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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"God is dead!" – Nietzsche, 1882
"Nietzsche is dead" – God, 1900
I hate it when ignorant people use this saying. Nietzsche wasn't literally saying "God is dead", he was talking more about the concepts of religion and how it was changing during his time. Besides, its hard to claim that something is dead when you don't believe in him to begin with. In a way you prove the validity of this statement because it shows how far removed from God you really are.
I'm convinced! This has caused me to find God. Well, I'm off to church. Bbye.
Find which god? There are thousands.
Well, duh, Tyran, the one TRUE GOD. The Flying Spaghetti Monster. May we all be embraced by his great noodleness.
Buster, I'm sure your big head won't fit through the church doors.
I have a small head and brain. That's why I go into church so easily.
NEWS FLASH: BIBLE BEATS SCIENTISTS TO THE PUNCH BY ALMOST 3000 YEARS!
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men;" Eccl 3:11
"...what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." -Rom 1:19-20
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Acts 17:24-28
What nauseating crap.
Yeaaaah okay you keep thinking that ???????????? w t f nu t b @ lls are out today. Seriously get help.
What nauseating crap.
Agree, he proudly displays his faith in what man/men wrote thousands of years ago.
So all that astronomy showing light millions of years old, geology showing all the layers of rocks, fossils, and oil deposits millions of years old, existance of micro evolution in viruses present day, evidence of common ancestors of humans with apes, radioactive decay of carbon isotopes, all of that is bunk? Really? Color me flabbergasted.
@Todd(another one) millions of years of rock layers.. really how do you know it is millions of years old? c14 dating is false.. for the half life has been proven to decelerate over time. layers of fossils could be explained through layered deposites from catastrophic event...ie flood. there is no true transitional species and there should be millions!? micro evolution in viruses is acutally mutation forced in a lab through combination of other or introduction of other virus..extreme virus have adaptive qualities...not evolutionary qualities.. this is why it is called a THEORY... I suppose you believe in the cosmic burp theory also..which breaks 2 laws, the law of causation and the law of thermal dynamics.. by the way science proves the existance of Heaven through quatum physics mathmatically..you exist in a sub reality or the truer reality..you may not want to play the game you are in..but you are in this game..and it has rules..and if you do not obey the rules...the results of the game are the same....YOU LOSE! you will have to face the Creator, You will have to give an account of your actions, and you will have to bow before him... and Hell is real....take it from someone who has been there.
Crucified: I didn't know that hell has internet access... or have you escaped? Please tell us how...
BTW: where did your "creator" come from?
FYI...there's no afterlife.
Thanks for hearing me out.
Sure there is. You get reincarnated as a reality show guest.
"You get reincarnated as a reality show guest."
Todd, is that your vision of hell? 🙂
This study doesn't really prove or disprove anything.
Athiests – So what if people believe in God? Why do you get defensive about not believing? If someone thinks you are going to Hell, what does that matter if you don't believe in Hell?
Christians – Who cares if someone has "evidence" that God doesn't exist? Should that really affect your FAITH? No. That's what faith is. Believing even though you can't prove it.
I love how people get all fired up over religion. What you believe or don't believe is your own business. Who cares?
when you try to build policy or go to wars on behalf of a "belief"
people get killed and rights get trampled on.
Except when was the last time an atheist used his philosophies to take away the rights of or enslave another individual?
When's the last time any of you were ever enslaved because of your religion?
Man has been killing one another since the beginning of his existence. It's the one thing we excel at.
And, by the way, to answer your question: Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot all did quite well in enslaving and murdering people.
I could be wrong, Todd, but I think Mao and Stalin were athiests, or at least not religious.
So? Christians are taking away my rights right now, and unlike Stalin or Pol Pot, Christians aren't dead.
Ben, I completely agree. I'm agnostic, and I cringe every time I see atheists or agnostics comment with such vitriol toward believers.
@Todd – ever heard of a place called China....
Ok Todd, how about Kim Jong Il? The military junta of Myanmar?
Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways,"............
This just goes to prove that most people grow bigger but not more intelligent ....they still operate on the blind fear of the unknown that children do....and specially after being alive and knowing dying is forever they invented a hereafter so as to think they will live happily forever in a world with the people many of them hate in this world....This kind of thinking is insane which the truth be known most people are....the reason humankind hasn't progressed intellectually within civilization is that they really don't know they're insane. .
You follow the scripture with a blind faith, and disregard the conflicting denominations out there, and you become conditioned in this type of thinking. For very mysterious reasons, there is supposed to be a soul that silently lives inside of you that is only controlled by the so-called creator, under so-called moral-guidance, you are rewarded for the correct path you choose in life, and the so-called "God" you worship, which can be replaced with a longer theological explanation, you either get punished or rewarded, this "God" has conditions for this eternal life, and consequences if you deny the belief. Very illogical in my opinion.
In other words if this God is a Loving God, then it would be an unconditional one.
The history of mankind shows religious belief to be at the center of most civilizations. So now someone has concluded that human beings tend to worship a god, the God, or all kinds of gods. Utter genius, yeah. Who funded this study?
Yeah.....who funded this crap?
the Templeton Foundation
One can be religious, spiritual, and also practice the golden rule – without also believing in the nonsense that comes with organized religions.
