Religion is the Path of Least Resistance

Darwin Day Design by Travis Morgan

First, Happy Birthday, Darwin! You don't look a day over 70!

I found an article at New Scientist the other day. It's called Born believers: How your brain creates god. I guess it makes sense, that humans create god by default. The research does not say that god exists, of course, only that creating religion is the path of least resistance. They also say that atheism will always be a tough sell and religion will never go away.

What I don't like about the article is that it doesn't have good links to all the studies that are referenced, some of which I haven't found. But it's a good overall general look at how several scientists are thinking about the mind and how humans create god.

A lot of the studies have been done with children. This is both fascinating to me, but also seems fraught with numerous problems. If you ask pre-school children about life after death, they have already absorbed a lot of information from their parents and perhaps their church. Or if you ask 7 and 8 year old kids if  inanimate objects and animals were created for a specific purpose, they are definitely old enough to have already been thoroughly indoctrinated into religion and creationist thinking.

Of course, with this brief article, there is no way to know how the studies were done. It all seems rather flawed and tainted to me. But the alternative is to raise children in isolation with no touch of religion at all. This of course, would be highly controversial, so it can never happen.

But it is interesting that the world over, in every culture, humans have created supernatural beings that seem to have a hand in controlling their world. It is also quite fascinating that the more highly educated scientists are, the more likely they are to be atheists.

Perhaps our brains, in our desperate attempt to feel like we have some control over our lives, anthropomorphize anything and everything, including invisible men in the sky or dead ancestors, to watch over us. In that respect it's understandable that humans seek out the supernatural because it seems to make the world less random, less chaotic.

In that same vein, if you are highly educated and quite smart, perhaps it's easier to accept that we can only control ourselves, and that relying on something that isn't there actually takes away even more control, because we'd be giving it to something that doesn't even exist.

People the world over do it every day though. New Scientist has another article titled, The credit crunch could be a boon for irrational belief. I've read studies that say the same thing.

For instance, people in risky professions are much more superstitious. Think about athletes and their weird rituals.  The article also refers to a study that was done in 2007 that showed that evangelical churches grow by 50% with the downturn of each economic cycle.

It makes sense. If your life is full of chance (like deep sea fishermen) studies have shown that you will see patterns in random or unrelated stimuli. I wrote about this study last November: Superstitious? It Could Be Your Lack Of Control.

So, there you have it. What do you think? Are we born atheists or born believers? Can we ever know for sure? Is the brain hard wired for supernatural thinking? Did we adaptively evolve to become religious? I'd love links to studies, as well as your thinking on this fascinating subject.

Happy Darwin Day! Viva La Evolution! :P

The awesome Darwin design is by Travis Morgan. Thanks, Travis.


  1. This is fairly consistent with other stuff I have read and heard (see for example my post on Can Science Every Replace Religion). Pascal Boyer's book, Religion Explained, argues that religious thinking is more natural than scientific thinking in the sense that it co-opts our built in cognitive systems in such a way that makes religious beliefs highly memorable memes. Science, on the other hand, takes hard work and dedication to master. Seems to make sense.

  2. Thanks James. I don't know though. I'd like to see some really definitive studies not involving children that are already indoctrinated into their parents' belief systems. Or other studies. But I guess it does make sense.