I haven’t yet read this study, but it’s just come out and is being publicized all over the place. It’s an Oxford University Study on the pervasiveness of religious belief. As CNN reports:
Religion comes naturally, even instinctively, to human beings, a massive new study of cultures all around the world suggests.
“We tend to see purpose in the world,” Oxford University professor Roger Trigg said Thursday. “We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can’t see it. … All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking.”
Trigg is co-director of the three-year Oxford-based project, which incorporated more than 40 different studies by dozens of researchers looking at countries from China to Poland and the United States to Micronesia.
Studies around the world came up with similar findings, including widespread belief in some kind of afterlife and an instinctive tendency to suggest that natural phenomena happen for a purpose.
“Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways,” such as believing in God’s omniscience, said Trigg. But adults also jumped first for explanations that implied an unseen agent at work in the world, the study found.
Well, that’s not a huge surprise, is it? And, as Trigg noted, it says nothing about whether or not there really are gods. It speaks to me only of human credulity—a credulity easily understood as a result of wish-thinking, fear of death, and the need to see agency in a cruel and chaotic world.
And children find it easy to think in religious ways? Children are especially credulous, and have probably evolved to be that way, for they have to absorb knowledge from their parents. But they’re no more credulous about God than they are about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. There’s nothing special about children “being able to think in religious ways.” It’s indoctrination, pure and simple!
But look how the results of this study are characterized by Trigg (via CNN; I quote in extenso):
Famed secularist Richard “Dawkins would accept our findings and say we’ve got to grow out of it,” Trigg argued.
But people of faith could argue that the universality of religious sentiment serves God’s purpose, the philosophy professor said.
“Religious people would say, ‘If there is a God, then … he would have given us inclinations to look for him,'” Trigg said.
The blockbuster study may not take a stance on the existence of God, but it has profound implications for religious freedom, Trigg contends.
“If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests,” Trigg said.
“There is quite a drive to think that religion is private,” he said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. “It isn’t just a quirky interest of a few, it’s basic human nature.”
“This shows that it’s much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted. It’s got to be reckoned with. You can’t just pretend it isn’t there,” he said.
And the Oxford study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, strongly implies that religion will not wither away, he said.
“The secularization thesis of the 1960s – I think that was hopeless,” Trigg concluded.
That’s hogwash. As we can see from the tremendous secularization of the world over the past few centuries, especially in Europe, it is not impossible for religion to wither. The pervasiveness of a belief gives no warrant that that belief will be with us forever. Look how pervasive, only a century ago, was the idea that women were second-class citizens. This was true in nearly every society. Ditto for gays and ethnic minorities. And look how attitudes have changed! Granted, women, for instance, still get the short end of the stick, but in many parts of the world they’re much better off. Most of us now realize that people should be treated as equals, regardless of gender, color, and sexual orientation. That would have been inconceivable a few hundred years ago.
Let’s just tinker a bit with Trigg’s statement:
“If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature as the idea that women are inferior, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests,” Trigg said. . “The female-equality hypothesis of the 1960s—I think that is hopeless.”
The rush to derive religion-friendly conclusions from this kind of data reminds me of Elaine Ecklund and her hopeless quest to prove that scientists are really way more religious than they seem. Like Trigg, she draws conclusions that extend far beyond the data.
Now, guess who funded Trigg and Barrett’s religion study at Oxford? They were given 1.9 million pounds for it.
I’ll give you one try, and if you can’t get it in one guess, you haven’t been reading this website.
Yes, that particular organization paid two million pounds to find out the obvious: religion is pervasive. But what it was really buying was the researchers’ claim that pervasiveness implies permanence—and perhaps correctness.
For more on the antiscience agenda of the Templeton Foundation, see Salty Current‘s post.
h/t: Miranda “Holy Rabbit” Hale