Atheists Disbelief

Atheists Are in Disbelief Over This Recent Study. Or Are They…?

Atheists Disbelief

Is religious faith innate? Scientific studies suggest that humans are not wired to be atheists.

Skeptics often assert that humans are “born as atheists,” but recent studies indicate that this may in fact not be the case. Graham Lawton, a self-labeled atheist, asserted in the New Scientist that cognitive studies show “atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think . . . even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.” For example, many admitted atheists engage in religious practices, such as cleansing rituals and prayer-like internal monologues, without being consciously aware of it.

Religion a Product of Evolution?

Scientists postulate that innate religious belief may very well be an adaptation to a harsh and dangerous world. Humans are naturally prone to seeing patterns, ascribing higher meaning to their lives, and looking for an underlying purpose in things. These tendencies serve as important ways in which people deal with things such as death, suffering, and fear of the unknown. Being the only animal species consciously aware of the inevitability of death, humans likely created or adapted to religious belief in order to cope with these challenges. From this psychological perspective, religious faith has vital practical uses.

Religion has many important applications from an anthropological perspective as well. Almost every tribal hunter-gatherer group and large agricultural civilization have maintained religious traditions, and the differences between the two types of human societies help illustrate the utility of faith. Hunter-gatherers, who depend completely on flora and wild animals for sustenance, tend to be animistic. Animistic religions ascribe spirituality to the plants and animals on which hunter-gatherer peoples rely, and these groups pray to these spirits in hopes of having safe and successful hunting and foraging expeditions.

Agricultural civilizations that arose after the Neolithic revolution, however, gave rise to larger, more centralized organized religions which replaced tribal animism. These religions overwhelmingly featured pantheons of deities such as gods of war and gods of the harvest, key features of agricultural societies. It is perhaps no coincidence that some of the earliest signs of civilization are massive temples. Mesopotamian ziggurats in the Middle East, for example, are indicators of the early states in that region. These organized and hierarchical religions helped humans adapt to the larger and more centralized societies and kingdoms that arose from agricultural breakthroughs.

Unlike a small tribal society, people in a city-state or large nation would not be as familiar with each other. A centralized faith could unify such people, give them something in common, and allow them to identify co-religionists as part of the same in-group even if those people were complete strangers. A common religion makes trust between strangers possible, creating the conditions necessary for agricultural civilization to thrive. This also indicates that our beliefs may not stem from conscious individual reasoning processes, but are instead the result of our biological social wiring. In other words: humans evolved to be religious.

Are Atheists Really Believers?

The practical applications of religion corroborate the idea that humans are biologically predisposed to spiritual faith. Nature merely selects for what works and does not take our own opinions and preferences into account, which may be bad news to people hoping for a godless future for mankind. According to polls, people – even self-described atheists – still overwhelmingly believe in cosmic forces or “higher powers” and subscribe to the notion that the universe has an over-arching meaning or purpose. Demographic trends such as low fertility among non-religious populations further indicate that religion is unlikely to disappear. In light of this, and given the stubbornness of human nature, it seems doubtful that people’s dependence on faith and spirituality will be waning any time soon.


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