Why Humans Want to Believe


A listener reached out to me with a question regarding why belief in a deity seems to be a “default position” that most people take. Some apologists use this as an argument for the truthfulness of their belief. They posit that people are born “knowing God” or at least “knowing an afterlife” or “wanting something more.”

They use this as evidence for belief in theism being the default position.

For starters, this is attempting to touch on a common fallacy built upon the idea that “because a lot of people think this way, it’s more likely to be true.” Even if it were evidence, it’d be poor evidence. But I shall address the thought anyway.

The truth is, consciousness, ethics, guilt, and dreams combined to create theistic beliefs in early humans. It is believed that early man likely fought to the death for control of the family, just like most mammals fight to control their herd. Upon the realization of morality, compassion, and ethical treatment, it is likely that a young adult male killed his father or older brother for control of the group, and then felt guilt.

He likely had dreams, remembering his father after death, leading to the belief in the supernatural afterlife. There are clear examples of Neanderthals performing rituals and burials for their dead over 50,000 years ago. This doesn’t lead to any truthfulness of a religion, it simply leads to an anthropological explanation of the evolution of belief in the metaphysical.

Moreover, there is an instinct in most mammals to stay close to parents immediately after birth. How does a new born deer know the difference between her mother and a lion? She has no mirrors. She just knows mom means safety.

The same is true for most other mammals. But for the (arguably) most intelligent primate, figuring out that there is no greater protection is a little hard to swallow. We still have this vestigial need for something greater to protect and watch over us, even when we know better.

This instinct to look for something greater than ourselives is a survival instinct seeking parental approval and protection. It has nothing to do with the truthfulness of any god. You combine that perceived need with the guilt, ethics, and detailed dreams and imagination of the powerful human brain, then you have the reasons theism feels like a natural default position. This is not evidence that any particular belief is truer than others, it’s only evidence to show why man created gods; instead of the other way around.