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Humans Hardwired to Believe in Supernatural Deity?

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the my-genes-rebel dept.

Biotech 1852

dohcrx writes "According to a Sunday New York Times article, 6 in 10 Americans believe in the devil and hell, 7 in 10 believe in angels, heaven and the existence of miracles and life after death, while 92% believe in a personal God. The article explores the possibility that this belief structure may be ingrained into our genetic makeup. 'When a trait is universal, evolutionary biologists look for a genetic explanation and wonder how that gene or genes might enhance survival or reproductive success ... Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity?'"

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there is No god (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229658)

there is No god

I believe in God baby! (2, Funny)

Gentlewhisper (759800) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229702)

Now let me get laid! What? It doesn't work that way?

Re:I believe in God baby! (5, Funny)

jjacksonRIAB (1050352) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229902)

The virgin Mary would claim otherwise. But you are a slashdotter -that means your only hope for salvation is dressing up like a cow and moving out to Iowa on the off-chance that you might discover a blind milkmaid.

Re:I believe in God baby! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18230020)

Then why would you need to dress up?

Re:I believe in God baby! (5, Funny)

jjacksonRIAB (1050352) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230054)

Again -you are a slashdotter, so naturally LARP would suit you.

Re:there is No god (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229732)

Who's No and why do you worship it? :)

Re:there is No god (5, Insightful)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229966)

it's always been interesting to me the number of religions which develop independently across different cultures and which seem to have similar themes. Generally there is a creator or creators and good forces as well as bad. Religions with a single God usually have other characters, such as patron saints or legends of profits, to make it more interesting. The creator or gods or spirits are often "above" looking "down" from heaven, the sky, the sun, Mount Olympus. There is often a Hell or "underworld" and it, conversely, is often bellow. Sacrifices are common across cultures, as are ordained priests or priestesses and temples or churches which are filled with ornate objects to honor the deity.

The afterlife is a very common thread amongst religions and so is a mechanism which encourages one to be obedient and follow the laws of it, be it Karma, the threat of hell, the threat of sickness or a bad harvest. You also see, obviously, the cultural centrism of a religion. The Jews believe they are chosen, the Islamic god prefers the language of Arabic and the Indian and Hindu gods may ride elephants, but not grizzly bears or kangaroos. Can one imagine a religion which believes "There are chosen people, but they're not us"

I think this cuts down to a basic human need. The need for a foundation of explanation or an imparting of significance to one's life and where it is going. Even though science may now be able to explain many of the natural forces which could once been explained only by magic or religion, there is still something people have trouble accepting about the idea that a disaster or loss "Just happened because of randomness." It's much easier to say it was because of a larger plan. People also have trouble accepting injustice, and the idea of justice in the afterlife is comforting.

But above all else, it may be the inability to accept mortality in the sense of ceasing to exist. If a loved one dies and the idea is "Well, they're worm food now. They are no more." There is no comfort in that. There is an urge to reach for something else. And similarly the idea of not being is both unsettling and difficult to conceptualize.

But above all else, it may be that people simply do not like the idea that they are not in control in any way or that all is hopeless. The idea that "The cancer is terminal and there is nothing that can be done" is much more difficult to accept than the idea that "the cancer is terminal but we can pray."


I am not a believer, and I doubt you will be able to convince me otherwise. However I have one question for believers in a higher power or higher powers:

When you look to other religions and say "that's ridiculous" at the idea of a wine god or a god with the head of an elephant or spirits and ferries or Zeus or Thor wielding his hammer, have you ever considered one thing.... is your religion any less ridiculous????

of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229666)

That's how I made it.

Hmm, so... (5, Funny)

Xenographic (557057) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229670)

Religion evolved?

Sounds like a sure way to piss off the religious and atheists alike :]

"Wait, you mean religion might confer some survival advantage? And it's so widespread that..."

"First you're telling me I'm a monkey's uncle. Now you're telling me it was a religious monkey!? Okay, great ape or whatever, but still!?"

even wierder .... (4, Insightful)

taniwha (70410) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229898)

I'd believe it if similar gene pools showed the same breakdown - here in NZ it's more 50-50 - so maybe there are different 'evolutionary pressures' ....

More likely it's social pressure - the Monty Python/'Every Sperm is Sacred' school of thought - if you've got the pope saying 'fuck like bunnies because god says so' vs. the atheists saying 'smaller families are better for the planet, and we can afford better education for our kids, and ...' stands to reason you're going to get more kids indoctrinated into religion - think of it as a memetic advantage rather than a genetic one ...

Re:even wierder .... (1)

IngramJames (205147) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230070)

I'd believe it if similar gene pools showed the same breakdown - here in NZ it's more 50-50 - so maybe there are different 'evolutionary pressures' ....

I think that's a change in society and culture. Go back 500 years, and I doubt many of the New Zealander's ancestors would be atheists. And 500 years is zip in terms of evolution.

Actually... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229924)

...it's just more of that pseudoscientific conjecture. Someone wanted to get himself famous because he mixed the words genetic and religion in the same context.
 
This whole article is pointless. Just because X happens Y times, it doesn't mean that there is a disease. Because V happens in W of the population, it does NOT mean that there is a GENE for trait V. It could be as much as a large combination of genes common to everyone, such as the ones that give us feet or the capability to think abstractly. Apes and dogs don't have religion; how abstractly can they think?

