Wired for God?

Question from Dave:
I’m new to this site so forgive me if I’m asking something that has already been asked. I am of the opinion that religion is genetically programmed into humans from birth. I have a number of reasons for believing this and I’m wondering if this is a topic already covered and if so how do I find it?

Answer by SmartLX:
I don’t think we’ve covered it here yet, so thanks for asking.

Religion per se is not likely “programmed” into humans, but some of our instincts do make it very easy for religion to take root. When we’re young we instinctively keep close to our parents and other adult guardians, follow them, keep them in sight, and importantly trust what they say. This is definitely a good thing because it’s how we learn to look before crossing the road and to keep away from fire, but the content of the message is irrelevant to its impact. If we’re told from a young age by every adult we know that God is watching, we believe it before we have the critical thinking skills to decide whether it’s likely to be true. Once that happens, the belief persists even after the critical thinking starts because God becomes a premise in our thinking rather than a conclusion; it’s simply assumed. It can be very hard for a person in this position to even accept that the assumption can be challenged.

Another way our wiring is very inviting to religious faith is the concept of agency. From the caveman days onward, it’s been important to us to know whether what we see has a deliberate purpose to it. If a patch of long grass isn’t moving like all the rest, there might be a tiger in it. If there are carved rocks and tools on the ground, other humans are nearby and you’re on their turf. Unfortunately this is very easy to mis-apply to phenomena we don’t understand, like the orbit of the moon for cavemen or quantum mechanics for us. We tend to assume that everything with any ordered action to it at all has some agency behind it, and when we know humans can’t be behind it we imagine a sort of uber-human, which is how gods are generally visualised. Learning about science helps to dispel ideas like this, as we discover the natural causes of things that otherwise seem designed.

So while there probably isn’t a God gene or a God lobe, the brain is very well positioned to believe in such things, and religions have taken full advantage to their great benefit.

Gratitude to Nobody

Question from Alexis:
Who do you thank for all of your good fortunes?

Answer by SmartLX:
If someone is actually responsible for something good that happens to me, I try to thank that person or those people, preferably where they can hear me. If not, I don’t thank anyone, because at the risk of stating the obvious I don’t think there’s anyone to thank.

That’s not to say that I don’t feel some sense of gratitude when I’m lucky, and some sense of being hard done by when I’m unlucky. I think we all do. This is most likely because we’re human, and we have such a keen sense of justice and fairness that we subconsciously review our dealings with the natural world the same way we evaluate whether we got a good deal trading sports cards. It’s a lot like how we see faces in clouds and other random patterns because we look so hard for real faces in everyday life; our instincts work overtime in a harmless but very interesting way.

To me, the more interesting question is to believers: who do you blame for your bad fortune? Yourself and other humans for being flawed and sinful, the Devil (or equivalent) for working against God’s plan or God himself for making you flawed and sinful and/or allowing the Devil to work unchecked as part of His arbitrary plan? The answer says a lot about someone’s personal theology.