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The God Instinct

The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and The Meaning of Life

Hardcover, ISBN 978-1-85788-560-6
Our books in the UK can be ordered online from The Book Depository and are delivered free to most countries worldwide within 48 hours. For inquiries regarding bulk orders and special discounts please email the London or US office.

Quick Overview

Why does even the most committed atheist turn to God when a family member falls seriously ill or they find themselves in close personal danger?

Although religion has increasingly moved to the edges of our lives, a close look at our behaviour reveals a natural tendency (no matter what we claim to believe) to think and act as if God is looking over our shoulder. In The God Instinct, Jesse Bering argues that this religious reflex is not an irrational aberration – and that God is not a cultural invention or an existential band-aid – but an intrinsic human trait, developed over millennia, that carries powerful evolutionary benefits.

Publication Date: Nov 12, 2010
Our books in the UK can be ordered online from The Book Depository and are delivered free to most countries worldwide within 48 hours. For inquiries regarding bulk orders and special discounts please email the London or US office.


Breaking new ground, The God Instinct uses hard science to argue that God is not a delusion, but a sophisticated cognitive illusion with major evolutionary advantages. Bering explains that The God Instinct lies at the heart of what makes us human and has played a major part in our evolutionary history. He reveals the roots of religion in our ability to think beyond our immediate surroundings; why this capacity for belief sets us apart from other animals and has made our species so successful. From a respected scientist, psychologist and award-winning columnist based in the UK, this is the only book to explain Belief in God from a scientific perspective. Jesse Bering presents a significant new argument in the debate between religion and science and draws on a wealth of groundbreaking research, yet succeeds in producing a balanced and reasonable approach to this contentious issue. The author not only presents serious ideas in an accessible and engaging way, but also gives a more developed, rational approach to this question than Dawkins. Written in stimulating and lively prose and drawing on the latest evidence this book explains the sticky sense that God created us and takes an interest in our lives, and gives readers new insights into many of their deepest emotions. There is no bigger subject: the psychology of souls, destiny and the meaning of life…
Jesse Bering is Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at the Queen’s University, Belfast. His research focuses on human social behaviour, with current topics ranging from people’s belief in the afterlife to moral disgust over social offences. Jesse writes a weekly column for Scientific American, ‘Bering in Mind’ for which he was made a Webby Award Honouree. Born in the US, he currently lives in the UK.

"Thanks to evolution we naturally expect there to be a god – or gods – watching over us. Our brains interpret the world around us in ways that created God; the notion of the divine is a scratch on our psychological lenses, says psychologist Jesse Bering. Bering admits that explaining away God in this way is radical and possibly dangerous, but he handles it deftly. His writing is witty, crammed with pop-culture references, and he employs examples and analogies that make his arguments seem like common sense rather than the hard-earned scientific insights they really are. This fascinating book presents gentle, nuanced but convincing arguments for atheism. Bering knows he can't change the world, though. Thoroughly and permanently removing God from our heads would require a neurosurgeon not a science teacher, he says."
– New Scientist

"A balanced and considered approach to this often inflammatory topic."
– Nature

"Jesse Bering is a brilliant young psychologist, a gifted storyteller and a very funny man. And his first book, The Belief Instinct, is a triumph – a moving, provocative, and entertaining exploration of the human search for meaning."
– Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University, author of How Pleasure Works

"Since God didn't exist, our human ancestors found it necessary to invent him. In this scintillating book, Jesse Bering explains, with characteristic wit and wisdom, how, in the course of human evolution, God returned the compliment -- by helping individuals, despite themselves, lead better lives."
– Nicholas Humphrey, Emeritus Professor London School of Economics and author of Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness

"I'm certainly no expert in evolutionary psychology, but [after reading The God Instinct] I feel like one... a book without God but brimful of humanity."
– Simon Winchcombe, Producer, BBC Horizon

"There's a place in our minds where God goes. This spellbinding book explains how: we humans find the idea of God inviting because we evolved to perceive minds all around us. Bering's own clever research on children s perceptions of the supernatural is the centerpiece in his rich portrayal of the newly unfolding science of belief in God."
– Daniel M. Wegner, Harvard University, author of The Illusion of Conscious Will