Born to believe?

Not this nonsense again: it’s the argument that it’s only natural to believe in gods.

Atheism really may be fighting against nature: humans have been hardwired by evolution to believe in God, scientists have suggested.

The idea has emerged from studies of the way children’s brains develop and of the workings of the brain during religious experiences. They suggest that during evolution groups of humans with religious tendencies began to benefit from their beliefs, perhaps because they tended to work together better and so stood a greater chance of survival.

The findings challenge campaigners against organised religion, such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. He has long argued that religious beliefs result from poor education and childhood “indoctrination”.

Oh, piss off, you tiresome apologists for superstition. Dawkins did not make any such simple-minded argument; The God Delusion really is becoming one of those books beloved by those who haven’t read it for their ability to misrepresent it. There may very well be natural biases that incline people to see agency everywhere around them, and to accept the dogmas of the tribe. So what?

I am an atheist, and it feels good. I am not a mutant freak who is struggling against either my instincts, radio waves broadcast from CIA satellites, or the sub-etheric pleas of downy-winged angels. I have hardwired bits in my brain, I am sure, and I also have the forces of history and culture shaping the way I think, but that does not mean anything as shallow and simplistic as that I should surrender to my church for the good of my biological impulses.

I was also born with a brain that found object permanence extremely surprising. My parents could play peek-a-boo with me, and it took me a year or so to realize that it was not a massively beneficent act of nature that my mother’s face could still exist! Behind her hands! When I wasn’t looking! Hooray! Ha ha! This does not imply that thinking, conscious, educated adult human beings should continue to collapse in peals of childish laughter every time they open a door and find that their family doesn’t vanish when they aren’t in sight.

The weakly formed predispositions of babies are not obstacles to rational thought. Except, maybe, to adults with the brains of babies. The rest of us can grow out of that nonsense.

A clarification: I actually do think there are inborn biases that tend to make religious belief a path of least resistance for many people. To escape that trap is not ‘fighting against nature’, nor is it an obstacle to godlessness.

The Times article was a very poor mish-mash of Bruce Hood’s ideas. Hood has his own commentary on the press — once again, some journalists make themselves the enemy of clarity of expression and accuracy.


  1. says

    I will be thinking about this for awhile. Some amazing thoughts put down in this thread, on both sides of the rift.

    When I was young, I spoke to God rather frequently. If he replied at all, it was usually something terse, like “Don’t” or “It’ll Hurt.” He sounded a lot like me and this was probably because it was ME saying his lines. He was my imaginary friend.

    Today when I probably need him most, he speaks only to other people. God, that is. And some of these people are dingbats while some others give a damn good speech, but I’m now too old to be following people around anymore who don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

    That’s why I gave up on following Roman Catholicism when I turned 18. I’d had enough of the guilt and it was time to learn other things about the world.

    Real things. ‘Now’ things. Scary and wonderful things. Too much of Religion for me was about avoiding all the world has to offer because it’s somehow bad or wrong or offends someone high up. I can’t support things that take away my freedoms. Especially my freedom to use my own imagination to color the world anyway I want to.

    My two bits, for whatever their worth these days.