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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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  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:38PM (#18229712)
    It seems to me that if the conjecture of a genetic basis is right, then this probably does little to help agnostics like me decide whether or not God exists. Here's why...

    If God doesn't exist, then a genetic basis gives a potentially adequate explanation for religiosity. So the genetic basis doesn't disprove atheism.

    If God does exist, then this is consistent with the theology (Christian, at least) that God has built us to know Him. (Assuming for the sake of argument that God can and does work through evolution and genetics.) So the genetic basis wouldn't seem to disprove Christianity (and thus theism in general) either.

    I dunno... what do you guys think?
  • Re:Genetics? No way (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:40PM (#18229734) Homepage
    For every young person that leaves his faith (not just Christianity, but Judaism, Hindusim, or Islam just the same), there's someone who finds religion in early or mid-adulthood. Many of these "megachurches" exploding with members who come from agnostic Boomer parents who didn't instill any kind of religious observance in their children.
  • by haluness ( 219661 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:42PM (#18229772)
    This was one of the possibilities that Dawkins talked about in the God Delusion - according to the evolutionary approach, the belief in gods and the supernatural is really a 'spin-off' of a ingrained tendency to believe authority. Now, the reason this might be useful in an evolutionary perspective is that a child whose genetic makeup predisposes him to be a little more gullible, will probably heed his parents warnings about dangerous things. So if a child were to be told that he should not go down to a certain part of the riverside because of snakes - the more readily the child accepts this, the longer his genes will survive.

    The side of effect of this whole process, is that the species may have a tendency to believe authority - some more so than others. Obviously, one has to be a little more specific as to what exactly is 'authority' - but thats a whole other thread.

    As with all evolutionary explanations, one shouldn't push it too far - but it does sound quite plausible.
  • by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) * on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:48PM (#18229860) Homepage Journal
    9% of USA Americans are non believers in God. They are no more representive than Swedes (85%) [].

    Belief in god simply is not universal. The numbers above make that clear. If it is a hard wired function of our brains, then explain the variation in brain wiring between Swedes and Americans. On the nature vs. nurture line, this one is at the nuture end.

    I know my brain isn't wired for belief in god. My parents ran the Sunday school and brought me up a methodist. My grandparents were religious. My genetic inheritance should make me religious if its a preset brain wiring. Yet as a young child I saw the teachings as a system of inconsistent threats (be nice or go to hell, believe and be saved etc). As an older child I suspected the stories and teaching of being untrue. By the time I was in comprehensive school (age 11, UK) I knew I didn't believe a word of it and knew I was an atheist.

    My personal experience leads to the opposite conclusion. We may be wired to follow the logic we understand or are taught. If we are taught how to think rationally and scientifically, then belief in God is vulnerable to rational analysis.

    Moving to the USA (from the UK) had transformed atheism for me. It used to just be a fact. Relgious people went to Church and wasted their Sundays. There was no issue. In the USA I find people scared to be frank about their atheism. They find themselves in the minority, and a mistrusted minority at that. The outward effects of religion on society is caustic to education (e.g. evolution in schools), civil rights (e.g. bigotry in law and elsewhere towards homosexuals), personal freedoms (e.g. illogical drug use laws) and public policy (e.g. supporting abstinence education over contraceptive education).

    I see the 'war' described in TFA as being an outcropping of this politicized environment and the research around it skewed by the politics.

    I wonder if I can find work and a visa in Sweden?
  • IQ v Belief (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mr-mafoo ( 891779 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:53PM (#18229908)

    Its not secret that there is a negative correlation between IQ and 'religiousness'. Infact, less than 10% of people with an IQ above 120 have any faith/religous belief.

    Im not going to point out the rather obvious deduction that can be drawn from this fact ;)

  • by Teresita ( 982888 ) <<badinage1> <at> <netzero dot net>> on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:53PM (#18229912) Homepage
    That was my view for my first 25 years of life, the next 15 have been quite a bit different. If we have a genetic disposition to need God, why is atheism more common among the young people that I have known and still know?

    Because sometimes the genetic disposition to define oneself in a rebellious foreground against a parental background temporarily outweighs the disposition to need God.
  • Funny how much that sounds like theology! It should be obvious that humans are hardwired for God, just like they are for singing or having a 7 day week.
  • by MontyApollo ( 849862 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:55PM (#18229948)
    I read something once where they claimed that if we did not dream while we slept, we would have no concept of an afterlife. Dreaming opens us up to something more than just what we experience.
  • by junglee_iitk ( 651040 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:56PM (#18229952)
    I couldn't agree more to you. Here in germany, one third of the population does not believe in God. Where I work (Stuttgart), every one has "no-religion".

