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.
Here's an idea: if belief in a higher being is an intrinsic, wouldn't that support the notion that a god DOESN'T exist, and that it's all in your head? I like when theists will point to any evidence that could be misinterpreted as suggesting the existence of a deity and say "See! There's some evidence for it, so it MUST be true!", while conveniently ignoring all evidence that contradicts it.
This has been thouroughly covered in two books by Robert Wright, "The Evolution of God" and "The Moral Animal". They are both an excellent psychological examination of where God fits in to the human mind & why. This study just solidifies what Robert Wright penned years ago.
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.
It's a natural step in our evolution of our ability for abstract thought. I believe as "any" animal develops the ability for abstract thought, the concept of higher power or purpose will naturally occur.
As someone once said, " IF HORSES HAD GODS, THEIR GODS WOULD BE HORSES."
You are suggesting that the will and motivation to live can only come through the belief in God. Religion does not have a monopoly on life, love, morals or ethics.
I don't remember suggesting anything of the sort. As I said, "I don't know".
Regarding the dead:
“The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5)
regarding the real life:
(1 Timothy 6:17-19) 17 Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; 18 to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, 19 safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.
@NationEarth – I'm not the least bit bothered by the fact that my life ends in death. It's a fact, and why should I delude myself about something as simple as that? Actually, knowing that my life is finite is one reason I try to live as meaningful a life as possible . . . because there are no do-overs.
And then I woke up!
You have to be deadly insane like muslim jihady's ,or insanely paranoid like the jews, and then of course, there are the insane christians who can't even stand other christian denominations much less races or ethnicities. One of the greatest sources of bigotry is religion, and the religions are fighting and scratching for followers as full of BS, as the religions themselves. Hence studies like this, that prop up the religious BS.
This study is ludicrous. They ask religious people and children, the most gullible people in the world, if they think religion is instinctive. Children believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny for goodness sakes, and nobody goes around arguing for the existence of these two holiday characters.
The next study will be that scientists find science comes naturally...
And parents likely have told their sprogs their is a heaven, because children tend to be frightened of death.
Another theory i had was aliens came during early mankind. Showed up this that were just so unbelievable. Then told us they would return and the story that passed on just got mixed up like a rumor. We all know how much information can get twisted.
I could see having faith in that...more realistic
What this is saying is God only exists in your mind
I must agree and disagree. The study shows God IS in your mind but is very carefull NOT to say, only..
Wow. Science and religion, faith, all in one article. And from Oxford.
So people are born stupid? Pretty sure we knew this already. That's why we require school attendance.
All people can be deceived by optical illusions too, but that doesn't make them stupid, right? Even when you know you're watching a magic show it's somethings difficult not to be amazed, especially when you don't know the secrets behind the tricks. If you show someone how an illusion is done, and they still insist that they believe it was real magic, well... that's a different thing altogether. Have you ever seen 'Miracle Detectives' on Oprah's network? True believers cannot be persuaded no matter how much evidence you lay before them.
if Jesus loves us and God is a forgiving God, we shouldn't have to worry about going to hell!
I agree but the church needs power and followers therefore it has to have the exlcusive clause
......Provided that, you believe what you just wrote.....
eh, I don't believe god would only have a club house where those who parrott the teachings of long dead Jewish scholars get into heaven. If God is truly good, he wants what is best for everyone, not just those with the 'get outta jail free card'.
How is that relevant to the article?
Have you ever seen someone tortured? We hope not. Deliberate torture is sickening and abhorrent. What, though, of torture inflicted by God? Can you imagine such a thing? Yet, this is exactly what is implied by the teaching of hellfire, an official doctrine in many religions.
In order to be tormented, an individual has to be conscious. Are the dead conscious? No. “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) It is impossible for the dead, “conscious of nothing at all,” to experience the agonies of hellfire.
God’s Word does not say that such a place exists. When a person dies, “he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Psalm 146:4.
"......Provided that, you believe what you just wrote....."
