Are We Hardwired To Believe?
For thousands of years, the belief in a divine power has been seen as a matter of faith. But scientific research has suggested that we may in fact be 'hardwired' to believe in the supernatural, and that divinity is actually down to synaptic firings and chemical reactions within the brain. So how compelling is this evidence, and is belief really just a natural process of the brain that is genetically programmed into each and every one of us?
The argument is that belief could be a basic survival instinct. Professor Bruce Hood, lecturer in developmental psychology at Bristol University, has carried out research into this emotive issue. His findings suggest that we are designed to believe in magic and supernatural entities from birth, possibly to encourage us to work as part of a community and therefore have a better chance of survival. His research looked at the way children's brains develop and he concluded that those with religious tendencies tended to benefit from having a strong belief system and a greater connectivity to their community. As they grew older, logic and rational thought replaced some of those early beliefs, but the fundamental system of 'belief' often then developed into a far more complex religious aspect of their personality.
Professor Hood's findings are supported by other neurological studies that suggest there is evidence linking religious feelings and experiences to certain parts of the brain. Electrical activity in these regions of the brain create a feeling of spirituality, and can offer a possible explanation for such random events as seeing fairies, ghost sightings and even apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
But while science may be able to tell us what's going on in the brain, it cannot offer a full explanation for the sheer range of spiritual experiences that individuals go through, and why we still often turn to a 'God' in times of need or turbulence in our lives. Many of the psychological theories as to why people believe go back to the beginning of the 20th Century and are still vigorously debated today. It is an area of the human experience that we are only just starting to understand.