Butch (my nearly perfect husband) and I have been having discussions lately about what the default is for people. Are we naturally atheistic or if we were raised without indoctrination would we still create a god?
Butch feels strongly that humans are atheists by default. We must be indoctrinated by authority figures to turn us into creatures bowing to invisible gods we created to have dominion over us.I'm kind of up in the air. Here are some recent studies and ideas I've talked about recently that show how the religious and the non-believer use their brains differently:
- Church: No brain activity required- study showed how experiencing transcendence basically shut down the right parietal lobe.
- More differences in the brains of believers and non-believers: A recent study that found religious people were less anxious about mistakes they made than non-believers.
- Knowledge and Beliefs are stored differently in the brain: this wasn't a specific study. Dr. Steven Novella mentioned it in passing on his podcast.
- Religion is the path of least resistance: This was about an article in New Scientist where people are born believers. I strongly suspect the way they conducted the studies mentioned.
- Superstitious? It could be your lack of control: This was a neat study about people who were basically put into a situation where they felt a lack of control found patterns more readily in random information.
The more I talk to Butch about this topic, and the more I think about it, the more I agree with him. Although of course it would be nice if we could do some studies that would show some evidence. I don't think that kind of research could ever really be done though.
I have several ideas:
- If you could somehow raise a child in this world without indoctrination but with full exposure to the wonders and structures of science, teach her critical thinking, and give her access to a healthy community of people who are supportive... (ha.. this is getting so funny.... I've created Utopia!).. you get my point... I think you'd end up with a critically thinking, healthy person who would never consider creating a mysterious god to rule over her (or him).
- The very fact that we have atheists today, in growing numbers all over the planet, shows that if you take away the dogma and expose the lies and myths, some people will shrug off the mantle of religion even though in most societies, it means putting oneself outside the supposed comforts of society. It turns them into an outsider, to some degree.
- If you have a primitive society with very little control over their lives in terms of survival, exposure to the elements (weather, storms, drought, etc), food supply, etc, I think that society will create gods in almost all cases. History demonstrates this time and again, as I'm sure primitive and/or isolated societies today will also show.
- Forced atheism is not very successful, from my limited historical survey. I'm thinking of Pol Pot and Stalin. I think it drives people to search even harder for a heavenly father to save them from their suffering and persecution. It takes control of a person so fully, so that they are not even allowed to have their own thoughts, that the person would then cry out for salvation from such ill treatment and seek spiritual salvation, since they can't have control over their physical and mental lives.
- Along that line of thinking, if a people is generally repressed, it seems that they turn to religion with zeal. Again, this is from my perspective of history. Here's an example. Tribal wars in Africa resulted in the winning tribe selling the losers as slaves which were brought to America. These slaves embraced christianity with fervor. This makes sense because they had no control over any aspect of their lives and christianity offered them salvation for their soul, and a future (albeit after death) that was perfect and wonderful. If they couldn't be free in this life, they still had something to look forward to after death. From what I recall of American history, slave owners encouraged christian worship by their slaves because it kept them happy and under control.
- If you raise a child in fear of an invisible god in the sky who watches him 24/7 and keeps a book of his actions, add a few other mythical beings that are even more friendly, but also require good behavior (Santa, etc), indoctrinate that child through repetitive singing of hymns, simplistic stories told over and over, repeated enforcement of those concepts, then whenever something good happens you praise the invisible god, and whenever something bad happens you blame the child and punish him for making the invisible god angry, you slowly weaken his self esteem. Not a bit of critical thinking is taught. Prayers (some morbid) are enforced and encouraged. This creates a weak-minded individual who is completely subject to mythical thinking, superstition and fanciful ideas. He has no self esteem to speak of and must continue to rely on his god delusion to sustain him and help him navigate society and life, and make decisions.
So, I think after all that, if we could raise a child without dogma or brainwashing, I think the default would be atheism. But I value your opinion. So feel free to comment and add to the discussion.