Nicholas Wade, The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved & Why It Endures (The Penguin Press: New York), 2009.
“Acclaimed New York Times writer Nicholas Wade presents a startling new case, based on a broad range of recent scientific findings, that religion has an evolutionary basis. For the last 50,000 years, and probably much longer people have practiced religion. Yet little attention has been given by either believers or atheists, to the question of whether this universal human behavior might have been implanted in human nature. Did religion evolve, in other words, because it helped people survive..
“In this original and thought-provoking book, Nicholas Wade traces how religion grew to be so essential to early societies in their struggle for existence that an instinct for faith became hardwired into human nature. As a force that binds people together and motivates individuals to put the interests of society above their own, religion encouraged moral behavior toward those within the group and aggression, when necessary, toward those outside it.
Religion thus provided the earliest human societies with their equivalents of law and government.
The Faith Instinct then explores how the religion practiced by early human groups was reshaped by culture to the very different needs of settled societies and how from these more socially structured societies the three monotheisms arose.
The book describes how religion influences morality and trust, which are the bedrock of commerce, governs people’s reproductive practices, and is the sinew that can bind both a parish or a civilization.
Even in modern societies, despite the rise of secular institutions that have assumed many of religion’s ancient roles, faith continues to fortify the social fabric.
“The Faith Instinct is sure to catch the attention of believers and nonbelievers alike. People of faith may not warm to the view that the mind’s receptivity to religion has been shaped by evolution. Atheists may not embrance the idea that religious behavior evolved because it conferred essential benefits on ancient societies and their successors. But the evolutionary approach to religion does not dispute the central belief of either side. The existence of an instinct to believe explains why many who reject organized faith still look for spiritual transcendence.” The first objective and nonpolemical book of its kind, The Faith Instinct examines both the weaknesses of modern religions and the strengths that account for the remarkable persistence of faith.”
Nicholas Wade is also the author of The Noble Duel: Two Scientists 21-Year Race to Win the World’s Most Coveted Research Prize, Retrayal of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science (With William Broad), Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors. He Has worked for The New York Times as an editorial writer, editor and science reporter. Before writing for the Times, he worked at two leading scientific hjournals, as the deputy editor of Nature magazine in London and on the news staff of Science magazine in Washington. He is the author of six previous books. His most recent boo, Before the Dawn, tells the story of human origins in light of new information from the human genome.”
At the beginning of Chapter 1: “The Nature of Religion,” are the following quotations:
“Religion is not a popular error, it is a great instinctive truth, sensed by the people and expressed by the people.” – Ernest Renan
“To call religion instinctie is not to suppose any particular part of its mythos is untrue, only that its sources run deeper than ordinary habit and are in fact hereditary, urged into birth through biases in mental development encoded in the genes.” – Edward O. Wilson
A life-long Anglican, Nicholas Wade expressed his abiding and deep faith when in his closing words in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book he referred to his college days at Eton and stated:
“My religious education I owe to Henry VI, who founded a school for poor scholars in 1440. He built at Eton one of England’s most beautiful chapels in which I attended services every day and twice on Sunday during my school years.” [More to follow – The Atheists’ Response! ]