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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This is among the dumbest things I've ever read. The existence of gods or afterlives has absolutely NOTHING to do with the human mind. We could be predisposed to believe all sorts of things, but those thoughts have no basis in reality. Human males are also predisposed to want to reproduce as frequently as possible with as many females as possible. Yet in doing so, we've created myriad STDs that can cause sterility and even kill you if you contract them. There is not a causal relationship between anything in the human mind and the tangible world. To take developed adult human minds and try to reverse engineer conclusions about religion is so misguided it's absurd.
I can only imagine how flagrantly this "study" will be abused by the nonviolent American Taliban. Good luck to us all.
Ket me give you the bottom line on this issue.
On the day you die, you will either meet old friends who have gone ahead, see new thigs, have total freedom of movement and so on.
OR you wil see nothing, hear nothing be nothing.
My thoughts to you, ENJOY THE TRIP>
Now I post this next question. Are humans the only species who believe in after life? What about other animals? For example, do cats think... hey I am a king in this life, will I be a king after I die?
"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways."
That about says it all. The whole study just paraphrases what Jesse 'The Body' Ventura said several years ago about religion when he was governor of Minnesota.
believing in an afterlife is comforting. this is why humans like to believe it. I'm not sure that is instinctive as much as it is simply of comfort to those who worry about such things.
How do they think this is an unbiased survey? They reported that their study included "more than 40 different studies by dozens of researchers looking at countries from China to Poland and the United States to Micronesia" and children. Yet out of these countries and people who has not been steeped in religious propaganda their entire lives? We are no longer able to be defined by the culture of the country we live in, we are a globalized community that shares many core values and beliefs, including religion (regardless of your individual religion). This is not meant to address whether religion is valid or not, but simply to ask how can they ever think that their population sample isn't already biased? There is no one who would be able to speak to whether or not religion is innate.
As an atheist, I tend to agree with the premise of the article. As a child, we are ignorant and look for purpose in the things we see and the explanations are provided by our parents. In contrast, when we grow older as children and develop more complex brains and are able to access our higher cognitive processes; the more rational and intelligent of us are able to discern this irrational belief that has been passed down from generation to generation. In fact, this false belief may have served an evolutionary purpose. When our more primitive ancestors looked up to the sky and saw asteroids and comets, they equated it to the heavens. Just a few centuries ago, during Solar eclipses the Christians burned virgins at the stake. Even today, Muslims have to do extra prayers during solar eclipses. How does it hook up evolutionary?? We saw traits and patterns in things and eventually formed communities that helped us bond together and through this bonding of communities were able to survive evolutonary through the tumult of time. In fact, neuroscientists are not able to electrically stimulate a certain part of the brain where so called "religious experiences" are thought to occur and this even works on atheists!!! So therefore, while equating things to a purpose may be innate in young children, as we grow up and become more rational and are able to understand the workings of nature through science and logic, more and more of us are becoming atheist. It is no surprise that the countries with the more educated populace have a much higher atheist %. For example, the U.K. is 25% atheist!!
im no religious fanatic, but if you google cnn, it says under the site "stupidity is human nature, huge new study claims."
ummm sounds like an atheist agenda to me
We think about God because that is the way we were created by a God who loves us. He put us above all animals giving us that longing for a relationship with him. Growing close to God is not a passive thing. You must pursue God and honor God to build a believing relationship with Him. He will work for good in your life. Men of science can't explain God. They can only guess explaining creation. God ordered that Faith is the conduit to Him so that any man of any intelligence or rank or color may approach Him and simply believe and have a relationship with Him.
Men of science can't explain Santa Claus either, so.
What does this have to do with the article? It isn't about 'thinking about god.'
@opinionated – So scientists with all their math, physics, and evidence are guessing. But you with your….wait…what is it you have again?
You speak for him so you must have something that holds up to scrutiny. You know his orders, so we must be able to see them, or hear them directly from him.
If god loves us that much, why did he create HELL for unpardonable eternal punishment?
