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.
Since Professor Trigg is in the faculty of theology at Oxford, perhaps one can understand better his perspective. As for Richard Dawkins, we should let him speak for himself.
Yes, people like Prof Trigg are very lucky to be working, because they have no real usefulness.
wow, didn't realize how many atheist is out there, denying God, no wonder the world is in such bad shape, but when something bad does happen we are all ready to pray....
They are really a small insignificant group...they hardly have a voice..that is why so many of them post under different names and you see the same basic comments.
There is a massive difference between GOD and the flawed mortals who created religion. Please do not assume that those of who refuse to go to church are atheists. That is beyond ignorant andone of the reasons why you sense so much hostility against religion. Religion is not real. God is.
Because the world was so good during the crusades? Or the world wars? Both times when belief in God was very high- heck, you couldn't say anything against the belief in God in the US during the WWs without being ostracized. Oh, and those crusades were awesome. Howabout the black death?
Get with it. The world has always been FUBAR in one way or another. To say this is because of a lower belief in God or gods is naive.
Anytime I hear that old "have faith, do not question" line I hold my wallet tighter as I know its a scam!
@seriphem you convinently forgot to mention the muslim brutal conquest before the crusades...the crusades were retaking of territory that was taken away..it was a territory dispute..I guess you can choose to blame God for Man's fralities.. in monopoly I guess you could choose not to like the rules of the game and not play.....but of course that means YOU LOSE the game!
@Nico: "Religion is not real. God is."
Actually, religion is real. I can provide evidence to support my hypothesis that religion is real. Others can test my evidence against the claims made in my theory with repeatable results.
Please provide evidence to support your hypothesis that your god is real.
The fight over God(s) and different religions have caused more evil and problems in the world than anything else, with territory running a very close 2nd, so your post makes no sense. I never feel a need to pray, but I don't feel the need to put someone down who doesn't believe as I do either.
People say believers in jesus are ignorant, but if they would open their hearts and minds to any religion, they'd truly find out first hand there is a higher power. I mean, I believe in god, but I don't agree with all teachings of the bible. I do though believe there is a higher power.
Your statement makes no sense. You want people to open their heart to jesus but you dont believe in the teaching of the bible? Huh???? Do you mean you believe in God but you do not believe in organized religion, because that is what this article does not address. the marked difference between the two.
I'd rather have a world full of thinkers such as yourself rather than the brainless sheep currently roaming the planet.
Why do you believe that?
Again, who cares, whatever is greater than the universe has nothing to do with your daily life. (unless we make some great advancements in physics that is).
There is intelligence in the air... Where does it come from? God or gods are old clichés and easy to fabricate; there has to be something more intelligent...
get original....this carlin post is posted by atheist every single time a religious article comes out.. GET ORIGINAL!
Everyone claims every god but theirs is false. So everyone's 99.99% atheist, and some of us just get all the way to 100%.
Or, as Mark Twain said, "faith is believing something you know ain't so."
Once again CNN chums the water for the enlightened atheists.
London (CNN) – Religion does not comes naturally, nor even instinctively, to human beings, a massive new study of cultures all around the world suggests.
First... Do NOT make the egregious error of equating GOD with RELIGION! They are NOT -by any means- one and the same.
Second... Religious belief is NOT "instinctive". Blinking your eyes to protect them from harm... THAT's instinct. Knowing to suckle to get milk... THAT's instinct. Shrinking away from a flame... That's instinct.
Learn about Love.
Thank You. I am so sick and tired of "religious' people acting like they own God. They are such simpletons they cannot seperate faith from the politics that is religion. Once you have an organbziation dedicated to God, you no longer have God. You have human ego at play.
Faith and Religion are not the same thing.
BINGO! Excellent point.
People are hardwired to see 🙂 too. I'd be curious if it is even possible to test if other animals have the predisposition as well. I hypothesis that there are other animals that have a notion of life after death.
it seems like only non religious people read these articles or at least comment on them.
I'm going to go do a study to make sure, then it can be on CNN.com.
Wow, so much hostility from the non-believer side. So much emotion, ridicule, and resentment tends to make me not take their comments seriously or attach any intelligent value to their words. I'm glad I don't count myself one of their number; I like to be thought of as a contributor rather than an web troll.
