May 12th, 2011
12:46 PM ET
Religious belief is human nature, huge new study claims
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
London (CNN) - Religion comes naturally, even instinctively, to human beings, a massive new study of cultures all around the world suggests.
"We tend to see purpose in the world," Oxford University professor Roger Trigg said Thursday. "We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can't see it. ... All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking."
Trigg is co-director of the three-year Oxford-based project, which incorporated more than 40 different studies by dozens of researchers looking at countries from China to Poland and the United States to Micronesia.
Studies around the world came up with similar findings, including widespread belief in some kind of afterlife and an instinctive tendency to suggest that natural phenomena happen for a purpose.
"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways," such as believing in God's omniscience, said Trigg. But adults also jumped first for explanations that implied an unseen agent at work in the world, the study found.
The study doesn't say anything about whether God, gods or an afterlife exist, said Justin Barrett, the project's other co-director.
"This project does not set out to prove God or gods exist. Just because we find it easier to think in a particular way does not mean that it is true in fact," he said.
Both atheists and religious people could use the study to argue their sides, Trigg told CNN.
Famed secularist Richard "Dawkins would accept our findings and say we've got to grow out of it," Trigg argued.
But people of faith could argue that the universality of religious sentiment serves God's purpose, the philosophy professor said.
"Religious people would say, 'If there is a God, then ... he would have given us inclinations to look for him,'" Trigg said.
The blockbuster study may not take a stance on the existence of God, but it has profound implications for religious freedom, Trigg contends.
"If you've got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests," Trigg said.
"There is quite a drive to think that religion is private," he said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. "It isn't just a quirky interest of a few, it's basic human nature."
"This shows that it's much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted. It's got to be reckoned with. You can't just pretend it isn't there," he said.
And the Oxford study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, strongly implies that religion will not wither away, he said.
"The secularization thesis of the 1960s - I think that was hopeless," Trigg concluded.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
In other words most of religion is thought up from people's heads and not "divine". If it were truly divine there would be hundreds of religions each claiming to know the "truth". It's someone's idea battling it out with someone elses idea, like a virus.
Thanks for yet another sensationalized article that is light on facts and big on headlines! Honestly, I don't know why I bother reading and commenting here anymore. You fail to elaborate at all upon your attention-grabbing headline, likely because this study suggests no such thing.
Human beings are inquisitive. That is human nature. We ask questions because we have the capacity for abstract thought. And those questions require answers. In the absence of any concrete information on a subject, we have a tendency to invent our own explanations and modify them as more information becomes available. Thus it is not Religion that is instinctive, but the capacity and the inclination toward analyzing sensory information for abstract meaning. This explains our natural inclination toward not only religion, but art, and a range of other topics of interest only to human beings (as opposed to other animals that lack the capacity for abstract thought).
If this "study" is anything like the article suggests, it's pseudo-science in base form. For example, the repeated quotes suggesting that the fact that an overwhelming portion of the population is religious is proof that religion is instinctive to us. What method did these "scientists" use to arrive at such a conclusion? How did they manage to rule out the more obvious conclusion that Religion is a learned behavior indoctrinated into nearly all children from their very earliest years?
Where are the details, CNN? Let's not fall back on the excuse that you're only reporting what somebody else said. You're journalists. Investigate the claim and inform the public. Don't just look for headlines that will draw readers in! We expect more than that!
This is crap!
Belief in religion is hereditary, nothing more
If your father believes that Ford cars suck, chances are his kids will have that ingrained in their minds, after hearing "Ford sucks" 10000 times
It is certainly more, the same pathways in the brain are stimulated with hallucinogens as with praying and having a religious experience... we are prewired
The Ford pick-up truck is a best seller in America!
I have never from day one believed any of this stuff. And while there may be human tendencies to do so, what fraction of the population has this tendency? 51%? 75%? 90%? I was indoctrinated at a young age, but actually read the bible for myself rather than "believe" what the doofus "sunday school teacher" was scripted to say.
I would laugh my a$$ off if the study is really who answers on the blog. LOL!
I don't at all like the way this research was conducted. It doesn't mention whether or not a tally was being kept of those who grew up without any religious influence at all. I'd bet people who grew up with secular or atheist parents did not have any inclination at all to develop religious belief. It has nothing to do with "human nature," and everything to do with family and cultural influence as the brain is being trained and wired at a young age.
It's time someone in academia told it like it is.....and put those running their lives purely on logical constructs like science and technology in their proper place.