    So should we say Americans are different race than Germans? :P
  • The God Spot (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2007 @05:58PM (#18229994)
    According to research [], evidence suggest a God Spot or God Module or G Spot in the brain.
  • by VidEdit ( 703021 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:03PM (#18230060)
    We mustn't mistake a cognitive tendency to believe in religion for an affirmation of the truth of religion. We have many cognitive quirks as a species and even Pigeons can learn "superstitious" believes in Skinner boxes so I doubt any neurological basis for religious belief is anything but an artifact of our characteristics as social animals.

    It seems that our desire to believe in a supreme being may be mis-adaptation of our built in need for parents. When we grow up, we know we know our parents no longer have all the answers but we still desire that idea of a parent who knows "everything", protect us and insure that we are treated fairly.
  • Re:Hmm, so... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:06PM (#18230080) Journal

    Wait, you mean religion might confer some survival advantage

    No ifs about it. My father told me many stories of his 22 years in the Navy. The relevant one is of a post WWII study based on interviews of POWs. A belief in God, be it Christian or Jewish (the two dominant samples, obviously) conferred survival advantages in the camps. It seems that men who had Someone to pray to, something to hope for, gained a psychological edge that could mean the difference between life and death under extreme conditions. Sorry I can't cite it properly. It was one of those stories that he repeated on more than one occasion.

  • Nothing special here (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ReallyEvilCanine ( 991886 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:07PM (#18230088) Homepage
    The hardwired belief is well-explained by Dawkins in The God Delusion:

    Theoretically, children might learn from personal experience not to go too near a cliff edge, not to eat untried red berries, not to swim in crocodile-infested waters. But, to say the least, there will be a selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb: believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you. Obey your parents; obey the tribal elders, especially when they adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Trust your elders without question. This is a generally valuable rule for a child. But, as with the moths [which fly into flames for reasons also explained in the book], it can go wrong.
    This is the clearest, simplest, Occam-obeying explanation for the basic acceptance of religion in most people regardless of culture.
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:12PM (#18230162) Journal
    I know God exists, Jesus is Lord. I wouldn't be telling you if I didn't know. I'm also not still a liar or God would be mad with me. I could go on, but I figured if you're talking about God, I might as well tell you he exists.
  • by CarpetShark ( 865376 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:20PM (#18230272)
    The only belief that's relevant here is the modern belief in the usefulness of statistics. Personally, I'm a follower of the "lies, damned lies and statistics" anti-cult ;)

    More seriously... there are lots of people who have a spiritual or ethical basis for their adult understanding of the world, yet have NO belief in the supernatural. In fact, at least one major religion has no deity. Many of the others have no deity or even supernatural entities, in the sense that westerners understand the word.

    The problem with religious people isn't that they believe in the supernatural -- it's that most of them can't talk about their experiences logically, and so it either comes out as a supernatural thing, or is explained in terms of their culture's words for such things. In much of the west, people explain their beliefs, moral compasses, fuzzy logic and cultural understandings in terms of "God" and "ghosts" etc. In some western subcultures, it's "mother earth" and "gaia". In still others, it's "science" or "law and order" or "democracy".

    Belief has many faces. My belief is that some people stay children, but most of us grow up at 22-30 or so, get some wisdom, find our place in the world, form our adult beliefs, and put a name to it, as best we can.

    Of course, others are still figuring out the point of life, so they conduct surveys and come up with things like "73.34% of people answered X when I asked Y, so there must (or must not, or might be, depending on the surveyor) be a God." ;)
  • Re:even wierder .... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IngramJames ( 205147 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:36PM (#18230512)
    It transpires that TH Huxley put it much better than I did in 1892... though to be fair, in 1892 I put it like this: "Sorry; I've not been born yet."

    I like the bit about securing or averting the intervention of supernatural beings; the Romans could form legal contracts with their gods in return for favours. And if the god didn't come through, you didn't sacrifice the lamb.

    Gods, eh?
  • by EjectButton ( 618561 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:41PM (#18230568)
    The article mentions the anthropologist Pascal Boyer, who has a fairly simple (and imo fairly convincing) argument, that in the article is referred to as the "byproduct theory".

