Wired for Belief in God?

In The Atlantic, reporter Jennie Rothenberg has written about the research of Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, who has written and spoken about the instinctive dualistic understanding of babies and infants and how this has been–and should be–considered in any studies of the human mind and religion.

Personally, I think the title of the post should have been “Wired for Belief in God” rather than limited to the topic of creationism. Yet, perhaps in the interests oif drawing more “hits” to its website, The Atlantic chose the latter.

Bloom takes note when his children, or any other children, wax philosophical about the body and the soul. As a rationalist and a self-declared atheist, he rejects all notions of spirits, deities, and the afterlife. As a researcher, however, he has discovered that children are predisposed to divide the world into two categories: the physical and the immaterial. Five-month-old babies show clear signs of understanding the basic properties of objects; for example, that they are solid, will fall if dropped, and do not spontaneously disappear. These infants also show signs of responding to and understanding the world of emotions and personal relations—recognizing familiar voices, for instance, and responding to happiness or fear. As Bloom puts it, these two sets of abilities “can be seen as akin to two distinct computers, running separate programs.”

With this kind of dual psychological wiring, he argues, it is no wonder that the majority of humans believe in the concept of souls as separate from bodies, which in turn leads to spirituality and faith in the afterlife. To Bloom, all religions everywhere are essentially variations on the same theme. He draws no real distinction between East and West, or between First-World and Third-World nations. What interests him is the human tendency to “see intention where only artifice or accident exists.” Unlike many of his fellow atheists, Bloom is not content to simply dismiss religious people as misguided. Instead, he questions why a belief in the divine dominates virtually every culture on earth.

In an interview, following the article, Professor Bloom is asked the question, “Why do you think it is that more philosophers and researchers haven’t explored whether humans are ‘wired’ from infancy to believe in God?”

It’s a good question. I think people on both sides of this aren’t paying enough attention to how our natural way of seeing the world affects our religion and faith. Take someone like Richard Dawkins, whom I respect a lot. I agree with him on the facts. But when he talks about people who are creationists, he says they’re either stupid, ignorant, or downright evil. His point of view is that there’s an excellent case for Darwinian theory, so if you don’t know about it, you’re ignorant; if you can’t understand it, you’re stupid; and if you know about it and you can understand it, but you tell people that creationism is the way to go, then you’re being evil.

The problem is, he’s not taking into account emotional and psychological facts about people. Dawkins doesn’t look enough at the role of human nature in why people hold these beliefs. If you want to effect change in how people think—which Dawkins definitely does, and I do, too—you have to have some understanding and sympathy for where they’re coming from. People who are creationists aren’t just morons.

Now I realise Bloom is an atheist and is approaching his subject from a non-believing perspective/worldview. In spite of this, what he has to say needs to be considered–as does all true scientific findings–in our own analysis of our world and human understanding. Read the entire article on The Atlantic‘s website here.


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