Re:Hmm, so... (4, Interesting)

istartedi (132515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230080)

Wait, you mean religion might confer some survival advantage

No ifs about it. My father told me many stories of his 22 years in the Navy. The relevant one is of a post WWII study based on interviews of POWs. A belief in God, be it Christian or Jewish (the two dominant samples, obviously) conferred survival advantages in the camps. It seems that men who had Someone to pray to, something to hope for, gained a psychological edge that could mean the difference between life and death under extreme conditions. Sorry I can't cite it properly. It was one of those stories that he repeated on more than one occasion.

Old, old news (4, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229678)

Something like this was in Newsweek almost three years ago. The matter poses no difficulty to either atheist or theist philosophers of religion, for while one side can argue that this must mean belief in God is some built-in override of reason, the theist can argue that the direction towards worship is part of the Creator's plan.

Re:Old, old news (1)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229796)

Michael Shermer proposed it in 2000. There's nothing new about the idea that belief in a supernatural creator is hardwired.

Re:Old, old news (4, Funny)

Ravear (923203) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229914)

the theist can argue that the direction towards worship is part of the Creator's plan.

Trust god to implement WGA-on-steroids. If you don't phone in, you don't get to reproduce.

So thats why mormons exist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229684)

just saying!

It's because humans WANT to believe (2, Insightful)

amplusquem (995096) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229688)

There's no "gene" per se that explains why humans believe in God and the supernatural. Humans believe in God because they want to believe that their life means something, that we are living for a reason. It comforts humans "knowing" that there is something bigger than them out there, it comforts them "knowing" that when one dies, they just go up to heaven to live a better life. Humans believe in God simply because they want to believe.

Re:It's because humans WANT to believe (5, Insightful)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229714)

It's a good thing we've got you here to clear everything up.

I wonder if there's a gene for believing you have all the answers.

Re:It's because humans WANT to believe (3, Funny)

cyber-vandal (148830) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229842)

You must be new here.

Re:It's because humans WANT to believe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229868)

lol, beat me to it. maybe we should all worship amplusquem, he seems omnipotent.

Re:It's because humans WANT to believe (2, Insightful)

haluness (219661) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229906)

This still does not explain why it is *so* widespread. Why is it better for me to know that when I die, I'm going to heaven and somebody will be there for me? What is the benefit of the belief to the believer?

Re:It's because humans WANT to believe (3, Interesting)

bendodge (998616) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229920)

Funny how much that sounds like theology! It should be obvious that humans are hardwired for God, just like they are for singing or having a 7 day week.

Re:It's because humans WANT to believe (3, Interesting)

MontyApollo (849862) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229948)

I read something once where they claimed that if we did not dream while we slept, we would have no concept of an afterlife. Dreaming opens us up to something more than just what we experience.

Re:It's because humans WANT to believe (3, Informative)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230002)

At least for potestants who take St. Paul seriously, it is Grace that supports or allows belief. That would be a two ways street. But, many theologians do identify something in the soul that also seeks God. C. S. Lewis was interested in this and looked at levels of inclination such as loyalty to country, animal's attraction to their keepers as well as darker attractions. His book That Hideous Strength is a good read. Finding some hardwiring for this would not be too suprising I think. I'd imagine that is would be related to things like filial piety http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filial_piety [wikipedia.org] which actually comes in as a commandment.
--
Solar power: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]

We just want uber parents... (4, Interesting)

VidEdit (703021) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230060)

We mustn't mistake a cognitive tendency to believe in religion for an affirmation of the truth of religion. We have many cognitive quirks as a species and even Pigeons can learn "superstitious" believes in Skinner boxes so I doubt any neurological basis for religious belief is anything but an artifact of our characteristics as social animals.

It seems that our desire to believe in a supreme being may be mis-adaptation of our built in need for parents. When we grow up, we know we know our parents no longer have all the answers but we still desire that idea of a parent who knows "everything", protect us and insure that we are treated fairly.

here's a question... (1)

blakmac (987934) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229692)

...if that's the case, how did it just happen to 'evolve' its way into the dna?

Re:here's a question... (1)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229942)

...if that's the case, how did it just happen to 'evolve' its way into the dna?

I could venture that the people who happened to be just crazy enough to believe in it were conferred some kind of survival advantage superior to those who didn't believe in it. It's been proposed that the divine right of kings was just another manifestation of a possible survival advantage of belief in supernatural deities- groups of people who were all independent-minded and had no concept of submission to authority didn't tend to stick together well, but humans themselves don't tend to survive well in a vacuum without other people. Go 40 miles away from any kind of town or human settlement, break your foot, and you'll know exactly what I mean when I say humans survive better when other people are around. Groups that got cowed into obeying some form of human authority that they perceived was backed up by some wrathful god stuck together better and therefore survived better than groups that didn't have any mechanism of sticking together.

Then again, maybe the supernatural deities just helped out the ones who believed in them :).

Or maybe there is some truth in the belief? (1)

Torghn (1071642) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229694)

Just maybe.

Re:Or maybe there is some truth in the belief? (2, Insightful)

agm (467017) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229716)

As Grissom would say: The evidence doesn't lie. What happens though when the evidence doesn't speak at all?

