In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence
April 2010, ©2010, Wiley-Blackwell
- Introduces a fundamentally new approach to the analysis of religion in a style accessible to the general reader
- Applies insights from evolutionary and cognitive psychology to both Judaism and Christianity, and their texts, to help understand the origins of religious violence
- Argues that religious violence is grounded in the moral psychology of religion
- Illustrates its controversial argument with reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the response to the attacks from both the terrorists and the President. Suggests strategies for beginning to counter the divisive aspects of religion
- Discusses the role of religion and religious criticism in the contemporary world. Argues for a position sceptical of the moral authority of religion, while also critiquing the excesses of the “new atheists” for failing to appreciate the moral contributions of religion
- Awarded Honourable Mention, 2010 Prose Awards
Introduction: Evolution and Mind.
1. The Evolution of Morality.
Setting the Task.
The Moral Brain.
The First Layer: Kin Selection.
The Second Layer: Reciprocal Altruism.
A Third Layer: Indirect Reciprocity.
A Fourth Layer: Cultural Group Selection.
A Fifth Layer: The Moral Emotions.
Conclusion: From Moral Grammar to Moral Systems.
2. The Evolution of Moral Religions.
Setting the Task.
The Evolution of the Religious Mind.
Conceptualizing the Almighty.
The Moral Function of Gods.
3. Evolutionary Religious Ethics: Judaism.
Setting the Task.
The Ten Commandments: An Evolutionary Interpretation.
Conclusion: The Evolved Law.
4. Evolutionary Religious Ethics: Christianity.
Setting the Task.
Constructing the Christ.
Setting the Boundaries: Christian and/or Jew?.
The Third Race: Christians as In-Group.
Putting on Christ: Christianity’s Signals of Commitment.
Loving Your Neighbor and Turning the Other Cheek.
5. Religion, Violence, and the Evolved Mind.
Setting the Task.
Devoted to Destruction: Sanctified Violence and Judaism.
The Blood of the Lamb.
A Case Study in the Evolved Psychology of Religious Violence: 9/11.
6. Religion Evolving.
Setting the Task.
Varieties of Religious Expressions.
If There Were No God ….
Religion, Ethics, and Violence: An Assessment.
Responding to Religion, Ethics, and Violence: Some Proposals.
“In summary, this is an excellent book. It gives a good summary of current scientific understanding of evolution of morality and religion. It discusses religious violence as the other side of the moral coin. And there is a useful discussion of the problem of religion in modern society and ways we can overcome the negative aspects of our evolved moral and cognitive systems.” (Open Parachute, 27 October 2013)"This book is a contribution to the study of religion from an evolutionary perspective . . . Teehan carefully distinguishes between methodological and metaphysical naturalism and officially adopts the former but not the latter." (Theology, 1 September 2011)
"All scholars interested in religious ethics but also in fresh approaches to reading the Bible will find something of value. This provocative book is a significant contribution to the ongoing discourse about religious ethics and for this reason deserves careful engagement." (Theological Book Review, 2011)
"In the Name of God, by John Teehan, takes the evolutionary framework and applies it to the reading of religious texts. The result is a provocative discussion of the ubiquitous phenomenon of religious belief that can change the way we understand the role of religion in society... .Teehan’s analysis spans a wide range of material but his incisive and focused approach conveys arguments without overwhelming the reader....Overall, Teehan does a commendable job elucidating his thesis of religion as moral innovation while treating the material with sensitivity and respect... .The result is an enjoyable read packed with insights, covering research from a wide range of disciplines, which will appeal to both the researcher in the field as well as the interested layman. Anyone who has pondered the nature of religion and its apparent contradictions will find In the Name of God a gem and emerge with a deeper understanding of morality and the religious mind." (Evolutionary Psychology, February, 2011)
"In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence, John Teehan sets out an evolutionary-psychological account of the connection between religion, morality and violence... .What results is an intriguing and cogent theory that promises a significant advance in our understanding of the place of religion in human history and society." (Metapsychology, January, 2011)
