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 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.
We knew this all along! Atheism is the worst oppressive lies on earth.
That's funny.... what are labels for but to bash a certain category of people? I was going to say the same thing about christianity, but instead I'll say the same thing about organized religion. Lies!!!!!
I have always known GOD and GOD has always known me. I don't need some preacher (whatever he may call him or her self) or the poorly written bible quran book of mormon or any other man made fables to tell me how God wants them to control me. God himself lets me know in a very subtle way what he expects from me.
and how long has god been talking to you.
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)
How do you know what “God” believes, thinks, despises, loves, likes, dislikes, hates, pretends...?
This study is proof that we were built and created to have an intimate relationship with God. Adam and Eve jacked it up and since then we've had this yearning to get it back. Hence religion and the ensuing wars claiming their religion is the right way to be righteous
you die and then your corpse sites underground and ..well rots
When we die we die. Gone, kaput, finito! And our body rots and stinks and the maggots have a free meal on our venerable carrion. The ego is gone to, so no problem there. That's life. -Platypus
DUH! Of course it's instinctive! Everybody yearns for Daddy to take care of everything. But that doesn't mean that Daddy's going to take care of anything; it doesn't even mean there IS a Daddy.... But... wouldn't it be grand??
atheists are always angry. It is so disturbing how they care what we think. We dont care what you guys think or say. So angry.
You don't get it. It's people like you who try to force their religion by trying to implement laws or infringe on other peoples rights. You are also reading into what is being written. They are not angry just showing not everyone is brainwashed like you.
It's not that I care what you think, John; It's that I care that you DON'T think. That's the issue.
Well there is no way of knowing for sure if there is or isn't- leave it to individual faith to decide. But I do know this- our existence is not guaranteed into perpetuity and that what we do in life matters to those who come after us and in the final analysis that is ALL that matters when that light blinks out in our heads. What sort of legacy did you leave? Did your life help or hurt humanity in the end?
Now THAT I can agree with.
Swampy Yankee: Great comment! Secular humanism man! That’s the religion of the future!
Very simple scientist studies designed to exalts sciences ego.
This kind of studies means nothing to a person who is trying to understand the science of God by reading the Srimadbhagavatam and the Bhagavadgita
But anyways great article for atheists to start discussing some of the mysteries of the Supreme Creator...
I believe that there is a energy/lifeforce that we do not understand. There is a lifeforce than animates our bodies. We have a mind which is capable of formulating thoughts, and even to imagine things beyond our current physical reality. This energy/lifeforce/intelligence can be conceived as being God. I don't believe God is an old man sitting on a throne.
He's sitting on a cloud...
...and even sitting on a throne, he's sitting on his ass...
Another "study" which confirms what we already know from the Bible. We were made by God for God.
He has set eternity in our hearts. And this is no more evident then the atheists who reply to these faith articles. No one talks more about God then they do.
16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Still not quite seeing how quoting something passages from something that is unprovable, improbable, and by all respects, unscientific, is going to convince anybody.
If you find the Bible so infallible, how do you explain that John has Jesus event in Jerusalem in a different order than the other three Gospels? How do you explain 2 Sam. 21:19 in the original Hebrew where Elhanan, not David, killed Goliath? And how do you explain the intention LIE in the King James version that inserted "the brother of" Goliath which has never occurred in the original Hebrew or Greek versions of the Old Testament? Further, if the English Bible can't even get Jesus' real name right: Yeshua (which was actually Joshua's real name, too), how can it be counted on to get anything right?
Citing bible verses does not prove that god put the idea of an afterlife in our brains. There is no evidence suggesting that we as humans believe in an afterlife prior to learning that there is a possibilty of an afterlife.
This study is nonsense. It didn't correct for the tendency of language to shape our views of ideas. Orwell explained it very well – if the only words you have talk about design or intent, then you need to describe phenomena in terms of design or intent.
