Are we hard-wired to believe in God? This question has been asked frequently over the past decade and has surfaced in a number of popular and scientific news outlets, which I’ve referenced below. This morning I happened upon a blog by Rene von Boenninghausen (@Renevelation on Twitter), which was a response to me on this topic. Below I have copied his latest blog, along with my responses.
When I wrote my last article God’s popularity it seems like a Christian who many of my readers will be familiar with took notice. If you haven’t read my previous blog please do so, to get the full context. The following is the dialogue we had in the comment section. I just thought it might be interesting for you, since a few more points were brought up.
- Hindus believe their supreme being is a passive part of nature.
- You have no proof indicating people eons ago did not worship a Supreme Being. Cave art indicates otherwise.
- We are hard wired to believe in God. Why would that be if God didn’t wire us?
Evolution would explain the hard wiring and the question “Why would that be if God didn’t wire us?” is an argument from ignorance. Cave art from what years exactly? To my knowledge the oldest ones are about 35.000 years old which fits in the upper time frame (50.000 years) which I provided. In my numbers I actually counted Hindus to your side of the argument, which I think was charitable.
How does evolution explain hard wiring? Are you suggesting humans at one point did not believe in God without any evidence to support your assertion? is this an argument from ignorance from you Rene? in other words, you’re saying that because we have no cave art that is as old as the earliest humans, the answer is that they must not have believed in God.
Does that make sense?
What I am saying is that the oldest evidence we have found of deity worship up until now dates back to roughly the number I mentioned. This doesn’t mean that the earlier people didn’t have deities. It’s not just about cave arts it’s about a lack of evidence before 50.000 years ago. It may be the case that the earlier humans did believe in God but we simply have no artifacts to show for it. Currently the earliest evidence we have is from said time period but it can always be pushed back further. It is for instance also the estimate that the earliest humans existed 195.000 years ago. Future evidence may push this number further back. Likewise future evidence may push the number for religious belief further back. I accept this number only tentatively and I’m willing to revise my beliefs with future evidence.
Likewise you’ll notice that in the continuation of my case I dismissed all that completely, because ultimately this little prequel to the actual “meat” was just having a little fun on my part, providing some interesting stuff that others may not be familiar with.
As far as hard wiring is concerned let me revisit Schermer: As he said, Australopithecus aforensis (Lucy) and as I think our ancestors in general have this tendency of attributing agency to observances in nature. I think this by far predates our Primate ancestors, since we can observe it within hunties deers or bunnies (I don’t do it personally) that they run when hearing a sound because it might be a predator. Lucy had the same ability to see agency in nature and so we do the same thing.
Now imagine yourself about 100.000 years ago, you’re living in a world and you can’t explain it. But you have this ability to see agency in nature and lacking further knowledge about evolution and all the sciences we know today, I’d think you’d have a tendency to fall for Paley’s argument, namely I do see these pattern and I do agency behind it, maybe there was an agent or agents behind it.
Likewise this would become a tradition within your tribe you would carry it on to your children and so on and so forth. Over time as the tribe divides into more tribes, the story gets changed and modified and we have numerous different deities. Likewise in the future separated tribes may come together and they introduce the others to their deities, which get adopted and maybe modified etc. I think you get the idea.
That is one way I think it could’ve started. Do I know this to be the case? No, it’s a scenario that seems plausible to me.
Likewise it is the case that different people groups do introduce others to their religion, which then gets adopted. That’s what happened with Christianity, whether it is true or not.
To summarize: We as well as other animals do have a tendency to see agency in nature. With our brain capacity, it is not implausible that we saw agency in natural phenomena, such as “Creation” itself and attributed it to deities.
Last but not least, if this explanation doesn’t make sense to you or isn’t satisfactory (and I have a good feeling it won’t be : ) ), then the hard wiring is unexplained and while you believe it comes from God itself, I see no reason to accept that conclusion.