I hope Prof.Trigg is next in line for the Templeton Prize, which went to Lord Martin Rees of Cambridge U. this year. As you know, the Templeton is more money than the Nobel, and in time, perhaps much more sought after.
Ya see. Reading that I should be put in my place is about as bigoted and hateful as it gets. I did not lose my belief in god because of science. I lost it because of people like you. I lost it because of Christians saying they love everyone turning around and telling me, as a child, that I had no right to question god. I lost it because of the cruelty and hypocracy. Then I went to science and I won't be coming back. If, for some strange reason, I did it would not be a monotheism as they are the worst of the worst for being nasty. You are supposed to preach the love of god and give it up if the person rejects it. You lot never preach about the love. If I were on the edge, wavering about converting, every one of the posts here that are pro Fundamentalism would send me running. I have heavily research almost all the living and dead religions as well as science and social science. Have you?
I should have mentioned that many atheists have very strong value systems based on compassion. It is not necessary to believe in god to believe in decency towards your fellow human beings. Animals are capable of compassion and across species. I prefer the ethics of someone who cares about all of life to those of a fundamentalist so ignorant they cannot see beyond their label. You are primarily interested in getting yourself into heave, likely out of fear. I would never trust you to be a decent person. If you have compassion it does not rise out of your being, it comes from a command from a Tribal Sky God.
I call rubbish as well. Children also believe in Santa and all manner o imaginary things. I think what CAN be concluded from the study is that human beings tend to see "agency" or connections between things when no empirical evidence exists. Sometimes it leads to scientific discovery and creative pursuits, other times to cults and genocide. This pseudo-science irritates me to no end.
Scientists also believe that something came from nothing ala the Big Bang and that life can come from lifelessness.....now I ask you....who has the greater faith...or who is believing in rubbish??
Scientists do not think something came from nothing. The Big Bang is only one working hypothesis. It is some people in religion who think it all came from nothing. God spoke and it became. Creation by fiat. Funny though, Genesis has two creation stories written by different people. Much of it comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh; which is much older. Eve was not the first woman. Lilith was and she was individually created. . But she would not obey Adam so God created Eve out of Adam so she would obey. Lilith was driven off. Adam and Eves male children supposedly went outward to find wives. I got a lot of grief wanting to know who these other people were and who had created them and why is it not in the Bible if God did. None of this makes any sense at all. Even as a child I could see the holes in the whole and got in trouble for lack of faith. Faith in the illogical is a dead end.
God still hates amputees....no limbs miraculously grow back. Down Syndrome has never spontaneously disappeared in a young adult or child.
None that you are aware of at least. BTW, God doesn't hate amputees or children with Downs. Ask doctors if they have seen miracles and they will tell you yes. Just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it hasn't happened.
With that said, God does hate sin. I find it interesting that people want to treat God like He's Amazon.com....just place your order for the good things in life and He'll ship it off in a package to you.
What is being overlooked is the sinfulness of mankind, or humankind, if that works better for you. We have rejected God in our society and we expect Him to do our biding when it should be the other way. We should accept Him and do His biding.
rightwing, just because some doctors believe in miracles does not change facts or even support your assertion. Scientists have a much higher ratio of atheists to believers. Yes, I know some docs who believe, but I know ones that don't too. There is a relationship that the more people know of science the less they believe in supernatural hypothetical deities.
In Levi 21.18-24 God tells Moses that he does not want anybody with a physical defect to approach his sanctuary...
For non believers i would recommend you read "What in the World is going on" and maybe, just maybe you would consider opening your self centered eyes and see. But I am sure you would rather theorize your beliefs because it makes you feel as if you actually have control of your own destiny. Facts are facts and this book has some real close to home and hard not to believe truth.
Not only do I control my own destiny, so do you. Religion has nothing to do with it.
TTommy.....DO YOU? Really? Hmmmmmm.
The funny thing, in reading these comments, is that only the religious posts are in any way aggressive... so stop making ad hominum attacks. Feel free to believe in God, but don't put down others and their beliefs. It seems to me that if there were a just and moral God, He (or She) would not think too highly of such verbal (and hypocritical) violence.
With a subti.tle like, "10 Prophetic Clues You Cannot Afford to Ignore," I'm amazed you can still use phrases like "open your... eyes" and "facts are facts."
Prophecy is nowhere near observable (open eyed) evidence (facts).
