Justin Barrett – Why Would Anyone Believe in God? – Veritas at UC Davis

Justin L. Barrett.is Director of the Thrive Center for Human Development, Thrive Professor of Developmental Science, and Professor of Psychology at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology. He previously held a post as senior researcher of the Centre for Anthropology and Mind and The Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. Barrett is described in the New York Times as a „prominent member of the byproduct camp” and „an observant Christian who believes in “an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God who brought the universe into being,” [and] “that the purpose for people is to love God and love each other.” He considers that “Christian theology teaches that people were crafted by God to be in a loving relationship with him and other people, Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them. “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me — should I then stop believing that she does?”

Here is just one quote from his work: „There is actually a growing body of research that suggests that we have this tendency to see design and purpose all over the place from very young ages”.

Contrast this with * Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Below you will find the video and extensive notes from this very fascinating lecture from the Veritas Forum,  where you can find more apologetics resources.

Intro: The cognitive science of religion

Justin Barrett: I would like to give a broad brushstrokes introduction to the cognitive science of religion, an area that I’ve ben working in the last 15 years. (Main audience is comprised of students taking UC’s Psychology of Religion course).

Why religion is natural, science is not. „Religion like technology arises in every human culture. Religion is a universal phenomenon among human groups, which may well have existed from very nearly the emergence of our species in prehistory”. (McCauley p.149) WHY?

This year, if you keep your eyes on Amazon and so forth, you’ll see that there have been a number of books in this area. It’s getting hot and not just with psychologists and cognitive scientists and anthropologists and comparative religionists, but, also with philosophers and theologians who are starting to wonder, „What is this stuff all about?”  And, really what these scholars are trying to address is a pretty obvious phenomena once you bring it out. And that is: „Why is it that wherever you go , whatever culture you’re in, maybe even whatever historical epoch you are in, there are religious people. And not just a few.

A 1999 Gallup Survey International suggests that upwards of 90% of the world’s population today believe in some kind of a god or supernatural force, let alone historically. This is a pervasive thing that people believe in gods of one sort or another. Why is too, that  children seem to be especially receptive to religious ideas? They pick it up very easily and very naturally.

Here’s a quote from Paul Bloom, Developmental Psychiatrist at Yale University (from Michael Brooks’ article in the New Scientist in Feb 7, 2009 issue: Would a group of children raised in isolation spontaneously create their own religious beliefs?  „I think the answer is yes”. (p 33) WHY ?

Causes and reasons are important when we are talking about belief.

Reasons vs. Causes of belief

  • All thoughts and beliefs have causes: biological, psychological, evolutionary, social
  • But we can still have good reasons for beliefs: experiences, intuition, scientific evidence, logical arguments, testimony of authority, etc.
  • Focus here will be on causes

All beliefs have causes. All ideas have causes. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have good reasons or bad reasons for those beliefs and ideas. I want to give you a scientific account as to why it is that people tend to believe in gods. At the end we might  start thinking about how those causes matter to whether or not such beliefs are reasonable. But, I want to be clear that those are two separate issues.

The first hat I want to put on is my scientist hat.

The naturalness of religion thesis

„People are disposed to generate and accept religious ideas because of how their minds naturally work in common human environments.” This is not just my idea. This is a convergent idea that many researchers and myself are coming to.  The claim here is, we all, by virtue of being human beings, living in a common world, all have certain kinds of cognitive equipment that develops. Psychological machinery. That predisposes us toward generating or accepting religious ideas. That’s why religious ideas are so recurrent. At least one of the reasons or causes as to why.

There is a sub variety of this thesis. A different wrinkle that I have been emphasizing lately, which I call:

The born believers thesis 

click „More” to read the notes from the entire lecture.

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