Page 264, kindle location ~5280)
My colleague Frank Sulloway and I discovered another form of attribution bias 1 in a research project that we conducted several years ago. Frank and I wanted to know why people believe in God, so we polled ten thousand random Americans. In addition to exploring various demographic and sociological variables, we also directly asked subjects in an essay question why they believed in God.
The top two reasons that people gave for why they believed in God were "the good design of the universe" and "the experience of God in everyday life." Interestingly and tellingly, when subjects were asked why they thought other people believed in God, these two answers dropped to sixth and third place, respectively, and the two most common reasons given were that belief is "comforting" and "fear of death".
These answers revealed a sharp distinction between an intellectual attribution bias, in which people consider their own beliefs as being rationally motivated, and an emotional attribution bias, in which people see the beliefs of others as being emotionally driven.
... The attribution bias of perceiving intellectual reasons for belief as superior to emotional reasons appears to be a manifestation of a broader form of self-serving bias through which people slant their perceptions of the world, especially the social world, in their favor.
That is very telling, isn't it? What does it mean? Do people overestimate their own reasons, by making them out to be rational? Or do they accurately portray their reasons and view others less favorably as having beliefs for less practical reasons?
How would you even tease that out? I can't think of how you would, since you can only find out why people believe anything by asking them. So we just have to go on their word.
In my experience talking with religious people, I've heard quite a few say they just can't imagine or bear to think that we just end when we die. That's the one I've heard the most, personally. I've also heard the one along the lines of that they can't believe everything just evolved and came from nothing, etc.
But now I want to ask people why they think others believe in God.
1. attribution bias: the tendency to attribute different causes for our own beliefs and actions than that of others.