“It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.”

February 6, 2009


“It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods” claims Michael Brooks of New Scientist magazine.  While the author demonstrates his own predisposition by the conclusions he draws (i.e. the average religion-serves-evolution rhetoric), I thought this article (titled “Born Believers: How your brain creates God”) had a number of interesting quotes:

There’s now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired…

“Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life,” says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.

Even so, religion is an inescapable artefact of the wiring in our brain, says Bloom. “All humans possess the brain circuitry and that never goes away.” Petrovich adds that even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking. Bering has seen this too. When one of his students carried out interviews with atheists, it became clear that they often tacitly attribute purpose to significant or traumatic moments in their lives, as if some agency were intervening to make it happen. “They don’t completely exorcise the ghost of god – they just muzzle it,” Bering says.

So if religion is a natural consequence of how our brains work, where does that leave god? All the researchers involved stress that none of this says anything about the existence or otherwise of gods: as Barratt points out, whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it.  It does, however, suggests that god isn’t going away, and that atheism will always be a hard sell. Religious belief is the “path of least resistance”, says Boyer, while disbelief requires effort.

Thoughts?

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