I believe you have a mind of your own. I believe a bottle of water can only spinning in one direction at any give time. I believe a bottle of water cannot be full and empty at the same time. I believe that an unsupported bottle of water falls. These beliefs I hold implicitly without cognitive reflection. These beliefs spontaneously develop without special cultural indoctrination. They are maturational natural1 beliefs. Are universal religious2 ideas also maturational natural beliefs?
Preponderance of scientific evidence emerging from cognitive science of religion suggests our answer to this question is yes. Beliefs about the nature and existence of God(s), dualism, afterlife, moral realism &c., are not explicitly cultural indoctrinated ideas. They are intuitive innate implicit beliefs (Bering 2006). Jesse Bering, representing many cognitive scientists, argued that “belief is a ‘cognitive default’ and that, all else being equal, in any given cultural context religious beliefs are driven into expression by a universal, evolved, core set of psychological intuitions present in all normal human brains”(Bering 2010: 167)
Our cognitive faculties have naturally evolved to hold particular mental predispositions. We enter our first day of life with a natural implanted universal cognitive, motivation and perceptual biases. These biases predispose us to foster native instinctive and implicit beliefs of supernatural3. These biases, thus, aid us to effortlessly hold supernatural beliefs.
Disbelief in supernatural, as Norenzayan and Gervais noted, “requires some hard cognitive work to reject or override the intuitions that nourish religious beliefs”(Norenzayan & Gervais 2013: 20). Atheism is psychologically unnatural. Cognitive faculties of a self identified atheists, as a recent study conducted by Heywood and Bering showed, have to persistently struggle against these intuitive beliefs. Bering explained,
In a more recent study [Heywood & Bering, unpublished], self-described British and American atheists were asked a series of quasi-structured interview questions about their own major life events as part of an alleged (i.e., cover) study on autobiographical memory. Many of these individuals’ answers revealed an implicit attribution of teleo-functional, fatalistic purpose to these ‘‘turning points’’ in their lives. A typical example of the atheist’s reasoning in this manner is shown in a response given by a British undergraduate student who considered herself to be an unflinching nonbeliever. One of the most significant events in her life, she said, was failing an important university course and losing her prestigious scholarship. It changed everything. But when she was asked why it happened to her-an ambiguous question that appealed to her poor study habits, challenges at home, or ineptitude as much as anything else-she answered: ‘‘So that I could see that even if I failed a course, my life wouldn’t actually end.’’ This woman is indeed an atheist, in terms of how she identifies herself. And yet like many religious believers, she sees some intrinsic meaning in her personal life events.(2010:167)
Elsewhere Bering also presented empirical evidence that those who explicitly denies life after death implicitly hold that the dead possessed epistemic and emotional states (Bering 2002). Bering stated that “[t]he ‘‘howling discontent of God’’ in atheistic thought is, in fact, an empirically demonstrable phenomenon, referring broadly to the traces of supernatural thinking that can often be found even in the nonbeliever’s representational systems.”(2010:167).
Supporting Bering’s theses is yet another recent study conducted by Marjaan Lindeman, Bethany Heywood, Tapani Riekki and Tommi Makkonen. Their study suggested “that atheists’ explicitly stated beliefs and affective reactions regarding God are of opposite valence”(Lindeman et al 2014: 131). Implicit beliefs can contradict both theists’ and atheists’ explicit beliefs4.
Konika Banerjee and Paul Bloom dissent from these consensus view that individuals lacking spontaneous cultural support of theistic beliefs would automatically come to hold such beliefs. Banerjee and Bloom noted that many cognitive scientists would affirm the idea that individuals raised without exposure to religious ideas would intuitively come to hold beliefs in the nature and existence of God, afterlife, divine creationism &c.,. They, though, argued that we are proned to hold such beliefs. Our cognitive biases make us, they proposed, “’receptive’ to religious ideas, but do not themselves generate them”(Banerjee & Bloom 2013:7).
I believe you have a mind of your own. I believe in God who is the creator of all. It is in my nature to do so. If this is true, then it is the God debate’s game changer. The burden of proof, thus, when it comes to belief in God(s), afterlife, moral realism &c., is not solely on theists’ shoulders. Theists do what is initiative natural. Atheists, on the other hand, ought to bear heavier burden of proof. They have to show that our innate intuitions are false. They have to show that the objects of our natural intuitions do not, in fact, exist.