Re:Or maybe there is some truth in the belief? (1)

bornbitter (813458) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229894)

I am not sure which side you fall on this one... but the only evidence that is 'speaking' to the scientific world is their own evidence - that there 'is no God.' ...but if "the evidence doesn't lie," then one asks why science keeps trying to disprove the existence of God? It's almost as if they don't really believe they succeeded the previous gazillion times.

Let us ask the question few dare to ask; can science prove/disprove the existence of Deity? How does one find logically and quantifiable evidence that is viable to that end?

Believe it or not, there are things that science can't prove/disprove. That's why we have other schools of thought; sociology, philosophy, and, (dare I say it) religion.

Re:Or maybe there is some truth in the belief? (1)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230076)

Science doesn't try to disprove the existence of God. It has spent 400 years disproving the concrete claims of religion, saying "See? You're wrong!" and watching religion scurry backward seeking undisprovable claims.

Yes, optimism has survival value... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229696)

.... and belief in a rosy afterlife will make you live longer and pass on that trait. I mean, what's the size of an average Catholic family compared to the lonely angry atheist?

Re:Yes, optimism has survival value... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229730)

MOD PARENT UP.

I've been struggling with this obvious, obvious fact for a very long time.

Re:Yes, optimism has survival value... (4, Insightful)

R2P2 (193577) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229826)

I think that's got more to do with Catholics not believing in using contraception.

Re:Yes, optimism has survival value... (1)

Xybot (707278) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229872)

Sorry to burst your bubble. Not all Catholic families are large. Not all Atheists are lonely, nor angry. Yet it does seem that a Blog, frequented by a supposedly more enlightened group of people, will still attract Bigots.

Re:Yes, optimism has survival value... (1)

dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229900)

There are probably a lot more angry, lonely, childless catholics. Celibacy, you know?

And what about those uninhibited fornicating atheists? They must have lots of children too?

Nah. Just pointless prejudice.

...or self deception. (1)

NoBozo99 (836289) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229968)

Angry Atheists? Which one? Anne Coulter? Bill O'Reilly? Rush Limbaugh? Oh Snap! I thought you meant angry assholes. My mistake.

Genetics? No way (5, Insightful)

Stormx2 (1003260) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229700)

From what I've seen this is all about nurture, and not nature. America's Christianity feeds itself, with a father instilling his faith in his son. I'm attending secondary school (high school) and the majority of us are atheists, and some of those who were previously christian or other faiths have become agnostic or more.

You can beleive something your childhood years without questioning it. If you fail to question it before you reach adulthood, the chances are its sunk into the way you reason. Hence, you'll be a little more stubborn.

Re:Genetics? No way (4, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229734)

For every young person that leaves his faith (not just Christianity, but Judaism, Hindusim, or Islam just the same), there's someone who finds religion in early or mid-adulthood. Many of these "megachurches" exploding with members who come from agnostic Boomer parents who didn't instill any kind of religious observance in their children.

Mutant? (0, Troll)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229704)

So, you're telling me that I'm a mutant?

-Peter

Would this disprove either [a]theism? (3, Interesting)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229712)

It seems to me that if the conjecture of a genetic basis is right, then this probably does little to help agnostics like me decide whether or not God exists. Here's why...

If God doesn't exist, then a genetic basis gives a potentially adequate explanation for religiosity. So the genetic basis doesn't disprove atheism.

If God does exist, then this is consistent with the theology (Christian, at least) that God has built us to know Him. (Assuming for the sake of argument that God can and does work through evolution and genetics.) So the genetic basis wouldn't seem to disprove Christianity (and thus theism in general) either.

I dunno... what do you guys think?

Re:Would this disprove either [a]theism? (2, Insightful)

Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229802)

I was raised Christian, so I always had a hunch that this was indeed the case, that God made us genetically likely to look for Him.

Of course, you're asking about the other direction. I would ask, where would this genetic trait have come from? The article seems to indicate it isn't an "evolutionary adaptation," so it was either put there by a force other than evolution, or its an entirely random accident that didn't have enough of a negative side effect to be weeded out - and managed to dominate over the lack of this trait in other strands of humanity. I think the former case is more plausible.

Re:Would this disprove either [a]theism? (2, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229812)

Assuming for the sake of argument that God can and does work through evolution and genetics.

The most relevant monograph for this discussion that I know is Swinburne's Responsibility and Atonement [amazon.com] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). Swinburne sees no problem with humans naturally recognizing God, though through reason (essentially the cosmological and design arguments) instead of a gene, and argues that Christian notions of the Fall can work with the concept of evolution in positing that the first sentient ape-man to reject an obvious responsibility towards his Creator was the first to sin. Since the argument from design already posits, well, design, I don't think any Christian philosophers of religion hold that evolution is not a viable option.

Re:Would this disprove either [a]theism? (1)

haluness (219661) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229876)

I think you're looking at it the wrong way. The article (at least from what I read in the summary :) is indicating a genetic predisposition tothe belief in god. I don't think that it tries to answer whether there is a god or not. It's rather describing why so many people have the belief?