    Basically it says that the ability to connect cause and effect, that is to connect things that happen to the actors in the environment that cause them, was so powerful that is became overused in humans. Giving them a natural tendency to attribute everything, including chance events or natural phenomena to these actors, or as Boyer calls them "unseen agents".

    The reason for this is fairly straightforward, if you were living in the prehistoric wilderness it paid to be paranoid, consider the simple example of someone sleeping in a cave who hears a noise outside, for the paranoid early human the thought process might be:
    "oh no, what was that, it had to be something, something made that noise, it must have been a tiger, I know it was a tiger, there must be a huge tiger outside"
    pros: if there really is a tiger, or some other threat, you may have just saved your life, increasing the probability your genetic code will be passed on creating future paranoid generations
    cons: if you are wrong and there is nothing out there, you wasted a small amount of energy and made yourself look stupid

    if on the other hand you don't attribute every event to some unseen agent, you might be tempted to assume it was just the wind, or some other harmless event
    pros: if you are right you save a little bit of energy
    cons: if you are wrong you may be dead

    To hear it explained much more elegantly by Boyer himself there is a short video interview on youtube where he discusses the subject []

    Which is part of a larger BBC series called "Atheism: A Brief History of Disbelief" and "The Atheism Tapes", in which Jonathan Miller interviews famous scientists and philosophers on the subject of atheism. Much of which can be found on youtube/google video s/atheism.shtml []
  • Gene-linked? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mad.frog ( 525085 ) <`steven' `at' `'> on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:46PM (#18230620)
    Maybe the "religion" gene is neither helpful nor harmful, but linked to other useful genes (other higher brain function, perhaps)?

    Sort of how blind cave-fish aren't being selected for blindness, so much as being selected for other traits which happen to have blindness as a side-effect? pment_of_cavefish_eyes/ []
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @06:49PM (#18230668) Journal
    Prove it? See that's the thing, God only revealed himself to me. It's said in the Bible that if a man doesn't believe Moses, they won't even believe a man who came back from life. If people don't believe a man who came back from life knows God exists, whats the chances that someone will believe me? I try to evangelize to people still. Maybe it helps some to know there's a guy that knows God exists 100%.
  • Re:Hmm, so... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by skeftomai ( 1057866 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:00PM (#18230814)

    Plus, they had the benefit of sharing in any rations stolen from those hellbound atheists. Limpwristed heathens!

    Does this really say anything, though, about whether Christianity itself (as opposed to Christians - who are people - who tend to be hypocrites) is true or false?
  • Re:Hmm, so... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:05PM (#18230886)
    >>something to hope for, gained a psychological edge that could mean the difference between life and death under extreme conditions.

    And you answer your own question. It isn't god you need but faith in something greater than yourself. That the World can be a better place, and since it is such a large world and your a small man who needs help from something larger than himself. Faith is needed, If not faith in yourself then Faith in a God.

    soldiers see the very worst of man, they see their best friends ripped to shreds for being 6 inches to the left. To psychologically survive such an ordeal you need to believe in something else. It doesn't matter what you believe in as long as you believe. I have believed this for a long time, since I saw the petty corrupt politics that walked through the halls of churches with my own eyes.
  • bogus supposition (Score:2, Interesting)

    by belg4mit ( 152620 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:07PM (#18230914) Homepage
    At some point many people have believed the Earth is flat, or that it was held up by some beast
    (Atlas, Great Turtle [with and without elephants]). Have we spontaneously lost these genes in
    the intervening millenia? Pshaw. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.
    What about, "Never try attribute to genetics what can be explained by stupidity/indoctrination"?
  • faith (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Loconut1389 ( 455297 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:12PM (#18230958)
    I think that's why they call it a faith. You have faith that your scriptures are true and that your religion is correct, and thats what gives you hope and direction.

    Science and Religion aren't mutually exclusive necessarily, but what Science cannot prove (or ever prove?) is where Faith begins.
  • Re:IQ v Belief (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:15PM (#18230982)
    >Infact, less than 10% of people with an IQ above 120 have any faith/religous belief.

