I read it today. Aside from the recent Pratchett novel and ‘work’ reading, I pretty much haven’t touched any ‘book-stuff’ in something like 3 weeks – a very long time. I paused the book reading at the start of the semester in part as a strategic ploy to try to improve work efficiency (I also did it because I ran out of books I had at home which I actually wanted to read, but the other aspect was the reason why I didn’t just order some new ones a lot sooner than I actually did), however I don’t think that strategy works so I’ve given up on it by now; instead of studying more I just manage to find other even less productive ways to waste my time. So when I received some books from amazon this morning I decided to go right ahead and start out by reading this little thing today. Razib Khan has mentioned it quite a few times on his blog so I figured I’d check it out.
It’s somewhat interesting but not super great; I’d probably give it a 3/5 or 4/5 on amazon (closer to 4 than 3). I’ve left more than a few critical notes in the margin and I didn’t find all the components of the framework laid out by Slone equally convincing, but on the other hand some of the good stuff is, well, not bad at all. There was a lot of stuff in there I didn’t know.
The book is not about why religious people believe (in) things which aren’t true – you know, like gods and stuff. There are some relatively well known explanations for that stuff included in the book as well, but that’s not the main focus. No, the book sets out to explain why religious people believe things they’re not supposed to believe, according to the tenets of their own beliefs. I’ll quote from the introduction:
“Why is this problem important? It is important because, for one, it teaches us the lesson that theology doesn’t determine people’s actual thoughts and behaviours. In fact, the ideas that one learns in one’s given culture, such as theological ideas, play only a partial role in what people actually think and do. This book offers an explanation for how and why.”
The book uses insights from cognitive science to explain how religious people make sense of the world and how religion impacts decisionmaking. It also deals with how (and which kinds of) religious ideas (are likely to) spread, again linking observations about these matters with observations from cognitive science which are then used to explain the dynamics. It’s also a book which deals with how the study of religious beliefs and religious behaviour has changed over time; I didn’t know anything about this beforehand so I believe that I learned a lot from those sections.