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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A huge study just to prove that people want to believe there is something greater in this life, a huge waste of time. How can any of this be anywhere near accurate enough to even bother to write the article?
"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways."
Human children are programmed to believe anything an adult says, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. It's a survival instinct - children who do not do this are less likely to survive to adulthood. That is why religions prey on children. It's the best way to get them to believe the BS from a young age.
It is not news that certain religious views like belief in an afterlife are widespread, but that does not make them innate; some ideas (like powerful men in the sky who run the natural world) are just common guesses until science becomes developed enough to provide better explanations.
I wonder what the studies say about people raised in religions that do not have a doctrine of an afterlife (Judaism??)
Nice try but incorrect. I was raised Jewish but since have rejected religion. Jews do believe in a "heaven" or sorts as a destination in the afterlife, just not the "heaven and hell" dichotimy that is ingrained in every Christian.
Love...this....research. How do some say belief in God is load of crap, but miss that this study is based in SCIENCE. What else is there as an authority? You, your own experiences? Ah...well Descartes beat you to that argument a long time ago and it came up wanting. If you don't believe in God, and don't believe even in science, or don't even believe in the conclusions of Descartes regarding the illusory nature of your own experiences, I suppose you have no basis to believe in much of anything and therefore should not be speaking. So I don't believe in you LOL
Wow...religion has been responsible for more strife than anything else. You know, my god is better than your god. Stop allowing yourself to be brainwashed. I say we tax the heck our of religion. When the country was founded, no one anticipated mega churches and preachers flying around on private jets...
Please get a clue...
So the universe is just random?....just a random set of events that just happened oh so perfectly to create what we know today? The definition of random is: "Made, done, happening, or chosen without method or conscious decision"
Let me break that down for a sec.
Without method means there is no orderliness of thought or behavior and/or no systematic planning or action.
Well the universe seems to have a method to exist wouldn't you agree. Not systematic thought necessarily but behavior and action: Yes (rotations and orbits of the planets, even black holes, the seasons, circle of life, and yes you guessed it HUMANS, etc). All of these happen systematically and we've already proved how we just don't know why.
My point is there is a "higher power" and the name for that higher power just so happens to be God. Because that is the best name for the explanation of the unexplainable. The problem with you people asking for proof is that you have to search for the proof instead of waiting for someone to try to explain and bashing them with your own ignorance. Argue if you like (or name call like most do) but your words have no significance to my thoughts.
You base your life on assumption, some of us do not.
If you think your going to be able to know every fact in the world/universe your sadly mistaken sir.
(OOPS, continued:) ...rapturous joy and elevation over the ubiquitous suffering in the world is to choose, blindly, one bronze age myth over countless other crude drafts of the figure and meaning of God, should only embolden us to keep the possibility of the greatest well-being of the greatest number of human beings from the provincial and balkanizing claims of theism.
(edited for moderation... this precedes my comment above)
Perhaps there is a "higher power," at least in the sense of a more perfect understanding of the universe that we might never discern. It seems clear that it is possible to have transcendent, "spiritual" experiences with one's consciousness.
But to take the real possibility of numinous experience and then use that to–ipso facto–claim the existence of one specific supernatural agent (of many possible agents) who has written one of our books and takes particular concern over the dietary and propitiatory habits of human beings is specious, dangerous, and fallacious.
One does not imply the other. And that many believe that the only way to keep the possibility of rapturous joy
Love...this....research. How do some say belief in God is load of crap, but miss that this study is based in SCIENCE. What else is there as an authority? You, your own experiences? Ah...well Descartes beat you to that argument a long time ago and it came up wanting. If you don't believe in God, and don't believe even in science, or don't even believe in the conclusions of Descartes regarding the illusory nature of your own experiences, I suppose you have no basis to believe in much of anything and therefore should not be speaking. So I don't believe in you 🙂
Wasn't it Voltaire who said "if there isn't a god, we'd have to invent one.". Think about it.
And we did.
"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways,"
Children are gullible and believe what they are told to believe.
A massive study of cultures resulted in this crap?
