General Question

Dutchess_III's avatar

What is your opinion of the idea that humans are "born religious?"?

Asked by Dutchess_III (39123points) 3 months ago

I was on a very civil discussion about religion, and some one posted “Danial Dennett wrote a pretty cool book on how religion is hard wired into people’s heads.” I guess he is suggesting it is some sort of instinct that we are born with.

Another user responded with “ive actually heard about that. I’ve also watched a program about how it’s hard wired into intelligent species brains. It was interesting. Such as elephants and monkeys.”

What is your take on this? And let’s follow the example and keep it nice.

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59 Answers

Kardamom's avatar

I think that some people have a higher disposition to believe in “a God”. And that may be indeed be genetic, ar least partially. One’s upbringing, and the society in which they live, and each individual’s personal experiences, also have a huge, maybe bigger, influence on whether they believe in a god(s).

What the genetic factors, and the societal and experiential factors do not do, is prove the existence of any god(s).

Here is some information on the so called “God Gene”:

LostInParadise's avatar

Here is an article showing how we are naturally resistant to believing in evolution/ A few of the reasons show how religious beliefs can arise from basic survival skills..

ragingloli's avatar

I consider it nonsense.
And if it were true, it would be a birth defect.
A brain failure, just like humans are prone to fall for optical illusions.

gorillapaws's avatar

I think it’s certainly possible (if not likely) that man would have an innate predilection to come up with supernatural explanations to account for unknown phenomena. We can see evidence for this hypothesis in that religion seems to have arisen independently across many isolated populations of humans throughout history.

There could be a natural selection explanation in that the rational skeptic is more likely to get eaten by the tiger than the other guy who is quick to spook.

ragingloli's avatar

That just means that limited paranoia is advantageous to basic survival.
If that is your basis for religion, then that is just another argument against religion.

Thomasmariel's avatar

It’s a bit of a contradiction, because while I accept the idea that people are born who they are I don’t believe they are born religious

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Kardamom Interesting article. However, it seems to deal with the way children under the age of 10 think, so for them them, those are logical, albeit immature, arguments.

My thoughts are that we are born curious, not religious. We want to know. We start looking for answers almost from the moment we’re born. Accepting that the things around us happen because of magic is so supremely easy to do, especially when parents and society have that ready made explanation for you every time you ask a question.

Also, little kids already believe in magic. With no counter logic or alternate explanation ever given to them, how can they be expected to give it up?

tinyfaery's avatar

I think the instinct to understand things is entirely human. And when ancient peoples couldn’t explain things like natural phenomena, death, birth, etc., they made up stories as a way of explanation. As science evolved and we were able to understand the whats and whys of things more people stopped believing in the man made stories of religions, thus, more atheists.

We are all born atheists and are taught religion. That’s why religious people start indoctrinating their children as soon as they can. I do not think we are genetically programmed to seek religion or god, we are taught.

Demosthenes's avatar

I don’t like the term “born religious”, but I do think the search for a higher power is ingrained into the human psyche. Every culture comes up with some kind of religious beliefs, whether it’s more animistic (spirits present in living things and objects) or regarding a higher power in the heavens.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@gorillapaws,....well we want answers. With no other explanation, magic is the most likely explanation for eclipses, stars, plagues, birth, death, life, period.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Demosthenes That is true. Up until modern times when science became accepted and taught, magic (the higher power) was the only answer there was.
Now that logical, provable, scientific answers are readily available to everyone, belief in “spirits” is dwindling.

seawulf575's avatar

Well, I believe children are born being pretty much perfection, until we screw them up. I also feel that it is probably likely that some people have a predilection for belief in a higher power, just as some people have a predilection for addiction. I can’t say they are born “religious” since religion tends to imply they have a belief in a certain God. Might be Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, Jewish….all slightly different Gods. So a person could be born with a leaning to believe in a higher power, yet not understand religion at all.

kritiper's avatar

I think what Danial Dennett meant was that humans are raised from the womb (programmed, brainwashed) to believe in “God,” (by their parents, and/or some religious society,) not that they were born with the instinct to believe, or the innate knowledge of (some) “God.”

