An Atheist’s History of Belief by Matthew Kneale

What first prompted prehistoric man, sheltering in the shadows of deep caves, to call upon the realm of the spirits? And why has belief thrived since, shaping millennia of civilizations, thousands of generations of shamans, pharaohs, Aztec priests and Mayan rulers, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Scientologists?

As our dreams and nightmares have changed over the millennia, so have our beliefs. The gods we created have evolved and mutated with us through a narrative fraught with human sacrifice, political upheaval and bloody wars. Belief was man’s most epic labour of invention. It has been our closest companion, and has followed humans across the continents and throughout history.

Matthew Kneale ( and seeks to offer some sort of explanation concerning this closest of our bedfellows. A similar approach to this subject – namely investigating the psychological and pragmatic benefits of holding belief irrespective of their epistemic ‘truthfulness’ is offered by Jesse Bering in his book The Belief Instinct (

See if you find these approaches convincing.

272 pages in Bodley Head

ISBN 978-1847922625

Matthew Kneale

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