I innately pooped all over myself when I was born too, but it does not make it right.
that's a most ridiculous statement. probably the most ridiculous
The mentioning that this belief is 'instinctive' is misleading. We are exposed to the possibility of an afterlife at a young age in which our brains are most impressionable. Because the idea of an afterlife is most thought provoking and significant, our brains regard the idea as remarkable. For the rest of our lives, no matter what personal experiences lead us to the belief or lack of, we are generally open to the possibility of an afterlife because of the significance the intriguing idea once held in our brains. To say this idea is instinctive is incorrect because it is an idea that we are exposed to after birth.
Nope. Thoughts of the afterlife are there because God put them there.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
If you never mention religion or afterlife to a child, FROM BIRTH, they won't come to it on their own. It is a social construct that is indoctrinated into people from a very young age, when they are most receptive to, and more appropriately, vulnerable to outside influences. It sounds like this study was done (since there is no actual information in this article) through questionnaires and surveys, which I'm sure were carefully worded to be as neutral as possible. I don't, however, think that they discovered some kind of "religion gene", which would actually be a significant finding (although a gene I clearly don't possess).
We have many "learning instincts," e.g., for language. We are exposed to and learn language primarily after birth, but the attraction and inspiration, as well as the fantastic ability to do so, are based on a ton of complimentary language-learning instincts. Similarly, many interacting instincts, some probably not specifically selected to promote religiosity, appear to make us tend strongly and panculturally to develop culturally and sub-cuturally appropriate (and evolutionarily adaptive) religious belief systems. There are now a number of worthwhile books on the subject, and not just ones written by evangelical atheists. An example of a really good one to get started with is by Matt A. Rosanno: "Supernatural Selection" (2010, Oxford University Press). Another older but still very relevant excellent book is by Scott Atran: "In Gods We Trust" (2002, Oxford University Press). You can find many more resources at my web evolution of religiosity course site: http://biology.unm.edu/Biology/pwatson/public_html/RS%202011.html. - PJW
@Jeff: A “religion gene”? Quite interesting! Somebody should check the humane genome for that gene...
In my ife i've been down the debate path. Faith or science. Thats your choice about man's existence. I have found that while science makes great contributions to society concerning different things, science does not give us solid evidence concerning our very existence. Great minds of the past who tried despreatley to find the missing links eventually found a theory is but a theory. I have trouble with basing my life on a theory.
I know many will say faith doesn't have all the answers. To that I disagree. While we may jump on forums and nit pick people to death about faith or Christianity and not get our answers, it doen't mean the answers are not there. I found out by experience that just because a man can't give me an answer to the question i ask him abut his faith that it doens't mean his faith is vain. I have found that most people are afraid to debate their faith because they don't have all the answers. God has given us (I believe) all the answers in the Bible.
If we are created then the intellectual community is in trouble because they have to admit there are things they don't know nor will they ever figure out. For example: If God is real then that underminds everything they have ever been taught by men.
One of the questions that science has never been able to answer is, what is the origin of matter? What is the origin of movement? how did life begin? where is it going? The answers to these questions are rediculously flawed. We are evolving they say...oh yeah? How is it then that everything in our universe is degrading? How is it that human bodies are worse now than in years past? Even with medications and vitamins and so forth life is still life. There are more people with cancers and diseases than ever. We are not evolvong into something better as science would have you to believe.
Eventually it all boils down to faith or science. Many believe scientific theories. They believe in theories that have never truly explained our existence. By the way, even Richard Dawkins stated that we may have been planted here by aliens. That is resorting to a higher power. Science will eventually lead you to a higher power. The funny thing is some of the socalled modern science discoveries were written in the Bible long before they became discoveries. Do your own research and see.
Now, when you realize that science is over hyped and you realize God does indeed exist, pick up the Bible and read it. It will point you to Jesus. John 14:6 "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me." Faith is the way to go. It's natural. It was even written about 2000+ years ago. Romans 1:19.
Choose "science", "faith" is a spin word for scam!
Sound logic! Now, the next time you get a headache, or a stomachache, or cancer, or AIDS, don't bother with drugs and medicine – those are results of science. Close your eyes, bow your head, and pray. See if that cancer disappears.
