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.
We are taught everything that we know and believe whether it was taught to us by our parents/friends taught in Sunday school, Grammar school, High school, College or absorbed through life experiences. All studies that are conducted are flawed just like statistical process control. You have data that has been collected from humans by humans (already biased) and it has to be interpreted by humans. Even if we use computers to sort/match/plot the data, much of the data is culled or changed because the computer program that sorts the data was written by a human and humans are biased and tend to remove data that they believe is not needed or not useful or necessary to come to a proper conclusion. When you ask a person a question you get an opinionated fact not a true fact an opinionated one. Many people believe what they hear without question because it is what they believe not necessarily factual. Many people when told something by a person in an authoritative position believe without question others do not. I think we should always continue to question what we are told because most things are unknown or are theories. One thing that I can’t stand is when someone is called out because they believe a certain way. I have my own set of beliefs I do not push them on anyone and do not wish to have anyone’s beliefs push on me. Be a human not a robot! Live your own life, make your own decisions and mistakes the way we are suppose to.
I disagree with you statement, "I don't push them on anyone and do not wish to have anyone's beliefs push on me." regarding your beliefs. By making that statement you just pushed your beliefs on me as you give yourself license to live as you want without interference from anyone else.
rightwingextreme ~ How did I push my beliefs on you without stating what I believe. I am giving an opinion about an article about beliefs and studies. It is my opinion I am allowed to have just like everyone else. You can think freely or follow the herd!
JESUS IS COMING... LOOK BUSY.
Don't swallow that.
All of these posts show us how diverse we are in our personal beliefs. What we all have in common is our full range of feelings. How about having more compassion and understanding? How about respecting our differences and appreciating our similarities? Or you could just continue to argue and fight...like we need more of that in the world.
Where's the Like button? Well put!
I find it necessary to ask for verifiable evidence when faced with threats, bigotry, hatred and claims of absolute knowledge by believers.
We could, as you say 'all just get along' if belief were benign. Unfortunately, it is far from it.
...great globes of light massing toward the opening, and not alone these, but the breaking apart of the nearest globes, and the protoplasmic flesh that flowed blackly outward to join together and form that eldritch, hideous horror from outer space, that spawn of the blankness of primal time, that tentacled amorphous monster which was the lurker at the threshold, whose mask was as a congeries of iridescent globes, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who froths as primal slime in nuclear chaos beyond the nethermost outposts of space and time!
All hail Lord Cthulhu! Especially when he spells his own name right. All hail!
Relgion and/or God is not the problem with the world. Greed leads to hate which leads to war which leads to human extinction. Who knows how dinosuars where extinct, but humans will become extinct due to our greed.
Begs the question then why are churches so rich and greedy. There are many people who claim to be religious but are also incredible greedy.
What a load of cr@p. We have a natural tendency to beat each other over the head and steal from one another as well. This does not mean we should not resist the inclinations to steal and beat each other over the head. Just because things are 'innate' or 'human nature' does not make them right, or even worth defending. History has proved that!
The study doesn't defend belief, only illustrates that most people do believe.
Thanks God I believe as any religion only serves cultural, community organizing, and educational purposes, and also provides powers to "leaders". Can anyone "Imagine" as God is not religious and we are created upon God himself?
Duh ... that's like a study saying that eating is human nature.
That is the kind of stupidity religion leads to.
Oh, get on your knees, the end is near!
Stupidity comes naturally to too many members of the human race as well. Still doesn't make natural traits a GOOD thing...
Of course it was going to come out that way. A bunch of white European christians will pick and choose questions and answers that are within their own thinking and experience. They can't help themselves. They were taught as children about the power of god. Not the love, but the power. Fear put in a child lasts a lifetime. You did not even know the world was round or that someone even thought differently than you until after your parents and 'church' had already put god and "his" power in your mind. We were all raised that way, where ever on the Earth.
To think that our white christian god created the heavens and the earth, AND choose the jews as his people, and "neglected" all his other human "creations" in all the other parts of the world is so contradictory to any type of reasoning that it would not even make a good science fiction novel today. There were thousands, milliuons of others all mover the Earth, that never heard of him until a bunch of men carrying swords (or guns) and a cross showed up and forced them to accept our white christian god or killed them. You can't pretend those HUMANS did not exist, while "our" god was telling us how he wanted us to live and worship "him". That no one has heard from "him" in over 2,000 years, except for a certain "blessed" few is just preposterous.
