For over a quarter century there has been a nagging question in my mind. Why do people believe in god?
I believe I have found an answer, not necessarily the answer but a very good one perhaps a very big part of the puzzle. This stems from a conversation I had with Michael Penn and Joan Denoo which I can not find that was here on A/N. After many years of contemplation I had come to the conclusion that there must be some intrinsic genetic code that made us want to believe in god. I made my case in an discussion. Michael and Joan were soon there to challenge my thoughts. I was indeed challenged and not ridiculed by them both. Eventually after they had made many good points I was forced to concede perhaps I did have much more to learn. And learn I did.(forgive me for my improper sentence Joan).
The first stack of books:
These were focused directly on the subject. The first three were from a religious perspective. One was actually called "Born Believers". I learned that babies at six months old have a sense of altruism. That children of 3 have a God concept. Every one led to therefore we are born believers. Just because a baby at six months can display a sense of altruism does not prove that we are indeed born believers. The evidence however interesting did not lead to the conclusion. I read about three books from an atheist prospective. They had much better points but made no true impression on me.
The second stack of books:
These focused specifically on religious psychology. The last was a college level textbook on religious psychology. These should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention as a form of inhumane torture. Michael and Joan I hold you fully accountable for my pain and suffering. (I say this with a smile and gratitude).
The third stack of books:
These were books about religious anthropology.
These books were at least interesting.(I was not cursing Michael and Joan by the gods we don"t believe in near as much) You ever notice those who challenge you to do better are a real pain in the butt.(thank you Joan and Michael).
Despite my quest for answers, after studying 4 to 14 hours a day, the latter on weekends( I have a three day weekend) for four months I had not found any nugget of information that stood out. I took time off to resume my studies of the Bible and apologetics. I was completely mind numbed.
One day I was thinking of a passage in one of my studies of anthropology that spoke of cultures that had been found with no concept of religion. This was several months later that I was still hashing it out. Remember this was not an over night question, I was attempting to answer, but one droning on me for over 25 years. Why do people believe? Suddenly it struck me, if these cultures existed for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years with no religious concept I was completely wrong. They demonstrated that we are not in fact born with a genetic disposition to believe in a god. In fact they proved that we were not necessarily "born atheist". We were born with no religious concept at all. There was no religious concept not to believe in in these cultures. There must be a religious concept not to believe in to be born an atheist. Only then can one be born an atheist.
Taking it further........
I have often heard it said that religion will always be with us. That is not necessarily true if no concept of religion is indeed our genetic default. If we did indeed have an intrinsic default of wanting to seek a God, it would be true. If we were "born atheist" then it could be argued that we may want to believe in a god but have simply not learned the concept that we have a predisposition for. If our so to speak DNA default is no concept of Gods, then we have no predisposition to believe in gods at all.
If I was correct and we did in fact by DNA have a predisposition to believe in Gods then there should not be any culture that did not hold a god belief. After one generation theistic beliefs should have been made up. Subsequent generations should have been indoctrinated and thus there should be no cultures that do not have a god belief. Someone in the cultures that to prescribe to religion simply made it up and indoctrinated their children into those beliefs. People have simply been conditioned into their beliefs.
It takes only one generation to change a culture or belief system. Here I will use the British empire as an example. This is a common method of indoctrination that has been in use throughout time. The British here are simply an example. When the British arrived to Australia they soon sent the native Aborigines to English schools away from their families to indoctrinate them into British thinking. After they grew up they sent them home. They were not Aborigines in their thinking but British. It only took one generation to change the Content.
It appears that simple conditioning (or if you wish the harsher more accurate word BRAINWASHING) is the actual reason that people believe in gods. Not a intrinsic desire to seek or find a god. I have been certainly aware of conditioning or brainwashing as a actual reason for belief but until now I have mostly brushed it off as cliche used as an off hand explanation. I now must consider conditioning as a primary reason for belief.
So in truth we are not "born atheist". There has to be a theistic belief for us not to believe in for this to be the case. These cultures that existed with no theistic belief show we are born with no theistic concept what-so-ever. Thank you Michael and Joan for helping me to to come to a better understanding.
Thank you as well for being there with challenging thoughts. All of us learn many different things daily along the road to critical thinking. I can easily look back and see how I might view something today in a light that I did not see just a year ago. Unlike theists we do not have all the answers. The only reason that they do is to prove their religion is the right one. It must be so. Their gods are just like them.
