Anglican Samizdat

September 6, 2009

Wired to believe

Filed under: evolution — David Jenkins @ 3:37 pm

It seems that we are programmed to believe in God:

Humans are programmed to believe in God because it gives them a better chance of survival, researchers claim.

A study into the way children’s brains develop suggests that during the process of evolution those with religious tendencies began to benefit from their beliefs – possibly by working in groups to ensure the future of their community.

The findings of Bruce Hood, professor of developmental psychology at Bristol University, suggest that magical and supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our brains from birth, and that religions are therefore tapping into a powerful psychological force.

There are two possibilities:

God does actually exist and he designed us; it should come as no surprise that we are inclined to believe in him.

God does not exist and the proclivity to believe he does is a product of evolution: evolution has programmed us to believe a lie. If evolution predisposes us to believe something to be true that isn’t, we cannot trust our ability to deduce from evidence; therefore, no amount of evidence can prove evolution to be true.



  1. Your argument, which is Alvin Plantinga’s, makes one fatal error: the domain of cognition.

    Evolution does not track truth, it tracks fitness, but each domain has different relations between fitness and truth. Tracking fitness in religion might be a matter of being on the “right” side in conflict, so that your coreligionists give you aid when you need it, and do not turn on you. So there’s no presumption that in this case it will track truth.

    But in other domains – say, getting around the landscape – there’s every reason to think that tracking fitness here tracks truth. So it simply is not a reductio of cognition to say that because it evolved it is therefore unlikely to be a truth-tracking process.

    Some domains require truth tracking to track fitness. Science, which is a culturally evolved trait, goes one better than the evolved cognitive powers we have biologically, and in fact error corrects for our limitations. Science is smarter than evolution itself, in that respect. But nothing about science contradicts evolution, and of course science as a process is evolved.

    So the reductio fails. It’s worth noting that Darwin himself said that a monkey’s brain is inadequate to truth about gods, but he never said the same thing about science.

    Comment by John Wilkins — September 6, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

  2. Normally I would submit a rejoinder; in this case, though, I think I will simply let the reader decide for himself which of us has the clear train of thought.

    Comment by David — September 6, 2009 @ 10:48 pm

  3. I suspect it goes deeper than mere co-operation.
    I suspect that deep in our brains is an instinct to recognise willing self-sacrifice for the greater good as right and honourable.

    A young baboon will risk and even lose his life for the sake of the troop; an intelligent baboon would honour the one who gave all for the troop.

    So when we know Christ, and see his commitment to faith, even unto torture and death, it wakens to life this promordial instinct. We see truth laid bare, and feel ourselves bound to loyalty to that Man who showed it to us.
    Instinct? Yes.
    God-given? Yes
    Conflict between science and faith? No!

    Comment by El Draque — September 7, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

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