    It's not that I don't believe you or anything, but do you have any sources for that statement? :)

    There are studies going back to the 1920's that show this correlation: 0religion.htm [] .htm []

    Or just google "Negative Correlation IQ Religosity"
  • Pans narratans (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shelliob ( 1065582 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:20PM (#18231022)
    The existance of religion in general seems to be a by product of our storytelling nature, the nature which played a large part in our ability to out-compete neanderthals. We are after all not really wise men (homo sapiens) but rather storytelling apes (pans narratans) and our drive to make sense out of an incredibly complex universe is what makes us human. If anyone doubts the impact of following a certain religion on the evolutionary path of a tribe then they should really consider why the god of the jews and the muslims forbade them to eat pig flesh - the most parasite ridden meat you can find. This commandment prevented the investation of the followers by tapeworms and other nasty bastards, drastically lowering the amount of morbidity and mortality in the population. The religion (and the people) proliferated. Plus there's always the fact that devout followers are more likely to survive and procreate in a society that has a tendency to stone non-believers to death ;)
  • Re:there is No god (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Xymor ( 943922 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:21PM (#18231032)
    For most people, religious belief is a replacement for moral values, and for some it's the entire basis of their lives.
    People who find meaning in life and have moral values without religion are really lucky. Most people would crash and burn when their most basic concepts are revealed to be just a mean to control them.

    Daniel Dennett has some interesting views on how Darwin's theory affects religion. []
  • Re:Hmm, so... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:34PM (#18231174) Homepage Journal
    Modern state-based religions rely on indoctrination of the kind you describe ( along with all of the other societal institutions, such as the military, taxation, the ruling elite, etc. ), but hunter/gatherers live a much more freer and explorative life than farmers. Evolutionary psychology posits that the human mind developed on the plains of Africa, naturally selected by the evolutionary pressures of dealing with hunting animals, gathering plants, and getting along with everybody else back at camp.

    As part of my anthropology degree, I read a lot and also spent some time with modern hunter/gatherers. IF you read the literature, or do some field work, you will find that hunter gatherers are extremely mentally independent and have a world-view based on their own personal experience. "I went hunting, I saw the demon horse, and this is what happened... What!? You think I was imagining things? What the fuck do you know? I've been hunting these woods at night since I was a boy -- you think I can't tell the difference between a real animal and a demon? The shaman in the other village says the demon horse is not real? Who the fuck is he? What does he know? I am a man, a warrior, I make up my own mind, and this is my story." They live in an experiential meritocracy, not an awe-based authoritarian society.

    Personally, I think our cognitive abilities evolved as a response to encountering plant poisons. Vegetarian animals, like deer and cows, have very a sensitive sense of smell and are *extremely* picky eaters. Opportunistic eaters, such as bears, human, and chimpanzees, aren't that picky when it comes to plants. This is a great opportunity to find new food sources, but can also get us into trouble if the plant has evolved poisons as a defense mechanism. And given that plants don't have many other defense mechanisms, the woods are full of poison.

    So, if we are going to live as opportunistic eaters, we have to evolve mechanisms that handle plants attempts to poison our system. A lot of these poisons affect our mind. It would be really handy to tell the difference between an actual lion stalking you, and a paranoid fantasy -- but that opens up a whole Pandora's can of worms. In order to understand the difference between reality and hallucination, you have to become self-aware. If reality is "out there", and hallucination is a product solely of your mind, then you must begin to understand what your mind is, how it works, and what it is capable of creating, if you ever hope to distinguish hallucination from perception. And then once you can perceive hallucination, the products of the mind that are not based on perception of external reality, you begin to understand your mind and how it works. You become self-aware.

    "Are there really snakes all over the ground, or am I seeing this because of these leave I ate this morning? Is this really real or does it just seem real? Hey, what the hell is reality anyway? Where do these thoughts come from? Who am I, what is reality, and how is it that I can percieve it?"
  • Actually... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Xenographic ( 557057 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:37PM (#18231206) Journal
    Atheists and agnostics (and various theists) spend a lot of time arguing over what atheism/agnosticism is or is not :] Ironically, the one thing I'm sure of from all the arguments is that none of them are unsure about what they (don't) believe, but not all of them (dis)believe the same things, either.
  • Re:faith (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LittleDobbs ( 1045368 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @07:50PM (#18231346)

    By the same logic, faith should end when science disproves something that faith is held in. Of course, it doesn't.

    Not always the case. Religion just tends to be slow in accepting the prove. Science tends to not disprove things. You can disprove a hypothesis but that only effects a theory. Theories tend to be positive in verbiage.

