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.
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The Game is now Over – Congratulations You Win!
Life is quite simple as it was just explained on a website in 500 words. Now that we have the truth we can all go home and sit there and wait for the next level of our quest.
Widespread belief in a "higher power" or interventionist deity is by no means evidence that religion is instinctive, nor is the fact that children easily believe in things such as an omnipotent god. All it is evidence for, is that a lot of people on our planet have been brainwashed from an early age to believe that fairy tales are reality. Kids believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, until their parents (or usually older sibling) tells them otherwise. They believe their parents because they are the authority figures from whom the children draw their world perception. If parents could start telling their children that there is no God, then they would not believe in the fairy tales. I was never brought up to believe in any deity; as such, those of you who do have absolutely NO idea how ridiculous you look to someone who wasn't brainwashed since infancy.
Yeah, but why are we so apparently gullible about such beliefs if we're not wired biased toward belief?
In childhood many of us believed in Santa, the Easter bunny, the Fairy Tooth, etc. Then, at a certain age, we stopped believing in these stories. Why is it that we continued believing in baby-god-Jesus born in a manger and God the almighty watching everything you do under heaven?
I don't care if it rains or freezes, as long as I got my plastic Jesus!
stop worshiping plastic
Love to see the religion haters, keep it up. Soon this prophesy will be fulfilled also. Rev. 17:17
Halleluljah – do you hear god's voice? Do you talk to god?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
• False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
• Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)
I find it sad. I would like to see all men saved though all will not be. I find it funny that people jumped on Christianity as if it were the only religion. Some say all religion is crap though it seems that the majority of people only debate the validity of Christianity, no one debates authenticity of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism...no one says the Satanist are full of crap! Why so much hate towards Christianity. I know what the bible says, I just want to get the opinion of thos who don't believe...
Oh, Artist, what trash. The two are not the same and I am sure you know that to be true. Baby.
Dear Artist: If you talk to God, you're praying; if God talks to you, you're psychopath. [Thomas Szasz (b. 1920), U.S. psychiatrist. The Second Sin,"Schizophrenia" (1973)]
I was brought up in a religious household (Hinduism) and as a child I always believed (rather Feared) god,not really instinctively though. I believed in god because I was Taught to believe by my parents like I was taught other things. But in my adulthood I tried to think about it logically and then could not make any sense of all these religions. Now as a mother I never exposed my 5 yr daughter to any religion or god and she does Not instinctively think there is a god! Only when she started going to school and heard her friends talk about god she asked me about it and I told her that I do not believe there is one but she is free to make up her mind when she grows up.
just because at 5 your daughter doesn't instinctively picture a god figure, that doesn't disprove the study. to me that would be like saying my 5 year old child who was raised vegetarian and doesn't crave meat means it's not human nature to eat meat (in a world of mostly meat-eaters). When I look around the world, or at myself for that matter, I would have to agree with the study. That, however, says nothing to the existence of god...
Yes I agree with you that my experience does not say that the study is not true. It was just anecdotal. I also kind of believe that most people somehow must have the instinct to believe in something supreme as vast majority of people believe in god.
another bunch of hatefull comments from a bunch of god-o-phobes. They won't get banned from making comments though
So is masturbation.
so is eating food and sleeping and etc. They are all human instinct that will always be with you. So religion wins.
Love that one every day!
Thank god I'm an atheist.
lol good one
Yessss... Me too!
Stop trying to know God from your regious knowledge and get to know Him from spiritual reality!!!
It wasn't too many years ago in Europe when people were beheaded or slaughtered in mass for their "religious" beliefs...a behavior that still exists in portions of the Middle East today. I have no doubt that believing in a higher power is part of human nature; it's a part of us. The problem is that people have been forced to put their "faith" in the pulpit and at this point in time, most have lost sight of the true essence of God.
So they've proven that being gullible is instinctive. Good work.
If there is a god I want nothing to do with him / her / it. Imagine a power that would allow the magnitude of pain and suffering on this earth when they had the ability to change it ? Worship that ?? If god exists and I get to meet him / her / it I will spit in their face.
Parents who do not let their children experience challenges have kids who are weak. If you understand how short life is compared to eternity, then suffering for an entire lifetime does not seem like much, although it may while you're in the middle of it. The argument that suffering is evidence agianst god is very weak because it shows a very short term perspective that an eternal god would not have.
We have the world we wanted. God let us go our own way as we insisted. Why spit in God's face? His work is to save us from this world - if we want it.
Hopefully you're familiar with the term free will. With this comes enormous responsibility that most of us fail miserably at. Imagine if you will a world that was considered 'perfect', we'd believe we were Gods.
Of course people have the tendency to fill in the blanks when something is unexplainable. That's human nature. It doesn't mean supernatural things exist. As the study points out, children have more of a tendency to do this, and obviously that is because they do not have life experience and must fill in the blanks with the supernatural. Every child developmental book in existence will tell you that.
