In Gods We Trust has ratings and 23 reviews. A cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, Scott Atran argues that religion is a by-product of human. In got trust. Scott Atran In Gods We Trust The Evolutionary Landscape Of Religion (Evolution And Cognition). Topics atheism. Collection. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Atran, Scott, In gods we trust: the evolutionary landscape of religion / Scott Atran. p. cm. — (Evolution .

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Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. In Gods We Trust: This ambitious, interdisciplinary book seeks to explain the origins of religion using our knowledge of the evolution of cognition.

A cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, Scott Atran argues that religion is a by-product of human evolution just as the cognitive intervention, cultural selection, and historical survival of religion is an accommodation of certain existent This ambitious, interdisciplinary book seeks to explain the origins of religion using our knowledge of the evolution atean cognition. A cognitive anthropologist and psychologist, Scott Atran argues that religion is a by-product of human evolution just as the cognitive intervention, cultural selection, and historical survival of religion is an accommodation of certain existential and moral elements that have evolved in the human condition.

Paperbackpages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about In Gods We Trustplease sign up. Lists with This Book. Mar 15, Nebuchadnezzar rated it it was amazing Shelves: I’ll start with a warning: If you aren’t prepared for some dry, academic writing, avoid this book and pick up Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained instead, which covers much of the same ground but in a more accessible style.

Some of the material here also appears in Atran’s more recent and lay-oriented Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the Un Making of Terrorists. That said, Atran has produced what is likely the most comprehensive and convincing account of the cognitive science of rel I’ll start with a warning: That said, Atran has produced what is likely the most comprehensive and convincing account of the cognitive science of religion, but anyone with an interest in religion, cognitive science, psychology, anthropology, or applications of evolutionary theory to human behavior should find this to be a fascinating work.

The basis of Atran’s gos, that religion is an evolutionary by-product or “spandrel” to use Stephen Jay Gould ‘s termis extremely well-developed. Atran notes the vast array of explanations for religion that have arisen over the years and sees value in many of them, but does not find each on its own to explain religion in its totality. On the social level, religion preys on these basic cognitive elements, such as rituals being used to display hard to fake commitments an idea put forth by William Irons.

Thus, religion in this sense is a neutral vessel through which human experience flows. It is responsible for motivating people to do both great good and great evil; it is highly malleable and can be adapted and refashioned to suit myriad needs and purposes. Atran’s strength is in avoiding the reduction of religion to one element or purpose. He exhaustively explains the interplay of the various elements on the cognitive, social, and cultural levels.

Avoiding the reification of religion allows Atran to rebut competing evolutionary claims as well. Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society.

The book includes a clever gdos positing group selection ni a notational goes of kin selection.

I don’t accept that this totally refutes group selection as a whole, but it does work in service against Wilson’s claims. I felt Atran’s strongest arguments against Wilson, however, were first, his demonstration of Wilson’s reliance on dated colonial ethnographies and anthropological studies, and second, arguing against Wilson’s reliance on treating abstractions such as religion and cultural norms as part of a kind of cultural super-organism.

Culture, like religion, is too fluid to be treated this way and so Wilson’s account commits the fallacy of reification. The few criticisms I have mostly concern style more than substance. Repetition is often a feature of academic writing for the sake of thoroughness, but it feels like the editing was slipshod in some places. Parts of the book are lifted from Atran’s papers published in academic journals and it seems that some of the redundancy might have come from a failure to edit out overlapping material.


There are some places where the writing meanders or goes off on tangents, though Atran often has something interesting to say on a wide range of subjects. The book also includes a chapter-length take-down of meme theory, which feels a bit odd considering how fringe it has been within academia. But the book did come out at the “height” if it can be called that of meme fever before the Journal of Memetics closed shop, so this is very much a nitpick.

That it’s one of the most thorough refutations of the concept is a bonus. Overall, the book is thoroughly researched and Atran has a clear mastery of the relevant literature, which is simply massive.

He also draws on his own first-hand field work and work in folk biology. His treatment of the often disparate fields of psychology, anthropology, and biology avoids lapsing into the superficial.

This has unfortunately often been the exception rather than the rule in much psychological evolutionary theorizing, but Atran eschews cartoonish hypotheses like the alleged “god module” in the brain. This book is very much an exemplar of interdisciplinary research. Jan 27, Xing Chen rated it liked it.

Scott Atran In Gods We Trust The Evolutionary Landscape Of Religion ( Evolution And Cognition)

On the wtran, an extensively-researched and even-tempered book, with nuanced, conscientiously-defined, mostly-acceptable and reasonable claims. In terms of particulars, however, be warned: The concepts presented tgust neither ground-breaking nor mind-blowing- it reads much like a carefully-annotated and referenced articulation of my own pre-established thoughts.

The book is sprinkled with lists, chosen truat examples in support of a point. Sometimes one sees lists like these in ‘academic’ writing apologies to dazzling scientist-poets for my blanket statementparticularly when an author is trying very hard to reference only examples of things that have been documented in previous studies and literature, with the misguided intention of making the writing more ‘scholarly’ and anchoring the content to cite-able materials- thus restricting the criteria for inclusion on the list, at the expense of readability and meaningfulness.