    There are not many who still believe the world is flat. But that took a while to accept as an example of this

    Even your "inspiration" is a faith of some sort. In your case it's a faith in yourself.

    If I am to understand you correctly, you have so much knowledge about the Universe that anybody who has faith in something is beneath you?

    I'm not flaming you. Just food for thought before you imply that most of the world is stupid.

  • Re:even wierder .... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IngramJames ( 205147 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:21PM (#18231700)
    Well I never knew that. I wonder who would be qualified to arbitrate in any contractual dispute? ;-)

    Sadly, I can in fact answer that: the priests of the temple in question.

    So in the old Roman world, priests were, in fact, lawyers too. Which explains a lot, actually..
  • Re:there is No god (Score:5, Interesting)

    by miskatonic alumnus ( 668722 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @08:27PM (#18231762)
    Furthermore, the organism is likely incapable of creating a god any greater than itself. Most deities seem to have all the wonderful flaws of character that humans have --- jealousy, anger, hatred, etc.
  • by nbritton ( 823086 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @09:12PM (#18232184)
    Umm you do realize that what you just described is empathy, yes? The people who can't empathize are called psychopaths, it's an evolutionary mutation. My opinion on religion is that it's just people being people... gullible and ignorant. Thankfully religion is on a rapidly declining trend[1]:

    * 23% of 18-34 year olds label them self's as "Secular" or "Somewhat Secular", compared to 10% of people 65 years old and up.
    * 43% of 18-34 year olds label them self's as "Somewhat Religious", compared to 34% of people 65 years old and up.
    * 27% of 18-34 year olds label them self's as "Rligious", compared to 47% of people 65 years old and up.

    Also interesting to note:
    * Women are more likely, than men, to describe themselves as religious.
    * Black Americans are least likely to describe themselves as secular.
    * Asian Americans are most likely describe themselves as secular.

    [1] is.pdf []
  • by ribman ( 1066628 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @09:46PM (#18232466)

    (I'd love to have time to read anything but a skim of the 4+ comments on this thread, and to also eventually to have time to write something of general benefit, but this is all I can afford ... I haven't tried to treat your first line of concepts - the psychological explanations for belief, which is a worthwhile topic in itself - as that would hook me in too deep and perhaps require *much* more conversation, but the last point is one I'd like to offer some thoughts towards.)

    Yes, this ("""When you look to other religions and say "that's ridiculous" at the idea of a wine god or a god with the head of an elephant or spirits and ferries or Zeus or Thor wielding his hammer, have you ever considered one thing.... is your religion any less ridiculous????""") has become a very specific component-aspect of some sort of coalescence of generalised theory I'm trying to groom for eventual public consumption; which I hope will eventually be both pragmatic and affirmative, permitting people to hold and promote distinctive individual or corporate supernatural or counter-supernatural theories, without having that sour backlash either of zealotry, ultra-homogeneity or self-certain superiority, except in misinterpretation.

    Your point is fine, and my take on this is something like a "principle of uniform credibility": that a variety of human qualities are more probably uniformly distributed across the world's societies than we would generally like to imagine: ie: intelligence, honesty, personal credibility, moral goodness, altruism, etc are probably aspects of the human being that are equally gifted to people in all nations and people groups, even the ones we (whoever that may be) think are of minimal integrity/credibility.

    For completeness and to survive the critique of self-application, all comers to the field of "theories of existence" must be afforded the same basic respect and dignity, without the need for a co-condition of agreeing to *subscribe* to the alternate theory. This doesn't mean that "Everyone's own theory is right for them", it means: "Well, you may be right, but I am not yet convinced and am satisfied to continue to hold and/or promote my own thoughts on the matter; and neither, either or both of us could *ultimately* be shown to be right. You may continue to labour for my 'conversion' (if that is what your world-view implores) and I will listen to you with honesty, and I may continue to labour for your 'conversion' (if that is what my world-view implores) and hope for you to listen with honesty - and both of us are being honest to our own stance."

    Sure some have built up folklore (that word is not intended as an insult!) and knowledge bases that have more or less questionably independent sources of information, but the *persons themselves* are (in a bell curve) both intelligent and honest about their uptake of these things, and to dismiss a world-view is to dismiss an entire population's personal integrity and intelligence. What I'm saying is that the bell curves of these qualities (if they could be measured) probably map reasonably equitably from culture to culture across the world.