Mark, I can see you put alot of thought and time into this question. It's just too obvious to me that you just haven't considered how much progress we as humans have made. Each and every day, we push the idea of god further into the cracks. We don't need him to explain anything anymore. At one time, yeah, we didn't have any answers and people seem to need answers. The logical leap from "we don't know" to "god must be behind it" is faulty. "tide comes in, tide goes out" bs.
Tell me something, when scientists do synthesis life in the lab, and they are close with their new evaporation technique I'm sure you are not familiar with, will you then concede that God is made in Man's image? When we can recreate the Big Bang, and our massive proton collision experiments are on their way to doing so, will you concede your belief in this god? What will it take? In my experience, when science makes a breakthrough, the faithful never say "cool" but they instead move the target and claim the same gaps, new gaps, in our knowledge point to their maker.
"Now, when you realize that science is over hyped and you realize God does indeed exist,"
No, God is over hyped because it's a billion dollar industry! So because we have yet to explain all that there is that is your proof that God exists, now that's lame. So everyone if you don't have a answer – it's a God.
"""One of the questions that science has never been able to answer is, what is the origin of matter? What is the origin of movement? how did life begin? where is it going?""" -> In reply to your statement...religious people love looking for gaps in human understanding and filling them with god. Scientists look for gaps in human understanding and conduct research to advance our knowledge in order to understand it. The sad part is these gaps that religious people love so much to fill with god are shrinking each and every day. Good luck buddy, time is on our side.
You say you have problems basing your life on "theory." But living according to faith also may be based on a fundamental underlying, if transparent, theory. That theory is that your emotions attract you to objective truth. Evidence suggests that they do not reliably do so. Major spiritual traditions commony teach that you must rigorously and relentlessly subject even your most heartfelt emotional validations and repudiations of religious (and other) viewpoints to strong objectifying influences. For me, evolutionary psychology is a great and ever improving one.– PJW
When somebody bases his/her beliefs on the Bible, I horripilate! This is a book of absurdities in my book, so no credibility accorded to an opinion based on the Bible on my part.
i think the reasoning for this argument is invalid.
i think so too, but the proponents will deny this as it "can not be" that anything that contradicts the anti-religionistic approach to reality is incorrect.
I think it's interesting that I can't find any information on the "huge new study." Isn't this journalism?
I was wondering the same thing. The article seems to be about the study, without presenting much FROM the study, including a link to where it can be found.
Just search the name of the study: Cognition, Religion and Theology Project
They gave it to us here, "And the Oxford study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, strongly implies that religion will not wither away, he said."
I think calling yourself an athiest and putting to rest any possibility of a higherpower/god is as stupid as the people who do not question and blindly follow their faith.
So in conclusion, Agnosticism for the win. The golden rule is king.
yes, religious people have to be delusional, stupid, insane, violent or criminal, like all other "not us" groups defined by any other cult. In this case, the cult of atheism.
I'm an atheist, but there's no way I can rule out a god. I can say that your biblical god is very improbable, though. It's a truth claim backed up with no evidence. An atheists simply does not believe in your truth claims about god but does not say that there is no possibility of a god or creator. Is that so hard to understand? People claim Dawkins to be the most militant atheists out there, but if you've ever read his books or listen to him talk, he will clearly say that he can't say that god does not exist. He's a 6.9 out of 7 on the atheist scale where 7.0 is "absolutely certain there is no god"
Believing in something is an active thing. To say that "I don't know" is kind of a non-opinion, since NOBODY knows. Even truly devout people, it's still a believe. I submit that if you are an agnostic then you are in fact atheist. Until you actively begin to believe in Jesus or any other religious figure, you don't believe in anything, therefore, you are an atheist.
Ahhh agnosticism!! Nothing better than sitting on the fence until truth shows up an reveals itself. Unless it has and you missed it. But ostensibly you already ruled that out.
There could be something greater, but just using the word god you are already assuming way too much
What do you need the label for? Why categorize an ideal that was set forth in scripture century's ago to civilize the world? An agnostic chooses to be a layman about these issues, its like pleading the 5th in a court trial. It's also like excepting God as a word that is meant to replace what you can't explain about it all.