I won't try and speak for the article, but from my atheistic viewpoint, from which I see no *need* for a god (a.k.a, Occams Razor) I have always wondered why it is people choose to believe rather than not believe - is it a weakness (but I know many strong people who are religous), is it laziness (again, I have many counter examples)?

It's a strange phenonemon and understanding it might help us to finally let go of the behavior!

Re:Would this disprove either [a]theism? (1)

Xybot (707278) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230032)

Let me try and help you out of this quandry. Is there any evidence for the existance of a supernatural being? If you think there is then feel free to worship as you please, also I would be interested in hearing about this evidence. If not then any belief is irrational. We are all born Atheists. And I'd hazard a guess that you are also an Atheist regarding most irrational religious beliefs you have been exposed to.

Re:Would this disprove either [a]theism? (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230078)

I think this is great fodder for atheism. Now atheists finally have an explanation of why so many pleople can't get talked out of their religion, no matter how little actual sense the religion itself makes. Their rational faculty is genetically hobbled! This wouldn't be the only case where irrational beliefs seem to be hard-wired into us. First of all, there are certain optical issusions, where we "see" something that isn't there. But there are also "logical" illusions like the Gambler's Fallacy. The fact that it's so prevelent (more than religion!) and so clearly irrational is surely a sign that it's hard-coded in us genetically.

If religion starts getting treated as just another hard-coded human irrationality, I have a feeling it will start losing its lustre among a growing group of people.

Logically (0)

HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229722)

Do you know everything?
Do you know anyone who knows everything?
Is it possible for you to know everything? (Theoretically, maybe, but empirically over ten thousand years--no)
Is it possible for anyone to know everything? (Theoretically, maybe, but empirically over ten thousand years--no)
If something exists then nothing cannot be everything.
If nobody knows everything then what knows everything?

If there is something (indicating that nothing is not everything) then there must be something which knows everything.

Once you believe that something does exist (and therefore nothing cannot be everything) then everything after that--which religion, which set of rituals, which particular prayers, which actions necessary for appeasement--is just personal preference.

There is a God, he does exist, and it doesn't have to have anything to do with DNA. The simple fact of existence indicates (strongly) God.

Re:Logically (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229828)

stop insulting logic you piece of shit

Re:Logically (1)

OscarGunther (96736) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229840)

If there is something (indicating that nothing is not everything) then there must be something which knows everything.

Lost me there. Just because there is something (the universe, I presume you mean) doesn't necessarily mean that there must be something which knows it completely. Try again.

Re:Logically (0, Troll)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229950)

Lost me there. Just because there is something (the universe, I presume you mean) doesn't necessarily mean that there must be something which knows it completely. Try again.

Clearly you haven't heard of the ontological argument, which has enjoyed a great resurgeance of popularity in the last 25 years.

Re:Logically (2, Insightful)

Treacle Treatment (681828) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229886)

[If nobody knows everything then what knows everything?]

There is no requirement that there be a what that knows everything.

Hello there (1)

linvir (970218) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229904)

That was the stupidest thing I've read on the internet so far today. And I just got here from Hal Turner's website, so you had some stiff competition.

Re:Logically (1)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229916)

Why does anything have to know everything? If the Universe came from nothing and the Universe has an end then everything can be nothing over a large enough scale. Or if the Universe were infinite the concept of everything goes out the window anyway.

More to the point, mindless little word games and random speculation will not solve the riddles of the Universe or existence. And they have little to do with the article anyway.

Re:Logically (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229926)

What the heck are you babbling about? "If there is something.. then there must be something which knows everything."? Where do you get that from?

You fail logic. Stop getting your arguments from wacko evangelicals with personal agendas.

Re:Logically (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229934)

If something exists then nothing cannot be everything.
If nobody knows everything then what knows everything?


I think you just divided nothing by nobody.

Re:Logically (1)

lawrenlives (991376) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229938)

This is where I step in. Anyone with a solid background in madness, such as myself, can sum up the existence of a supreme deity, or lack thereof, in a few succinct phrases. So, let's put the whole mess to rest. Genetic, nature, nurture. Put the *description of reality* aside for a moment, if you will. That's all anyone's been doing for generations, anyways. Example: Gang of scientists gets together, assigns values to things, "this is tree, these are the properties of tree, anything fitting said properties - from here-on-in referred to as tree". Human, as a collective, an intelligence, an "evolved being" if you will, (without getting too new-agey about this) is capable of perceiving reality in absolutely *any-way-shape-form-nature* that we "put our minds to" . That's the way of descriptions, your "God" is most certainly another man's "Devil" and another's "Agent Smith". If you and six friends decided "Tree" wasn't "Tree" anymore, but "Fish", well you'd be off in the woods cutting down dinner, you dig? So, where does this leave God? Well, God could be floating in your toilet bowl for all he cares (being a total non-entity outside of the realm of perception) Sure, let's say we have a "genetic predisposition" to perceive, seeing as that is all we as human beings really do. Beyond that, it's only the "matrix of belief" we lay over our *UTTERLY FORMLESS NATURE* that controls everything in reality. But look at this way, I can sit here with all my will thinking I can fly - but if 6 billion of you close-minded dicks don't agree - it ain't gonna happen!

And that, my friends, is reality - in a nutshell.

Re:Logically (1)

jafiwam (310805) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229992)

Logic?

That isn't even English.