Your opinion, based on only the books you approve of, is useless. No one book is going to explain anything especially if it is intended to be an apology for fundamentalism. I have read hundreds, likely, books on the issue of religion and faith. Read the Bible over and over in several versions. I took theology in University and did major work on the history of Christianity. There is no theorizing that proves anything. There is no analysis in fundamentalist books. They just tell you what the truth is and tell you you are of the devil if you argue. It was Christians that turned me off. Telling a smart teenager that it is a sin to question dogma is like waving a red flag in front of the bull.
Talking snakes, parting of seas, creating a person out of a rib, rising from the dead. Enough said. If you honestly buy into all that nonsense, there is absolutely no hope of carrying on any type of intellectual debate. PS, I'm a Republican too. Can you believe it?
Do you believe in trickle-down economics too?
I sat down for a beer with Baal, Ra, Zeus, Allah and some other gods the other day and asked them about my creation. Can you believe it? Those wise asses said they didn't believe in me either! -God
It is easy to believe your parents when you are small and ignorant. People like to think they understand things even when they don't so we as primitive people fill the gaps with our wild imaginations. Hence mythology and subsequent religions devoted to them. In this modern day, science is providing us with better explanations than "God's Thunderbolts" and deities which of course possess all our characteristics and some of course who don't, most larger than life, immortal as we wish we were. I found out that we no longer neeed to rely on a grandiose God figures to explain existence, the weather etc.... I am just waiting for the rest of the world to find out too. How much smarter we'd be as a human race!
Agreed. But it's so much easier just to believe in an invisible friend and eternal life ... and that's why the do it.
Well, one thing's for sure. One of us is wrong and one of us is right. there either is a Heaven and Hell or there isn't. Christianity is either right or wrong. I hope for your sake that I am wrong...because if not, the Bible is clear about Heaven and Hell.
rightwing. you are right that one is right and one is wrong. I'll go with the one that has kept religion on it's heels backing into a further and further more less factual corner for the last couple centuries.
I am offended at the idea that I need a bogus explanation for what I do not understand. I want a non-mystical explanation and I will always look for facts over biased opinions.
Heaven or Hell? I don't know which one to choose, I have friends in both places...
This has nothing to do with religion, it seems to me. At its core, I see it more as the basic human desire to put faith in those mystical aspects of life that do not – and may never – fall within the realm of conventional science. There are many mystical, non-physical events that happen in our lives, things in life that science just explains away as illusions and/or fantasies: Deathbed visitations, vivid childhood memories of a prior life – and the memories are confirmed with research with former friends and family members of the deceased and now the reincarnated child. Many people have out of body experiences, as well, many people have near death experiences, traveling to the afterlife realms and speaking with dead relatives. This stuff is impossible to explain away with conventional science and has been going on for as long as man has been on Earth.
I believe these things can be explained scientifically (and evolutionarily). We have enormous brains, which are the source of both our success and our suffering. They allow us to contemplate philosophical matters that, as far as we know, other life forms on this planet cannot. However, because our mental capacity drives us as a species to seek answers, we run into a dilemma when it comes to the contemplation of infinity, the afterlife, etc. As it is impossible to comprehend or imagine a state of non-existence either before or after life (it's intrinsically paradoxical) perhaps religion is the "fill in the blank" the human mind naturally turns to... just food for thought.
Science does not stop work on these issues. Many things thought to be impossible for science to solve have been. Just think, 50 years ago women were still believed to be lacking in intelligence. Today more women than men attend university. There was no cure for cancer back then and now there are many cancers that can be cured. It is a kind of ignorance to think we have already found everything that it is possible to solve. Hubris even.
And it's all bunk! Hallucinations!
My first thought, as already alluded to by other posters, is how can you even conduct this type of study in a population that was raised in a religious environment as most of have been? Find a population that has no religion and study those people and let's see how "natural" religion is. I for one have no "instinctive" need for believing in some ridiculous notion of an omniscient super being running the universe or in any other crazy fairy tales. I rejected religion as being utterly silly when I was a kid and still reject it years later. I don't feel as if there is anything missing from my life at all.
I can see thinking your way. There's nothing wrong with it either. I dismissed religion like you have. I started watching the tv show on the Biography channel called "I Survived-Beyond and Back". It's about people that have died with their heart stopping for a specific time. They come out of their body, see their body from floating above, see family members that have died. Leaning toward saying there is an afterlife. I encourage you to watch the show. It has done more for me than religion ever has.
If you want a population that does not believe in god you have to look into prehistory. Probably before the Neanderthals and Cro Mags as they had primitive religions in that they thought nasty stuff was caused by someone beyond them. They were trying to protect themselves. They also believed in an afterlife.