Get real folks. It is time to quit scaring CHILDREN with ghost stories. We're just an evolved animal at the top of the food chain on this planet that is like many others with some type of "life" form in the Universe. When you finish counting the stars, please report back that we are the only living things with a "soul" in the Universe. In the mean time, quit telling me how your white christian god, among 100, 1000. 10,000 other gods on this planet, wants me to run my life. You've tried to have things both ways too long. Those simple folks in the Brazilian rain forest never heard of your god, and were doing quite well, until they were discovered, and the white European civilization decided to "save" them. Say 10 hail mary's and put $10 in the collection plate on you way out . . .
last time I checked Jesus wasn't white!
There Is No God Or Heaven Or Hell. Just The Human Imagination Running Wild.
The part on hell i'll buy.
Heaven is an easy sell than hell?
Since man lived in caves, he has looked to the skies for answers and invisible friends. Every religion has them and every one of those believers thought theirs were the only one. Of course, this all comes from man being cursed with the ability to wonder and the knowledge that we will all die some day. The weaker minded humans are either so frantic to believe there is more to them than a lifeless corpse in a casket after death, they will buy into the most fantastic of fairy tales. Some people HAVE to believe their life will not end at death ... and the business of religion was born.
So you do a study on people that have been raised to believe in a religion and come to the conclusion that it is natural for people to believe in it? That fails scientific study. You need to have a control group that has never been exposed to any type of organized religion to be able to come up with any valid conclusions.
People may be fearful of the unknown and that is why they believe anyone that gives them hope from the fear; but does it have to be a god or gods? Power hungry people use that to control the fearful.
Not to mention people like myself. who have been indoctrinated in childhood, but have come to reject religion for the nonsense it is. Am I unnatural, or lacking some primal instinct? I doubt it.
It all boils down to this: The natural fear of death and of the unknown that lies beyond.
What lies beyond is sweet oblivion - like you never existed. Unfortunately, most people fear that idea and have to make up invisible friends to compensate. Hopefully, we'll grow out of it, but there is no sign of that, yet.
At least the author pointed out that just because we are inclined to a belief system, it does not make it true. Sorry folks, the fact is, there is no God, no afterlife, and absolutely no inherent meaning for life. It just is. Live it. Eat right, exercise, and be kind to others. No religion needed.
And your proof of this claim is...?
But see you just made up a belief system of your own. Prove your belief system please? Use only mathematics, physics and chemistry. If you can't you believe in a fairy tale system as well........
You cant say God not existing is fact buddy, you cant prove that, no one can. It is fine to have an opinion, but don't get all self righteous. Geesh!
The preponderance of available evidence supports no other conclusion. However, as a scientist, I am fully willing to change my point of view with empirical evidence. The same is not true for religious believers. If it could be proven conclusively tomorrow that there are absolutely no gods, religion would not miss a beat. Care to lay some empirical evidence on me that I'm wrong? Ah, didn't think so.
Doesn't mean that it's true, also doesn't mean that it's false. Fact is we have no idea if there is or isn't a God or some higher being. Both atheism and theism are belief systems, religions. The atheist believes there is no God and lives his or her life accordingly. The theist believes there is and lives his or her life accordingly. Neither one knows. Either one may be wrong. You are free to believe whichever way you like. Only an idiot would say the other is wrong, since neither belief can be proved.
Every time I see the name joe I think of some fat w0p sitting on the porch in his undershirt with suspenders holding up his pants and his saint christopher medal on.
@Fact_IS - I'm not self-righteous. I'm merely pointing out what is. Self-righteous would be me saying that everyone else has to agree, or else suffer the consequences. Oh! Wait! That's what religious people say, isn't it. Accept it or not, I couldn't care less.
seriously, you dont believe thats fine, there is no evidence that God does not exist, so I choose to believe. If Christ's body was found today, scientifically proven, I would seriously have a hard look at at my belief. But, ummmm, no body, besides, your trying to prove that God does not exist based on your personal belief by indicating there is no proof. I'm just sayin...
Please prove the line about eating right etc. There is no empirical evidence that has ever proved that making the "right choices" is necessary. Yes these choices can prolong your life. Nobody has ever proved that is a good outcome using mathematics, physics and/or chemistry. Anything else is similar to religious ideology. You just make something up that you think is right. Also as far as the existence of god, it isn't a scientific question in the first place (any scientist should understand this). Science just tells you how you got here. It won't give you a purpose in life, You made up a purpose, this purpose has no scientific backing, nobody has ever proved life to have any purpose (other then increasing the entropy in the universe) through physics. 95% of Atheists don't go through life thinking it has no point, most people who actually believe this go insane.
@Fact_IS - Your interpretation is amusing. Let me guess - Liberal Arts Major?
@Joe - RE: the line about eating right - There's nothing to prove. It was just a suggestion. People can, do, and should ascribe meanings to their lives. I'm saying that the Universe doesn't care.