Humans have been domesticating animals for thousands of years. In a recent effort, foxes were domesticated. Each generation of foxes is examined for personality traits, and the most desirable are kept. "Every year they assessed hundreds of foxes and selected only those with the most “prosocial” interactions with humans — the ones that licked people’s hands, wagged their tails and whined sadly when interactions with humans were over. These were the foxes chosen to parent the next generation." Other traits changed at the same time, but the point is, personality traits and temperament were bred into the following generations.
For other animals, personality traits are a major part of their domestication, along with production of usable products. Humans are no less animal than those, but we domesticate ourselves.
For thousands of generations, we've culled the people whose temperament led them to rebel against religious belief. We've bred people who are easily domesticated into religion, using parents who are well indoctrinated. That is the process - cull those whose personalities and temperaments lead them away from religion, and reproduce the ones whose personalities and temperaments lead them to follow religion. Or other authoritarian systems.
I'm not saying that anyone is intentionally domestication people into being intrinsic believers. It's not that simple. But it still appears to me to be a form of human - guided evolution.
It's a wonder to me there are atheists.
Your comment on the domesticating foxes and domesticating humans was intriguing. However, with dogs, humans control the breeding. Who or what is controlling the breeding of humans for religious purposes? Actually, the Old Testament do have many scriptures that purports to be against interracial marriages. I am sure there are many other examples but I cannot remember them.
Thomas, I dont mean that anyone intentionally bred genetic propensity for religiosity into humans. Rather, the practices of societies that (1) killed off people who were temperamentally unsuited for religious authoritarianism - so the effect is, their genes were not passed on, and (b) religious communities sonetimes strongly encourage breeding by the faithful - Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, which results in their genes proliferating wildly. The effect might be the same as intentional breeding for traits that foster religiosity - maybe more obedient, more credulous, more anxious, and removing from the gene pool people with personality traits that foster independence. Personality and temperament are very multifactorial, but the same would be true for some animals, yet wolves gave us Labradors, Poodles, Pit Bulls, and Yorkies. As shown by the recent domestication of foxes, it can happen in a relatively few generations. Its a form of evolution, but with domestication, that evolution includes human effdcts - anthropogenic - even if not entirely planned or intentional
" I don't mean that anyone intentionally bred genetic propensity for religiosity into humans."
With the current advances in genetic engineering and the claims made by some people who found the genetic dispositions for religiosity...who knows? Eugenics may come back in full swing......
...and Daniel... I as always in the past I appreciate your responses..thanks
I think that all through history men of many religions chose women who were easy to keep as slaves, hardworking and obedient, and not too clever. That is not breeding for religiosity, but it comes close.
I think my wife chose me because I was easily " trained ".
Daniel, thank you for your insight. I believe you may certainly be on to something. We are indeed social animals. Those who are the most social are likely to breed with those who are also social and conform to social norms. Free thinkers by definition default to intellect. Thus free thinking individuals are less likely to conform to social norms and thus less likely to appeal to the vast majority of potential mates whom do conform to social norms. This is my conjecture, however it is very much congruent to the psychology, and sociology that I studied to come to my conclusion. P.S. I think I may have sounded much smarter than i am there.
Daniel, I like your line of reasoning. I've not heard that before, but it seems congruent with evolution.
Personally, I think we ARE born atheist, but that there are at least three problems which can very easily give rise to some form or other of irrational belief:
It was primarily ignorance which more than likely spawned the concept of gods back when humankind was first coming to understand the world he lived in. Add that to a lack of means to objectively evaluate that world and irrational answers to such questions was almost an inevitability. Those two by themselves at least partly explain things, but the real clincher is the general inability of humans to face their own death, and THAT is what seals the deal. The second fear enters the equation, there is the catalyst to create those who "KNOW THE TRUTH!" (with a capital "T") and who will, for one price or another, provide comfort for the ignorant against that fear. What doesn't get mentioned is that they effectively replace one dread with another, being the threat of their created deity and the conditions said being sets for salvation and reward. Human laziness provides relative insurance for this system, because so long as people can't be bothered to investigate the scam they're immersed in, it just continues on its merry way, and they will continue to be victimized by it.
Without education, skepticism, and self-understanding, the opportunity for this pattern could be said to be almost automatic and obviously has been to this day. The individual break point comes in whether someone has a need to believe or a desire to know.