Brighton Science Festival

God is Watching You – Dominic Johnson

a picture of Dominic JohnsonAt 12.30 on Sunday September 18th

Sallis Benney Theatre BN2 0JY

Free. Suitable for 11+ yrs

Dominic Johnson is interested in how new research on evolution and human nature is challenging traditional understandings of international relations, conflict, cooperation and religion. He is the author of numerous scientific journal articles, as well as Overconfidence and War: The Havoc and Glory of Positive Illusions (2004) and, with Dominic Tierney, Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (2006).

The Flood that God used to destroy the sinful race of man on the earth crystalizes 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 bad deeds, while promising rewards 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 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.

See Dominic Johnson presenting “God is Watching You” at Take Nobody’s Word For It on Sunday September 18th.