And some odd beliefs, like ...ooh, the trinity, that God created the universe, but wasn't himself created, that gays are sinners, that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, that contraception is wrong, but capital punishment is right, and a whole slue of other counter-intuitive things that someone tells you comes out of the Bible. You just can't 'believe' in Jesus, you know. You have to match a bunch of people's determination that you believe in Jesus 'correctly', right?
Wasn't Jesus tortured, according to God's (his own) plan?
Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy and mass are one in the same. Energy and its associated information to direct that energy is God.
"and its associated information"
What associated information would that be?
@brooktrout2010 Thanks for a good laugh 🙂
And since all energy came as a result of the big bang then should we consider that natural event to be God?
Really, you would have to demonstrate how all forms of energy stores information, and how that information can be transferred from one form, say a human neural impulse to another, say sunlight, or an AA battery, or the combustion in the engine of your pastor's new Bentley. 😉
The headline says belief in afterlife is natural, but the article only talks about religious feelings being natural. Not sure they are the same thing. Of course belief in afterlife is natural, the ego is a universal fact, so is the fear of death. Every living thing fears death at some level. Only mankind has the mind to make up stories to sooth that fear. Religion is usually a perversion of the teachings of a great master, holy person or prophet – and is used to propagate myths, secure employment for various types of priests, and scare people into giving their money in exchange for grace. Oh, and justify wars, let's not forget.
Not sure how you arrive at that..... example:... What would 55 authors of the scriptures have to gain (some 2000-5000 years ago) from writing gibberish?. Half of them were hardly educated enough to write as it was.
How could they even know that 1000's of years later, future generations (us) would be reading them?....
It certainly wasn't for fame or money.
Yep Blues, and a great source of power which can be utilized for good, like sister Theresa, or Evil like osama. One becomes a saint the other, swim's with the fishes, both touched or transformed millions of lives, both devout religious people at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
@Dave. If not for fame and money, maybe it was for goats and the land?
I wouldn't go banking on the sainthood of Theresa. She sure did raise a lot of money for the RCC, but nobody seems to know where it went to. It sure didn't go to building hospitals in India like many supposed it would. Interesting how it was right around the same time that the Pope was paying out all those big settlements to formally abused kids, isn't it?
We do have life after death, it is through our children. Evolution makes us survive through our genes, it's common sense.
"common sense" what a novel approach!
The Bible clearly states: (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6) 5 For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. 6 Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun.
Also topic of creation:
Today, it is known that characteristics you inherited from your parents and forebears—such as your height, facial features, eye and hair color, and thousands of other traits—were determined by your genes. Each of your cells contains tens of thousands of genes, and each gene is part of a long chain made of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Building instructions for your body are “written” in the chemical structure of your personal DNA. Every time your cells divide—to make new cells or to replace old cells—your DNA passes those instructions on, thereby keeping you alive and maintaining your basic appearance. What an outstanding example of the power and wisdom of our heavenly Maker!
@Lucy – It doesn't take a huge intellict to notice that ones offspring resemble their parents. Big shock that the concept made it into the bible but nice of them/you to try to give credit to something you can't demonstrate exists.
"What an outstanding example of the power and wisdom of our heavenly Maker!"
Why is it an argument for God when it works perfectly well as a natural development without any God at all in the equation?
did any one else read the comments just to see how many times the word "fart" was mentioned?
No. I read it because i thought "Well CNN is heavily anti-christian, and the comments are always full of atheists pretending to be experts, i bet this will make them mad and they will rage in the comments" I was not disappointed in the least.
@Supremeamerica: No this Atheist isn't raging because people once again proved that humans are inspired by conjecture. I once was too.
@Mike What's wrong?
@SupremeAmerican – CNN isn't anti-xtian...they're pro-evidence. Oh wait...same thing.
@BR Oooo gettin a little feisty there. ANgry much? Intollerant much? Ignorant much? LOL
@SupremeAmerican – Troll much? Fallacy much?
Romans 1:18-22 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
When God "wrote" that, what brand pen did he use?
He used a BIC. He stole it from his son's room. God is awesome like that.
When God "wrote" that, what brand pen did he use?
maybe god couldn't read or write and was a dumb a rse
"...for God has shown to them..." I'd like God to come on down here and show himself.