CNN athiests and agnostics make me glad I'm not one of them.
I know how to start something worthy of news! Lets bash Religion!
Such demeaning "talking down" of non believers makes me VERY glad I'm not a sheep.
Yeah, being so gullibly willing to suspend critical thinking for ancient fairy stories makes me glad I am not among the ranks of the Religious.
I am athiest and couldn't agree with you more. I have long felt that anyone, faithful or not, who feels the need to run someone else down due to a differing opinion must not feel very secure in what they claim to believe.
This study borders on insulting, Matthew. Here is why: by making such a grandoise claim and throwing out the obvious reasons for prevalent belief systems, this "study" has lended itself to mass sensationalism. How is this? Glad you asked. Religious beliefs (doesn't matter what ones) have super-saturated humanity's senses. We are immersed in it from day one of life. Period. To find someone who hasn't believed at one point is nigh impossible, depending on how they were raised. Children WANT to believe in these things their parents tell them- hence we have such strong belief at a young age in santa claus, the tooth fairy, and the easter bunny. Are they 'real?' In a child's mind they are. Hence you have a need to believe. If the parents believe in a religion, odds are the young child will very much so believe as well. However, mankind has been searching for a reason and answer to the question "why" since the birth of conscious thought. We worshipped the Sun and the Moon as gods. Are they? No. But, we NEEDED to believe to give purpose and reason. It is seeking answers to the questions we have that is in mankind's nature... the belief in religion is simply an extension of that- it promises all the answers. This study is invalid if it does not take this into account. It proclaims the grandoise while ignoring the obvious.
There is another basic instinct, shared by a majority of humans, and that is fear of death; fear of dying and it all ends there. To me, that is the main reason people like to believe in a Magic Man In The Sky who will give them a Magic Cloud Up There Somewhere to live on after they die (like that dolt in the stock photo above. What is he looking at exactly?)
I've believed for a long time it was part of being human. It develops in every culture just like language. Maybe those of us who don't believe are just more evolved.
I don't believe but I don't feel the need to belittle those who do. "Faith" in something bigger, something better doesn't make someone less intelligent. While I don't need to have a protector or someone to answer to in order to live a good life or do the right things many people do, I see nothing wrong with that. Why do we put people down who do not believe as we do? Is it because we doubt ourselves?
more, less or broken:)
This "study" just proves the world is full of gullable sheep who do not possess the neccessary intelligence to grasp the vastness of the universe without believing in magic rib women and zombie saviors.
And that's just the minority of nutjobs! Who knows what silly magical, scientifically disproven NON SENSE the other major religions teach.
Oh, that's right, religious folks just ignore everything in THEIR books that has been disproven and try and ram the rest (which is still quite fuzzy) down the throats of intelligent people who believe in SCIENCE.
thats what it is. you're smarter than the rest of us.
I don't believe in zombie saviors, magic rib women, and some magical super-being living in a cloud city just outside our view.
So yes, I am smarter then you.
It's always interesting to see the comments posted on a 'faith' story. I especially enjoy the acutely intelligent SCIENTIFIC ATHIESTS who seem to be turned off at the absurd thought of a Creator, but are still compelled enough to read the entire article and respond to it. I don't know, but if I don't like the subject matter of a story, I just don't read or respond to it, but these folds seem so angry at the thought of a real God and a Jesus that actually did something that no mathematical equation or chemical formula could define, that they're a little anxious.
There are Bible thumpers on one side of the road, on the other there are angry intellectuals that can't stand the thought of something undefinable, there are religions believing in all kinds of stories and 'prophets' who 'know something more' than the God of Abraham. The truth is, and deep inside we all know it, God IS real, and God IS love, and Jesus IS God's son. If anyone has ever really read the Holy Scripture and received its Living words, they would no longer need to calculate or determine or prove anything. There are dumb Christians, smart Christians, pretty Christians, ugly Christians, but we're ALL loved Christians and forgiven Christians, and thanks be to God, we 'get' it. Our purpose is to help more 'get' it.
why do i need to subscribe to a religion to believe in the existence of "god"?
what give religion the authority to monopolize "god"?