I used to think that the experiences of people who were dying and came back indicated life after death. I was relieved of this when I read that they can induce the same states with drugs. It is widely believed to be the brain's way of protecting us as we die. It is a stress response. I suspect this will be an ongoing study.
Why did humans invent gods who need worship, praise, a messenger and prophets when these deities are so omni everything?
I cannot believe in a god who wants to be praised all the time. -Friedrich Nietzsche
So it's human nature for humans to believe that they aren't in control and some magical being up above as a big, grand plan for them? No kidding...
They have found religious items and drawings made during the last ice age showing that by then humankind was believing in something supernatural. Very natural as they wanted explanations for what did not make sense. So they made them up. Over time and as people started to live in larger groups the "religions" became more sophisticated. Eventually very brilliant men showed the causes of things and some people started to leave the myths behind. Some adapted the myths and continued using them for growth but not thinking they were the ultimate truth or that they had the right to keep slamming them at those who do not believe. The need for meaning is clearly quite human and that does not mean it is a need for religion or god. I get my meaning in many ways. I may have remained a Christian in a moderate church but I was not. The abuses and bigotry made me look deeper than I would have if I were not furious and badly damaged emotionally. Out of hate grew a much more humane set of beliefs and an inability to stomach fundamentalists. The most hateful people I have ever met were fundamentalist Christians.
Artilces like this do little or nothing to help the overall situation – those of us who believe already believe, and those who do not or are afraid of death (though in reality we all are) will use a message board like this to ridicule those who do believe or even God Himself, and blasphemy only hurts their soul further, since like it or not we all have a soul which, unlike our tired bodies, does not die – but will have to answer for what we have done in this life, for good or evil, if we have not asked to be forgiven of any evil we have done in this life. What I'll never understand (thankfully) is why some of my friends are atheists – would they prefer enternal blackness when they die??? As the Bible states, in the end there will only be Heaven or Hell for all souls – but not a separate place for those who do not believe in God. Sure, it can overwhelm the mind and I've lost more than a few minutes of sleep thinking about it over the years – but God just wants us to trust and not to worry, or as my own little slogan goes, "Trust or rust"...
I think you take the cake for a run on sentence. There isn't only blackness, if you are like me my ashes will be put in my favorite vegetable garden so I can help grow peppers and tomatoes!
It is my opinion that if you believe in a higher being, you are the true done who is afraid of dying, because after all you are the one who is afraid of going to "Heaven" or "Hell". As an Atheist, I have no concern once-so-ever where I go after I die. Of course, I fear death, but you do as well. If you don't fear death, you have something psychologically wrong with you.
Good on you for this post Glades2.
You act as if you can just "choose" to believe in a god. You can no more do that than choose to believe in leprechauns. By the way, most atheists do not fear death, for there is nothing to be afraid of. It will be exactly the way it was before being created by our parents.
One of the primary issues with religion (as it is a human creation) is that it so often promotes total intolerance of opposing views. If your friends are atheists, haven't they the same rights to their beliefs as you have to yours?
Just because it cannot be PROVEN that there is no God does not mean that there is one; you can't prove there isn't a Flying Spaghetti Monster, either. The only truly logical conclusion in regards to individual paradigm is to accept only the empirical as bring true. This philosophy inherently denies the existence of God.
What a stupid question regarding Atheists not fearing blackness when they die. They don't believe there is anything including blackness and as such have no interest in your view of what happens to those you JUDGE. People like you are not able to understand that some people actually research in science and the social sciences very rigorously. Their "conversion" or decision is not an emotional one based on fear of God. I was raised in the Baptist Church and had my fill of their emotional opinions and abuse of children in telling them they will go to heII a long time ago.
I argue with your ilk on here all the time not because I actually care what someone too dim to understand anything that is not fed to him on the back of a Bible but as a way of fighting against bullying. Telling anyone they will go to Gehenna if they do not believe what you do is bullying. Telling a child that the A they got in school was the work of Jesus but the D is the fault of the child is abuse. Beating a child to make sure it gets into heaven is common and it is abusive. I find fundamentalist religionists of all stripes to be too weak to go it alone, too lazy to learn about this world we live in and not the next, and criminally abusive to their children. If I were a teenager now with the same church and same Mother I would be suing them.
There is nothing wrong with believing in god and going to church as long as you do not use these to beat your kids or anyone else. The thing is, you get so insulting when you are the one who lacks knowledge.
The soul is not part of the anatomy of a person. Not mentioned in my biology courses...
