Saturday, July 26, 2008

Religion is Default?

Infants are hard-wired to believe in God, and atheism has to be learned, according to an Oxford University psychologist.

Pyschologists have debated whether belief in God or atheism was the natural human state. According to Dr Petrovich, expert in experimental psychology and psychology of religion, belief in God is neither caught nor taught, but develops naturally. It is a result of other psychological development connected with understanding causation.

Dr Petrovich says her mainstream hypothesis on this is that it's an aspect of human development of causal understanding. Children actively seek causal understanding. We can't biologically survive without knowing how cause works in the environment. The concept of God naturally emerges as an aspect of human causal reasoning.

First off, I have issues with the author's capitalization of "God". It implies that this belief is in his particular god, when in fact, people believe in many different gods.

But before all the religious people get excited about these findings, this does not imply that a god exists, it just implies that humans are born with the tendency to attribute things to a higher power.

I tend to agree with this. Humans seem to desire explanations for everything. And as a child, your knowledge is limited. You see your parents as having infinite power and wisdom, and you do not have explanations for many of the things that occur around you.

We all know that children are quite gullible. They are eager to believe in mystical creatures such as fairies, bogey men, or Santa Clause.

This seems to be a human's natural tendency, to accept these things as true. So for a human to become an atheist, they must reject this internal desire to believe in these things in favor of rationality.

I also don't agree with the statement that "all of us are born atheists". We do not know which god we will worship yet when we come out of the womb, and we probably don't develop ideas of a higher power until we are slightly older. But does anybody seriously think that Muslim babies come out of the womb believing in Allah, and Christian babies come out of the womb beliving in Yahweh? No, atleast not the rational among us.

But it seems to me that being an atheist is a statement of disbelief, not just a lack of knowledge about gods. This is why I don't agree that all of us are born atheists. We must actively reject the idea of a god, in my opinion, to fit the term.

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Adrian Hayter said...

Wow, this psychologist proved absolutely nothing we didn't already know before. Just look at the way she worded it:

"belief in God is neither caught nor taught, but develops naturally"

So sorry Dr Petrovich, but we already knew that much. Children are born with no belief in gods, and such belief develops later on in life. It is not a "default" for humanity, but a possible development attributed to our conscious mind. I know plenty of children and grown adults who have never believed in gods. This fact simply goes against her theory that atheism must be learned.

If a child is given all the answers properly, they will never have to resort to philosophical dead ends. (God)

The Amiable Atheist said...

Yeah, I see your point. But I think, atleast what I got out of it, was that humans have a tendency to want to believe in higher powers or explanations.

DB said...

humans have a tendency to want to believe in higher powers or explanations.

I think it is because it is acceptable. I highly doubt it would be an issue if society tossed out the idea that it is reasonable to assume the answer is a higher power. But they are allowed, and even encouraged. Same with a child. If a child is taught that there is a god, it would assume that the child has the tendency to believe. I think it is a learned behavior rather than an deep rooted one.

The Amiable Atheist said...

That is also a possibility, db...the classic nature vs. nurture argument. I guess we don't know enough about the workings of the brain yet to know if some sort of propensity towards belief is innate or learned.

But I wonder what led the early humans to religious belief? Was it only lack of knowledge to explain their surroundings? Or was it something in their brains that led them to explain things in that way?

interesting question. thanks for your comments!