Re:Logically (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18230004)

whew, thanks for clearing that up! All worship HomelessInLaJolla!

More like social conditioning (1)

JackMeyhoff (1070484) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229746)

For example, if you belive in UFO's or some other phenomen you are labled a crackpot yet when you belive in god you are accepted socially (in most cases :)) And now onto a more real world example close to many readers here. If you think 9/11 was carried out by Israel's MOSSAD and their manipulation of those in power in the US and their control of various companies etc you are labled unpatriotic and a crackpot yet if you believe it was a terrorist on the run in the Middle East supported by Saddam H. then you are accepted socially. Hardwired I doubt, socially conditioned (which could appear as hardwired after all its patterns in the brain right?).

What exactly . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229754)

. . . is meant by the term "personal God"

Because, personally, I think I am God, so . . .

How does age figure in? (3, Insightful)

LinuxGeek (6139) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229758)

I am probably much like most of the rest of you slashdotters; smarter than most of the population (at the 98th percentile), technically adept and grew up an atheist in a home where we did not regularly attend church. The people around me that were religious seemed only to be mental midgets that needed psychological crutches to help them hobble through the day.

That was my view for my first 25 years of life, the next 15 have been quite a bit different. If we have a genetic disposition to need God, why is atheism more common among the young people that I have known and still know?

Re:How does age figure in? (2, Interesting)

Teresita (982888) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229912)

That was my view for my first 25 years of life, the next 15 have been quite a bit different. If we have a genetic disposition to need God, why is atheism more common among the young people that I have known and still know?

Because sometimes the genetic disposition to define oneself in a rebellious foreground against a parental background temporarily outweighs the disposition to need God.

Re:How does age figure in? (2, Insightful)

limecat4eva (1055464) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230014)

"smarter than most of the population (at the 98th percentile),"

Every time I hear someone say this—scratch that, every time I see someone write this, since I've never actually seen this said outside Slashdot—I can't help but substitute "more arrogant" for "smarter."

American DNA (1)

rgbecker (240211) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229762)

Such a statistic seems to say more about what makes a good American than humanity. Here in Europe it feels like the other way round. I guess it got burned out of the senisble people during the religious wars. Now with Tory Blair and Yo Bush we seem to be going wrong again.

Sample Population? (4, Informative)

Grail (18233) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229768)

What is the sample population for the study? How many people were surveyed? Was it a self-selecting phone survey ("Hi, we'd like to ask you some questions about your religion...")? What questions were asked?

Is a survey of 1000 Christians (especially from fanatical sects) in the USA really going to be representative of the genetic makeup of humanity as a whole?

Is it possible that being exposed to religion during the first 5 years of your life -- and constantly being told, "God made it that way" or "God loves you even if you don't believe in him" -- would influence your belief system to the extent that you'd believe in a "magic box" that would destroy the property of non-believers?

Speculate that deity dependence is ingrained into our genetic makeup all you like, but until you can present a survey from a meaningful sample population it's nothing more than an interesting topic for discussion around the water cooler (or in the modern office, the automatic espresso machine).

Re:Sample Population? (2, Interesting)

junglee_iitk (651040) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229952)

I couldn't agree more to you. Here in germany, one third of the population does not believe in God. Where I work (Stuttgart), every one has "no-religion".

So should we say Americans are different race than Germans? :P

Dawkins talked about this .... (5, Interesting)

haluness (219661) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229772)

This was one of the possibilities that Dawkins talked about in the God Delusion - according to the evolutionary approach, the belief in gods and the supernatural is really a 'spin-off' of a ingrained tendency to believe authority. Now, the reason this might be useful in an evolutionary perspective is that a child whose genetic makeup predisposes him to be a little more gullible, will probably heed his parents warnings about dangerous things. So if a child were to be told that he should not go down to a certain part of the riverside because of snakes - the more readily the child accepts this, the longer his genes will survive.

The side of effect of this whole process, is that the species may have a tendency to believe authority - some more so than others. Obviously, one has to be a little more specific as to what exactly is 'authority' - but thats a whole other thread.

As with all evolutionary explanations, one shouldn't push it too far - but it does sound quite plausible.

The Big Flaw.... (4, Insightful)

Jeremy_Bee (1064620) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229816)

"According to a Sunday New York Times article, 6 in 10 Americans believe in the devil and hell, 7 in 10 believe in angels, heaven and the existence of miracles and life after death, while 92% believe in a personal God.
The big (obvious) flaw here is that this is a survey of Americans only. It's well known that the US is one of the most religious countries on the face of the earth. The number of "true believers" in the US has always been astronomical, the number of people who self-identify as "born again" Christians or fundamentalists is off the charts relative to almost any other western country you want to name. The level of education in the US is also corespondingly low relative to other western countries.

If a significant portion (in this case in the high 90 percent range due to the claim made), of the entire world's population bleived in these things the author might have a point. I doubt the figures will bear such an argument however.

You know what they say about assumptions... (4, Insightful)

JDevers (83155) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229822)

This makes the huge assumption that American's are representative of humanity as a whole. I think the fact that religion pervades the average American life from birth might be an important consideration. Also the fact that people who aren't at least passively religious are more or less condemned in many circles might have something to do with how one answers these questions regardless of their actual beliefs...

