New Oxford Study: Belief in God is Instinctive

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A blockbuster new study by Oxford University has found that religion comes naturally, even instinctively, to human beings, a finding that could have a profound implications for religious freedom worldwide.

CNN is reporting that the study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, incorporated more than 40 different studies by dozens of researchers from China to Micronesia. It found a widespread belief in the afterlife throughout the various cultures, along with an almost instinctive tendency to believe that there is a purpose to the universe.

“We tend to see purpose in the world,” Oxford University professor Roger Trigg said Thursday. “We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can’t see it. … All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking.”

Trigg, who co-directed the three-year Oxford-based project, said children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways, such as believing in God’s omniscience. But adults also tend to believe an unseen agent is at work in the world.

Even though the project did not set out to prove the existence of God, the universality of religious sentiment is certainly convincing, especially to people of faith.

“Religious people would say, ‘If there is a God, then … he would have given us inclinations to look for him,'” Trigg said.

However, even secularists might find something they like in the study, such as to suggest that faith in God is just something people need to grow out of.

Trigg believes the study also has profound implications for religious freedom throughout the world. “There is quite a drive to think that religion is private,” he said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. “It isn’t just a quirky interest of a few, it’s basic human nature. . . . If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests,” he said.

“This shows that it’s much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted. It’s got to be reckoned with. You can’t just pretend it isn’t there.”

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