Humans are ‘programmed’ to believe in God and the supernatural, scientific researchers have found.
A study into the way children’s brains develop suggests that beliefs in the supernatural are present from birth.
The findings of Bruce Hood, professor of developmental psychology at Bristol University, challenge the claims of atheists such as Richard Dawkins.
Professor Dawkins’ assertion that religious belief is a result of poor education and ‘indoctrination’ is well known.
Professor Hood said: “Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works.”
Other academics have said that their research supports Prof Hood’s findings.
In the science journal Nature, Washington University anthropologist Professor Pascal Boyer said: “Religious thinking seems to be the path of least resistance for our cognitive systems”.
“By contrast, disbelief is generally the work of deliberate, effortful work against our natural cognitive dispositions — hardly the easiest ideology to propagate.”
Speculating as to why their research showed religious belief to be ‘hardwired’, Prof Hood and his colleagues offered an evolutionary reason.
They suggest that in the past, shared religious beliefs brought social benefits as believers cooperated to ensure mutual survival, while atheist societies lacked such beneficial cohesion.