Argument from Innate Religious instinct page 1

Arguments for the Existence of God
by Metacrock - edited by JMT
Used with Permission

Argument From Innate Religious Instinct.


A. Religious Belief is Transcultural Experience
1) Atheists' Theories of Religious origin outmoded.
2) Religious Belief Does not Serve as Explanation.
3) Humans Always exhibited Religious Tendencies.

B. Religion born out of sense of Numinous
1) Sense of Higher Presence is Universal Human Experience.
2) The Origin of Religion is in The Sense of The Holy.
a) Criticisms are Based upon the Primitive.
b) the Sophisticated Version.
C. Humans Fit to Be Religious

D. Answering Objections

The argument actually says that the fact of a religious species is far too coincidental to be merely the product of random chance. Why would it be that we are fit to be religious, that it is our instinct and our way of life? That would indicate that an object of religious devotion designed religiosity into humans. In summation the following factors indicate that religiosity is part of human nature:

a) Historical Tendency:

The vast Majority of Humans have been religious as far back as we have evidence of humanity (50,000 years) [see above A. 3]

b) Believers have always been in the vast numerical majority.

This is not an appeal to popularity. This is an argument about behavior which indicates an innate condition. Almost 90% currently of world population are religious believers in some sense.

c) Transcultural

When anthropologists see a behavior that transcends culture they assume it is innate. There has never been a culture that was atheistic. Every culture we have ever seen or found traces of on earth going back as far as we can has been religious in some way.

d) Even in cultures such as China where the government attempted eradication of religious belief there are still 51% religious and many more undecided but not "anti-"religious

e) Physical fitness for religion

Our bodies work better when we are religious, it is the major factor in health and far more of a motivator than any other trigger of the Placebo effect [see above C.3]

f) Archetypes Universal

Archetypes are natural part of the human psyche (see the next argument). Also see Jesus Christ and Mythology page II. Archetypes are psychological symbols which point to transcendent ideal beyond the material realm. Studies show that they are natural to all people and emerge under a broad variety of psychological techniques. Maslow says that they are found among all people using ever technique of psychoanalysis. [above B.3]

g) Psychologically fit for religion

Psychological factors, religious believers have far less depression and incidence of mental illness so the human mind works best when religious. [above C]

h) Transformative power

IF the appeal of the argument were merely popularity, it would not turn on things other than popularity. Obviously these reasons I'm giving here are not popularity. But, the transformative power of religious experience is another aspect of the argument which proves that it' not merely an appeal to popularity. Religious experience transforms lives, it gives people life affirming experiences which makes them better as people and makes life worth living. Not all psychological factors are capable of doing that. We are so constituted as a species that we respond to these experiences in such a way that they do transform our lives. That proves that we are fit to be religious, and that is not an appeal to popularity.[see also point C above on psychological normality and self actualization]

i) Brain wave patterns

Brain wave patterns are changed by religious experience. We go from Alpha waves to Beta and to other levels of Brain wave patterns when we have these experiences.

j) "God pod" (God module in the brain)

Scientists have identified a cluster of neurons in the brain which, when stimulated, produce feelings of ecstasy and thoughts about God and the transcendent. This is too great a coincidence that nature would just produce this by random chance, especially when taken together with all the other ways in which we are fit to be religious. It's an evidence of design, we are made to be a religious species.

k) Sense of the Numinous universal

The Argument

[see above point B]

V. Religious Belief is Normative for Human Nature

Note: Normative does not mean "normal" it means to set the standard. The distinction being that it is not a mere insult that the unbeliever is abnormal, but it is a statement that religious belief is the standard given human nature and it does not have to be justified. We are fit to be religious. Our basic nature as humans is "designed" to cause us to seek God. We are made to be religious belief requires no further justification.

This argument is going to be misinterpreted. The atheists always try to say that this argument is an appeal to popularity. They always mistake it for saying that religion is popular, therefore, it is true. This is not what is being said at all. It is an argument about historical tendencies illustrating human nature, please pay careful attention to how it is argued. More on this objection at the bottom.