Re:You know what they say about assumptions... (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230006)

I think the fact that religion pervades the average American life from birth might be an important consideration.

You're correct. America is essentially a christian fundamentalist country, or well on its way to become one, and that almost strictly has to do with parents spreading their beliefs to their offsprings from the earliest age.

However, the point I think is that, in an imaginary perfectly rational society, supernatural beliefs, and thus religion, is bound to appear in one, two, ten then many individuals. Why? not because the human brain is wired to believe, but because it is wired to try to make sense of the world around. And when coincidental events happen, people can't face the fact that is "those two events are coincidental". Instead, they much prefer thinking "this is God's will" because it provides an explanation, however irrational. When one person thinks that, another will follow, then another, etc etc... It takes an effort and a bit of courage to admit that you don't know why things are the way they are, and you may never know, and religious thinking provides a mental crutch to close the gaps in human knowledge and avoid staring at them.

So I don't think human are hardwired to believe, they're just hardwired to try to understand, even if that understanding is completely irrational. The only thing that'll make religion obsolete is total knowledge of the world around us, and that will never happen.

Too many unexplained things, like our mind (1)

CPE1704TKS (995414) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229832)

I think it may be a bit different than just genetic hardwiring... The simple fact that we have thoughts and feelings that can't really be explained by science to me makes us think that there is something definitely non-physical about our nature. I can have thoughts that no one can hear, I can plan things in my head, come up with ideas, etc. I have a personality, feelings, and none of this is explainable through science... not yet anyway.

So because all humans have these characteristics of thoughts,feelings, etc, I think that lends itself to the fact that there is something else mysterious at work here. The mental jump to the fact we have souls, there is some type of after-life, etc, I believe is not too much of a leap, especially if you're in a society that pushes these ideas.

This is rather obvious (1)

EzraSj (993720) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229836)

s there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity?'"
Um, yes. We were 'worshipping' our leaders long before we were worshipping a god. How else can animals like us, who have evolved to work in groups, function? We've been following the strongest, or smartest, or toughest, or most virile of our own species for a long time. It's not really surprising that someone would someday suppose that perhaps out there somewhere there is an "ultimate" leader who should all obey.

finally, a cure! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229838)

finally, a cure!

Yes (1)

jafiwam (310805) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229846)

The stupid ones are anyway.

Too bad being lazy doesn't include sitting around thinking logical thoughts. Religion would go away overnight then....

Its not belief. (1)

sw149 (570618) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229852)

The belief is not universal only the fear of not being worth more than the sum of your parts, your existence will just end with no reward for all your suffering and so on. The truth is out there its just not Charlton Heston in drag.

I don't believe this either (5, Interesting)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229860)

9% of USA Americans are non believers in God. They are no more representive than Swedes (85%) http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html [adherents.com] .

Belief in god simply is not universal. The numbers above make that clear. If it is a hard wired function of our brains, then explain the variation in brain wiring between Swedes and Americans. On the nature vs. nurture line, this one is at the nuture end.

I know my brain isn't wired for belief in god. My parents ran the Sunday school and brought me up a methodist. My grandparents were religious. My genetic inheritance should make me religious if its a preset brain wiring. Yet as a young child I saw the teachings as a system of inconsistent threats (be nice or go to hell, believe and be saved etc). As an older child I suspected the stories and teaching of being untrue. By the time I was in comprehensive school (age 11, UK) I knew I didn't believe a word of it and knew I was an atheist.

My personal experience leads to the opposite conclusion. We may be wired to follow the logic we understand or are taught. If we are taught how to think rationally and scientifically, then belief in God is vulnerable to rational analysis.

Moving to the USA (from the UK) had transformed atheism for me. It used to just be a fact. Relgious people went to Church and wasted their Sundays. There was no issue. In the USA I find people scared to be frank about their atheism. They find themselves in the minority, and a mistrusted minority at that. The outward effects of religion on society is caustic to education (e.g. evolution in schools), civil rights (e.g. bigotry in law and elsewhere towards homosexuals), personal freedoms (e.g. illogical drug use laws) and public policy (e.g. supporting abstinence education over contraceptive education).

I see the 'war' described in TFA as being an outcropping of this politicized environment and the research around it skewed by the politics.

I wonder if I can find work and a visa in Sweden?

The evidence says yes (1)

Zouden (232738) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229866)

By coincidence, I was just reading this paper yesterday:
Genetic and Environmental Influences on Religiousness: Findings for Retrospective and Current Religiousness Ratings [blackwell-synergy.com] .
They established that religiousness is somewhat inherited, with the hereditability increasing with age (as do some other traits, such as drug addiction and intelligence). The established this through twin studies.

A matter of misued terminology (1)

jacerie (1071646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229892)

I believe that the use of the deity concept is misused in this case. There have been many studies that indicate that the human mind is capable of gathering input from sources outside our normal realm of experience(5 senses). It would seem to me that this study does nothing more than give more credence to what would otherwise be considered extra-sensory perception. The idea that we as beings are genetically able to sense a "divine" presence or being should only prove that we as human beings have not begun to fully tap our sensory capabilities and our interaction with the world around us. If these genetic triggers can be identified, and it is only a matter of time, then we will be able to further understand another small piece of the bio-processor we call the Brain.

