Humans have two distinct properties of mind that make them believe in a God.
One, the belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body. This is a default setting.
Second, an “overdeveloped sense of cause and effect”.
In many different experiments, from many angles, it seems human brain is wired to believe in God. Basically two ingredients are prominent as noted above.. (1) that everything has a purpose and there is a design to everything and (2) the origin of that purpose and design is outside “us” (mind and body).
As a person grows, interestingly a shift occurs in the dimension of your religious faith – from centrality of supernatural to centrality of moral dimension. But, importantly, the studies say that Religion and God does remain intact in human mind from cradle to grave… whatever the apparent dimension of it in different stages.
I am sure the Atheists will say that this is not true of them. I love the way Jesse Bering of Queen’s University Belfast, UK put it. Jesse did an experiment in pre-school kids with a puppet show.
Petrovich adds that even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking. Bering has seen this too. When one of his students carried out interviews with atheists, it became clear that they often tacitly attribute purpose to significant or traumatic moments in their lives, as if some agency were intervening to make it happen. “They don’t completely exorcise the ghost of god – they just muzzle it,” Bering says.
Some people approach this question of belief in God or otherwise in other ways. Like in this “This I believe” episode on NPR, Penn Jillette tries to draw the distinction between atheist – who “do not believe in God” – to his belief – that “there is no God” . In my eyes, of course, the difference is minor – both are beliefs nevertheless.
An honest person when asked about the presence of God or otherwise will say “I don’t know – and I don’t want to start with a going-in assumption either way”. And that is an acceptable and a bold answer.
But humans rarely ever come to this territory without the crutches of a belief or humility! It just makes them feel better. So, Penn shares his reason for his belief (reasoning that gives his belief some meaning – given his environment.. Christian based where only one person had the right to forgive everyone for whatever one does, only for some emotional or temporal bribe.!)
Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.
As I have pointed out above, honesty demands we start from a humble admission of “I don’t know”.. and not come to a conclusion just becauase I have to. Rather, let the enquiry continue to a point where it can help us down a path of sieving out the “not true”‘s from the “I don’t knows”. Socrates put it very beautifully in this piece :
Socrates: I think I am. I shouldn’t like to take my oath on the whole story, but one thing I am ready to fight for as long as I can, in word and act — that is, that we shall be better, braver, and more active men if we believe it right to look for what we don’t know than if we believe there is no point in looking because what we don’t know we can never discover.
A national poll, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation in 2004 gave an interesting set of answers. The results by percentage of respondents gives an intriguing story:
- % Americans who believe in God: 92
- % Americans who believe in Heaven: 85 [Note: Notice more people believe in God than in heaven or Miracles. Wonder what role do those 7% and 10% of responders respectively assign to the “Old Man in the Skies”?? lol]
- % Americans who believe in Miracles: 82
- % Americans who believe in Devil: 63% (1997) to 71% (2004) [Note: What a difference a change in Presidency (Clinton to Bush) could bring in the US!! lol]
- % Americans who believe in Ghosts: 34
- % Americans who believe in UFOs: 34
- % Americans who believe in astrology: 29
- % Americans who believe in reincarnation: 24
The young in America believe in more negative stuff than as they get older:
Young people are much more likely than older Americans to believe in both hell and the devil. An 86 percent majority of adults between the ages of 18 to 34 believe in hell, but that drops to 68 percent for those over age 70. Similarly, 79 percent of young people believe in the devil compared to 67 percent of the over-70 age group.
So, back to the question – Do you believe in God or you “don’t know” in the sense of “I don’t want to start with any assumptions”?? Probably, if you are as human as these researchers point out most humans are.. the difference may be moot anyways 🙂
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