A. Religious Belief is a Transcultural Experience

There has never been a culture that was not religious. To say this another way, never at any time in human history has any culture ever been atheistic. All cultures have always been religious. As far back as Neanderthal, we find artifacts which imply religious concepts and thoughts of after life.

1) Atheists' Theories of Religious Origin outmoded

Since Religious belief Transcends culture it is not a mere product of culture. If religion was merely cultural, it would probably be the case that some culture at some point would have been atheistic, but none ever has been. The favorite Atheistic explanation for the origin of religion is the outmoded structural functionalist approach form the 19th century. This Notion argues that if something exists in social structure it is because it serves a function toward the promotion of the structure. But this is a theory designed to rule out religion to begin with. It is based upon the assumption of reductionism, that everything can be reduced to mere social function. Many atheists on the internet often through in the idea that religion was "invented" for the purpose of keeping social order. But this is empirically not true.

2) Religious Belief Does not Serve as Explanation
Are Religious Beliefs Explanations?
Norman Lillegard

"...Scientific explanations get started generally with hypotheses (at least on a Popperian account) which are then put to various tests in attempts to get independent evidence for the explicans. Now there surely is something quite odd in the suggestion that such a religious belief as that God created the universe, or guides its development, is in any way a hypothesis. This belief is normally acquired in "dogmatic" contexts, it is not held in a tentative fashion, and its function in a believer's life is, arguably, quite distinct from the function of hypotheses, and thus of explanations, in the lives of scientists. Does this show that religion and science simply bypass one another? Perhaps. It will no doubt be argued that even if religious beliefs are not hypotheses they still have a definite cognitive content, are true or false, and thus are capable of contradicting scientific claims. To deny this would seem to be tantamount to endorsing some kind of emotivism with respect to religious belief, and in fact suspicions of emotivism have undoubtedly contributed to what I think are premature dismissal of Wittgensteinian approaches in the philosophy of religion. ... I will argue that the dynamics of belief change in the sciences and in religion are distinct in ways that support the idea that religious beliefs do not generally function as hypotheses or indeed function as explanations at all."

3) Humans Have always exhibited religious tendency.

Evolution of Modern Humans

The Biological and Cultural Evolution
of Archaic and Modern Homo sapiens
Dennis O'Neil, Ph.D.
Palomar College
San Marcos, California


"The Cro-Magnon people of Europe regularly decorated their tools and sculpted small pieces of stone, bone, antler, and tusks. Necklaces, bracelets, and decorative pendants were made of bone, teeth, and shell. Cave walls were often painted with naturalistic scenes of animals. Clay was also modeled occasionally. From our culture's perspective, these symbolic and naturalistic representations would be referred to as art. However, that is an ethnocentric projection. For the Cro-Magnon who made this art, it was very likely thought of as being something different, or at least much more, than we think of as art. For instance, it may have had magical and/or religious functions." "Upper Paleolithic European art began by at least 35,000 years ago and became intense 15,000-10,000 years ago. Perhaps, the most prominent portable art was in the form that has become known as Venus figurines . These were small carvings of women that could fit into the hand. They were not portraits but rather faceless idealized representations of well fed, healthy, usually pregnant women with large buttocks and breasts. Because of these exaggerated sexual characteristics, they are thought by most paleoanthropologists to be ritual objects symbolizing female fertility. Many of these stylized carvings are reminiscent of modern abstract art. Venus figurines were made from 27,000 years ago down to the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, from Western Europe all of the way to Siberia."

"The Cro-Magnon people are, perhaps, most well known for their paintings on the walls of caves. Although, this cave art is most abundant in southwest France and northern Spain, it was made elsewhere as well. With the cave art, we see the first large scale, concrete symbols of human thoughts, feelings, and perhaps even beliefs about the supernatural. Over 150 Western European caves have been found with these ice age paintings on their walls."