    So my outcome of this is that it is self-demeaning to dismiss out-of-hand any other world-view as being a mere "power-play utilised to oppress and control the masses" (post-modernist critique) or a mindless herd-mentality if you like, or even a purely psycho-biological survival mechanism, let alone any of the even more questionably biased supernaturally-based criticisms of other world-views, as an auto-dismissive approach equates to a self appointment (either personal or corporate) as being the only one(s) who are actually honest and intelligent about their approach to reasoning out and testing out their own world-view with integrity.

    If you have read this far, thank you for thinking about this aspect, and I'll try to read replies if any come so that I can think about your critique and revise my work. I'd be interested to engage in this at length some time as this is only on

  • Re:there is No god (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gwydion04 ( 756582 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @10:40PM (#18232956) Journal
    One belief that C.S. Lewis espoused was that one can only go to Hell if one, in fact, chooses to. Since (to Christians) God is the source of all goodness, if you choose to isolate yourself from God you isolate yourself from all that is good and pure. He phrased it something like this: "There are two kinds of people in this world - those who tell God 'Thy will be done,' and those who God tells 'Thy will be done.' The gates of hell are locked from *the inside*." People who end up in Hell choose to consign themselves to the outer darkness of non-entity rather than submit themselves to God.
  • by skeftomai ( 1057866 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @10:43PM (#18232978)

    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?

    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.
  • Theories of gravity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Sunday March 04, 2007 @11:39PM (#18233392) Homepage Journal

    So, the theory of gravity still holds? Theories are disproven quite often, in science.
    You're right. For those playing at home, there have been several theories of gravity. Gravity as in "heavy things always fall faster than light things" has been disproven soundly in favor of a theory involving drag. Galilean gravity as in "everything is accelerated by a constant vector" is valid in some frames but has been disproven in larger frames. Newtonian classical gravity, a generalization of Galilean gravity to pairs of different-size bodies at different separations, is valid in more frames but has been disproven in larger (astronomical) frames. General relativistic gravity is currently the theory that best applies to most frames larger than the quantum world.

    No, but, faith requires lack of reasoning. If by stupid you mean intellectual capacity, then people that do not reason are stupid. QED.
    Reasoning requires both intellectual capacity and evidence. Some people find little evidence for or against God. Their paucity of reasoning comes not from a paucity of intellectual capacity but from a paucity of evidence. This way, even a smart person without solid evidence against God can have faith.
  • by BigBlockMopar ( 191202 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @11:51PM (#18233460) Homepage

    What religious people seem to fail to comprehend is that atheism is not a religious belief, it is the lack of religious belief. So there is no reason for an atheist to get all political or freaked out if it turns out that there is a biological basis for religion.

    I can't say I'm really an atheist - because e^(i*pi)+1=0 brings together too many scientifically observable facets of the Universe for me to believe it could be accidental. Organized religion absolutely disgusts me, with its fervent brainwashing, hypocrisy, and other multitude flaws. But I'll tell you something else - kick an evangelical in the balls and he'll say "Praise Thee Jesus" and smile an even broader smile. I envy the simple joy that must come with that brainwashing. If contentment were as simple as just drinking the Kool-Aid...

    That sheep (even with someone sufficiently self-righteous and shameless to call himself "a pastor", note the true meaning of the word!) will never be me, however - I'm not content in life, but I get through it with a mathematical truth which is orders of magnitude more improbable than a winning lottery ticket. I don't know identity or the motivation of Whatever made e^(i*pi)+1=0, but it's the one religious article I carry about in my Toolkit Of Emotional Survival (Or A Reasonable Facsimile Thereof) (tm reg'd 2007).

    There's a reason it's called God's Equation. There's too much meaning to those five simple constants all coming together like that.

    Genetically flawed to believe in Something, PhD Math, or genetically blessed? I'm unsure. It seems it has been a survival trait in my case, since that little hope that there's reason to life has pulled me through some of my darkest days. And that's a "religion" based exclusively on the cold hard and provable truth of mathematics. Okay, it's a survival trait, but is it a blessing? I'm not a happy camper, can't really say I've ever been - therefore blessing is out the window, though survival trait remains something else.

    Again, and even as a scientifically-educated homo (and the evangelicals would have us burned at the stake because they refuse to believe what I jerk off about is as genuine as what they jerk off about), I do have to confess an admiration to the evangelicals: their belief ("truth" in quotes since they can't prove it the way I can prove mine) is warm and fuzzy; mine is about as warm as "The answer to life, the universe and everything is 42." Oh great, that helps a lot... I guess I'll understand 42 sometime within the next 50 years or so.