IQ v Belief (2, Interesting)

mr-mafoo (891779) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229908)

Its not secret that there is a negative correlation between IQ and 'religiousness'. Infact, less than 10% of people with an IQ above 120 have any faith/religous belief.

Im not going to point out the rather obvious deduction that can be drawn from this fact ;)

Uhm, duh? (5, Funny)

pi_rules (123171) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229910)

When you're a little kid you look up to your parents -- they are your creators.

You learn that your grandparents were the creators of your parents, and you think they're pretty cool too.

If you go back far enough you must accept one of two conclusions:

Human kind was started by a great all-knowing being, or, by two monkeys fucking and producing some genetically mutated offspring.

The former is a little less of a blow to your ego.

It's the parents, stupid (2, Insightful)

Strangely Familiar (1071648) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230074)

Your first sentence was right on the mark. We think that we forgot everything we experienced when we were little. I think instead, we just remember it differently. Before the age of one year, our relationship to our parents is like our adult relationship to god. The parents are those huge things up in the sky, all powerful. They can lift us up in the air, make things appear, give us food, punish us. "Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses..." Are we god-fearing folk? Probably grew up with parents who punished early. So, the reason we believe in god, is because we actually remember him/her. Very deeply. It's ingrained, and we can't shake that feeling that he's up there, watching us, judging us, getting ready with the rewards or punishment.... I think it is genetically useful to remember these early experiences deeply, and to believe in them most strongly. They are your life's first impressions. First impressions are the ones most likely to be repeated....

Other side (1)

Traa (158207) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229918)

I can see that our genetic makeup includes a "gullible" sequence. Evidence is all around us. More cynical is considering that the human being has genetic material that makes them abuse another's gullibility. Wherever there is a group of people 'believing' in something that doesn't exist, there is a group of people making them believe and using that to their advantage.

Problem with being an atheist is that we see through the make believe story and recognize the mischief. We have shown ourselves to be a pretty nasty race at times. Now that it is making more sense that this behavior is part genetic I don't think that is going to change anytime soon.

To take the unpopular path... (1)

OiToTheWorld (1014079) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229930)

perhaps theres something to this, evolution occurs for a reason, random mutations don't last long if they don't prove usefull, if there is in actuality a gene that makes one believe in a higher power, then it is most likely beneficial in some way and there for a reason.

This is why... (1)

eclectic4 (665330) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229940)

This is why I'm agnostic. Until you can prove to me either way that everything we know today is all there is to know (there is nothing left unexplained), I'm going to continue to believe that I have no fucking idea what we are going to learn about in the future. What tidbit of information are we going to glean tomorrow that chips away at one of the infinite definitions for "God"?

My point is this: either until God manifests himself in whatever form happens to fit our definition, or until we can prove that we know all there is to know, I will remain curious, but nothing more.

Great data. Only Americans are humans? (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229970)

This is laughable. In Japan and Scandinavia, only a tiny proportion of people believe in a personal deity. Has evolution passed them by? Once again, it pains me to remind Slashdotters that the USA isn't the whole world.

Re:Great data. Only Americans are humans? (1)

jozer (58713) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230038)

This is a more significant point than most would like to consider. America has the second lowest belief rate in EVOLUTION for goodness sakes! (right after Turkey).

In further news... (1)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229974)

94% of Slashdotters think Wikipedia is a great idea.
94% of Slashdotters are virgins (probably the same 94%)
96% of Slashdotters can't add and don't know what the other 14% are even worse

and....

a full 98.6% of Slashdotters enjoy fake statistics for comic effect.

The sad ones who don't will be appearing shortly.

Cultural inclinations (3, Informative)

SpaghettiPattern (609814) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229976)

... 6 in 10 Americans believe ...
... 92% believe in a personal God ...
This is quite clearly a study on USA population -assuming the term "Americans" refers to the people in the USA. The Americans are not representative in matters of belief. Americans tend to believe more in God then say Europeans. Unless by miracle genes mutated in the Americans, the study is limited in that it does not seem to rule out cultural inclinations.

It is a natural trait (1)

mrcgran (1002503) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229984)

People tend to assign intelligence (and therefore intention and conscience) to anything that is too complex for them to predict the behavior. See early humans: they believed in a different god behind every 'unexplainable' complex thing like sun, weather, diseases, birth and death. It is a natural human trait: if it is to complex to grasp, then it is intelligent or derived from intelligence. Since it's probably correct to say that there will always be something unexplained in the universe, there will always be space for an intelligent entity like a god to live in.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (1)

SetupWeasel (54062) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229986)

Self-preservation instinct + knowledge of inevitable death = Belief in afterlife.

We are hardwired to live at all costs. What if we know the effort is futile? How do we stay sane? Religion seems like a coping mechanism to me.

Sure. (1)

Telastyn (206146) | more than 7 years ago | (#18229990)

Sure, the idea that humans evolved some sort of mental 'Ah shit, that was really weird! Better attribute it to some vague unknown before I drive myself completely insane...' mechanism seems pretty plausible. Far more plausible than the various manifestations of said vague unknown we've come up with so far...

The God Spot (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18229994)

According to research [atheistempire.com] , evidence suggest a God Spot or God Module or G Spot in the brain.

