Why all people believe in God?

05 May

Human MindAn ancient Near Eastern psalmist wrote, “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4, King James Version). There is an innate desire of supernaturalism. This is why most societies on earth held to kinds of beliefs in deities. In 16th century, John Calvin grounds his religious epistemology in what he calls sensus divinitatis. According to Calvin, all people have a sense, not only of the existence of a Creator-God (Helm, 1998, p. 93), but also of a “positive affective and conative condition towards” Him (Helm, 1998, p. 88).

Calvin does not, by means of modern apologetics; attempt to prove his claims, as he suggests that this sense is simply based on innate, properly functioning capacities (Helm, 1998, p. 93). To clarify what Calvin means, Helm (1998) writes, “Calvin does not say that all men believe in God; he says that all men have the seed of religion, the disposition to believe in God” (p. 105). In 20th century, C. S. Lewis (2001) equally argued that creatures possess innate desires that correspond to their satisfaction. If an innate desire finds no satisfaction in this world, it is probable that there is another world beyond it.

Alvin Plantinga (1981) proposes that the belief in God, in absence of a defeater, needs not to be based on other beliefs or propositions; but one is perfectly rational in accepting it, just as he accepts the reality of past events, actuality of the world around us or existence of other minds.

Not only theology and philosophy has focused on this question; preponderance of scientific evidence emerging from cognitive science suggests that beliefs about the existence of God(s), dualism, afterlife or moral realism are not explicitly cultural indoctrinated ideas. They are intuitive innate implicit[1] beliefs. (Bering, 2006). On the contrary, disbelief in supernatural “requires some hard cognitive work to reject or override the intuitions that nourish religious beliefs” (Norenzayan & Gervais, 2013, p. 20). Bering (2010) goes as far as to say about atheists that, “this self-classification has little – if any – bearing on what actually happens inside their head” (p.167). This does not show that these biases lead to a specific understanding of God(s), it merely points towards a conclusion that humans are wired to be intuitive theists, believing in transcendent beings. Therefore, also children not exposed to socio-cultural influence would naturally come to hold such beliefs. Banerjee and Bloom (2013), dissent from the consensus view, nevertheless they suggest we are prone to hold similar conceptions, as our “cognitive biases make humans ‘receptive’ to religious ideas, but do not themselves generate them” (p. 7). 

Researches have further indicated that adults cannot loose or reject completely these inclinations, for it appears that “scientific educations suppress rather than replace teleological explanatory tendencies,” (Kelemen, 2004, p. 300). Remarkably, psychologist Bloom (2007) echoes the above quote made by Helm from the department of theology and religious study, namely that all men have cognitive biases that give rise to religious belief, “these are the seeds from which religion grows” (p. 150).

Bloom’s research affirms the same tenets that is expressed by the ancient Near Eastern psalmist that there are reasons to believe that seeking god(s) is inherent to human beings. Sense of God, the innate desire, God as properly basic belief, the intuitive theism and the cognitive bias, point towards the conclusion that all people are seeking God at least at their most fundamental level. Borrowing words from Norenzayan and Gervais (2013), it may be deduced that it appears that “religion has a head start over atheism” (p. 24).

[1] Explicit beliefs are consciously held beliefs developed through conscious reflection, such as “I believe I ate pizza yesterday, belief in religious doctrines etc., Implicit beliefs are unconsciously held beliefs emerging through non-reflection such as “I believe you have mind of your own, my memories of past were not artificially fabricated but were acquired by life experience etc.

Helm, P. (1998). John Calvin, the Sensus Divinitatis, and the noetic effects of sin. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 43, No. 2, pp. 87-107, 1998.
Banerjee, K. & Bloom, P. (2013). Would Tarzan believe in God? Conditions for the emergence of religious beliefTrends in Cognitive Sciences, 17, 1:7-8
Bering, J. M., Antony, M. V., Bainbridge, W. S., Beit-Hallahmi, B., Bloch, M., Boyer, P.,… Whitehouse, H.  (2006). The folk psychology of souls. Behavior and Brain Sciences 29, 453-498.
Bering, J. (2010). Atheism is only skin deep: Geertz and Markússon rely mistakenly on sociodemographic data as meaningful indicators of underlying cognition, Religion, 40: 166-168
Bloom, P. (2007). Religion is natural. Developmental Science 10:1, pp. 147-151
Kelemen, D. (2004). Are children “intuitive theists”? Reasoning about purpose and pesign in nature. Psychological Science, Vol. 15, No. 5, pp. 295-301
Lewis, C. S. (2001). Mere Christianity. San Francisco: Harper Collins.
Norenzayan, A. & Gervais, W. M. (2013). The origins of religious disbeliefTrends in Cognitive Sciences 17 1:20-25
Plantingua, A. (1981). Is belief in god properly basic? Vol. 15, No. 1, 1981 A. P. A. Western Division Meetings, pp. 41-51

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Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Reasonable Faith


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