A review of Jesse Bering’s The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life
by Clint Rainey
A few scientists and believers once naïvely clasped hands in hope that the evolutionary explanation for belief in God would signal a détente in the science-religion war. Belief could satisfy science by being instinctual, as Dean Hamer’s The God Gene and others argued, while also satisfying religion by being divinely set in motion. This détente, we know now, was a pipedream. Since being etiologically explained as instinct, belief has suffered at the hands of an army precision-trained in the scientific method.
Attempting to deliver the deathblow in a new book is Jesse Bering, an evolutionary psychologist and director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University, Belfast. Articulate and amusing, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life is a coupe de grâce as much as it is rage, arguing that belief, for modern man, is indeed an adaptation—a crucial one, up to a point—but that it’s become a vestigial organ of the mind, uselessly outmoded. Continue Reading →