Underneath the headline ‘We are born to believe in God’ there was an article in The Sunday Times which began:: “Atheism really may be fighting against nature: humans have been hardwired by evolution to believe in God, scientists have suggested. The idea has emerged from studies of the way children’s brains develop… The findings challenge campaigners against organized religion, such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. He has long argued that religious beliefs result from poor education and childhood ‘indoctrination’”.
I can’t comment on the research, but I believe the headline is indeed right: “We are born to believe”. Believing in God is something which is natural – not believing is unnatural. Jean Paul Sartre, the French novelist, was an atheist. But nonetheless he struggled not to believe in God. He wrote: “That God does not exist I cannot deny, but that my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget”.
This innate sense of God is to be found in the fact that we are ‘made in the image of God’ (Gen 1.26, 27). Contrary to what some have suggested, this has nothing to do with us sharing certain physical characteristics with God. Nor is there a reference to our capacity to think and to reason. Rather, the key distinction between animals and humans is that we have been made to relate to God.
As The Creator created a creature that corresponds to him in the sense that there can be communication, there can be a relationship. The image of God has nothing to do with anatomy, it has nothing to do with intellect – it has everything to do with relationships
As Walter Brueggemann, a distinguished American Old Testament scholar, has pointed out, in Genesis 1:
Of all the creatures of God’s eight creative acts, God speaks directly only to human creatures. The others have no speech directed to them at all. By contrast in 1.28 God speaks to the human creatures, and in verse 29 he twice addresses them directly, “you”. This creature has a different, intimate relation with the creator. This is the speech-creature par excellence.
A little later on in the Genesis account, God walks in the garden with Adam and Eve: he talks with them, i.e. he has a relationship with them. Fair enough, we are dealing with pictures here – but nonetheless these pictures communicate truth.
Created in the image of God, we have been made to relate to God. Our true greatness as men and women does not lie in fact that we have split the atom or sent people to the moon – it does not lie in our capacity for self-consciousness or imagination – it lies in the fact that we have been made for God. This is exemplified by fact that no tribe/nation has ever succeeded in finally shaking off conviction that life has a spiritual dimension. Like proverbial elephant, we cannot forget. People may give up on the church, but they still cannot give up on God.
The fact is that we have been created in the image of God, created to love God – and to be loved by him. Without God, life can never be truly fulfilling.
Believing in God is no delusion, it is part of being human. Dawkins has got it wrong. A fellow Oxford Professor, Alister McGrath who is both a theologian and a scientist, has answered Dawkins in his book The Dawkins Delusion. He concludes in his final paragraph:
Dawkins seems to think that saying something more loudly and confidently, while ignoring or trivializing counter-evidence, will persuade the open-minded that religious belief is a type of delusion. Sadly, sociological studies of charismatic leaders – religious and secular – indicate that Dawkins may be right to place some hope in this strategy. For the gullible and credulous, it is the confidence with which something is said that persuades, rather than the evidence offered it its support. Yet the fact that Dawkins relies so excessively on rhetoric, rather than the evidence that would otherwise be his natural stock in trade, clearly indicates that something is wrong with his case. Ironically, the ultimate achievement of The God Delusion for modern atheism may be to suggest that this emperor has no clothes to wear. Might atheism be a delusion about God?
That’s a thought!