They should have asked about beliefs in "mysterious forces at work".
That is not religious sentiment.
It's human nature if you are brainwashed by your parents and society as a whole to believe it from a very young age.
religion is just a scare tactic to make money and control... though i do give early religious leaders a bump for inventing the earliest forms of marketing!
Artist I like the way you think. Of course because its the same way I think. The religious are indeed a very lazy group. The last study I read a couple years ago said that 83% of christians have never read the bible. The word never being very important. The same study said that number was over 90% for muslims and the Quran. Imagine schizophrenia being taught to innocent children all over the world long before having the capacity to think through it for themselves.
You and artist are the lazy ones for not being able to even conceive of a non-empirical worldview
I love how all the atheists are challenging the results of the study because they wish it weren't the case
Protesting in any invested sense is likely not occurring. And the study's results are predictable based on the ways we already know the brain to work. Our perception for any sense is never 100% constant or omni-directional. Our sensory organs actually sample input in "bits" of information, and our brain makes conclusions from those samples at a blindingly fast pace. What we "see" and "hear," for example, is actually what our brain registers perceiving, plus filler the brain uses to smooth the transitions between samples (we even know something of the algorithms it uses). Religiosity, or applying external agency to events that defy what our brain tells us it is perceiving is a common effect. It is simply taking the filler to be the real information. If one educates oneself about physical phenomena and the nuances of human perception, one finds it easy to release events that seem strange from any supernatural cause. Some think of spirituality as different, a kind of "connectedness" that goes beyond this life. To that, I can only say that each of us is a living, quasi-independent segment of a vast super-organism called Earth. None would exist without the exact bio-history we've experienced, and we will all shape the future of that system simply by existing. Why do you need any more connection than that?
Killing, dominating, lying, raping, stealing and self-delusion all come "naturally" to humans, too.
What was the point?
Perfect dear....that is what the religious call 'original sin.' You're getting warmer.
You are right. Those are the lesser aspects, the baser aspects, of who we each are as humans. IMO, we also have the More within us...our spiritual nature...the more evolved aspects of who we are. We each have the ability and the power to transcend the baser aspects of our nature (they do not disappear, but they are no longer driving the bus) and to become a more enlightened spiritual human being. It is an eternally ongoing process. As has been said before: Change yourself if you want to change the world.
The only point I see is that believing there is an is all-knowing, all-powerful god requires an awful lot of denial. For example, how could anyone honestly believe that misery and suffering (that, if you believe, could be ended if such a god only lifted his little finger) that afflicts newborns (or the unborn) only happens to those who 'had it coming'.
This wasn't obvious to everyone? Whether evolved or created, people are spiritual beings. Religion taps into this. I suspect that spirituality (innate, internal) and religion (created, external) have BOTH evolved in some sense. I suppose way back in time, groups of people with strong spirituality formed tighter bonds with each other and were easier to control or get working toward a common purpose. This tended to increase survival chances.
IMO, we are each a unique individual on our own spiritual path of discovery. My path makes sense to me, but probably wouldn't to any one else...and it doesn't have to. For some, fundamental christianity...or islam...or buddahism...or atheism...is part of their path because of where they are on thier own spiritual journey. And we have many lifetimes which include many ways to experience our spirituality...and to learn and grow...and become more enlightened...and more free.
Your brand of spirituality seems a lot like moral relativism to me. Unless I'm mistaken, you're saying that any religious beliefs one holds are OK because it's just part of their path and the path is eternal. Well, you have no proof that we have many lifetimes, so we must treat this one with great respect. I think we have developed ethics precisely because we value life as if it's scarce. Fundamentalists who, for example, mistreat women are not respecting the womans life and are behaving unethically.
When we ponder a question and make up an answer without evidence, the actions that follow often conflict with the reality of our world. You may choose to behave kindly with the knowledge that you'll effectively live forever, but many christians think that small transgressions are OK since they "believe" and will be forgiven. Of course what they call small transgressions occasionally turns into theft, child molestation, etc.
