Posted by: grokscience | March 9, 2011

Belief Instinct

The belief in god or a supernatural power permeates all of human civilization.  How does such a belief arise from the normal biology of the human mind?  On this program, Jesse Bering discussed the belief instinct.

The 7th sense? 😉




  1. Kudos to Drs Frank, Charles and Elise. I practice general medicine here in the Philippines and finding your show did closed (in a way) the technological gap (in medicine and other disciplines) between our regions. My recordings of your shows, going way back, proved very interesting and practical not only to me but to medical students as well. Your dedication to SCIENCE is inspiring. I believe that “our” show will definitely last.

  2. I wonder if there’s any study that shows believers are more moral than non believers. I tend to think the non believers would be better toward others than believers. I’d rather get in the taxi with a driver who has science posters than cross / crescent / etc hanging from the mirror.

    Bad things have been done throughout history with God as justification or false belief that God is on their side. Even today, biggest reason they give for terrorism is for their God. I read somewhere that there are more religious people in prisons than in general population. Of course, all these are just anecdotes, but it does seem to suggest belief in God doesn’t necessarily make for more moral person.

    I read a summary of divorce research that suggested atheist have the lowest rate of divorce. My take on it is that atheist who marry do so out of their own free will and like/love of their partner. But theist often place their marriage for the love of their god, even if they may not have deep feelings for the other person. Somewhat simplistic, yes, but I do wonder if there are instances that this happens.

    But let’s take a person who doesn’t commit crimes and he is non believer. He might be inclined to fear the consequences of his actions and tread carefully since he doesn’t believe in afterlife and god that will take care of him after death. But for the believer, he may do terrible things to others in serving his god. Abraham trying to kill his son (Jacob?) because he thought god commanded him to do so comes to mind. Then there are terrorist who blow themselves up in serving their god. Nonbelievers would behave for the better in corporeal world.

    If the nonbeliever behaves well even in absence of punishment, he is morally superior to a believer who may behave well for the sake of serving their god and getting rewarded. For example, if a nonbeliever donates his time to charity, he is a better person for it as there is no afterlife reward. For a believer, it’s hard to tell if he is doing charity for the sake of his own reward. Believer might be just as good natured as the nonbeliever. But his dogma gets in the way of knowing his true intentions.

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