That's pretty hilarious, considering that Christianity has been the greatest suppressor of information throughout its entire existence. Just look back on all of the science that was at one time branded heresy by the church ... things that you accept and take for granted right now.
@Dave get an education sir. The church also branded posession of Bibles as heresy. They lit christians on fire at night to light up the gardens of Rome if they caught them with biblical texts. This is where we get the term roman candle. Now. If you were to say followers of Jesus Christ were the largest suppressors of information throughout history, not only would you be severely mistaken, you would also show more educational prowess than you are now, and less ignorance, wrong or not.
@SupremeAmerican – Re: roman candle....citations please.
and incidentally...Xtians are all fine with literature that endorses and furthers its own aims. I'm sure dave was referring to...oh...I don't know....maybe Galilleo.....Copernicus. Just a guess. Awfully nice of them to apologize to Galilleo a few short years ago, though.
@BR The vatican is not the Christian faith. No matter how much you need to cling on to that for your own ego-security issues. I was raised a Catholic and i know full and well the barbaric things the Catholic church has done. I am no longer a member of it. PS: You do know the Bible said the earth was round, right?
@SupremeAmerican – In their time, the vatican WAS the christian faith. They spoke for all within their influence and those who dissented rarely escaped with their lives. And do you propose that protestants haven't committed their fair share of barbarism in the name of god? Or is "no true Scottsman" locked and loaded?
RE: earth being round...big deal. The misses far outweighs the bullseyes.
"Claiming to be wise, they became fools,"
"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." Matt 5:22
Oops, Paul called someone the "F" word! Too bad for him that he never read the Gospels, eh?
New Study: Science comes naturally, even instinctively, to Scientists.
This whole piece is basically a press release written by this Trigg guy. Ridiculous.
Not new all in http://www.TheDimensionMachine.com
Not sure if anyone has suggested this yet, but watch Religulious. It's hilarious and very, very interesting. I know a lot of people think Maher comes across as biased, but I didn't think so. Watch it!
maher is stupid
I'm a Christian & actually like Mahr.....but I also think he has a profound fear of God that manifest's itself as retaliatory in his personality. No one really wants to be told what o do or how to do it.
Maher comes across as biased because he is
ya know what's funny? I tried to buy it online while in the Army. And the internet service I had to use on the Fort denied me access to buy it online. I had to buy it from another internet service provider off post after I left that post.
I saw that movie...and recognized the areas he was at. When it shows road signs, we both pointed at the screen and said I KNOW WHERE THAT IS. Good old Missouri.
It is biased because he targets only the .0001 percent of wackjob christians. He never confronts the normal christians, nor any academic or highly educated christians that are quite prominent in the field of science and study. He would lose those confrontations and he knows it. Kinda a sad excuse for propaganda if you ask me. I liked Ben Stein's movie much more. Didn't agree with the whole thing but it was done much more professionally.
@dave – Classic. And it’s the atheists who get painted as arrogant.
@BR Well if you skim through every comment section of every article on CNN. It is the Atheists being arrogant. I seen some christians do it too but thats very very rare. The atheists do it on a daily basis.
@ SupremeAmerican – Yeah…like the head of the human genome project…the Vatican astronomer. Real low brows.
FUN TIME IS NOW!
Maher is a genius.
@ SupremeAmerican – Stein’s movie has been refuted top to bottom…point by point with the actual facts of the cases and statements he made. expelledexposed.com
@BR I could have debunked steins movie for you. No news there. You know what else has been debunked? The Zeitgeist movie.
@SupremeAmerican – then why were you singing its praises? Zeitgeist is just as full of it as Expelled...so is the bible. What's your point? As full of sarcasm as Religulous is, it sticks to demonstrable reality.
"@BR Well if you skim through every comment section... It is the Atheists being arrogant. I seen some christians do it too but thats very very rare. The atheists do it on a daily basis"
Then you haven't been paying attention which is understandable. That is the hallmark of theism...ignoring what falls outside of your worldview.
It's theists who claim absolute knowledge and incessently refer to retribution from their big brother in the sky. Atheists simply doubt those claims. Doubting assertions for which there is zero proof isn't arrogant, it's rational.