Militant Atheism: 'Agnostic' describes a belief that we cannot know for certain if there is or isn't a god. So it is not in opposition of atheism or deism. I think every atheist I know is an agnostic atheist.
A person can be an agnostic atheist and believe that there is no god, but also believe that we cannot prove that something doesn't exist. Or a person can be an agnostic deist and believe there is a god, but also believe we cannot prove it. And there are other types of agnosticism. And there are other types...
Agnosticism? Way to hedge your bets. "Meh, could go either way." I'm an atheist because there has never been a scrap of evidence for the existence of a higher power in the history of mankind. Agnosticism would imply that the evidence might be forthcoming... I don't believe that it is.
Don't get me wrong, I'm open to any evidence that may be presented; I'm not closed minded, but so far there is none.
Oops on my redundant sentences!
"We live in a day where a hero is a sandwich, life is a magazine, power is a candy bar, joy is a detergent, sin is a perfume, a star is an actress who’s been married three times, and the real thing is a soft drink." pa-thetic!
Jesus Christ is Lord! you serve Him weather you like it or not. Your service is obedience or disobedience, but you do serve Him.
You don't know this you are believing in a fairytale written thousands of years ago. It's was written to make weak minded people like you afraid to question things, to behave to do what others want you to do – i't called the business of religion at your local church. It's a money making, controlling insti-tution for humans who can't deal with the reality of life.
Tim you stated that perfectly!!!! Though you forgot to mention that religion is also responsable for most of the wars and deaths in this world.
excellent, placing religion into an array of "instinctive behaviors" such as the revulsion from smelling dog manour. The anti-religionist agenda is pushing into the mainstream more powerfully than ever before. When will people wake up from this pseudo-scientific bla-blah?
How could something like religion actually exist for science, when you as a person don't even exist for it?
Nobody seems to think this through. Everybody just places "virgin mary" into an area where it isn't and then says the whole thing is not "true", while scientific "reason" goes unquestioned even though its origins and purposes are highly obscure and questionable.
highly questionable and obscure to the uneducated....
@Sean that is exactly the atheist delusion... that they now have access to the truth because they denounce the things that don't make sense to them. That they are somehow smarter than the rest for calling "Virgin Mary" out on her unreality. But in fact they are cutting themselves off from millenia of human intellectual development and experience with themselves and one-another, from strategies to organize and communcate groups and societies, from creating peace, understanding and moderation, and from an incredible richness of thought the epistemology of which is simply cut off and discarded.
And why? To have a more simple explanation of everything, one that you can understand better.
Which is exactly what you are accusing religion of in the first place.
Modern Atheism/Anti-Religionism = A cult like any other cult.
I think that this idea that "religion is a natural phenomenon" simply adds to the ultimate truth that there is an Almighty God watching over this universe. I tell you now there is not and has never been one piece of solid evidence to make the argument that there is no God, the only arguments made are based on blind theory. Every archaeological finding, every philisophical discovery, and every scientific breakthough throughout the history of man has simly added to the relevance and confirmation of the bible's accuracy. God was always here, is here now, and will always be the true ruler of the Universe. One can say the Universe began with the Big Bang Theory. Well tell me this my friend, where did the accelerated particles and Atoms and Protons and Neutrons come from to create the Big Bang? The answer is God. There has to have been one infinite factor to begin what we know now.
You can't argue for religion and against pseudo-science at the same time.
Atheist delusion? Wow, since when did sheep learn how to speak? There is nothing beyond this life, deep down you all know its true. Get off your knees you imbeciles
The virginity of Mary was invented by St. Augustine I believe. And she delivered a baby-god Jesus and remained a virgin? Crazy isn’t? BTW I love the smell of horse “manure”.
It's very simple. We're significance junkies. We assign meaning to everything, even if there is none. Things must happen for a reason, and can't be simple coincidences. Because our world has to make sense, even though it doesn't. That's all this article is really saying.
That is a very valid point. Reminds me a little bit of Slaughterhouse 5.