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Biotech Science

Humans Hardwired to Believe in Supernatural Deity? 1852

dohcrx writes "According to a Sunday New York Times article, 6 in 10 Americans believe in the devil and hell, 7 in 10 believe in angels, heaven and the existence of miracles and life after death, while 92% believe in a personal God. The article explores the possibility that this belief structure may be ingrained into our genetic makeup. 'When a trait is universal, evolutionary biologists look for a genetic explanation and wonder how that gene or genes might enhance survival or reproductive success ... Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity?'"
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Humans Hardwired to Believe in Supernatural Deity?

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  • Sample Population? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Grail ( 18233 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:42PM (#18229768) Journal
    What is the sample population for the study? How many people were surveyed? Was it a self-selecting phone survey ("Hi, we'd like to ask you some questions about your religion...")? What questions were asked?

    Is a survey of 1000 Christians (especially from fanatical sects) in the USA really going to be representative of the genetic makeup of humanity as a whole?

    Is it possible that being exposed to religion during the first 5 years of your life -- and constantly being told, "God made it that way" or "God loves you even if you don't believe in him" -- would influence your belief system to the extent that you'd believe in a "magic box" that would destroy the property of non-believers?

    Speculate that deity dependence is ingrained into our genetic makeup all you like, but until you can present a survey from a meaningful sample population it's nothing more than an interesting topic for discussion around the water cooler (or in the modern office, the automatic espresso machine).
  • by SpaghettiPattern ( 609814 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:57PM (#18229976)

    ... 6 in 10 Americans believe ...
    ... 92% believe in a personal God ...
    This is quite clearly a study on USA population -assuming the term "Americans" refers to the people in the USA. The Americans are not representative in matters of belief. Americans tend to believe more in God then say Europeans. Unless by miracle genes mutated in the Americans, the study is limited in that it does not seem to rule out cultural inclinations.
  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:58PM (#18230002) Homepage Journal
    At least for potestants who take St. Paul seriously, it is Grace that supports or allows belief. That would be a two ways street. But, many theologians do identify something in the soul that also seeks God. C. S. Lewis was interested in this and looked at levels of inclination such as loyalty to country, animal's attraction to their keepers as well as darker attractions. His book That Hideous Strength is a good read. Finding some hardwiring for this would not be too suprising I think. I'd imagine that is would be related to things like filial piety [] which actually comes in as a commandment.
    Solar power: -selling-solar.html []
  • Re:Hmm, so... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cairnarvon ( 901868 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:11PM (#18230144) Homepage
    Nobody said religion has to confer a survival advantage to have a genetic origin.

    One explanation is that, given the fact that humans are neotenous apes, they retained their propensity for not really questioning or examining the information their parents give them, because in children, that would be disadvantageous (if a parent tells you you can drown in water, it's often a bad idea to go in and experiment just to be sure, since the experiment is likely to kill you).
    From there, it's just a matter of a meme developing to take advantage of that.

    It's not exactly a new idea, or even a particularly controversial one.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:15PM (#18230184)
    Buddhists don't believe in God or Gods (depending on the sect, of course). There are also sects of Judaism and other religions that technically qualify as "atheistic" while still being religions.

    Perhaps this study should have looked at the entire world, rather than just Americans?

    My own theory is that we are genetically wired to understand the world in goal-oriented terms (and also in terms of underlying mechanisms). Both traits provide obvious selective advantages. Combine that with our advanced cognitive capacities that allow us to forumlate questions such as "what is the goal of life?" and "what underlying mechanism brought about the existence of the universe?" and you have a whole species asking questions about things that are beyond the scope of any rigorous investigative method.

    "God" is just the simplest answer, so it is popular.

  • by LinuxIsRetarded ( 995083 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:16PM (#18230198) Homepage

    it is Grace that supports or allows belief
    You are 100% correct. I have only been a Christian for 4 years. Up until my conversion, I neither believed nor wanted to believe in any higher being. I was a typical software engineer- I believed I was too intelligent and educated to believe in God. God changed all that, however. In an absolutely miraculous series of events, God transformed my mind and enabled me to have faith. I'm still a software engineer- the difference now is that God granted me the ability to believe.
  • Re:even wierder .... (Score:5, Informative)

    by alext ( 29323 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:25PM (#18230348)
    Indeed, but I hope you won't be offended if I suggest that T H Huxley put it better [] in 1892. (Quoted at length because the last bit is both amusing and still relevant, unfortunately).

    "From the earliest times of which we have any knowledge, Naturalism and Supernaturalism have consciously, or unconsciously, competed and struggled with one another; and the varying fortunes of the contest are written in the records of the course of civilisation, from those of Egypt and Babylonia, six thousand years ago, down to those of our own time and people.

    These records inform us that, so far as men have paid attention to Nature, they have been rewarded for their pains. They have developed the Arts which have furnished the conditions of civilised existence; and the Sciences, which have been a progressive revelation of reality and have afforded the best discipline of the mind in the methods of discovering truth. They have accumulated a vast body of universally accepted knowledge; and the conceptions of man and of society, of morals and of law, based upon that knowledge, are every day more and more, either openly or tacitly, acknowledged to be the foundations of right action.

    History also tells us that the field of the supernatural has rewarded its cultivators with a harvest, perhaps not less luxuriant, but of a different character. It has produced an almost infinite diversity of Religions. These, if we set aside the ethical concomitants upon which natural knowledge also has a claim, are composed of information about Supernature; they tell us of the attributes of supernatural beings, of their relations with Nature, and of the operations by which their interference with the ordinary course of events can be secured or averted. It does not appear, however, that supernaturalists have attained to any agreement about these matters, or that history indicates a widening of the influence of supernaturalism on practice, with the onward flow of time. On the contrary, the various religions are, to a great extent, mutually exclusive; and their adherents delight in charging each other, not merely with error, but with criminality, deserving and ensuing punishment of infinite severity."

  • Re:Genetics? No way (Score:5, Informative)

    by sam_handelman ( 519767 ) <> on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:25PM (#18230354) Homepage Journal
    Actually, for every 2 people that becomes an atheist, there's about 1 that finds religion. []

      And you can poke around on the site for more data, I can't find the specific number for religious change but it's on there somewhere.

      Point is, most of the people attending those megachurches are not former atheists. They're former "main-line" protestants.

  • Wrong. (Score:2, Informative)

    by NotZed ( 19455 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:42PM (#18230590)
    It's wrong. Just more apologetic shit trying to sway the masses.

    People are hardwired to believe what they're told and to follow leaders. They're just naturally credulous, which helps to maintain some social balance in times of hardship. The problem is that they also tend to believe charlatans and thieves - i.e. religious 'leaders' who are just trying to control people.

    You know it makes sense - say no to religion.
  • by David_Shultz ( 750615 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:47PM (#18230636)
    .... and belief in a rosy afterlife will make you live longer and pass on that trait. I mean, what's the size of an average Catholic family compared to the lonely angry atheist?
    You are implying religious folks have healthier families than atheists, but atheists actually have a lower divorce rate. Do some research -don't just rely on your gut and tired stereotypes.

    Religion % have been divorced

    Jews 30%

    Born-again Christians 27%

    Other Christians 24%

    Atheists, Agnostics 21% []

    Of course, it is true that christians will have more kids just because they have so many ass backwards beliefs about contraception and abortion. But this also means that those kids are more likely to be unwanted.

    While we're on the topic of whether christian families are more healthy than atheists, let me also point out that scaring kids into your belief system with tales of eternal torture is tantamount to child abuse (and it should be punished as such). Some christian groups go so far as to set up "hell houses" where children can be terrorized by productions designed specifically to scare children into mental submission. For example: html []

    wikipedia: []

    Christians have more happy families? yea right. do some research before running your mouth.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:03PM (#18230862)
    For the benefit of the Americans out there, here's a personal illustration.

