According to the 2017 Pew Research Center poll of 4,700 American adults, 80 percent indicated they believe in God, while 56 percent of those believe in the God of the Christian Bible. 19 percent indicated they didn’t believe in God, yet 9 percent of those do believe in some higher power or a spiritual force.
In 2012, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public life estimated that 5.8 billion adults and children globally are religiously affiliated, which represented 84 percent of the global population at the time. The authors analyzed more than 2,500 demographic censuses and found 2.2 billion Christians (32 percent), 1.6 billion Muslims (23 percent), 1 billion Hindus (15 percent), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7 percent) and 14 million Jews (.2 percent). More than 400 million (6 percent) practice a variety of folk or traditional religions. 58 million (less than 1 percent) belong to other religions, such as Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Wicca, Jainism, Shintoism, and Sikhism.
Why is religious belief so prevalent all over the world? We have an innate sense to assign agency in nature. Our hard-wiring directs us to do so. Neurotheologians believe that the structure and function of the human brain predispose us to believe in God. They believe the limbic system within the brain, which is the biological center for emotion, is also the source for what some have termed “God neurons” and “God neurotransmitters” (Joseph, 2001). When research subjects engage in religious meditation, for example, functional MRI scans in the hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus indicate that changes in brain activity and blood flow occur (Muller, 2008). These changes make us feel good and keep us coming back for more.
In his book “Why we believe what we believe,” Dr. Andrew Newberg examined the brain activity of Tibetan Buddhists, Pentecostal Christians and Franciscan nuns and found tremendous similarity across traditions and practices. He noted that the frontal lobe of the brain helps us focus attention on prayer and meditation. The parietal lobe helps to give us the feeling that we want to become something greater than ourselves. The limbic system is responsible for feelings of joy and awe. Newberg says that these universal features make it easier for us to believe in God. Brain scans give us some evidence that God built our brains to believe in Him.
Numerous studies have found that children are pre-disposed for belief in God (e.g., Richert & Barrett, 2005; Bloom, 2007). According to Paul Bloom (2007) “In the last few years, there has been an emerging body of research exploring children’s grasp of certain universal religious ideas. Some recent findings suggest that two foundational aspects of religious belief – belief in divine agents, and belief in mind-body dualism – come naturally to young children.”
We infer design. “We have a similar bias to attribute an agent when we see nonrandom structure. This is the impetus for the argument for design – the intuition that the design that is apparent in the natural and biological world is evidence for a designer” (Bloom, 2007).
In the University of Oxford’s 1.9 million pound project, fifty seven academics from twenty diverse countries conducted forty studies, both analytical and empirical. The researchers found that humans are predisposed to believe in a God or gods and an afterlife. Co-director Roger Trigg summed up the results. “This project suggests that religion is not just something for a particular few to do on Sundays instead of playing golf. We have gathered a body of evidence that suggests that religion is a common fact of human nature across different societies. This suggests that attempts to suppress religion are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted in religious concepts, such as the existence of supernatural agents or gods, and the possibility of an afterlife or pre-life” (Oxford University, 2011).
What is the best explanation for our hard-wiring? God exists, He loves us and He has made us in a way to recognize Him.
“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” – CS Lewis
Thank you for your time.
Bloom, P. (2007). Religion is natural. Developmental Science, 10(1): 147-151.
Joseph, R. (2001). The limbic system and the soul: Evolution and neuroanatomy of religious experience. Zygon, 36: 105-136.
Muller, R.J. (2008). Neurotheology: Are we hard-wired for God? Psychiatric Times, 25(6).
Overbye, D. (1998). A famous Einstein “fudge” returns to haunt cosmology. The New York Times. May 26.
Oxford University (2011). Humans predisposed to believe in gods and the afterlife. Phys.org. https://phys.org/news/2011-05-humans-predisposed-gods-afterlife.html
Richert, R.A. & Barrett, J.L. (2005). Research: Do you see what I see? Young children’s assumptions about God’s perceptual abilities. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 15(4): 283-295.