No surprise here. Shoot, there's passages in the Bible that say pretty much the same thing. It doesn't prove anything – if it did, our convictions would not be described as faith. And at the end of the day, it is all about faith in a creator or a decision to place your faith elsewhere.
Hey, shut up man. I exist. Don't make me send your ass to hell.
Oh yeah. Go for it. I'm right here.
eh, why would a good being conceive of hell in the first place
The study must be fatally flawed, because it equates religion to God. Some people believe in a god, or gods or spirits but they don't necessarily have a religion. Many religions claim not only to believe in a god but to know the mind of god. Many of us think that is dangerous. While I find it easy to believe in a God, I'm certain nobody on earth knows enough about God to tell another person what God thinks of their behavior. We can come up with moral rules very easily, and some claim those rules come from God, and they have a very hard time accepting other people's version of right and wrong. This is where religion goes very wrong. If anyone tries to tell you specific things about God and hold you to them, be very skeptical, and you might even suspect that they mean you harm. Many times people use their interpretation of God to do harm to others.
If you make no claims as to what his function is, beyond creation, or what his will is, what is his function in your life? That makes you sound like a deist which puts you in good company with most of the founding fathers. But what, then, is the point? If he is a distant first cause......prime mover.....he needs no tribute. He needs nobody's belief. If he created everything, who created him?
It's called capax dei, the capacity for God that every human has. Another dumb study revealing what is already known.
I'm disheartened by the inability of 90% of the people commenting here to even read and comprehend what the article is about.
The article says nothing about whether God is real or false, only that the tendency of human beings to believe in things that have no rational basis is probably rooted in some sort of pre disposing instinct. Isn't that something that atheists and religious people alike should be able to accept as virtually common sense?
Do some research about human cognition, how our brains actually work and how we actually make decisions, and you may be surprised to find out that human beings aren't all that rational and that much of our behavior (even the stuff we THINK is rational) is rooted in instinct and emotion.
Or continue to block out all ideas that disagree with your pre conceived notions of the world, so that you aren't forced into the uncomfortable position of having to re examine your beliefs. That behavior is very natural, exactly the sort of irrational behavior that humans engage in constantly. You could even say it's instinctive.
I'm not sure it is really instinct per se. As much as it is 'comforting' for humans to believe in an afterlife.
The problem, Jason, is that this study is inherently flawed.
99% of the people in this world have been brainwashed as children to believe whatever their parents believe.
So you ask a theist if they see some "purpose" in the world, and oh my gosh, they do, they really do! Hogwash!
Think about your own death for a moment. What would it be like if this life is it. Is it like a switch gets flipped to OFF? Not sleep, just nothing. No more thought. What if it is? Wouldn't it make sense for humanity to automatically answer this with "There is an afterlife" in order to put those thoughts out of their mind? If God(s) exists, great! If not, doesn't that make every moment much more precious? Perhaps this "instinct" is just our natural response to the idea of death so that we can continue on our daily lives without being bothered by the idea that our future ends with death. I don't know.
News flash. Stupidity, greed, jealousy, hate and ignorance are also parts of human nature. Faith is no different. We just haven't grown up enough to realize that faith is a flaw, not a virtue.
Faith can be either, depending on how it is exercised. The "faith" that is a leap into a dark is flawed, but faith that is rooted in knowledge and facts is a virtue. Faith in the historical Jesus and his historically based resurrection is certainly not flawed.
So, using your logic, other human characteristics such as love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, intelligence, and generosity must also be faults too? Or is is just YOU who gets to decide which characteristics are virtues and which are flaws? Or, are you just to closed-minded to comprehend that there may be something greater at work in the universe than you can fathom, and therefore you deny its existence because you, in your infinite wisdom, can't understand it. Given the grossly flawed logic you used, the conclusion is not that difficult to reach...
