The claims are often made by some that we humans are inherently religious, that deep belief in the supernatural is our default state and that it is somehow wrong to struggle against our most innate tendencies in a futile effort to reject our nature. It is easy to see why religious types would advance this position. But this idea is intentionally or unintentionally suggested as well by some scientists whose research or comments are eagerly picked up and put forth by believers as evidentiary testimonials, whether or not the particular scientific work cited intended to go that far or not.
However, whether merely mistaken rationalizations, exaggerated misinterpretations, or erroneous conclusions, this is not a view shared by everyone, particularly not by this author. It is obvious why religious believers would promote this assertion, but less clear how some scientists could support it even indirectly. It is simply unreasonable to imagine that early humans could have survived without an extremely “scientific” relationship with the natural world. A tiger is a tiger regardless of what one might choose to believe about it. In fact, Dr. Carl Sagan dedicated an entire segment in his “Cosmos” series to dispelling this myth, pointing out how, of existential necessity, early humans had to be highly fact-based in examining spoor or animal tracks, for example, and determining the best course of action to avoid danger or to hunt for food.
Our brains, as essentially pattern-recognition machines, have indeed evolved to err on the side of false positives. That is, we are more likely to survive if we imagine a tiger in the trees even when none exists. And this is likely the key underlying mechanism that enables us to believe in far more fantastic ideas, like a god in the heavens when none exists. While our penchant for imagining has benefits, it also makes us susceptible to the cancerous, even malignant, development of delusional religious beliefs, and it does not mean that those beliefs are either inevitable or desirable.
Many believers and some scientists correctly identify our predilection for false positive pattern recognition and then incorrectly conflate susceptibility with desirability. They ignore the scale and scope of the beliefs as well. It would be like correctly pointing out that we humans have a susceptibility to infection, and then concluding that systemic ebola infections, or debilitating religious delusions, must therefore be a natural and desirable state.
And just as with other infectious agents, some of us are more susceptible than others to infection by beliefs. Some of us are easily infected while others are outright immune to them. But most of us have some degree of immunity. Still, given a high enough dosage in the right environment for a long enough period of time and most of us will succumb to religious belief eventually.
In point of fact, churches and other organized religions have to expend a huge amount of resources and effort to “infect” their flocks with their beliefs. They must begin intensive exposure efforts at a vulnerably young age, over a very long period of time to finally succeed at spreading their infections. Even then it does not always hold and our natural belief immunity systems often resist. This dramatically refutes the idea that belief is natural and unavoidable.
Belief simply is not our natural default state nor is it a desirable one. It is purely a social construct that exploits low level vulnerability in our natural belief immune systems. As such, all it takes to eliminate religion is to stop promoting it–and isolating and treating those that suffer from it like we do measles or polio.