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”.