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Why are we here?

W.G. Runciman: The Biology of Belief, 7 February 2002

Religion Explained: The Human Instincts that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors 
by Pascal Boyer.
Heinemann, 430 pp., £20, September 2001, 0 434 00843 5
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... Pliny the Elder, John Buchan, and generations of ghost-story enthusiasts and horror-movie buffs? Pascal Boyer tells us in his opening chapter that ‘religion is about the existence and causal powers of non-observable entities and agencies.’ He doesn’t appear to have in mind things like gravity or magnetism or radio waves. But much of science is ...

Into the Mental Basement

Thomas Nagel: Science and Religion, 19 August 2010

Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion 
by Barbara Herrnstein Smith.
Yale, 201 pp., £25, March 2010, 978 0 300 14034 7
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... known as scientism. Smith’s resistance is directed in detail against two anthropologists, Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran, whose analyses of religion are based on evolutionary psychology. Their approach, which she calls the ‘new naturalism’, holds that the operation of human minds can be understood largely through the identification of various ...

The Atheists’ Picnic

Julian Bell: Art and Its Origins, 10 June 2010

Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion 
by David Lewis-Williams.
Thames and Hudson, 320 pp., £18.95, March 2010, 978 0 500 05164 1
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... might have evolved among palaeolithic humans, drawing on the work of anthropologists such as Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran, hardly come together in a reliable ‘cabling’: rather, his narrative is a flimsy clutch of ‘what ifs’, patched up with this or that ‘plausible candidate for filling in the blank’, as he himself puts it. Religion must ...

Living Death

T.J. Clark: Among the Sarcophagi, 7 January 2010

... ambivalence for human beings when they find themselves with other dead members of the species. Pascal Boyer, in his indispensable book Religion Explained (2002), has things to say about this. Different, and largely unconscious, worlds of inference are set in motion, he argues, when the living and the dead confront one another. Corpses are ...

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