"In the Name of God is an excellent popular presentation of the scientific understanding of the origins of religion and morality. It also examines the origins of religious violence and opens a discussion on the way humanity may reduce these problems. Some people will find it controversial. But not because some trends in evolutionary psychology have discredited themselves with extravagant claims. In this case the controversy will be because, as Teehan puts it, 'this view of human nature – the very idea that there might be a human nature – smacks up against some strongly held political, moral, religious, and ideological positions.' In summary, this is an excellent book. It gives a good summary of current scientific understanding of evolution of morality and religion. It discusses religious violence as the other side of the moral coin. And there is a useful discussion of the problem of religion in modern society and ways we can overcome the negative aspects of our evolved moral and cognitive systems.... .The evolutionary study of religion and morality is a new science, but already a fruitful one. This book provides the ideal introduction." (Open Parachute, July 2010)
"This is an exceedingly provocative study and one that merits careful attention from general readers and scholars alike. Highly recommended." (Choice, December 2010)
"After decades of discussing evolution-related arguments for and against the existence of God, scholars have become aware that the theory of evolution can possibly be seen as accounting for the existence of religion itself. If evolutionary biology does indeed explain the emergence of religion, what then? Will the claims of religion be irretrievably undermined? These questions form the backbone of Teehan’s impressive study. He concentrates on two aspects of the phenomenon of religion: morality and violence. For Teehan ... violence is not a corruption of religion but, in a way, one of its essential ingredients. He argues that the elements of religion that motivate pro-community moral attitudes are the very same elements that produce division, prejudice, aggression and violence... .Teehan’s main contribution comes from applying evolutionary psychology to gain exciting new insights into this area of anthropology....the inquiry needs to continue. The next step should start from where Teehan and others like him have achieved so far." (Ars Disputandi, December 2010)
"Drawing on evolutionary assumptions and evidence, Teehan argues that religion can be understood within the context of the natural development of human moral systems, apart from any actual transcendent moral agency. He succinctly and helpfully summarizes his evolutionary approach to the origins of human religiousness. Then he uses it to analyze the (Jewish) Ten Commandments and the (Christian) ethical teachings of Jesus and, finally, to show that religious violence is inherent in the in-group/out-group nature of religion itself... .Teehan's naturalism is commendable ... .An informative ... study." (Library Journal, July 2010)
"Evolutionary and cognitive psychology are now at the forefront of explaining the origin and function of human morality. In this book, In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence, John Teehan offers a provocative discussion about the role of these exciting sub-disciplines of psychology in explaining religion and violence ... this book is very useful in exploring the potential of evolutionary psychology in explaining religious violence." (Free Inquiry, August/September, 2010)
"In terms of specifically 'religious' expressions of social
solidarity. His account of the dynamics of varying coalitions of
them and us would be compatible with, and perhaps even mildly
supplement, the standard social scientific understanding of the
sources of group violence, for example, in international
relations." (Times Literary Supplement, 17 December
Even those readers who are skeptics of a sociobiological explanation for religion will find this intriguing book to be a thoughtful inquiry and a feast for the imagination."
—Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence
"This is a thoughtful and sophisticated attempt to bring
scholarship in evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology to
bear on religious ethics. Building on a masterful synthesis of
current work in the sciences, Teehan roots both the nobler,
pro-social and the darker, more violent aspects of Christian and
Jewish ethical teachings in the evolved psychology of in-group /
out-group distinctions. Contrary to those who emphasize either the
positive or the negative ethical aspects of these religious
traditions, Teehan argues that the violence can't simply be excised
as an aberation and instead suggests pragmatic strategies intended
to moderate our tendency to favor our own group over others."
—Ann Taves, University of California at Santa Barbara, author of Religious Experience Reconsidered
"John Teehan’s book will soon be recognized as a classic
in several fields—it is a wonderful example of how to build
successfully conceptual bridges across different disciplines,
shortchanging none of them and contributing substantially to each
of them. What a treasure Teehan is: few scholars write with such
clarity across such an impressive range of disciplines. How
fortunate that we have him to navigate us though historical and
recent work investigating religion from an evolutionary
—Todd K. Shackelford, Florida Atlantic University
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