Monday, August 17, 2015

Why Do People "Believe?"

Recent surveys show that some 47% of Americans believe the biblical six-day account of creation. Additionally, some 70% believe in the existence of a "higher power" (God).

Interestingly, the latest data also show that more than 20% of the population is composed of atheists and agnostics. Many of these non-believers, in defense of their science-based position, contend that "believers" are either undereducated or incapable of critical thinking. Of course, this explanation is woefully simplistic because there are many intelligent, well-educated people who have a proud commitment to their "faith." This apparent divergence leads one to wonder if there might be a scientifically plausible basis for this condition.

Many of our implanted genetic inclinations have histories that reach back to the earliest days of humanoid evolution. And some are quite irrational. Primitive man's primary directive for survival led him to create supporting corollaries that also appear in our DNA. Bad experiences, such as being attacked at night by unseen predators, led to an inbred fear of darkness. Lack of understanding of the laws governing our environment, especially weather phenomena, led man to create deities for the sun, wind, rain, lightning, and other awesome events. Over time, belief in these extra-terrestrials became imperatives that were firmly impressed in our DNA.

The deities were sometimes benevolent (providing him a bountiful catch), and at other times worked against him (leaving him hungry). All too often the lords of his universe were angry and ways were sought to appease them. He made offerings, gave a share of his bounty or items that were valuable to him. In extreme circumstances he would even sacrifice his children. These supplications were thought to sometimes work (although in a highly random fashion). Regular rituals evolved with the erection of temples dedicated to the more powerful deities. And over the span of two million years of existence, our DNA has continued to be replenished and reinforced with the need to appease these gods. The "faith" imperative of unseen gods has obviously followed man wherever he went, as evidenced by its prominence in our contemporary genetic makeup.

Since the Age of Reason descended upon humanity some 500 years ago, many previously unexplained phenomena have been shown to obey newly revealed laws of science—be it physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, anthropology or mathematics. These advances have come into direct conflict with literally held biblical beliefs—especially in the account of creation. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution crashed headlong into the beliefs of biblical fundamentalists and many of them see him as their "anti-Christ."

Ironically, those who have inherited the strongest strain of the "supreme being" DNA strand are those most dedicated to opposing Darwin's theory. They steadfastedly reject the very explanation that could rationally explain the illogic of their rigid beliefs. In defense of their convictions, they attack any branch of science that might challenge their beliefs. This lack of understanding, just as in their primitive ancestors, has caused them to create a new "god," one of anti-science.

Evolutionary biologists have observed that even relatively recent ancestral experience can influence our hereditary imperatives. With the continued reinforcement of the "God" belief in a majority of the population, it doesn't appear that the need to have at least one deity will disappear any time soon.