A major three-year study spanning 20 countries has concluded that humans are naturally inclined to believe in gods and life after death.

"The co-director of the project, Professor Roger Trigg, from the University of Oxford, said the research showed that religion was 'not just something for a peculiar 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,' he said.

“ 'This suggests that attempts to suppress religion are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted to religious concepts, such as the existence of supernatural agents or gods, and the possibility of an afterlife or pre-life.'

"Dr Justin Barrett, from the University of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, who directed the project, said faith may persist in diverse cultures across the world because people who share the bonds of religion 'might be more likely to cooperate as societies'.

“ 'Interestingly, we found that religion is less likely to thrive in populations living in cities in developed nations where there is already a strong social support network.'”


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Rather than a belief in an afterlife and god(s) being part of human nature I think the desires to live and be treated fairly are. I think many people are not emotionally mature enough to face that their lives might end nor accept that they might be mistreated without ultimate justice. Accordingly, I think the applicable dynamic is that, in a state of denial that their lives could end or they could on a permanent basis be treated unfairly, they turn to religion for the comfort of assurance it provides to the contrary. Consistent with evidence presented in the study I think residents of urban areas tend to be less religious because their experiences harden them more against the notion of an everlasting paradise. As such, I think the researchers at Oxford misinterpreted their data.

Good response, John.  I'm automatically suspicious of a claim that such-and-such is "human nature."  If religion were indeed an innate part of human psychology, you'd need to explain why a large and growing proportion no longer subscribe to it.  You're right, I think they're seeing the underlying concerns rather than the surface level belief in deities.


I've had this in my inbox since May. Well, no time like the present.


Depressing news. This is pretty brief, so it's hard to know how to interpret it. When discussing the children and their belief in an omniscient parent, they fail to mention this is typical of children who have not developed Theory of Mind.

this dose not look like a new study. and notice the last part...“ 'Interestingly, we found that religion is less likely to thrive in populations living in cities in developed nations where there is already a strong social support network.'”...

looks like all we need is a solid social network and...bang there goes superstition.

I wonder what he means by 'a strong social support network' though? In my experience, cities are where you can live anonymously with no strong bonds to the people around you. People can lie dead in their homes for weeks without anyone noticing. On the other hand, rural communities tend to have a much keener awareness of the lives and needs of their neighbours. And they're quick to offer support when it's needed.


I think the researchers have amassed a large amount of evidence from which they've drawn some flawed conclusions. There are probably better explanations for the fact that people living in cities in developed countries tend to be less religious; they might feel that they have more control over their lives, for example, or just be better educated. And I think the fact that city-dwellers tend to be less religious shows the opposite of what the researchers are claiming - i.e., religion is not rooted in the human mind - it's a product of your circumstances.

I posted this elsewhere, and someone took the time to look these guys up. Turns out the people who conducted this research were theists who, by the looks of it, try to use science to prove religious beliefs. I haven't read their bios in full yet, but I think there is legit cause for concern about the validity of this research.

You're right. I just did a quick search myself. This is what Wikipedia says about the head researcher, Justin Barrett:

Barrett is described in the New York Times as a "prominent member of the byproduct camp" and "an observant Christian who believes in “an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God who brought the universe into being,” [and] “that the purpose for people is to love God and love each other.” He considers that “Christian theology teaches that people were crafted by God to be in a loving relationship with him and other people, Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them. “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me — should I then stop believing that she does?[3]


That accounts for his extraordinary interpretations of the research findings.

While I don't trust theists, or their ability to reason, I'm not entirely prepared to say that the findings are "extraordinary." Why? Because in a way we certainly are inclined to believe in god. The proof is in the huge number of theists that exist and have existed in history.


It seems to me that belief/faith must be some kind of evolutionary by-producut or something in our brains or makeup. But what exactly? I'm not qualified to say. However, that in no way proves the existence of a creator, as many theists would like to believe.

If you read my earlier post you'll see that I was questioning the statement that lower religiosity in cities in developed countries is a consequence of stronger social networks. I do find that extraordinary.
Urban areas tend to be more progressive, inclusive, and innovative compared to rural communities. That's nothing new, really. But what accounts for it? Familiarity, perhaps, among other things.
Wow, that comment before citation 3 is so freaking stupid. How can a scientist make a statement like that?




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