If you accept this headline as fact (not the study but CNN's characterization of it), the question would then seem to be: what about the consistently high rates of nonbelief throughout "Christian" Europe? What about the growing rates of atheist, agnostic, or "no preference" identification in the United States? What about those humans who do not believe in God, of which there are millions, at least? Are they "unnatural"? Are they "less natural" than the devoutly religious? Probably not.
What this study actually indicates is that there may be common origins for the phenomenon of religious or spiritual belief in human biology, and it doesn't suggest what those might be. I doubt Trigg would make the statement that "religious belief is human nature" – because "human nature" is a meaningless and goofy concept with something this complex.
Perhaps humans are evolving; a thought the church would refuse to believe. Or, perhaps science is offering answers to the questions that the church once had a monopoly on. This is another thought the church does not want to hear.
Very well put.
Europe is definitely post-Christian, but history demonstrates that a society will only remain without religion for a little while. The vacuum even now is being filled with New Age religion and other belief systems.
I would suggest that folks leave organized religious organizations primarily because of experiences with other people within that organization. This could be over any human resentment (feeling dissed at the church picnic, not being selected to be an elder, not getting into the choir, gossip), or worse, through abusive sickos in powerful positions. But this doesn't prove any loss of the fundamental feeling that there is something more powerful than us at work in the universe – all that this study is pointing out.
We fail to take into consideration that we are conscious of the fact that we "reign" over all other beasts of our world. The belief of a higher power is simply a manifestation of the idea that because we are all powerful over every other thing, there surely has to be something greater than us, because even we have limitations.
That is one of the best logical arguments I have heard in a while. Thank you.
If you crossed paths with a tiger in the bush would you still feel that you reign over all nature? Even if a tiger's presence made one feel less than king of the universe, would this cause one to lose one's faith (if present)? Would you speculate that the dinosaurs had gods simply because they reigned the earth for way longer than man has existed? You could be leaving something out of your assertion.
What a crock.
It's all in how you treat yourself and others. Case in point: my boyfriend is an atheist, but he is the most christian type person I've ever met in his behavior and treatment of people. He sets a great example, which I try to live up to everyday (and usually fail).
Yes but the Sin is having more faith in his sinful self... than putting his trust in the Creator. you boyfriends goodness is not what gets a person the golden ticket.. it is realizing you are not good enough and need the creator's covering.
Your boyfriend is a humanist. Humanism transcends all religions and I hope it will be the most revered religion of the future.
I think it is odd that at one time people worshiped idols . Also Christianity is just a little over two thousand years old. If it is instinctive why did people before two thousand years ago know of no such thing ?
That is merely Christianity, one religion. The article speaks of God or Gods, which people have worshiped or believed in for thousands of years. Christianity is the new kid on the block, there have been many other Gods before this.
We'll your ignorance answers the question...they always have. There has always been a belief in a higher power and fairytales as soon as many wanted answers to things they cannot understand...all ancient civilizations. It didn't start with christianity you ill informed mind...
God and gods are two different things !
I was an altar boy and I have traveled the world and I bet I know more than you about religions around the world. Try looking up adherents dot com.
Christianity and idol worship are similar expression to the same feeling. I yell at my phone, I think my dog is smiling, I think fortunate when good things happen and sometimes like the victim when bad things happen ... this is human nature, but none of it is really true. We have countless studies that show that what we perceive without training is very different from the reality around us. We react to our environment in an evolutionary way ... we have "feelings" of being watched and we see very simple shapes as faces not because they are true, but because they kept our species alive.
the article was not a bolster from Christianity. It simply states that belief is in God, gods or religion is instinctive.
it didn't say that christianity was human nature, but the need for or belief in religion itself.
Actually, one of the first things that makes non-human primates distinct from humans, is ancestral appreciation of the sacred. We mostly fined evidence of this in burials. There are several Neanderthal burials for example, in which the body was buried in what is believed to be a "sacred" manner. Google Shanidar cave and you will have evidence of possible worship or at least appreciation of the sacred for around 40,000 years ago. 2000 years ago is the date associated with Jesus' life. It is not the first evidence of Christianity or any other religion in human cultures around the world.
Gee, I don't know. Um, could it be because Christ wasn't born until that timeframe? Jews and Persians worshipped single gods long before then, and in virtually every culture that archeology has ever found one or more gods were fundamental parts of the cultures. My bet is that if we could read animals' minds, they would have similar root beliefs. Don't tell me they don't have the intellect to think along these lines; they dream for Christsake!
Most Christians do not even know Jesus was born on the continent of Asia !
Religions are the natural offshoots of ancient mythologies thousands of years old.
Now we know exactly what is meant by the term "what a crock"!
Very fascinating, this kind of stuff makes you think.
Is this your first encounter with the world?
Religion and faith are not the same thing. I have faith but I am not religious.