Doubter you forgot infringe on other peoples civil rights.
children also believe in the toothfairy and easterbunny and santa clause. how can this study even happen without finding a group of people to test that haven't already been brainwashed by the religious folk tale?
Religion is man's way to organize, control and manipulate people...Now, faith there is something bigger going on is different.
What is your definition of "faith?"
You said "faith" and I would have said "spirituality" – but probably a similar idea. Your desc of religion seems overly negative. Religiont wouldn't be so wide spread if it weren't useful for survival. A group tied together by religion is easier to motivate for all kinds of things, even for things in their own best interest, such as defending against attackers. Too many people assume the world would be better without religion – I am sure they are wrong.
Religions and churches are a social and psychological fact and the particular forms which they take are important for they can influence the progress or decline of civilization. -Edward Gibbon, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."
SPIRITUALITY...our personal connection to the devine within us...is an inate part of human beingness. Religions are belief systems created by those who wish to control others. People give their power away to religious "authorities" so they do not have to take responsiblity for "authoring" their own lives. People want to be taken care of, as if they were children or sheep. The good news: a person can take their power back whenever they so choose! They then are becoming a spiritual adult.
Can't agree. There are good reasons why evolution would support altruism, leader/follower relationships, and faith.
It's not the primal drive that's at fault. It's how it gets used for manipulation and exploitation.
A smart sociopath can manipulate any human drive to achieve his or her ends.
On the Necessity for Faith: http://chsca.at/k4uXNr
Absolutely, its more honorable for one self to use the logic and reasoning provided to them after years of human evolution to take responsibility for ones own life and their decisions. I can tell that religion is becoming less and less important and necessary in todays society.
Boy you know that crack pots are going to come out in this one. The belief in God is human nature, what a bunch of crap.
Believing in sky fairies and Greek Mythology is not human nature.
But this is my favorite quote
"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways," such as believing in God's omniscience, said Trigg"
Yea well the rest of us grew up.
So your worldview is basically empirical, but you are rejecting this empirical study?
Oh the sweet irony; you won't believe the study because you have faith that its results are not true.
Oh, Jesus! Tell Santa Clause that the Easter Bunny kick the cr ap out of the tooth fairy and Mother Goose is really ticked.
Love...this....research. How do some say belief in God is load of crap, but miss that this study is based in SCIENCE. What else is there as an authority? You, your own experiences? Ah...well Descartes beat you to that argument a long time ago and it came up wanting. If you don't believe in God, and don't believe even in science, or don't even believe in the conclusions of Descartes regarding the illusory nature of your own experiences, I suppose you have no basis to believe in much of anything and therefore should not be speaking. So I don't believe in you
Hum...and children believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and my little girl swears that a rabbit came into her house and left a basket of candy!
John, the study only shows that we are predisposed to replace an unknown with a known (even if that known is wrong).
It's ridiculous to dismiss the study since it clearly is about the human brain and not about god. It seems quite rational to consider that the human brain evolved to help it cope with insignificance.
There you go... I once read that believing in God is very similar to child's imaginary friend. Even adults apparently feel the need to have an imaginary friend that really isn't there. They claim to be talking to God, but are they? Of course not...
In fact, last week I talked to Santa Clause and saw the Easter Bunny hopping along on the side of the road with a basket of Easter eggs.... Goodness.
Of course children accept religion easily. They are taught to respect adults and believe everything they say. They believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny too!
I am no expert, but I would think that this article reflects that humans instinctively seek purpose. We want to believe we exist for some reason. God(s) give that appeal. It gives the sense that our actions are for something, a purpose. Religion gives people this feeling. I am not religious, but I believe in something. It is in our nature to want to explain everything. Religion offers explanation for things when there is none. I hope that you can at least see that much. If you are a thinking person, then you must have at least wondered how everything came to be. As science advances, we learn more about the previously unexplainable, but what about our ancestors? What must they have thought about things they could not explain. Don't you feel like it would have been natural for them to assign belief and construct a religion around the unexplainable? Simply put, man desires purpose and understanding.
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