Religion, has nothing to do with nothing. God, god exists, or-not, in each Living Things own psyche'. Same, with AfterLife. Religion itself; is a made up series of fake events to first sell condemnation and then, quite-conveniently, 'salvation'. What a DEAL.
Religion is not a belief born of human nature. Spirituality is human nature. Religion is derived from instruction, assimilation, greed, ignorance, need to belong, power – and – is the impetus for war and poverty. Spirituality allows one to be close with God/Allah/Jehovah etc... without fault. Religion condems one for it.
@RobL: Sounds like you've been going to the wrong church. Organized religion is supposed to help to keep us focused on our relationship with God, and ultimately on the path to salvation. Without this guidance, support and reinforcement, it would be the rare and unique individual that could maintain that relationship with God to the extent needed to stay on the path to salvation. Certainly there are those perversions of religion that are all about fleecing those who trust, and in a worst case scenario, turning the intention completely around and into something negative (I.e. jihad against anyone whose beliefs are different from yours, etc.). But to make such a generalized statement that all religion has negative consequences is reckless and untrue. A lot of people knock organized religion because they don't want to make the efforts that they know they should be making in their lives to follow God, and figure if they generalize religion as bad, then it's a rationalization for not doing what you really know you should be doing. You can try to fool people, but not sure you're going to fool God quite that easily!
What does religion have to do with a belief in the afterlife? Nothing. One is an explanation of our greatest question (what happens to us when we die) and the other is a collection plate being shoved in our face, which are mutually exclusive.
I don't think you understand what mutually exclusive means.
In your attempt to disprove God, do not solely require science, (a concept only mankind understands,) to explain something so far beyond our capacity to comprehend. For if a housefly knows not the makings of a city, does that too make a city any less amassed by a profoundly superior intelligence? The flies understanding of reality plays no role in reality itself; we too are flies—blending our certainty with our perception. If you are to know something, know only this: the wisest man… knows nothing.
OK, but the creators of the city don't care about the flies
So, you're saying that our ignorance in and of itself gives credence to god?
There are too many holes in your argument it's not funny.
BTW, who created god? Something that complex couldn't have come from nothing, right?
And then who created the god creator? Ad nauseum...
Extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof. I think it's not science disproving god but religion should prove the existence of God.
and... there is no reason for anyone to disprove god.
That is a tired and utterly ridiculous statement. One does not "prove" a negative.
I've no need to prove that god does not exist.
You need to prove that god _does_ exist. The burden of proof is on the theist entirely. And there is no proof.
this article doesn't talk specifically about god. it is abuot the afterlife.
If the wisest man knows nothing, then how do you know you're right about your religion? Your argument, problems aside, only argues that there might be a god. On the other hand it creates a lot of problems for anyone who would ever attempt to talk about that god, making religion the blind leading the blind.
@twiddly Is not that "Something that complex couldn't have come from nothing", is that the Force (God, or however you want to call it) has always existed because it's what makes existance possible, the Foundation of everything that's formed, including this universe. We human beings aren't able to fully comprehend because our minds are too small to be able to, disregarding the fact that the Force is not physical for it to be understood by humanity.
@Greenspam And who told you "Extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof" is a law??? the housefly??............
@twiddly: So, just because neither you nor I are smart enough to understand the workings of God is supposed to be a credible argument that he does not exist? Your argument only makes sense if humans are supposed to have all the knowledge of God, which of course, we don't. That's where the "faith" part comes in, get it???
open a history book, and you will not need any study.
IT'S ALSO THROUGH COMMON SENSE WE KNOW GOD EXISTS. EVERYTHING IN THIS UNIVERSE HAS CAUSALITY, AND THE CAUSE OF THIS UNIVERSE IS NOT AN EXCEPTION. HOWEVER YOU WANT TO CALL THE FORCE THAT CAUSED THE UNIVERSE, THE TRUTH IS THAT IT EXISTS.
Just proves what we always knew – religion is the opiate of the masses.
And God's main evidence is Love, NOTHING can deny the immanence and power of LOVE.