Made in Our Image
Micheal Brooks has an interesting article in New Scientist about the human tendency to believe in the supernatural.
Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world.
This seems right. It is frequently after traumatic event, like a death, that people “find God”. But, why do we turn to supernatural powers instead of something else? One of the prevailing theories is that it’s a by product of the way our brains are hard wired.
Some of the unique cognitive capacities that have made us so successful as a species also work together to create a tendency for supernatural thinking.
It seems our brains deal with living and inanimate objects in completely separate cognitive systems. These competing systems create a “common sense dualism” and allows us to think of our minds as being separate entities from our bodies. This would encourage a belief in souls, ghosts, and other supernatural entities as well as enable us to form bonds with fictional characters and loved ones that have passed away.
The article doesn’t bode well for the future of atheism, though:
Religious belief is the “path of least resistance”, says Boyer, while disbelief requires effort.
It is a hard sell, true. And people do seem to fall into religious belief all too easily. I’ve always been atheistic, though, and I know others that have never had a god belief. This make me think that at least some people are born without this tendency for religion. There are cultural aspects, of course, which would reinforce natural tendency for belief. Very interesting stuff.