That's an interesting point. I, personally, wouldn't use "nonsense" to refer to all aspects of all organized religions. It depends, to a large extent on how much emphasis is put on belief versus actions. However, I think it is important to distinguish between religious experiences and organized religion. One way to view organized religions is as attempts to codify and systematize someone's or some people's religious experiences. It may work or not. Too often, though, historically, such organization becomes too rigid and devoid of the spiritual aspects which with it began.
Here is something to consider: If there is no such thing as heaven or hell; no such thing as a soul, would that make "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" any less valid? The answer is no. And if there is such a thing as heaven, this is one concept one has to grasp to get there. (No one ever got into heaven by being afraid of going to hell.)
To Jon: You've illustrated very well what I meant by action vs. belief (which, by the way, is a principal concept of Judaism, i.e.,doing rather than just believing). A person could very well follow the "Golden Rule" as sincerely and consistently as possible and then get into "heaven," if that is what he or she believes in, but that wouldn't be what is really important. What is really important is acting that way.
Yea! And Joseph Wheless wrote in 1930: "The Bible is a farrago of palpable nonsense." And I think he is 120% accurate!
"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways."
And religion is a manifestation of childish thinking. People really ought to grow up.
My 6 year old granddaughter plays "faeries" and "little pet shop" and talks for her rubber dinosaurs. When she lost a tooth, she said to her parents, "I know the tooth fairy isn't real and daddy is Santa Claus (no one ever told her that), but I want the money anyway." Her parents take her to church 2 or 3 times a year. She is now 7 and has also learned about myths, so I'm waiting to see how long it takes her to declare herself to be an atheist.
Bring up religion and God, and all the Crackpots come out.
@Justthefacts–isn't it redundant to explain the reason you came to the post.
Religions or religious experiences and beliefs have now become the objects of study in a number of academic departments. Trigg, apparently, is a philosopher, and philosophy has been a home to religious studies for centuries. However, other fields have more recently become interested. At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, several groups have been looking at the relationships among spirituality, neuroscience, and cognition. An example is the work reported in books by Andrew Newberg, an M.D., and Mark Robert Waldman, such as "How God Changes Your Brain." One overly simple conclusion from this work is that spirituality or religious tendencies are "natural" to human beings. They study such things as neurological and other physiological patterns (e.g., heart rhythms) while people are engaged in different thoughts and actions, whereas what Trigg reports seems to be based on large-scale surveys. They seem to complement each other though. Both approaches are empirical, not advocacy.
P.S. Patrick McNamara of the Evolutionary Neurobehavior Laboratory at Boston University is another person quite well known for his studies of religious beliefs and neuroscience. A whole new field, "neurotheology," has developed from studies such as his and Newberg's.
I wonder how/if they were able to take out socialization as a factor.
I don't think that's possible.
Suzy – Probably not. There are ways to do it for very basic functions of the mind but I doubt how one conceives of order in the universe is a basic function.
More reason to know that God is a delusion.
We are genetically programmed to have a model of the world in our head. The reason is that uncertainty causes hesitation, and hesitation means death, in an evolutionary sense. So, life selects for quick reactions, not accurate ones. Thanks Darwin... Because our proto-mammal ancestors made incorrect but rapid assumptions about their world, we get Jesus frackin Christ and his all girl orchestra.
I believe. Sorry about you. (Or most of you....)
Believe all you want, but when you use your beliefs to take away the rights of others, then we have a problem.
Why? That's awfully pretentious of you.
@Maxine–I believe, I believe you are wrong and I am not sorry for any of you. Just because you are delusional does not make you a bad person just disturbing with your self-righteous condescending self.
I believe too! And I don't want to take away anyone's rights. And I won't let anyone take away mine. Isn't that what America is all about? Live and let live.
Please don't be condescending. People who don't believe do not want your pity, and in fact it's incredibly annoying and sanctimonious. Why can't you just accept that some people believe in God, and some don't, and that's fine?
This .... Was .... Hilarious!!!
Religious belief is taught by the parents and society. You're not born with religion; that's just extremely arrogant.
They actually point that out in the article.
Reading fairy tales and having it rammed down your throat is not my idea of intuitive. How is it everybody is an expert on something that no one can prove or explain because of all the contradictions that a book written by “HUMANs” can have so much weight on reality.
I guess now that somebody who thinks they are a scholar on the subject is the divine authority. Because everyone who speaks as if they know something is an authority.
But people are gullible so, there will always be some crack pot leading them down the primrose.
I read a ton of comic books as a kid so now I’m an authority as well.
simple answer we have freedom of choice and also we are given the ability to think and choose, then we are accoutable for what we choose. The universe we live in is based on this.
If it's natural like they say then there shouldn't be a difference between the % of atheist who grow up in a religious household vs. atheist household.
Atheism is not natural. This study is one more proof of it. Belief is INSTINCTIVE (i.e. natural). Logic, therefore, tells us that UNbelief is not instinctive.
No one is born an atheist, but this study backs up what all Christians know, and that is that every human being is born with a desire to worship a higher Being.
That might be only partially true. There are many atheists (like myself, Dawkins et al.) who don't believe (ha) or cannot even force themselves to believe in a god or gods. To us, religion is a fruitless pursuit but a fascinating study, especially in the vein of mythology as it applied to all religions. However, there are any number of "proclaimed" atheists or non-believers out there who are simply railing against their rooted religion as an act of rebellion, and while they retain the "wiring" of faith, they profess to not believe.
@ Bill: Maybe...but I'll bet everything I have that, if you were skydiving and your parachute didn't open, you'd start praying your ASS off!!!
No, I'd insert several expletives.