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Conceiving God

The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion

David Lewis-Williams


'Conceiving God is a magnificent book.... astonishingly original and convincing .... a sane, courteous and devastating criticism of religion, and an illuminating pleasure to read' Philip Pullman

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Recent years have seen a growing tension between religion and science as more and more people have asked themselves a fundamental question: is there a supernatural realm that intervenes in daily life? To many it certainly feels so – but what if the religious impulse has another, rational, explanation?

Building on the insights and discoveries of his two earlier books, The Mind in the Cave and Inside the Neolithic Mind, cognitive archaeologist David Lewis-Williams explores how science developed within the cocoon of religion and then shows how the natural functioning of the human brain creates experiences that can lead to belief in the supernatural realm. Such belief gives rise to creeds, a development examined here in the light of critical episodes in world history, from rivalries between Platonists and Aristotelians to the discoveries of Charles Darwin.

Archaeology reveals activities one can label religious many tens of thousands of years ago and the author shows that mental imagery can be detected in widely separated religious communities such as Hildegard of Bingen’s in medieval Europe or the San hunters of southern Africa.

At once polemical, insightful and thought-provoking, Conceiving God is essential reading for all those interested in these questions about the origins of religious thought, and the respective roles of science and religion in contemporary society.

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'A well-informed and steady march through the history of religion and its conflict with science … rich and educative'
A.C. Grayling

'A fascinating investigation into the human propensity for religion and religious belief … no one should hesitate to engage with it, or deny themselves the opportunity to be illuminated by the wisdom in its pages'
Rabbi Dr Charles H. Middleburgh

'Wide-ranging, information-rich and thought-provoking … historically informed and well reasoned … open and closed minds alike will find much to ponder'

'I doubt Lewis-Williams will have the last word in this debate. But in many ways, he should'
Scotland on Sunday

'A likeable and carefully reasoned tract'
Times Literary Supplement

'An insightful, provocative and extremely thought-provoking contribution to the great debate'
Good Book Guide

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.6 cm

Extent: 320 pp

Illustrations: 49

Publication date: 8 March 2010

ISBN: 9780500051641

Contents List

Prolegomena: Windows on the Past and Some of the Questions they Raise • 1. A New Way of Thinking • 2. From Skies to Species • 3. A Tale of Two Scientists • 4. Explaining Religion • 5. Religious Experience • 6. Religious Belief • 7. Religious Practice • 8. Stone Age Religion • 9. Hildegard on the African Veld • 10. God’s Empire Strikes Back Epilegomena: Of Babies and Bathwater

About the Author

David Lewis-Williams is Professor Emeritus and Senior Mentor in the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witswatersrand, Johannesburg. Among his books are The Mind in the Cave, Inside the Neolithic Mind (with David Pearce) and The Shamans of Prehistory (with Jean Clottes).

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