  • by Argon ( 6783 ) on Sunday March 04, 2007 @11:58PM (#18233496) Homepage
    I am an atheist. My parents are believers. So are my grand parents on both sides. So is my sister. So is my brother. If my entire family is hard-wired to believe, then why am I different? No, I know I am not adopted :-).
  • Socratic Bears? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Monday March 05, 2007 @02:05AM (#18234398) Homepage Journal
    Opportunistic eaters, such as bears, human, and chimpanzees, aren't that picky when it comes to plants... In order to understand the difference between reality and hallucination, you have to become must begin to understand what your mind is, how it works, and what it is capable of creating

    So do bears possess consciousness or are they dying off by huge numbers from eating funny mushrooms? I'd love to live by Christopher Robin's woods, but so far the bears around here just like to eat the sunflower seeds out of my feeder (BTW, the mother bear teaches the young which foods are good to eat - they have a special organ in the roof of their mouths to discriminate plants).

    You might enjoy Julian James's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind [] for an alternate theory of how the conscious mind evolved in humans.

  • Re:there is No god (Score:3, Interesting)

    by melikamp ( 631205 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @03:41AM (#18234886) Homepage Journal

    You are right. In Christianity at least, the idea of Hell as a place of eternal torment is untenable. A good example appears below: amRadioHed destroys C.S. Lewis' "free will" argument in just two paragraphs []. He is, in some people's view, the best of what the Catholic (Calvinist, whatever) church has to offer in terms of theology, and yet his argument is totally inane. You just cannot reconcile the notions of God being the benevolent, omnipotent designer who designs some souls to suffer forever... For what? For not appeasing God in some way? But he has no lack. There is no way to hurt God or to be in debt to him. He would not miss a penny, would not drop a single tear if he allowed everyone in Heaven.

    I have a good friend who is a professor of Biblical history. Hates Hell, hates Augustin's "original sin" (another big theological blooper), and always says that the church keeps these around because they are the easiest ways to get people to come. And to pay. Why make the community relevant? Too much work. Here in US you would have to go door to door and explain to people why God matters, why the community matters, since people are so well off that they do not readily see how they could possibly benefit from it. In order to be effective in US, Christianity must fight the extreme selfishness which resulted from the universal welfare. But why do that? Much too easier is just scaring everyone with Hell. It is a straightforward appeal to an egoist. I used to be skeptical about that, but after years of arguing with him while visiting various churches I found that he is absolutely right. Look at churches without hell, like Mormons: they have a very strong community, which in itself is rewarding enough for people to be a part of. Look also at churches (even Catholic ones) in places where Christians are persecuted. You will find that no one preaches Hell there. Hell just does not sell alongside the Hell on Earth; but the loving community in this life and the communion with God in the afterlife do.

    [If you are wondering about my own beliefs, I am a heretic.]

  • by misanthrope101 ( 253915 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @04:49AM (#18235154)

    OTOH, my (anecdotal) experience is that many teens question and even deny God, but find as they become an adult that they do have a need for belief. I think it's a phase that many teens go through, part of the process of rejecting authority and finding themselve
    Or maybe as they become adults, admitting atheism has consequences. I know sleazy women who will do vile things on the first date but who wouldn't date an avowed atheist. I know bosses who will lie and self-promote shamelessly, but who wouldn't trust an overtly atheistic subordinate. I've known evangelical teachers who marked down the papers of a formly A+ student who became a C student starting on the day they talked about their atheism in class. No, I wasn't the student--I learned early to keep my head down.

    But remember that George Bush Sr. said that atheists shouldn't even be considered citizens. It's okay to dislike us just because we don't share your faith. Adults have bills to pay, and that "integrity" thing that was so invigorating and principled at 16 becomes a liability when you have to pay the rent. Are they lying? Some of them. Most are rationalizing so they can be seen being just like everybody else.

    Also, people become more sensitive to hurting their parents' feelings when they become parents too, or in that age range. I know one woman who said her mother wouldn't talk to her anymore, that her entire family wouldn't welcome her the same way, if she became "a Darwinist." No, I'm not making that up. So the dynamics involved here may be more complex than adults "needing" faith. Some no doubt do (I don't) but the stigma issue shouldn't be underestimated.

