that we're a part of, which are at least as powerful as the more communal and morally centered narratives of Christianity. I like stories that connect people and make sense of the world, and I like the beauty and meaning in it all. I like this crap a lot - probably more than most. Religious people should read The Faith Instinct. It's much better than the screeds by the stupid atheists who insist that religion is a cancer, or the drivel by the ignorant religionists who insist that science is the devil's deception.

Now I'm going to go eat some cupcakes.

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