The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Religion shaped by our needs
Lewis Wolpert
Faber & Faber; ' 14.99

This book is a robust defence of materialism that contains much interesting information. Relying heavily on evidence from the advancing science of evolutionary psychology, Wolpert interprets religion as a type of adaptive behaviour in which our beliefs are shaped by our practical needs. According to him religion as having to do with supernatural phenomena and concludes that religion is “deeply rooted in our biology”.

It is not supernatural belief that is hard-wired in humans: it is the need for myth, and it fuels secular belief as much as traditional religion.

This humanist faith in progress is a myth no different in kind from the stories that are repeated in churches and temples. Myths are not primitive scientific theories that belong in the infancy of the species. They are symbolic narratives that give meaning to the lives of those who accept them.

This book presents itself as an example of freethinking. Actually they are secular sermons, which will be of interest chiefly to anxious humanists seeking to boost their sagging faith. If it is the liberating air of sceptical doubt you want, you are better off reading P.G. Wodehouse.

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