  • Guilt? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Msdose ( 867833 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @06:37AM (#18235614)
    Fear is usually considered the most basic emotion, but I have had several life-threatening situations which did not evoke any fear in me. However I have found that in the most stressful experiences I have had, the great emotion I felt was guilt. If we are hardwired to feel guilt, then we will attach it to the most important icon we can imagine, which would be God and all he represents (life, death, creation, eternity, etc.)
  • Re:Actually... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wildclaw ( 15718 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @07:09AM (#18235712)
    There is a good argument that can be used to test if someone is agnostic, atheist or just confused. Answer the below questions:

    1. Are you agnostic or atheistic about your believes in God?

    2a. If you answered atheist to question 1: You are an atheist. Good for you.

    2b. If you answered agnostic to question 1: Are you agnostic or atheistic about your believes in Santa Claus, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, The Invisible Pink Unicorn and Fairies?

    3a. If you answered agnostic to question 2b: You are an agnostic. You believe anything is possible even though there is no proof either way.

    3b. If you answered atheist to question 2b: Why are you questioning your unbelief in God, but not your unbelief in Fairies? Both have just as little proof of their existence. Think about it carefully before doing the test a second time. If you arrived at this point for the second time it must be because you have a special reasoning concerning God. Call yourself an agnostic if you want, but be aware that atheists will think that you just like sitting on the fence post unless you give a very good argument for your reasoning.

  • by Byzboy ( 579547 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @09:48AM (#18236550)
    >Nor does it account for people who switch from atheist to religious, or vice versa. It also fails to explain why some religions are mutually exclusive.

    You have a (not uncommon) misunderstanding of the biological basis of psychology. Any genes involved in determining predisposition to religious belief would simply be something that affetcs the cocktail of neurotransmitters/neurons and their interactions in our brain. There is no `belief in god' gene. The brain of people prone to religious belief would perhaps respond more strongly ie more pleasurable feelings (endorphins, etc) upon given stimuli. For instance, rhythmic dancing is known to release endorphins so perhaps these people get a bigger buzz.

    Why is this important? Consider that most of human evolution occured during our hunter/gatherer phase. Communal dancing aided in group bonding/solidarity so a more enjoybale experience during this ritual could have solidied the group. This could have been explained as resulting from possesion by spirits and so enhancing the experience even more. ie the group could have felt blessed and favoured by spirits and so more confidently gone out into the world to hunt/attack hostile neighbours, etc.

    Fear played a major part in the life of early man so anything that took the edge of it while still allowing for caution would have been advantageous. I am not saying that this is what occured but only to illustrate that your example reflects a very mechanical view of the biological basis of psychology. Whithin any population there is much biological variation. We would expect that there are those that are strongly influenced by enhanced `religious' feelings, some that have only moderate such feelings and some that have weak feelings. For people to change their minds is indicative only that the sentiments are not that strong. A similar thing occurs with smoking ie some find it easy to give up, some very hard but doable and some impossible. This pattern reflects normal biological variation (and environmental variation).

    A biological basis for the tendency towards religious feelings is highly reasonable and no doubt highly frightening to religious people. Can you imagine being given a drug to tone down religious feelings!!

  • Re:there is No god (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ProppaT ( 557551 ) on Monday March 05, 2007 @12:58PM (#18238854) Homepage
    Which is exactly why religion has been used to oppress the poor over the course of history. Give the worker grunts something to believe in and work towards and they put up much less of a fight when they realize they're doing hard work for a crust of bread (be them legitimate workers or slaves). I think it's more inline to say that religion serves as a point of self-validation when you see what you don't have and, bitterly enough, a way of justifying and repressing ill sentimates towards others have more than you do. This is a very simplistic breakdown, and I'm certainly not hinting at the fact that this is why people accept religion into their life or that there is no God(s) (I'm openly agnostic). But, when you see a phenomena such as religion across the entire world, even in cultures that have been isolated from other cultures for long periods of time, you have to start making logical breakdowns.

    I think it's sad that theologians try to skirt around science so hard, when a discovery such as this (if the theory is correct), something deep rooted in the human genome, is as much a win for science trying to understand human nature as it would be for a theologians. After all, if you created life on a planet and wanted to stay out of its way to see how it developed, wouldn't you want to at least give what you've created a clue that you're out there? Maybe it was a mistake, look at the bloody history of religion throughout the world, but could you honestly say that you may not have made the same mistake if you created life?

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter