Michael Brooks wrote a wonderful explanation of just how much fun you can have telling quaint stories while making a living as a scientist. Oh no, no, no! Do not misunderstand, I know that this is how science is done: presuppose atheism, employ the evolution of the gaps and then tell tales about how evolution could have done something. Really, I get it; the article merely set out to elucidate the evolution of the God idea, religion, etc.
The basic premise is speculation about how “religion emerges as a natural by-product of the way the human mind works.”
Paul Bloom, psychologist at Yale University, states, “There's now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired.”
Michael Brooks wrote that Paul Bloom “and colleagues have shown that babies as young as five months make a distinction between inanimate objects and people. Shown a box moving in a stop-start way, babies show surprise. But a person moving in the same way elicits no surprise. To babies, objects ought to obey the laws of physics and move in a predictable way. People, on the other hand, have their own intentions and goals, and move however they choose.”
This is interesting and rather odd; how do babies distinguish inanimate objects from people? Babies see all sorts of inanimate objects moving, apparently, under their own power/volition: fans spinning, trees and curtains being blow by the breeze, the whole world rushing by outside of a car window, (and if you are at my home) other kids throwing various toys, etc.
Michael Brooks further notes that “There is plenty of evidence that thinking about disembodied minds comes naturally. People readily form relationships with non-existent others…adults often form and maintain relationships with dead relatives.”
To this I can attest as atheists have an odd habit of addressing dead people whether they are telling the late to Carl Sagan that they will miss him, Richard Dawkins telling the late Douglas Adams that he misses him or Dan Barker saying “Happy birthday Charles [Darwin]!”.
Justin Barrett anthropologist at the University of Oxford, states, “Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life.”
Jesse Bering, Queen's University Belfast, UK, “considers a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body to be the default setting of the human brain.”
Pascal Boyer, a psychologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Boyer points out that people expect their gods' minds to work very much like human minds, suggesting they spring from the same brain system.
This is interesting; does “they spring from the same brain system” mean that a fictitious God springs from our brain; man making God in his image? Or that man springs from God’s brain; God making man in His own image. Interestingly enough the Bible has God stating,
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Let us take a moment to consider how a true scientist elucidates the matter:
Deborah Kelemen of the University of Arizona in Tucson asked 7 and 8-year-old children questions about inanimate objects and animals, she found that most believed they were created for a specific purpose. Pointy rocks are there for animals to scratch themselves on. Birds exist “to make nice music”, while rivers exist so boats have something to float on. “It was extraordinary to hear children saying that things like mountains and clouds were ‘for’ a purpose and appearing highly resistant to any counter-suggestion,” says Kelemen.”
Poor foolish children someday they will be scientifically and philosophically enlightened enough to finally realize that absolutely everything in the universe is the meaningless stuff of accidents, having been derived from an uncaused first cause; eternal matter—the omnipotent maker of all things.
Deborah Kelemen is also said to have “found that adults are just as inclined to see design and intention where there is none.” This statement which logically begs the question: how do you know there is no design or intention? However, it was a generic remark and so it is not know precisely to what they were referring.
Pascal Boyer “is keen to point out that religious adults are not childish or weak-minded.”
As for atheists; Olivera Petrovich, University of Oxford,
adds that even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking. [Jesse] Bering has seen this too. When one of his students carried out interviews with atheists, it became clear that they often tacitly attribute purpose to significant or traumatic moments in their lives, as if some agency were intervening to make it happen. “They don't completely exorcise the ghost of god - they just muzzle it,” Bering says. The fact that trauma is so often responsible for these slips gives a clue as to why adults find it so difficult to jettison their innate belief in gods, [University of Michigan in Ann Arbor anthropologist Scott] Atran says.
On the other hand, various atheists from Charles Darwin to Ted Turner turned trauma, in their case the death of a loved one, as occasion to reject God’s existence since, for whatever reason, their preferred theologies would not allow for the trauma to occur if their concept of God existed.
So if religion is a natural consequence of how our brains work, where does that leave god? All the researchers involved stress that none of this says anything about the existence or otherwise of gods: as Barratt points out, whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it.
Olivera Petrovich believes that “children tend to spontaneously invent the concept of god without adult intervention: ‘They rely on their everyday experience of the physical world and construct the concept of god on the basis of this experience.’” Thus, the ultimate experiment is conceived of as posing the question, “Would a group of children raised in isolation spontaneously create their own religious beliefs?” Although, this will not be carried out in the foreseeable future at least, not as long as those meddlesome funda-thumpin'-evang-YECists keep squelching the establishment of “science” and prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Interestingly, one could take all of the various experiments, studies and opinions stated in the article and simply say, “Oh, so that’s how God directed supernatural selection so as to give us the ability to recognize His existence” or “Of course, we are hard-wired, by our Creator, to conceptualize His existence.”