Why we are born to believe in God: It's wired into the brain, says psychologist

Humans are programmed to believe in God because it gives them a better chance of survival, researchers claim.

A study into the way children’s brains develop suggests that during the process of evolution those with religious tendencies began to benefit from their beliefs - possibly by working in groups to ensure the future of their community.

The findings of Bruce Hood, professor of developmental psychology at Bristol University, suggest that magical and supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our brains from birth, and that religions are therefore tapping into a powerful psychological force.

His work is supported by other researchers who have found evidence linking religious feelings and experience to particular regions of the brain.

They suggest people are programmed to receive a feeling of spirituality from electrical activity in these areas.

The findings challenge atheists such as Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, who has long argued that religious beliefs result from poor education and childhood ‘indoctrination’.

Professor Hood believes it is futile to try to get people to abandon their beliefs because these come from such a ‘fundamental level’.

‘Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works,’ he said.

‘As they grow up they overlay these beliefs with more rational approaches but the tendency to illogical supernatural beliefs remains as religion.’

The professor, who will present his findings at the British Science Association’s annual meeting this week, sees organised religion as just part of a spectrum of supernatural beliefs.

In one study he found even ardent atheists balked at the idea of accepting an organ transplant from a murderer, because of a superstitious belief that an individual’s personality could be stored in his or her organs.

To reinforce his point, Professor Hood produced a blue cardigan during a lecture and invited the audience to put it on, for a £10 reward. This prompted a sea of raised hands to volunteer.

He then said that the notorious murderer Fred West wore the cardigan, causing most to put their hand down.

Although it was merely a stunt - the cardigan was not West’s - the professor said this showed that even the most rational of people can be irrationally made to feel uncomfortable.

Another experiment involved asking subjects to cut up a treasured photograph. When his team then measured their sweat production - which is what lie-detector tests monitor - there was a jump in the reading. This did not occur when destroying an object of less sentimental significance.

‘This shows how superstition is hardwired into our brains,’ he added.

The Rev Michael Reiss, professor of science education at London University’s Institute of Education and an Anglican priest, said he saw no reason why such research should undermine religious belief. ‘We are evolved creatures and the whole point about humanity is that we are rooted in the natural world.’

More: dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1211511/Why-born-believe-God-Its-wired-brain-says-psychologist.html

Look at one of the comments on that website in response to this article:

*This doesn’t deal a blow to Richard Dawkins, quite the contrary; this is the biggest coup he could have asked for - proof that belief in supernatural entities is nothing more than an evolutionary tool for survival.

I also note that “humans are hardwired to believe in X” doesn’t mean X exists.*


during the process of evolution those with religious tendencies began to benefit from their beliefs

That’s one theory of why this would be wired in to our brains. I’m not rejecting or endorsing the theory of evolution, but I think this was wired in to our brains by an entirely different means

religious tendencies

And that’s where I stopped reading. The doctor needs to brush up on history.

I think I’ve found an answer to this question by Dr William Lane Craig:


The Genetic fallacy tries to discredit a belief by showing how it originated. For example if someone tries to discredit your belief in democracy by saying that You only believe in democracy because you were raised in a democratic society, even if that is true, that does nothing to show that your belief in democracy is either false or unjustified.

This a common fallacy that atheists make i.e. People are Religious because they feel better and that is why they believe in God, or alternatively it is because of the human concept of causality that leads them to believe in God or in may in fact be hardwired into their brain.

The problem with this sort of argument is that if you say belief in God is contingent or caused in this way therefore that belief is false, you commit an elementary logical fallacy, known to every intro to philosophy student called the Genetic Fallacy. The Genetic Fallacy is trying to invalidate a point of view by showing how that view originated. And the fact that beliefs arise by through peoples wanting to feel better, perhaps through causality, or perhaps being hardwired in the brain does NOTHING to prove that those beliefs are false, which is what you must prove if you want to show God is a delusion.

For example it has been shown by child psychologists that children have hardwired into them the belief that when an object they se disappears behind a screen and then reappears they believe that the object continues to exist when it goes out of sight. It doesn’t disappear from being and then pop back into being. This is a hardwired belief in children and yet I don’t think anyone would say that belief is false. Now the fact is is that some child psychology studies do indicate that children have a an instinctive belief in God, and I’m inclined to view this as God’s provision. Now a skeptic like Dr Wolpert thinks that this a delusion. But then if he is to justify his view he has to show an argument that the belief is false, otherwise he’s committing the Genetic Fallacy. So, the argument should be not how Religious beliefs originated, but are those beliefs true or false.

Michael Murray who works on evolutionary accounts of religious beliefs says, ‘‘These accounts merely aim to explain the origin of religious beliefs, and as we all learned in our intro to philosophy courses, an account of a beliefs origins tells us NOTHING about its truth, to think otherwise is to commit the notorious GENETIC FALLACY, nothing we say or discover about the origins of our religious beliefs is going to make any difference to our assessment of the truth of your beliefs.’’**

Video of Dr Craig: youtube.com/watch?v=c0zD0bQbkwE

Is this scientist in the Original posted article committing the Genetic Fallacy?


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