    As far as I know, only *two* of the people that I have ever worked or studied with believed in god. That's way way below 1%.

    This is in England.

    At first sight, Europe and the U.S. might look similar. But scratch below the surface and you find these *enormous* differences.
  • Re:Hmm, so... (Score:2, Informative)

    by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:15PM (#18230980)
    What religious people seem to fail to comprehend is that atheism is not a religious belief, it is the lack of religious belief.

    That would be more of a description of an agnostic. Atheists believe in a lack of supreme being, without any prove that that being doesn't exist.
  • Re:Hmm, so... (Score:2, Informative)

    by ahodgson ( 74077 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:22PM (#18231044)
    Uh, no. Agnostics don't know what they believe (although most strongly suspect that religion is hogwash). Atheists are just honest about it.
  • by DenmaFat ( 704308 ) <> on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:47PM (#18231318)
    The historical Buddha is not considered a supreme being, but a human being who transcended attachment, suffering, etc. There might be lots of Buddhas around, for that matter. Karma != fate, but is closer to Newton. A lot of times Buddhist teachers call it "karma cause and effect."
  • Re:Genetics? No way (Score:3, Informative)

    by sam_handelman ( 519767 ) <> on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:01PM (#18231470) Homepage Journal
    Fair enough.

    Same data is available in the original ARIS report that they cite: is.pdf []
  • by Kyeetza ( 927172 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:02PM (#18231488)
    Dawkins also compared a child's propensity to believe whatever it's parents tell it to computers and computer viruses. This may be over simplified for the /. crowd or cause disagreement, but he said that computers follow every instruction they are given whether it is good or bad - it has to, otherwise it wouldn't be a very useful computer. It makes them by design, susceptible to computer viruses in the same way that a child's mind is by design, susceptible to the 'virus' of religion. Just another interesting analogy from Dawkins book.
  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:05PM (#18231522) Homepage Journal
    "And what happens when a rational atheist, holding no irrational fantasies about any mystical nature of man's existence, is in charge of the military weapons technology instead?

    I'd answer that for you, but I'd be invoking Godwin's Law.

    Are you referring to the Nazis, and their exalted leader Hitler, who believed that he was fighting for God? Check this out []:

    "My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter."

    ""Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."

    Hitler, and the whole Nazi program, was extremely religious. Wikipedia [] says this:

    "Volkism was inherently hostile toward atheism: freethinkers clashed frequently with Nazis in the late 1920s and early 1930s. On taking power, Hitler banned freethought organizations and launched an "anti-godless" movement. In a 1933 speech he declared: "We have . . . undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out." This forthright hostility was far more straightforward than the Nazis' complex, often contradictory stance toward traditional Christian faith."

    You might think that they were wrong, or otherwise disagree with them, but that does not make them atheist.
  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:29PM (#18231790) Journal
    The historical buddha has little to do with the religion of Buddhism. Pure Buddhism is almost non-existent. The Buddhism that exists is subsumed with Hindu mythology and is why there are no end of Buddha statues and "rub-the-tummy" fat Buddhas. Hell, he isn't even Siddhartha!

    Thus, most "Buddhists" believe in the super-natural, even though they don't call it/him "God". The story of Siddhartha's birth is a perfect example of what I'm talking about, as is the believe in literal reincarnation or transmigration of the soul.
  • Re:Agree (Score:5, Informative)

    by Puff of Logic ( 895805 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @10:47PM (#18233014)

    Nazism was also atheistic, and caused in the most effective example of genocide known to date.
    For an atheistic regime, they sure had an odd motto: Gott Mit Uns []
  • Re:there is No god (Score:3, Informative)

    by tom's a-cold ( 253195 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @10:48PM (#18233018) Homepage

    A good friend of mine calls his position "apatheism." Doesn't know for sure either way, but it doesn't matter to him.

    Agnosticism was an attempt to soften the absolutist tone of atheism. The position was that there's little or (more likely) no credible evidence supporting the existence of a deity, but it's logically difficult to prove a negative, so there's always going to be a provisional element in such a judgement. This is very different from a position of being undecided. It's quite possible to be agnostic but to believe that the evidence in support of atheism is somewhere between "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "beyond the shadow of a doubt." But if a deity showed up tomorrow and bought me a Guinness, or unzipped the sky from the horizon, the preponderance of evidence would shift. Meanwhile, I'm not going to be out slaughtering ruminants on the solstice Just In Case. Pascal's Wager doesn't make sense when you have mutually contradictory religious beliefs to choose from.

  • by the_REAL_sam ( 670858 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @11:36PM (#18233372) Journal

    I would be deeply surprised if the experimenters had taken the time (or given the consideration) to examine the DNA of people BEFORE and AFTER they had converted from atheist to religious (or vice versa).

    Do you think it would be better to say that any change that occurs - whatever it's attributed to (God/Jesus, the person having newfound motivation, etc.) - is due to psychological experiences rather than genetics?

    Well, the term "psychological experiences" is really a very broad blanket. What it defines isn't exactly clear. Within the field of psychology, there are physical psychologists, who explore the relationship between physiological and psychological phenomena. There are behavioral psychologists, who study behavior (but not necessarily why that behavior happens). There are psychoanalists, who study symbolism, dreams, the subconscience, and that sort of thing. There are hypnotists. There are other branches, too, and I probably don't know the half of it, but I guess I'm saying I don't know what it means when you ask whether it is "better" to explain things in terms of psychological events. Psychology is a very broad field (that covers many interesting topics, actually).

    I guess that might be a tangent, though, since I'd be much more inclined to say that spiritual/religious experiences are religious/spiritual experiences, and I would not give any field of empirical study dominion over them. In my own life, there was a time when I lived as an agnostic. (15 years) During that time, I had seen NO evidence of God, and I'd given up on faith. But when I finally saw the light, there was no turning back. During that first 15 years, it was empirical science and philosophy that kept me as an agnostic. Since I saw the light, however, no amount of empirical, scientific or psychological speculation could diminish my faith.

    Isn't the purpose of this article to say that the whole general concept of religion (just the very fact that it exists) has origins in "evolution or some neurological accident?" I don't think it was proposing that life changes have been due to shift in genetics.

    You have successfully isolated the essence my objection. The summary of the article makes the bold faced assertion that "religiosity" comes from science. Basically it makes a big "ven diagram" and says "empirical science & forensics are bigger than God, and bigger than believers in God."

    What I, a believer, am saying is that "their conclusions are wrong, and their method of analysis [probably] failed to account for people who have changed their faith." (as I have, since I was once an atheist, then an agnostic, and now am a Christian). What's more, they probably failed to look for patterns such as family heritage [of atheists begetting kids and raising new atheists, for example]. Since the genes follow from the parents to the kids who receive some teaching and conditioning from the parents, it would not be surprising if there were some correlation.

    BTW, on a theological note, I know that there are those in the Church who seem to claim that Jesus and God are one and the same, but if you read the Bible it is clear that Jesus carefully avoided claiming he was God, AND he PRAYED to God, and since he wasn't praying to himself, it is probably a mistake (on the order of breaking the first of the 10 Commadments) to worship Jesus (although I do believe he is the savior, and he was sent from Heaven).

  • Re:there is No god (Score:2, Informative)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Sunday March 04, 2007 @11:44PM (#18233412) Homepage Journal

    In Christianity, the rule is "Christ chooses anyone who sincerely chooses Christ."

  • That's EXACTLY my story!... Just about 3 years ago. But, I'm software development major, not engineering :)

    Lately (well, as of the last year), I've become very interested in the doctrine of grace. It's entirely fascinating. And, it also gives a great layout of the Gods 'legal' requirements (He has to follow His own law, otherwise He isn't a perfect judge...Like giving dominion of earth to man, and then coming down as a man in the form of Jesus; legal loophole, if you will, since He can't just 'take it back'.) for faith. It goes a little something like this...

