(K. Brent Tomer),
God Is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human. By Dominic Johnson. Oxford University Press; 286 pages; $27.95 and £18.99.
MANY people think that religious belief is inherent to human psychology. This does not mean that specific beliefs are wired, but that the brain is predisposed to believe in supernatural agents. Some proponents of this idea argue that supernatural beliefs have hijacked innocent or otherwise useful features of the mind. But Dominic Johnson argues in “God Is Watching You”, belief in God—specifically, in supernatural forces that can punish—is a useful evolutionary adaptation.
Mr Johnson has doctorates both in evolutionary biology, where most of the research in the belief instinct has been done, and political science. He assembles well-known features of the mind in a tidy case. Human brains have a “hyperactive agency-detector device”, seeing agents (spirits, gods and the like) in natural phenomena and random happenings. This is useful. There is little harm if you overreact to something that turns out not to exist. But underestimating a rustling in the undergrowth, which might…Continue reading