Out this month from Dominic Johnson: God is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human (Oxford University Press; January 2016; 304pp).
“And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.” The Flood that God used to destroy the sinful race of man on the earth in Genesis 6:17 crystalizes―in its terrifying, dramatic, simplicity―the universally recognized concept of payback. For millennia human civilization has relied on such beliefs to create a moral order that threatens divine punishment on people who commit crimes or other bad deeds, while promising rewards-abstract or material-for those who do good. Today, while secularism and unbelief are at an all-time high, this almost superstitious willingness to believe in karma persists. We find ourselves imagining what our parents, spouse, or boss would think of our thoughts and actions, even if they are miles away and will never find out. We often feel that we are being monitored. We talk of eyes burning into the backs of our heads, the walls listening, a sense that someone or something is out there, observing our every move, aware of our thoughts and intentions.
God Is Watching You is an exploration of this belief as it has developed over time and how it has shaped the course of human evolution. Dominic Johnson explores questions such as: How has a concern for supernatural consequences affected the way human society has changed, how we live today, and how we will live in the future? Does it expand or limit the potential for local, regional and global cooperation today? How will the current decline in religious belief (at least in many western countries) affect selfishness and society in the future? And what, if anything, is replacing our ancient concerns for supernatural punishment as the means to temper self-interest and promote cooperation? In short, do we still need God?
Drawing on new research from anthropology, evolutionary biology, experimental psychology, and neuroscience, Johnson presents a new theory of supernatural punishment that offers fresh insight on the origins and evolution of not only religion, but human cooperation and society. He shows that belief in supernatural reward and punishment is no quirk of western or Christian culture, but a ubiquitous part of human nature that spans geographical regions, cultures, and human history.
“In a world where creationists deny evolution and atheists decry belief in God, Dominic Johnson provides a lot of answers by explaining belief in gods as an evolutionary adaptation.” —David Sloan Wilson, author of Darwin’s Cathedral and Does Altruism Exist?
“Think God is good? Think again. In his stunning new book, God Is Watching You, Johnson pulls back the curtain on tens of thousands of years of human evolution to reveal how religion’s enduring success lies almost entirely in our belief in divine wrath and an unforgiving universe. And before you say, ‘speak for yourself,’ read this book. As it turns out, even atheists aren’t immune.” —Jesse Bering, author of The Belief Instinct
“According to Dominic Johnson, religion comes naturally to us because it is a biological adaptation. But if so, could we—and should we—seek to replace religion with secular institutions that serve similar functions? This lucid and highly entertaining book offers some surprising answers that will stimulate debate for years to come.” —Harvey Whitehouse, author of Modes of Religiosity
“God Is Watching You is a remarkable book. Dominic Johnson brings his unique multidisciplinary expertise to every page and I simply marvel at the breadth, clarity, and acuity of his exposition. Johnson not only offers a novel and strongly supported explanation of how religion evolved, but crucially, he astutely explores the important implications of this evolutionary legacy for our world today.” —Richard Sosis, James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology, University of Connecticut