Because religions give people a way to fell important. There maybe something larger than the universe, but it is not really important to us at this time.
God is love. God is all that is good.
Just slow down, stop and look around you.
He is impossible to miss.
God speaks to us often, yet most of us are deaf to his words.
God is in all our hearts, yet most of us too numb to feel.
I pray that everyone, at least once in their lifetime,
Feels the love of the Holy Spirit.
It is a feeling of pure peace.
An overwhelming sense of good things.
The feeling of unconditional love.
I believe these occurrences to be rare,
Therefore they must be cherished.
Remember and try to remember often…..
God is not the only one that tries to speak to us.
He is not the only one that tries to get within our hearts.
The other is Satan…..Gods first fallen Angel.
Sadly, more often than not, that is who we listen to.
We often choose his path of least resistance.
We let him satisfy our selfishness.
We let him tempt us with other idols as we are appeased by their short lived luster.
Although we often choose against Gods will, we can be forgiven.
To receive his forgiveness, we must ask but not mock.
We must truly desire to be a better person.
To thy own self be true.
Why does God forgive?
Because God is love. God is all that is good.
We must seek the common good and to do that, we must all make sacrifices.
We are to forgive and always love, regardless of fault.
We are to have compassion. We are to seek humility as we are to respect our place.
We are to be thankful, no matter how rich or poor.
We are to seek these things because the rewards are invaluable.
Because they are Gods will.
If by chance you come across these words, I may not know you, but know I love you.
I have no reason not to. I mean you no harm and wish you all good things.
I hope someday our paths may cross so we may share a smile, perhaps a hug.
Gods love is unlike any other.
Again…..just stop…..look around you.
You’ll see what you seek.
Poetic, but still garbage.
For what it is worth.....
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 wonder who wasted their time writing such garbage?
@ keylargo – The same kind of people that think cavemen rode dinosours 6,000 years ago.
to "For What It's Worth", you have said it all, correct. May God bless you with evalasting peace. The truth of the matter is, for those who believe there is no God, well I cannot judge you or say something negative to you. Just "look around you". God bless you.
The question I have that is much more bigger than the existence of God, is what does the mere mention of the word God attract Atheist like moths to a flame. A malady, I presume.
For What It's Worth
The question I have that is much more bigger than the existence of God, is what does the mere mention of the word God attract Atheist like moths to a flame. A malady, I presume.
Why were the christians fed to the lions? Entertainment my friend. Like watching midget wrestling, you know it is wrong but it is just darn funny.
@ for what its worth – It’s the opportunity to try to drag some people out of the dark ages.
Have fun with that guy's. Peace to you all. 🙂
Is it not all a matter of perception?
I can see purpose in the world, only it exists without a "god".
Good for you... thanks for sharing your enlightened sense of the world!!
I guess I have "grown out of it". Belief or faith in something bigger is an understandable thing, I don't share it but I get it and respect it. For years I have felt the need to "live on" in an after life was just vanity of humankind needing to be more important than we really are....this article makes me wonder if it is really just something that helps people get through hardships we live through rather than vanity.
Man, this faith and belief blog is good entertainment. So they call it a "huge new study" to make it sound both new and impressive, but the fact is that Archaeologists have been talking about this for decades, if not back in the 19th century. So, belief systems come natural. People are also natural story-tellers. People love stories, always have; epics were invented before writing was, for goodness sakes. Heroes Were invented by very ancient human brains, but we don't go around talking about how great Hercules was. We've given it up, we let go of fantasy for reason, which is a healthy thing to do.
People have been saying their god or gods were the "true" god or gods for well over 6000 years.
Apparently the new-comers (Christians) just like to say it the loudest and the most oftern and some how they are right?
Humanity got along just fine before Christians came about a few thousand years ago and will get along just fine once the extremists on all sides of the aisle drive the rest of the sane, rational, intelligent people away from religion.
Perhaps indoctrination would be the more accurate term this article should be looking for?
It's funny how many religious people today will find the stories of ancient mythologies laughable, yet some of the stories in the bible appear to be just modified versions of those same myths they dismiss as being "ridiculous". -Emily Newman