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Faith ‘is inevitable’

12 January 2011

by Ed Thornton

BELIEF in a god is almost in­evitable, because of “the way human minds work”, a psychologist from the University of Oxford has claimed.

Dr Justin Barrett, senior re­searcher at the University’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, said in a statement released by the John Templeton Foundation: “We have increasing evidence that religious beliefs and practices are a natural product of the way that human minds work, that far from being some oddity or cultural add-on or something that has to be indoctrin­ated into people, religious beliefs are part of human nature in a really important respect.”

The Templeton Foundation has has provided a US$3.9-million grant to fund research into the psychology of religious belief.

Dr Barrett continues: “Left to our own devices, we have a tendency to believe in some kind of god, and to entertain the possibility that there’s something beyond us, that the transcendent exists.”

The Templeton Foundation’s vice-president for philosophy and theology, Dr Michael Murray, said that the project was asking: “How did our minds come to be so con­figured? These scholars are looking for the trajectories of evolution, for how things go to be the way they are.”

Dr Barrett recently completed a forthcoming book, Born Believers, which the statement describes as “laying out the full range of data showing that young children have a tendency to under­stand and think about gods — a creator god in particular — and that it might take particular, ag­gressive cultural conditions for children to deviate from that path”.

Dr Barrett’s next project, Is Religion Natural? The Chinese challenge. This will test his theories in a country that the statement des­cribes as “officially secular . . . [with] a long history of dominant non-religious philosophies”.



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