Richard Dawkins addresses this (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230018)

Richard Dawkins addresses this in The God Delusion [barnesandnoble.com] . He comes up with some fairly interesting ideas.

He strongly feels that this tendency on our part must be a by-product or accident of some other trait that actually is a survival trait. He posits several possibilities:

  • As children we're hard-wired to accept things our parents tell us without question. I would imagine this would extend to beliefs prevalent in the surrounding cultural matrix.
  • We are hard-wired to look for causes for things. When things have no cause, we tend to make one up.
  • Religion is a meme that rides along like a parasite with other beneficial memes about altruistic behavior, what foods are safe or harmful, or other such useful ideas.

I think this whole line of thought is really fascinating. To me an answer to this question would be a very useful antidote for people who think I should adopt some particular version of Christianity or other religion that places mysticism and faith above the evidence of my senses and measuring equipment.

Natural Selection (1)

Danny Rathjens (8471) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230028)

Millions of humans have been killed in the past for not following the religion of the dominant group. So believing in something just because the majority of people around you do seems a useful survival trait.

Where you draw the line between gene and meme is sometimes difficult to define, though. And some instincts are easier to override with reason than others.

Holier than thou (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18230040)

So what percentage of Americans have a Holier-than-thou complex?

Somebody has to be in charge! (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230042)

or at least that's what most people in the US seem to think. I think it has to do with the fact humans are apes, and apes form hierarchies.

God is the biggest alpha male and it is no coincidence that a god, or gods, is used to confer legitimacy to governments (divine right of kings etc.).

We are biased toward hierarchies, and the concept that no one is in charge blows the minds of many people. God *must* bless America, otherwise the foundation of a huge part of American culture crumbles. If no one is in charge, then who will tell me what to do? How to live? Who to hate?

So I don't think there is a god gene per se. It is just a consequence of being an ape.

My own beliefs are slanted toward an impersonal universal force that really doesn't care much about the individual. But that's just my belief.

I sense RPG similarity (1)

F-3582 (996772) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230052)

Molecular biology scientists of the world, this is your chance to prove yourself worthy! Remove our limiters, now!

It should be obvious why (1, Insightful)

Master of Transhuman (597628) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230062)


Humans are primates. Their primary distinction from ordinary primates is the capacity of conceptual processing - which includes imagination.

Humans are the only primates who are AWARE of death as an abstract. Coupled with the inbuilt fear of death, humans would be at an evolutionary disadvantage if they didn't have some means of coping with that all-pervasive fear. potentiated by their ability to be continuously aware of it, not just aware when under direct threat.

So evolution selected for humans with the capacity to fantasize a "solution" to death. Never mind that the solution was no solution in reality. It worked. The same conceptual processing capability that allowed humans to manipulate their environment also allowed them to manipulate themselves - to fool themselves that they had a "solution" to death even when they didn't. This allowed them to function well enough to advance human development.

Unfortunately the "solution" also did NOT work. It caused most humans to be unable to come up with a rational solution to the problem of death. Only with the slow advance of rationality and science and technology has it become possible to contemplate a rational solution to death. In the meantime, their fantasy "solutions" resulted in murders, suicidal behavior, oppression and war. As usual, most human "solutions" lead to the exact opposite of their intended goals.

Over the millenia, quite a few attempts to (more or less) rationally deal with death were attempted. This was a result of the human capacity for conceptual reasoning. The Gnostics, the Taoists, and others attempted to find ways to deal with death by means of theories of the functioning of the universe and the human body. It would appear most and probably all such attempts failed. Some of them, however, led to the inventions of science and technology.

Now, however, we have nanotechnology and biotechnology. A rational solution is clearly feasible.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the human race continues to behave according to irrational belief systems. These belief systems threaten the security of everyone on the planet when coupled with military weapons technology.

The ignorance and irrationality of the citizens of the United States and Israel at this time, coupled with the insane lust for power of the controllers of these countries, are the greatest threat to peace on this planet ever known in the history of this planet. Compared to that, the so-called "threat" of Islamic fundamentalism pales because Islamic fundamentalists have little power to threaten any significant percentage of the world. The US and Israel, however, nuclear powers both, have the capacity to kill millions of people and to start wars that will kill millions, perhaps scores of millions, more.

Unfortunately, given the number of irrational humans, nothing can be done about this situation until the development of sufficient nanotechnology to take down the US and Israeli states. Israel could be dealt with by merely stealing one of its own nuclear weapons and taking its government out. But the US is not so easily dealt with - even the destruction of Washington, D.C., by a nuclear weapon would not eliminate the US threat to the world.

So the result over the next few decades will be more wars and the slow bleeding to death of these two states economically, militarily and geopolitically, until their threat is reduced. Unfortunately, this will result in the deaths of millions of civilians in the Middle East and elsewhere until this slow, irrational process is completed.

The fall of empires is never easy.

And it's all because evolution is sloppy in the way it selects for survival. Had evolution selected for higher rationality and less fear in humans, we would not be in this situation.

Pattern Recognition. (2)

Trespass (225077) | more than 7 years ago | (#18230064)

It's a natural part of human cognition to take a limited amount of information and try and arrange this into a coherent system, making guesses at what lies beyond. The less information there is available, the more guesswork is required. The results get silly very quickly.
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