It's natural to believe in god, says Oxford study

Basic instinct

The £1.9 million project involved 57 researchers who conducted over 40 separate studies in 20 countries representing a diverse range of cultures. The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in god and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind, a university release said.

The researchers point out that the project was not setting out to prove the existence of god or otherwise, but sought to find out whether concepts such as gods and an afterlife appear to be entirely taught or basic expressions of human nature.

“The Cognition, Religion and Theology Project” led by Dr Justin Barrett, from the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at Oxford University, drew on research from a range of disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology.

They directed an international body of researchers conducting studies in 20 different countries that represented both traditionally religious and atheist societies. The studies by Emily Reed Burdett and Justin Barrett suggest that children below the age of five find it easier to believe in some superhuman properties than to understand similar human limitations.

Children were asked whether their mother would know the contents of a box in which she could not see. Children aged three believed that their mother and god would always know the contents, but by the age of four, children start to understand that their mothers are not all-seeing and all knowing.

However, children may continue to believe in all-seeing, all-knowing supernatural agents, such as a god or gods. Experiments involving adults, conducted by Jing Zhu from Tsinghua University (China), and Natalie Emmons and Jesse Bering from The Queen’s University, Belfast, suggest that people across many different cultures instinctively believe that some part of their mind, soul or spirit lives on after-death.

The studies demonstrate that people are natural “dualists” finding it easy to conceive of the separation of the mind and the body.

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