I agree with you that humans have an innate sense to see agency in nature. Based on our knowledge of the physical, we realize that all physical beings were created by other physical beings and this creation could regress back infinitely – had it not been for the Big Bang. The Big Bang suggests a start date for time and matter. Therefore, we know infinite regression of matter is not possible.
There must have been a force in place to stop this infinite regression. That same force must not have a cause or the cause would be a higher power than the force itself. It must be an uncaused cause that powered inflation of the universe at the Big Bang.
This same source must also be immaterial and timeless. So we have several characteristics, which are consistent with a Creator, or our Lord. We know by virtue of the Big Bang that He must also be omnipotent and omniscient – and intentional.
He is the answer to life’s purpose, math principles, logic, irreducible complexity, design, spirituality, beauty, and objective morality. He is the source of Creation. We’re hard wired to realize we have a source and the source is God.
Chris Gajilan of CNN (2007) offers the following evidence of hard-wiring:
“Dr. Andrew Newberg, neuroscientist and author of “Why We Believe What We Believe,” wants to change all that. He’s working on ways to track how the human brain processes religion and spirituality. It’s all part of new field called neurotheology.
After spending his early medical career studying how the brain works in neurological and psychiatric conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, depression and anxiety, Newberg took that brain-scanning technology and turned it toward the spiritual: Franciscan nuns, Tibetan Buddhists, and Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues. His team members at the University of Pennsylvania were surprised by what they found.
“When we think of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, we see a tremendous similarity across practices and across traditions.”
The frontal lobe, the area right behind our foreheads, helps us focus our attention in prayer and meditation.
The parietal lobe, located near the backs of our skulls, is the seat of our sensory information. Newberg says it’s involved in that feeling of becoming part of something greater than oneself.
The limbic system, nestled deep in the center, regulates our emotions and is responsible for feelings of awe and joy.
Newberg calls religion the great equalizer and points out that similar areas of the brain are affected during prayer and meditation. Newberg suggests that these brain scans may provide proof that our brains are built to believe in God. He says there may be universal features of the human mind that actually make it easier for us to believe in a higher power.”
Below I have pasted links to several articles that offer support for the assertion that humans are hard wired for God. They also include counter arguments against this assertion. You be the judge.
Thank you for your time.
Rene’s first post can be accessed here: https://iliketarsiers.blog/2017/10/18/gods-popularity/
His second post can be accessed here: https://iliketarsiers.blog/2017/10/23/on-popularity-a-brief-follow-up/
9 Replies to “Are We Hard-Wired to Believe in God?”
From what I’ve read, the better way to phrase it might be that we are “hard wired” to be pattern seeking, which sometimes leads to assigning ‘agency’ when none may actually exist, at least none supported by evidence, because it is in our best interests for survival to assume first that the rustle in the bush is a lion, then be wrong when it turns out that evidence doesn’t support that conclusion.
But I seriously doubt that cognitive scientists would specifically state what you represent that they say… That humans are “hard wired” to believe in God or gods.
As a side, I don’t think it matters much or says anything towards the actual existence of God or gods that we Believe they exist or that we may be “hard wired” to be pattern seeking and agency assuming. It matters that there is or is not evidence of His, Its, or Their existence in reality. There may be… But all you have done is show how predisposed we are to Believe what we have no direct evidence for, even against good evidence to the contrary.
Well done, Stephanie. Argument from ignorance and incredulity fallacies all around.
Kia- didn’t you read any of the articles I linked at the end? The titles alone tell us we’re hard wired to believe in God. Do you suggest I summarize each?
Lot of articles, I’ve read a few. Especially the one quoting the Catholic priest/psychiatrist. No bias there I assume. Lol. But I will read the rest anyway. Thx again for the response
And yes. It might be good if you summarized your understanding of eachmof the articles. Would help me to not question whether you are just quote mining and pulling an Argument from Authority fallacy
We’re hardwired to seek agency.
I believe Newberg does / did work for Creation Ministries or something similar? He is a Christian that is for sure.