Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution & Anthropology 

God is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human

Proposes a new theory of the origins and evolution of not only religion, but also human cooperation and society
Explores how fear of supernatural punishment exists within and outside of religious contexts
Uses an interdisciplinary approach that draws on new research from anthropology, evolutionary biology, experimental psychology, and neuroscience

By: Dominic Johnson (Author)

304 pages, 7 b/w illustrations

Oxford University Press USA

Hardback | Jan 2016 | #224049 | ISBN-13: 9780199895632
Availability: Usually dispatched within 48 hours
NHBS Price: £18.99 $23/€21 approx

About this book

"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.


Chapter 1: Why Me?
Chapter 2: Sticks and Stones
Chapter 3: Hammer of God
Chapter 4: God is Great
Chapter 5: The Problem of Atheists
Chapter 6: Guardian Angels
Chapter 7: Nations Under God
Chapter 8: A World Without God
Chapter 9: God Knows


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Dominic Johnson received a D.Phil. from Oxford University in evolutionary biology, and a Ph.D. from Geneva University in political science. Drawing on both disciplines, he is interested in how new research on evolution, biology and human nature is challenging theories of international relations, conflict, and cooperation. He is the author of Overconfidence and War: The Havoc and Glory of Positive Illusions (2004) and Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (2006), with Dominic Tierney.

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