All religious belief is based on the same primitive fear of the unknown since caveman days. It's human nature until we can evolve to the point that our real knowledge can quench those fears and we can rely on other facets of human nature like caring for others without having be be afraid of an imaginary omnipotent presence. Please read some Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchins for some common sense and reason – the real skills we all need.
BTW, you can be a spiritual person without believing in God. Read some of the Buddhist texts. The Dali Lama has some wonderful books on the spiritual path than never reference god. He does not believe you can know if there is a god as that realm is beyond us. Thus, follow a path that helps you and others live decently in this life and not worry about what, if anything, comes next. The Toltecs tend to leave god out of it as unknowable as well.
If it human nature to believe in a higher being, are atheist examples of evolving humans? Funny how I get to use evolution and religion in the same sentence and it makes complete sense!
You will like this quote mike, “We are the product of 4.5 billion years of fortuitous, slow biological evolution. There is no reason to think that the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation.”-Carl Sagan
No, it I actually doesn't make sense for more reasons than I have time to list. First, there is obviously no suggestion of any sort of genetic link here, so you've missed the point of the study. Second, I could just as easily argue atheist suffer from a neurological deficiency because they lack this innate sense. Third, there's no reason to think atheists have increased their numbers over the span of human existence, as there's always been people that have rejected spirituality, so atheists aren't doing a good job passing on their traits, but once again those of us that read the article know it doesn't mention genes.
Perfect, thank you !
Hery Mike, I'll meet you at the pearly gates my friend. Sad to say it sounds like you and I will be heading in different directions, after that point. You may one move to Iran to get used to what your eternity will be like. It takes as much faith for you to believe in no God then it does for me to believe in God. By the way, you do not have to be a republican to believe abortion is wrong. I find it interesting that most people who feel "water boarding" is inhumane are fine will partial birth abortions. We have regressed rather than evolved.
Here's one for you:
Science says that a single cell embryo – an egg fertilized by a sperm – has unique human DNA. Left to grow in it's natural environment it will become nothing other than a human.
So, how come those who support and defend science continue to believe that abortion is not the killing of a new human life?
Heres one for you....mind your own business and stop trying to dictate how other people live their lives!
It's a "potential" human life, and is actually a parasite in the female's body.
The "right to choose" simply means the woman makes the decision on what happens with her body.
It is not _your_ decision, or anyone else's, because it is not _your_ body.
If people like you spent more time on averting unwanted pregnancies, we'd all be better off.
You can take that same ball of cells and pluck off individual cells and grow many humans (ie many twins), there is no soul or anything else besides cells. It is not a human until the brain begins to work, ie consciousness, and that requires a developed nervous sytem.
Let's avoid off-topic jabs at other political issues. Keep your personal discontent to yourself, if you don't mind.
Fine, just tell the mother where the natural environment is so she can leave it there to survive on its own, and everyone's happy.
When you die you stop breathing, when you are born you take your first breath. We keep people alive that naturally would not survive with feeding tubes and breathing machines, yet they are dead. If you do not like abortion do not get one, otherwise mind your business. Quote your book to someone who cares because the sane people do not buy it. Your cult can do what it wants, leave us free from it.
Good point. Thanks.
Because, following your own stated reasoning, abortion only prevents a new human life from happening.
Here's another one: Why is it that you can charge someone with fetal homicide if they cause a woman who's pregnant to lose their baby, but that same baby can be terminated at the same point in its gestation and that's called abortion and legal?
Skegeeace, because any normal person would know the pain that would be caused someone's family who were planning to have the child to term. The developing ball of cells is indifferent to the scenario.
Some pro-life apologists oppose destruction of life by abortion; yet they kill the abortionist! Pro-life my ass!
Rubbish.....it is not religion that comes naturally or instinctively to human beings, it is SPIRITUALITY and NON-DUALITY that comes naturally. There is a huge difference. Religion is man made, true sense of being is innate.
A study like this is intrinsically worthless because 99% of the people are brainwashed through childhood to believe whatever their parents believe.
So, you ask a theist if they see "purpose" in the world and oh, what a surprise, they do!
Exactly. I think those doing this study are confusing spirituality with religion. After more than twenty years of receiving mail from people around the world, I can say that people feel life has a purpose and seek to discover what that is. They know there is some connection to something other than themselves, and they want to know how to work with that. Religion does not make sense to these people, it does not answer their questions and is not fulfilling.
So is the fear of spiders, does not make it (always) useful
Does that mean us Nature worshipers have to believe in Humans...