ichael Shermer makes his living by asking questions: If God made the universe, who made God? Is the universe perhaps not a universe at all, but a multiverse? What is the point of life, and what can we know about death? These are the fundamental questions that humanity has been wrestling with for millennia. Shermer is a professional skeptic with little patience for answers like, “God made the heavens and the earth” and “After death those who believe will be resurrected; the rest will perish is hell.” What makes him bristle is not simple religious faith, however — he himself is a lapsed born-again Christian — but when science is perverted to accommodate it.
How We Believe goes to the heart of contemporary American credulity and its tropism towards easy, faith-based answers. One chapter focuses on James van Praagh, bestselling author and self-proclaimed “clairsentient” (he claims to speak with the dead); another tweezes apart The Bible Code, its “prophecy” based on crossword puzzles supposedly programmed by God in the text of the Hebrew Bible.
There is plenty to chew on regarding religion, anthropology, science and philosophy. Shermer’s bread-and-butter is the paranormal, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and charlatanism. The book is highly lucid, well-informed and anecdotal. It distinguishes itself from many more recent books on atheism (or nontheism) by its Spinozan patience and will to understand the phenomena of belief.