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion

The author also has a habit of citing various theories and pieces of writing, presenting and interpreting gors claims in a rather nit-picky, constrained way, and criticizing their ideas because certain aspects are not fully applicable under a wide-enough range of scenarios.

For example, an entire chapter is titled ‘The Trouble with Memes,’ and it gently bashes Dawkins, Blackmore, and Dennett, on, in Atran’s opinion: Atran states, “Ideas do not invade, nest in, colonize, and replicate in minds. It is minds that create ideas. Minds structure certain communicable aspects of the ideas produced, and these communicable aspects generally trigger or ib ideas in other minds primarily through inference and evocation, not imitation and replication.

Anything can grow contentious when taken too literally. He also fails to acknowledge the fact that despite great theoretical potential for distortion and addition of noise, the degree to which knowledge, experiences, and ideas are shared across individuals equips us with adequately similar and highly functional mental frameworks, reducing error rates massively.

Simply put, he gives too little credit to our communicative abilities, downplays the perception-altering power of received ideas, and underestimates how similar effects tend to be across recipients. Entire phrases get recycled in passages across the book. Chapter summaries restate arguments in already-used terms, instead of emphasising main points using creatively novel vocabulary and sentence structure, and by the time one reaches the conclusion- a summary of the summaries- a quick scan of the paragraphs tells you that the content has already been impressed upon your visual and association cortices and stored in your mental template.

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion by Scott Atran

That said, certain concepts were phrased very elegantly favourite quotes follow. It is the direct cognitive result of suspending the relevance criteria that universally yods to ordinary communication.

If faith is, in part, willingness to suspend ordinary pragmatic constraints of relevance, then beliefs held in faith become not only immune to falsification and contradiction govs become even more strongly held in the face of apparent falsification or contradiction.


Emotionally hard-to-fake and materially costly displays of devotion to supernatural agents signal sincere willingness to cooperate with the community of believers.

It follows that displays of credible commitment are as significant as the behavioural commitments they are god to trustt. Displays are also more frequent than actual commitments, because they are usually less costly. Nevertheless, for cooperation to work, displays of commitment must be thoroughly convincing, and the be convincing people must be wiling to make wtran ultimate sacrifice, however rare.

They must also religiously display contrition when the people show moral discontent. Although limited forms of communication among initiates may be tolerated, there are often sever penalties for those who dare talk about their experiences to others, including social ostracism, physical punishment, and the menace of supernaturally driven psychological harassment unto death. The imagistic mode thus fosters unspoken. Emotionally powerful, and long-lasing ties among relatively small groups of individuals but hinders wider inferential elaboration and public dissemination of religious theology and cultural ideology.

In the cultural evolution of religion, proactive displays of commitment may prevail over whatever functional, functionless, or dysfunctional ecological utility they might promote.

If the out-group is relatively unknown and far-off, it is implicitly amoral. But this does not entail that such terms will have a causally coherent extension. In the overwhelming majority of cases, and idea undergoes some sort of modification during communication. For example, arbitrarily select any news item and see how the different news media present it. The real mystery is how any group of people manages an effective degree of common understanding given that transformation of ideas during transmission is the rule rather than the exception.

It stops just as soon as enough sense is made of a statement to be relevant by providing important new knowledge or rejecting of old knowledge. The supernatural can never be simply represented as a proposition about a state of affairs in the world whose truth, falsity, or probability can be factually or logically evaluated.

No statement or thought about the supernatural can ever be empirically disconfirmed or logically disproven. People know or assume that public fictions novels, movies, cartoons, etc were created by specific people who had particular intention for doing so.

Religious believers, however, assume that the utterances or texts connected with religious doctrines are authorless, timeless, and true. Timelessness implies that cues from the surrounding environment, background knowledge, and memory are all irrelevant. Quasi-propositional beliefs may have the superficial subject-predicate structure of ordinary logical or factual propositions, but they can never have any fixed meaning because they are counterintuitive. Their cognitive role is to mobilise a more of less fluid and open-textured network of ordinary commonsense beliefs to build logically and factually impossible worlds that are nevertheless readily conceivable and memorable.

Within such cultural schemas, even ib eccentric voices and visions of clinically diagnosed schizophrenics and epileptics can become publicly sanctioned revelations, as they are in some societies. In the case of religion, these metarepresentational ideas are never fully assimilated with factual and commonsensical beliefs. They are always held metarepresentationally: The fact that religious beliefs do not lend themselves to any kind of clear and final comprehension allows their learning, teaching, exegesis, and circumstantial application to go on forever.

Dec 02, Blair rated it it was ok Shelves: Scott Atran uses his experience an anthropologist specializing in the religious beliefs of ztran native peoples to understand the cognitive basis and evolutionary origin of religion. Here is iin quick summary: We evolved a visual system to rapidly detect predators and prey, which had to be trip-wired to respond to fragmentary information under conditions of uncertainty.

The same system results in the perception of figures in the clouds and voices in the wind. Supernatural agents are a natural result of perceiving intention everywhere. He tells us that souls and spirits are derived from analogy to the dissociated thoughts of dreams and the disembodied movements of shadows.