Still you have to admit from the scientific perspective, any of this meaning has as much truth as religion. I can go through life insulting, trolling, creating anger everywhere I go, and as far as science is concerned, none of that matters at all. When someone tells you you should be kind to others.....well that statement has no scientific basis, its no different then any religion. Physics does show how the entropy of a system is always increasing, and that life increases the entropy in the universe, so we can say that is the scientific reason for the existence of life (at least one of the current scientific conclusions). But as far as being nice etc, science has no comment, any belief in this area is not fact it is belief.
@Joe - You're running around in inane circles. Religion is a human construct with no basis in fact. Science is a study of natural phenomenon using nothing but fact. Science supports my original contention and refutes religion. They are not equal, regardless of how much people WANT them to be.
No your wrong. Science only supports your conclusions about say Einstein's theory of relativity. Your conclusion about being nice? That is religion, you made it up, I never read Einstein's theory of being nice which was proven by physics/chemistry/mathematics. So you have some belief system that you made up that is religious in nature. Science =/ religion. Science doesn't give a damn if your nice, if your mean, if you do cocaine everyday, it doesn't give any conclusions about these ideas, all I'm saying is all your conclusions here have as much scientific basis as religion, which is NONE.
@Joe from CT, Fact_IS
Burden of proof is on the prosecution. In this case that would be the Christians since it can be proven humans have existed longer than Christianity. If I came up to you and made some ridiculous claim about being able to leap buildings in a single bound or run faster than a speeding bullet. It’s up to me to prove it. You’re under no obligation to prove I can’t.
A belief system does not mean religion. Religion is simply one form of a belief system. I am an Atheist. I have a belief system based on facts. Facts are things that can and have been proven. No such luxury for religion.
Whereas I freely admit I cannot prove the NONexistence of the magic man in the sky. (let’s hope the double negative there isn’t lost on you.) Neither can you prove that Superman doesn’t exist. (I have a book that says he does.)
However I have innumerable facts that disprove your book and only ‘proof’. The Earth is not 6000 years old, Fact. There was no flood that covered the world, Fact. So on and so forth.
First of all I'm agnostic. I'm only saying......your belief system isn't proven on facts. Nobody can prove that its wrong for someone to do cocaine every day using physics/chemistry/mathematics. Nobody can prove its wrong for me to be mean to everyone I see. I never said I was a christian, where did you get that idea? Burden of proof is on you......prove its wrong to do cocaine everyday/be an troll everyone you meet using physics/chemistry/mathematics. Science does prove things like the theory of relativity etc. I really doubt however you lived your life thinking it was ok to do cocaine every day. Truth is, nobody has ever proven that one away either. So you believe in something too, it may not be an organized system of belief a.k.a religion, but it is a belief regardless and it has 0 scientific basis.
crapping your pants is human nature, too, but you learn to control it
Eating food is also human nature.....is that bad? You see your logic just proves that not everything that people do is correct by nature. It doesn't comment whether either item is bad or good. Also you would have to prove using mathematics, physics, and chemistry why crapping your pants is bad, otherwise your just using built in cultural conjectures that are no different then religious ideology.
yep you learn to control it but you can never get rid of it, cause its part of your instinctive nature and it will always be in you.
Crapping in your pants is not good smell for the environment...
If You Believe In God Well Then You're Higher Then Me:)
My god is Jupiter. You don’t believe in my god? You’re an atheist!
"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways." – that line kind of sums it all up, doesn't it? Religious thinking is childish thinking.
both are magical, wishful thinking
exactly so. If you don't tell them otherwise, children would continue to believe in the tooth fairy also.
Not necessarily, your logic itself is wrong. Children are probably more open to the world. This is why when a society has prejudice etc built in, usually only children can overcome it. Would you say that overcoming prejudice is childish thinking as well? Also people vastly underestimate children, Ender's game probably describes childhood better then anything else. The difference between a child and an adult I think is that a child doesn't have built in prejudices. I'm not saying that any of this proves the existence of god, I'm just saying your logic is flat out wrong.
That was very rude! What happens to do not assault and insult other people's beliefs?
Indeed. It is also a primitive way of explaining things we don't yet understand, or didn't understand in the past.
Religion is also a social control.
James is correct in more ways than one! Long live Christopher Hitchens!
Yes, yes it does.
"DOG BLESS YOU ALL" says my Border Collie.
And just becuase humans have a deep seeded need to put meaning on existence doesn't make it true. It just makes it human. Producing off spring is a deep seeded need, one that threatens our very existence on a lifeboat with limtied resources. So everyone, please keep up the good work of NOT evolving.
Hah, Seriously. They also find it easy to believe in Santa Clause, The Easter Bunny, and that Superman really can fly. That is why most baptism / indoctrination takes place at a young age before they grow subjective and / or cynical.
Only a child will interpret a sentence in such a way
You're right, even Jesus says this: "Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:17