ucme's avatar

It’s a preposterous notion, we are all born innocents, uncorrupted by adults forcing agendas upon us to suit their needs, then religion creeps in.

seawulf575's avatar

@kritiper that might be, but mankind has asked the question “Where do we come from” for thousands of years. Asking that question sort of implies a curiosity about origins and leads to a higher power. Man has created hundreds of “gods” over the years to explain the unknown, showing there is a belief in a higher power. How did all that start if it wasn’t innate in us? Someone had to propose it first.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@seawulf575, we are born curious. Curiosity is innate in us, not religion. We made up gods to explain things we couldn’t other wise explain.
Now, if we had all came up with the same God to answer our natural questions, that might be a sign. But, as you said, we came up with hundreds, maybe thousands of different gods. Who is to say which gods were the right ones?

What is a preposterous notion @ucme?

stanleybmanly's avatar

Of course we are all wired to seek explanations for things we don’t understand. Your cow is struck by lightning. You want to know why and whether you’re next. You will not have to travel far nor wait very long to find someone with answers. Knowledge (bogus or not) is power and therefore lucrative.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, there is no “of course” about it @stanleybmanly. It’s a pretty astonishing development. As far as I know, we are the only animals to question that deeply, and the only animal to invent religions and spiritual rituals. Chimps are smart as hell and we share 98% of our DNA with them. As far as I know they haven’t developed any religion, so it’s got to be hiding in that other 2%.

yesitszen's avatar

Some 70% of the population are religious or believe in a higher power to some extent, in western society.

Babies and then children are clean slates, absorbing from their parents and surroundings.

This might mistakenly lead some to believe the op’s suggestion.

Aster's avatar

I wouldn’t say we’re ” born religious.” But I do notice that as far back as we know homo sapiens existed there are signs of them ” looking to the heavens for answers” so to speak. The Egyptians definitely had strong beliefs in an afterlife. They buried their dead, at least the pharaohs, with things they might need in the afterlife. They had gods they worshipped. They offered up animals to the gods. This lasted for thousands of years. We all know the belief in God was dominant in the Founding Fathers as shown not only in the Constitution but in their preserved writings.
I don’t know when Stonehenge was built but if they didn’t have a spiritual reason for being there in a circle what were they for? I’ll have to research this.
I have heard that if parents do not tell their children a thing about religion their children will make up their own while adding to it things they hear from classmates.

rebbel's avatar

I don’t buy it.
I think we are born with a strong inclination to follow/copy our caregivers.
Hence me being a non believer (raised by non believers), and my colleague being a believer (raised by believers).
I have seen this plenty of times being the case around me, to think that that is a thing.

stanleybmanly's avatar

We are also the only animals known to worry.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I agree with those who say it is learned behavior, not instinctive.

ucme's avatar

Haha, again @Dutchess_III you ask the bleedin obvious but okay if you must :D
The idea that we’re born religious is a preposterous notion…

MrGrimm888's avatar

I think Loli was onto something with her first response. It seems innate that we must completely understand what we perceive. Our brains fill in the blanks some times. Like that experiment where people hear lanil or yanni, or whatever the two words were.

We naturally fear the unknown. Perhaps it is important for us to think we understand important things, even if what we “understand” is fabricated.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The way you phrased your sentence, @ucme was not clear. You wrote “It’s a preposterous notion, we are all born innocents….” You could have meant that you thought the notion that we are all born innocents was preposterous.
It helps if you don’t write in fragments.

Zaku's avatar

Religion, no. Spirituality, yes. Humans are naturally spiritual.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Why are humans naturally spiritual and other great apes are not @Zaku? Or dogs?

elbanditoroso's avatar

Ridiculous. Religion implies moral code, values, knowledge of right and wrong – a whole lot of higher level brain and value functions that don’t come until they are 10–12 years old.

