I am comfortable with not having answers to everything. By temperament, I have a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. But many people suffer cognitive dissonance when they face uncertainties and probabilistic world models, and they feel the need to close that loop with a definitive answer, regardless of how intellectually indefensible it may be.
This low tolerance for uncertainty in many others probably has an evolutionary origin related to the fact that in the Paleolithic environment in which we evolved, it was almost always better to assume that everything has agency and intention. That is, there would have been a selective advantage to adopt the default position that other people, animals and even inanimate objects in the physical environment possess agency (capability of acting) and intention (acting in a manner that can affect you).
Making Type I errors - False positives (assuming something is real when it isn't) will not take you out of the gene-pool because they only make you more cautious, but making Type II errors- False negatives (assuming something is not real when it is) can result in you being too high a risk-taker and therefore a meal for an animal like a Sabre-toothed tiger that really does have agency and intention.
A Thought Experiment
Imagine you are our ancestor living on the African savanna 100,000 years ago, and you encounter some ambiguous situation. For example, you heard some rustling noises nearby at night. Or you were walking in the forest, and a large fruit falling from a tree branch hits you on the head. What’s going on?
In an ambiguous situation like this, you can either attribute the phenomenon to impersonal, inanimate, and unintentional forces (for example, wind blowing gently to make the rustling noises among the bushes and leaves, or a mature fruit falling by the force of gravity and hitting you on the head purely by accident) or to personal, animate, and intentional forces (for example, a predator hiding in the dark and getting ready to attack you, or an enemy hiding in the tree branches and throwing fruits at your head). The question is, which is it?
Error Management Theory
This suggests that, in your inference, you can make a “Type I” error of false positive or “Type II” error of false negative, and these two types of error carry vastly different consequences and costs. The cost of a false-positive error is that you become paranoid (You are always looking around and behind your back for predators and enemies that don’t exist). The cost of a false-negative error is that you are dead, being killed by a predator or an enemy when you least expect them. Obviously, it’s better to be paranoid than dead, so evolution should have designed a mind that overinfers personal, animate, and intentional forces even when none exist.
The Genesis of Religions
Different theorists call this innate human tendency to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors (and as a consequence be a bit paranoid) “animistic bias” or “the HADD tendency (hyperactive agency-detector device).” These theorists argue that the evolutionary origins of religious beliefs in supernatural forces may have come from such an innate cognitive bias to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors, and thus overinfer personal, intentional, and animate forces behind otherwise perfectly natural phenomena.
You see a bush on fire. It could have been caused by an impersonal, inanimate, and unintentional force (lightning striking the bush and setting it on fire), or it could have been caused by a personal, animate, and intentional force (God trying to communicate with you). The “animistic bias” or “hyperactive agency-detector device” predisposes you to opt for the latter explanation rather than the former. It predisposes you to see the hands of God at work behind natural, physical phenomena whose exact causes are unknown.
We are hardwired to believe in supernatural agents
To sum up, it is perhaps better to be paranoid and suffer from the God delusion! You would at least survive to pass your genes along!! Because of our Theistic Ancestors making a Type I Error (False positive) in their lives, they survived and gave birth to their children who in turn gave birth to their children and after virtually countless such reproductive lives, we were born to enjoy whatever joys & pleasures there are in this world. One price they had to pay for this was that they became Paranoids & God believers. So belief in God(s) for our Ancestors was a byproduct of Type 1 error in their inferences. Thank goodness for that or else we wouldn't be alive & talking about all this now.
Considering that we are hard wired to believe in some sort of supernatural agents, is it possible for us to be true atheists?
Still it is possible to be a non-believer
Yes, because atheism is simply a propositional stance about the reality-outside-our-heads. It’s like an optical illusion. No matter how much you know it’s an illusion, you still experience the sensation that, say, one line is longer than the other in the Müller-Lyer trick.
Likewise atheists simply don’t trust their “gut” feelings & their intuitions–about their supernatural experiences the way that fullfledged believers do. The latter buy into the great ruse of God, whereas the former reject their senses as being a reliable gauge of reality.
Yes, because I am a living proof that it is possible for us to be true atheists. If I with my average IQ and average academic accomplishments could deconvert, Koi bhi Mai-ka-lal (Hindi) certainly can.
We no longer face the kinds of environmental threats that our Paleolithic ancestors faced. We can now afford to give up belief in God(s), Heaven, soul, eternity and such illusions, make correct inferences of the realities surrounding us without making either Type I or Type II errrors and lead a moral, productive, compassionate and meaningful life. Yes --- meaningful life despite our mortality and finite existence.
Some people think that our mortality means that our lives are meaningless. When we experience a good movie, play, or read a book, we can find meaning in them despite the fact that they are finite & have an end. Why should our lives be any different?