I initially picked up this book because the back cover presented it as a theory that explained how we create God and spiritual realms to combat our fear of death. As an existential therapist I found this intriguing. In this regard the book did not disappoint.
The book begins with a brief summary of evolution (what argument that did not denounce the existence of a supreme being would be complete without some sort of recognition of evolution?) I found this short (in relation to the amount of years it took for it to occur) history an adequate review, but a bit lengthy. I suppose I assume that any person willing to read a book of this title would already have a basic knowledge of evolution. Besides, I was anxious for his argument to start.
The substantial section of the book utilizes brain science and anthropology to explain the author’s argument for their being; you know its coming, the part of the brain that leads us to believe in spiritual reality. His argument is very well laid out. In fact, I found it too much so at times. In philosophical and scientific argument there is sometimes overkill. The same point is made and reiterated, then built upon, then reiterated and built upon some more. This can grow tiring for the casual reader. However, on the upside of this, it does demonstrate the continuity of his argument and often reiteration precedes learning.
His argument is excellent and, if one is so inclined, would easily provide much ammunition to the atheist reader who wants to have a solid argument for their point. I believe his argument is also persuasive enough that a true agnostic (someone who feels there is not enough evidence to prove, and at the same time cannot disprove the existence of a God) may also be swayed. There are some weaknesses in some of his arguments, especially at the end of the book, where he discusses the usefulness of his theory. This brings me to my final thoughts and concerns.
I imagine this book will have little effect on anyone who is religious. This might be a biased opinion, but evolution has had little impact, and a faith in the unknown is much stronger in some than what science can show. My concern would be for those who are somewhat spiritual or religious, but who might be swayed. If someone bought into his theory, and gave up whatever religious or spiritual beliefs they may have had, they may feel a void that the book is not able to fill. This is despite the few short chapters which were spent focusing more on proving the downside of religion than the upside of facing the reality of death.
As a professor I often confront my class (in appropriate classes) with existential theory and the fact they will eventually cease to exist. Often this is met with accusations of being morbid, sadistic, or simply mean. The point is not to depress people, but to help them see the impermanence of existence, so they are able to more fully embrace their life. But the fear of death is strong. In fact, this is part of the author’s argument. I believe at times it is so strong those uninitiated with the reality of death (in most religions there is a continuation of the individual’s personality in some form, helping to deny the reality of death) might find life meaningless, rather than more meaningful. The author attempts to combat this with some insightful words, but I’m unsure if it is enough.
In conclusion I recommend this book to everyone, despite some of my misgivings. I have always believed knowledge is power, and to borrow a quote the author also borrows from Lao Tzu: Knowledge of others is intelligence; knowledge of self is wisdom. Mastery of others is strength; mastery of self is power.