    You aren't perfect. God is. You cannot make yourself perfect by doing works, and faith is a work. Your faith in God isn't enough, but His faith in you, is... the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You are under Grace, not the law - which means since you (Jesus in you) are not under the law, you are able to have a relationship with God. It's not at all about religion; it's about a relationship, that can only happen since Jesus payed for your sins which makes you perfect in Gods eyes. But, as I said, there is nothing that you can do to obtain it; in the end, you can't even save yourself by your faith (work), only God can do it since His faith is perfect.

    I'd recommend it as a topic of study for a follower who is of the scientific type. I always, personally, find the topics of law and grace very interesting. Unfortunately you won't find many sunday morning sermons on Gods legal requirements, as it seems to bore the congregation... Ravi Zacharias [] covers some of this material, I think.

  • by VirusEqualsVeryYes ( 981719 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @04:21AM (#18235040)
    The single most disappointing thing is when uninformed posts like the parent get modded up.

    theism - from Greek theos; belief in a supreme being.
    atheism - a- (without) + theism; a lack of a belief in a supreme being.
    antitheism - anti- (against or opposite of) + theism; a belief in the nonexistence of a supreme being.

    agnosticism - a- + gnosis (knowledge); the belief that we cannot prove the existence of a supreme being.
    ignosticism - (from ignore and agnosticism); the belief that the question of the existence of a supreme being has no verifiable consequence and thus it should be ignored.

    Note that agnosticism is compatible with theism, atheism, and antitheism: it is entirely possible to believe that the existence of a god cannot be proven and concurrently hold an opinion on the matter. Conversely, ignosticism is only compatible with atheism; it makes no sense to believe that the existence of a god should be ignored while believing in its existence or nonexistence.

    Also note that antitheism is generally considered a subset of atheism. This is why many theists seem to think that atheism is a belief in the nonexistence of a god. Just as we atheists mostly hear the loudest of the theists, the theists hear the loudest of the atheists, who are nearly always antitheistic.

    Lastly, proof has nothing to do with any of the above categories (read: belief), with the exception of agnosticism, which only deals with the lack of proof surrounding the existence of a supreme being. Please don't claim that theists or antitheists do anything without proof, because both belief systems are founded on faith. There is no proof to go either way.
  • by draxredd ( 661953 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @05:10AM (#18235236)
    "According to a Sunday New York Times article, 6 in 10 Americans are socially forced to pretend to believe in the devil and hell, 7 in 10 are socially forced to pretend to believe in angels, heaven and the existence of miracles and life after death, while 92% are socially forced to pretend to believe in a personal God."
    There, fixed.
  • by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @05:30AM (#18235330)
    wikipedia says bullshit [].

    sweden has much lower suicide rate than insanely religious poland.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05, 2007 @05:51AM (#18235436)

    Sweden also has one of the world's highest suicide rates.
    I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. This is an oft-repeated factoid with no basis whatsoever in the real world.

    According to e/suiciderates/en/ [] we are #29 of the 100 countries reported (29.7 suicides per 100 000 citizens, you have to sort the table yourself), with only a slightly higher rate than for example the USA (#44 of 100, 21.7 suicides per 100 000 citizens). You also have to remember that the numbers from strongly religious countries, where suicide is considered a crime, are probably too low.
  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @07:02AM (#18235696)
    That's the really important question. The answer will make us understand why people search for a religion gene, for example.

    I think the reason for going after religion is a actually a mix of many reasons: bad education, media brain-washing, economic problems, etc.

    It may seem far-fetched now, but USA seems to have lots of internal problems...I think those problems will led to its downfall. If only USA adopted a more mild/less aggressive/scientific-oriented approach, it would be much better for them.

    USA seems like ancient Greek Athens: Blinded by its own power, heading straight into self-destruction.

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan