Faith and Belief: Remnants of Our Ancestry Used to Enslave Our Minds, by Glen Vickers, attempts to look at the evolutionary psychology of religion, but fails miserably. It had the potential to be a solid work, however it could have benefited from better fact checking, a more skilled copy editor, and the reliance on citation. It also suffers from clear biases against religion, expressed by the author, rather than scientific objectivity.
If the author pushed himself to use citation to back up his material, he may not have made so many errors. As it stands, this book is largely a perpetuation of pseudoscience and pseudohistory and is also an example of blatant plagiarism. If the content were at least decent, I could get past the poor quality of writing: the spelling errors, use of incorrect homophones, sentence fragments, run on sentences, and more. After all, I admit that I am not the best writer. However, the content of Faith and Belief does not make up for the poor writing. The following is an overall review and rebuttal of the work. I want to start with the structural issues of the book.
The most glaring issue is the repeated contradictions within the text. Even someone who is not familiar with the topic should be able to pick up on these inconsistencies. The the beginning of the book, the author states that “religion is defined as the belief in a higher power.” But then on the very next page, he asserts that “the literal definition of religion is the belief in a deity or to have a set doctrine.” (pp. 15 – 16) When discussing monotheistic religions, he first claims that “the Jewish faith is the oldest known monotheistic faith on current records.” He follows this with a the assertion: “[Judaism was] not the first monotheistic religion to document their belief and create holy books which claim to be written by the prophets of god.” He then continues on by suggesting that “archeological findings on early civilizations suggest that all religions began as a monotheistic tradition.” (pp. 96 – 90)
Finally, the author seems to want to claim that there is no universal objective morality (pp. 34- 35). And admittedly the existence of one has not been well argued. But he then continues to address the topic of rape and other related actions as immoral, and seems to do so in a way that suggests that such actions are inherently, objectively, and universally immoral.
If the author had provided citations for the last point, I might buy it, but either way, the chain of reasoning is contradictory. If monotheistic traditions preceded polytheistic ones, then either Judaism was the first religion or was not the first monotheistic one. This back and forth continues for the next few pages. The lack of citations is ironic, considering this following point that the author made.
You can trust the delivery of knowledge from a person as much as you can trust the delivery of knowledge from the written word. Claims can be made by both the written word and the spoken word. The difference between the deliveries does not matter as much as the source of the knowledge and the evidence to support the You can trust the delivery of knowledge from a person as much as you can trust the delivery of knowledge from the written word. Claims can be made by both the written word and the spoken word. The difference between the deliveries does not matter as much as the source of the knowledge and the evidence to support the knowledge. (pp. 103 – 104)
The author recognizes the importance of the source of the knowledge and the evidence to “support” it, but fails to provide citations. Of less significance is the repeated issues with grammar and spelling. There are numerous sentence fragments and run on sentences. One of many examples is as follows: “It seems that the only species that makes moral decisions for survival of a species is humans. At least on this planet, we can’t speak for any other life in the universe.” (pg. 29) There are also misused homophones, such as the use of manor rather than manner (pg. 93). Again, if the content made up for the poor quality of writing, I would not mind. But that is not the case.
The most important failure of the text is the presence of scientifically and historically inaccurate information. This includes the perpetuation of the historically inaccurate view that Medieval Europe viewed the Earth as flat. More importantly the author has a poor understanding of early human development. Finally there is a similar misrepresentation of the history of the development of religion and literalist vs interpretationist stances on the bible.
Starting with the most benign misconception, according to the author, it has “been less than 600 years since we discovered that our earth was not flat” (pg. 14). However, according to current historical understanding, this was not the case. In Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians, Jeffrey Burton Russell tears apart the historically falsified myth that the medieval world thought the Earth was flat. He also explains how the argument that Columbus set out to settle was not whether the Earth was flat or round, but rather how big it was. Modern history books no longer include this myth, but it is likely that the author was taking classes before the corrections occurred in the 80s.
Later on, the author claims that “religion existed when we lived in caves” (pg. 33). While according to current theory religion did exist during the paleolithic period (citation needed) the view that humans lived in caves is not an archaeologically valid statement. With a few exceptions, early humans did not live in caves. They did engage in certain rituals involving caves, but that was generally the extent of their interaction with the environment. (A Caveman’s Home was Not a Cave). This view of early human brings me to another related point. The author repeatedly uses the word “primitive.” I will try to add further citation later, but a Reddit AskAnthropology Q&A does a fairly good job of explaining the issue: “primitive” is a poorly defined term which, in terms of looking at groups of people, was developed as a way to expressing a false sense of superiority over other groups. (Reddit AskAnthropology)
The author’s lack of understanding of early humans creates other issues. Part way through the second chapter, the author invokes the concept of the alpha male, saying that if a person survived and became the alpha male, he is now the leader of the tribe (pg 73). There are a number of issues with this position. The existence of alpha males in humans is not well accepted and is not part of the current body of scientific theory. The are a number of sources which address the topic, including Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, Limited Wants, Unlimited Means, “Are Alpha Males Myth or Reality,” “The myth of the alpha male,” and “Play as a Foundation of Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence.” The final source is quick to point out that early human populations were not tribal but rather exited in mobile bands with fluid membership. Overall, when it comes to the development of modern humans, I think the author would benefit from reviewing a basic anthropology textbook. Transition from a fluid collection of small bands to complex societies with leaders is even addressed in intro anthropology texts like Principles of Archaeology.
I touched on the issue of the author’s lack of understanding and clarity on the development of religion, when I mentioned the repeated contradictions in his discussion of monotheism and polytheism. Another issue is that the author seems to view interpretationist policy of the bible as a rather new development. However, Ælfric’s Preface to Genesis gives us a solid example of opposition to literal interpretations of the bible, which far predates modern thought. Ælfric of Eynsham was a monk and writer. He was asked to translate the bible from Latin into Old English, as very few could read Latin, in England, by that point in time. (The Ælfric of Eynsham Project: An Introduction) However, Ælfric was cautious about engaging in such an act. While he could not disobey the king’s request, he provided a preface to his translation. Within the phrase, Ælfric writes the following: “we also said before that the book is very profoundly spiritual in understanding and we will write no more than the naked narrative. Then it seems to the unlearned that all that meaning is locked up in the simple narrative, but it is very far from it.” This is a recognition that a purely literal understanding of the “naked word” is not enough. (Ælfric’s Preface to Genesis: A Translation)
Overall, I am glad that I picked up a copy of this book, not because it was informative in terms of the evolution and function of religion, but rather it gives me additional insight into the minds of people like Dr. Glen Vickers. It also allowed me to touch on some common misconceptions about human evolutionary history, the evolution of religion, and other falsified “secular” myths that are still perpetuated by some members of the population.
The following are a few texts which are related to the topics mentioned in this article. Many of the books have been useful to me in the past.