Blogging heads TV has a great discussion between Paul Bloom (Yale University, author of Descarte’s Baby), and Joshua Knobe (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill): The big booming voice inside you that says God exists
The gist of their discussion is that religion is a biological accident. As a result of our evolutionary heritage, human beings are natural creationists and natural dualists. The evidence for this comes from studies in young children, who suffer promiscuous teleology (everything has a purpose, nothing just exists for its own purpose). So, for example, a child would say that a mountain is there for a purpose (it’s for climbing, perhaps). The purpose of a lion might be that it gives you something to look at when you visit a zoo.
Bloom also makes the point that children as young as 12 months have an inherent belief that order can only be created by animated (intentional) objects, whereas disorder can come from animate or inanimate objects. In other words, we are programmed to attribute intentionality. As a result, creationism is intuitive, whereas natural selection is profoundly counter intuitive.
They also claim that children – even those of secular parents – are also programmed to assume that ‘god made it’. But this I think reflects a cultural bias. These studies were done in the US, where almost everyone is religious (at least on the outside). I’m sure if they asked my children where the world came from, they would not say “God did it”!
They finish by concluding that, even in atheists, there is a ‘loud booming voice’ in your head pushing you to believe in god (when you look up at the night sky, for example). And they agree on this even they are both atheists themselves. Bloom says something to the effect that, even though the rational 2% of your mind is probably right, the other 98% is a relic from our evolutionary past. I disagree with them on this point also, and that they feel this way makes me suspect that they come from religious families. I suspect that people brought up in a secular or atheist environment seldom have a ‘god exists’ feeling. Feelings of awe and wonder, yes, but falling for the god delusion? I doubt it.
The whole program covers a range of other, related topics. Well worth digging in.