This is a self-serving nutty idea.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Good point @elbanditoroso. But they are still born curious, which is the beginning of religion…attempts to explain stuff.

ucme's avatar

No @Dutchess_III it helps if you have a basic grasp of how to read a sentence & maybe just a little common sense.

josie's avatar

It is clearly a human trait to experience a sense of being a part of a process that is bigger than ourselves. Different people, cultures, times and places determine how people act on that sense.
To that extent you could make your argument.
I reject the notion of a supernatural god, but I definitely have that sense of connection of spirit to everything else.

And the idea that religion is the source of moral evaluation and decision is nonsense.

Human beings were “spiritual” long before people like Hammurabi began to formulate codes of behavior

Dutchess_III's avatar

Religion leaves too many unanswerable questions for me, for it to be of any real use.

noitall's avatar

I think some people are born (that is it is innate with them—possibly genetic or possibly due to influences in the womb) with brains that are more inclined to accept or even embrace religion or religious doctrines—just some people are born with a talent for musical performance, or for mathematics or physics or philosophy, or with a great susceptibility to addiction to drugs, or are likely to be same-sex oriented, or opposite-sex oriented, or with countless other divere tendencies that we could easily come up with. But not all humans are born with any particular one or any particular set of these tendencies. We are all very individual in the way each of our brains work, in the different ways each or us are smart and the different ways in which each of us are pretty dumb. And this diversity in abilities, combined with how adaptable humans are, must be one of the important factors in our having become the dominant species and having achieved a high civilization and level of technology.

cookieman's avatar

Wishful thinking on the part of already religious parents.

Dutchess_III's avatar

One thing for sure is that kids are born with amazing imagination. They could come up with magic in a void. They really could. That’s what they’re born with.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The kids ARE programmed to ask “why”. Curiosity is innate. If they’re young enough, they’ll accept that Santa, the Easter Bunny or Jesus are real. You might say that choosing just what you believe in is a measure of your ability to grow up.

kritiper's avatar

@seawulf575 That may be, and it’s endlessly moot. Our sense of logic, of wanting to know, demands answers! It only makes sense that early man looked to the heavens and wondered why the moon and sun came up in the East and set in the West, or why the wind blew. There are myriads of things that might spark early men to wonder why!! And it makes sense that they might conjure up some supernatural reasons why these things happened. But they weren’t born with these preprogrammed notions already in their heads.

seawulf575's avatar

But @kritiper I’m not talking about looking at lightning and thinking it is the gods, I’m talking about reflecting on where WE came from. What determined who we would be and what we would do? THAT is what we have asked ourselves for millenia.

Zaku's avatar

@Dutchess_III “Why are humans naturally spiritual and other great apes are not @Zaku? Or dogs?”
Why would you think that other great apes and dogs are not spiritual?

kritiper's avatar

@seawulf575 The question of where we came from (and all that other jazz) would not be a primary question and would come so much later in the history of the subject. Religion, once conceived, probably was the origin of that thought.
If I was a early human and somebody asked me where I came from, I would say “My mother.”

stanleybmanly's avatar

I think a better way to frame this question is to ask if people
are born superstitious. Since we are the only beings capable of contemplating “before” and “after”, of course we will devote considerable thought to why am I here? And more importantly, “what’s next?” Now judging from the endless number of formalized answers to those questions and the fact that there are always crowds wiling to accept those doctrines (regardless of plausibility) we must conclude that the questions must matter a great deal. Apparently, the answers do not.

JLeslie's avatar

I haven’t read the other answers. I disagree. There is some evidence of a God Center in the brain, and people who claim to be big believers have this area more active, but I don’t know if it’s more active because they didn’t a life time using that part of their brain, or if it is because they are born with a predisposition. Still, that’s more of a physiological explanation, but so much a need by people to believe in God, or that they are born religious.

I would not have had a clue about a higher power or a God or religious beliefs if my parents had raised me on an island with people who are just like them. My mom even uses phrases like, “why is God punishing me,” and “oh my God,” but it never registered with me that there is an actual God that dictated rules to live by. I only really understood some people believe that in my late teens. It took into my 20’s to understand more how it really affects some people, and how they think.

I was not naturally inclined to be religious. I think a lot of people are like me.

