Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy

    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Is faith or religious belief the result of an instinctive inheritance?

Posted by robertpriddy on April 19, 2018

It has been asserted that there is a ‘religious instinct’, some sense inherited at birth which arises from experiences of ancestors that are passed on in some manner. It is further imagined that this instinct develops into belief in some intelligent motivation which steers nature, the world or human existence. This assertion is clearly made in defence of a religious perspective, whether faith that there is a god (or many gods) who or which is benevolently intentioned.

For something to be an instinct it must be present (at least in a potential form) from birth onwards, it is inherited. There is no known or demonstrable instinctive basis for religious belief, that is entirely guesswork. The baby has an instinct to seek the nipple, but not to cry fro a mother (or father), for that develops later when it learns that the pleasing and stimulating touch and warmth come from a person. There is an instinct to seek pleasure, avoid pain….. religion cannot be inherited in any form whatever, however, but only an impulse to seek those things necessary to the infant’s survival and pleasure. Children grow up into an environment (unless they are deprived) where everything is controlled by their mother, and soon also father. This is not an instinct but a learned understanding, while beliefs are also learned not inborn in any respect. When they mature they realise that their parents are not gods, that their parents’ knowledge is really very limited. Besides, the forces of nature may prove to be anything but beneficially predictable. When the security of protection of mother and father assumes little or no further importance, the priest – wanting to create and if need be enforce social order – and probably gain personal security through power over his group, the spirits of nature, of the ancestors and so on until someone proposes an all-knowing protective (and also punishing) ‘holy spirit’. The assertion that an instinct for religious belief has led us to evolve and prosper flies in the face of humanities’ greatest achievements, understanding evolution and nature, which has had to fight against religious obscurantism tooth and nail. That we divide and conquer is also a result of evolutionary struggle, but religions divide people more than any political ideology… so conflicts arise, sometimes exclusively for religious beliefs (as we are witnessing these days increasingly again).

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