However, some of what I do and think and believe does completely line up with religious people. Helping others, golden rule, pay it forward, we all count in the fabric of society, we need to take care of our family, etc. I even say I believe in miracles, because I define a miracle as something we cannot yet explain with our scientific knowledge.

Adagio's avatar

I must admit to not having read more than the question but I was reminded of a book, a novel, I read quite a number of years ago that addresses this question, Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh, it was an excellent read and so I thought others may be interested.

seawulf575's avatar

@kritiper you do see the flaw in your statement, right? Once religion was conceived…? Why would religion be conceived? Why create a whole belief system that rotates around a supreme being?

ragingloli's avatar

Early religions were centred around spirits of nature. Often times animalistic.
Then you got to polytheism.
Monotheism is a recent development, and represents nothing more than a consolidation of power of the religious ruling class.

kritiper's avatar

@seawulf575 Cavemen didn’t need religion to wonder about stuff. And if they believed in some god, they didn’t need to wonder where they came from. See? The concept must have come much later.

seawulf575's avatar

But someone had to think of it. That is my point. It doesn’t matter if it happened in caveman days or not. The first time someone felt that lightning or earthquakes were “from the gods” you already had the “religious” mindset. The actual religions have matured over the years, but the belief in unseen powerful beings that looked over us has been around for a long time. And if people aren’t born religious, if there is no genetic bent towards that, why come up with the idea in the first place?

Dutchess_III's avatar

It would appear that superstition arose pretty much at the same time all around the world. Either that or our ancestors had begun developing it before they left Africa.

@seawulf575 the genetic bent is toward curiosity, not “religion.” We come up with religion as a way to satisfy our curiosity. What causes lightning? (Thunder Gods, duh.) What causes floods.? What brought on plagues. What causes the seasons? How do woman give birth to a human being and why does it hurt women so badly when cats and dogs seem to do it as an afterthought?
Religion arose as a way to answer all of those questions, and a thousand more, and then turned back on itself and grew until it was controlling believers (especially women.)

kritiper's avatar

To explain the unexplainable, it’s as simple as that. If you try to think too much into it, it will be too complex to understand.

Dutchess_III's avatar

And that’s the crux. It’s too complicated so lets make it simple. 1.5 million years is unfathomable. 6,000 is much, much easier to grasp.
Evolution is too complicated. It is much easier to grasp that we appeared suddenly, fully and perfectly formed.

seawulf575's avatar

What I find funny is that all of you are missing that you are using the argument that people created gods but that’s not being “religious”. The question was if humans are born religious. My understanding of that was whether man-kind was born recognizing a higher order. The only way to create a higher power (i.e. thunder gods) is to have a belief in a higher power.

kritiper's avatar

@seawulf575 That is a learned trait. We are not born with it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The gods were created as a way to answer the questions we had. From there they looked for ways to stay on the god’s good side. Religion sprung out of that.
I am sure there have always been people who have dismissed the idea of gods. Those people are not religious, but most people were.
It’s one of those things….everybody else is doing it, it must be right.

JLeslie's avatar

@seawulf575 Lightening and earthquakes from the Gods is the same as if you aren’t good the elf on the shelf will tell Santa.

People in power can use these stories to control people. Religion was the government way back in the day. God’s laws to live by, or you get punished.

People like a certain amount of rules to the extent that they want other people in society to behave in a way that is helpful to society. It’s selfish and altruistic all at once. Rules also help us know what is expected, which can help people feel more comfortable and confident and happy.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Correct. Whether it was the initial intended real reason for fabricating these religions, or not, religion quickly became a way of manipulating large amounts of people. Many leaders throughout history even claimed to be divine themselves, or a representative of a religion.

Lies, and fear mongering. It’s worked well for Trump…

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t think that was the original intention either. But the power wound up too hard to resist.

JLeslie's avatar

I think a lot of the reason religion first developed was to comfort people. Going to heaven helped deal with so much death. Infant mortality was ridiculously high, and “young” death in general was high.

Believing there was someone or something you could pray to gave people a feeling of usefulness and control.

Even some rules of etiquette to help through weddings and new babies and grieving.

There are all sorts of examples.

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