"Most of this cave art was made deep inside caves, in hard to get to dark areas with good acoustical qualities. It is assumed that because of the locations, these areas were very likely sacred and that the art was inspired by concerns with the supernatural. The majority of the figures are herd animals, many of which are shown either wounded or pregnant. A number of paleoanthropologists have suggested that the artists were most likely performing imitative (or sympathetic) hunting and fertility magic. This would have been particularly important when this art was at its peak in sophistication since at that time (ca. 15,000-10,000 B.P.), the last ice age was winding down and the herds of game animals were dying out and moving away to the north. Some of the animals depicted in the caves were predators rather than prey--e.g., cave bears and lions. Drawing and painting them may have been a way of obtaining protection from these dangerous creatures or even a way of taking on their ferociousness and skill to increase human hunting success."

Neanderthals: A Cyber Perspective


"In the same humanly manner that Neanderthals cared for their disabled companions, they also buried their dead. "Neanderthals were not credited with deliberate meaningful burial of their dead until more than a half-century after their discovery" (Constable 1965:97). This "betrays a keen self-awareness and a concern for the human spirit" (Leaky and Lewin 1977:125). Their grave sites were intentional, and many have been found in different areas in Europe and the Near East. Neanderthal interments have humanistic and ritualistic elements, with the cadaver placed in a sleeping or fetal position, with the head facing west and the feet pointing east. A few remains have been found with fauna placed in the hands or the body, along with red ocher, a colored pigment possibly used for symbolic ritual. Some Neanderthals were buried together, meaning that entire kin groups remained united after death."

"One of the most fascinating and controversial burial sites is the Shanidar Cave. The remains there, called Shanidar IV, were carefully placed in the fetal position on a rough bedding of woven woody horsetail, a type of local plant. According to the pollen samples taken, this Neanderthal was interred with several different species of flowers. "From the orderly distribution of grains around the fossil remains, there is no question that the flowers were arranged deliberately and did not simply topple into the grave, as believed, as the body was being covered" (Leaky and Lewin 1977:125). Apparently, the family and friends of the deceased gathered these distinct species of flowers, carried them to the grave, and carefully placed them on the body. Some of the flower specimens found with Shanidar IV were yarrow, cornflowers, St. Barnaby's thistle, groundsel, grape hyacinths, woody horsetail, and a kind of mallow. Many of these have medicinal qualities which "range from relief from toothache and inflammation to uses as poultices and for spasm" (Solecki 1971:249). According to Solecki, "one may speculate that the individual was not only a very important man, a leader, but may have been a kind of medicine man or shaman in his group" (Shreeve 1995:53). From this analysis it is likely that the "Shanidar people were aware of at least some of the medicinal properties of the flowers is not unlikely" (Leaky and Lewin 1977:125)."

Leaky, Richard and Roger Lewin. 1977 Origins. New York: E.P. Dutton.

B. Religion Arises Out of a Sense of the Numinous

1) Sense of higher presence universal human experience

William James, Verities of Religious Experience (The Gilford Lectures)


"It is as if there were in the human consciousness a sense of reality, a feeling of objective presence, a perception of what we may call 'something there,' more deep and more general than any of the special and particular 'senses' by which the current psychology supposes existent realities to be originally revealed. If this were so, we might suppose the senses to waken our attitudes and conduct as they so habitually do, by first exciting this sense of reality; but anything else, any idea, for example, that might similarly excite it, would have that same prerogative of appearing real which objects of sense normally possess. So far as religious conceptions were able to touch this reality-feeling, they would be believed in spite of criticism, even though they might be so vague and remote as to be almost unimaginable, even though they might be such non-entities in point of whatness, as Kant makes the objects of his moral theology to be. The most curious proofs of the existence of such an undifferentiated sense of reality as this are found in experiences of hallucination..... "

2) The Origin of Religion in the Sense of the Holy

Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) produced his own notion of the religious a priori based upon the experience of the numinous or the Holy. This sense "combines both rational and non-rational elements. In his book The Idea of The Holy "Otto saw the origin of religion in what he called the mysterium tremendum et fascinans...some particular experience, usually for primitive people some confrontation with natural forces, but for the more sophisticated some depth of personal relationship, where simultaneously one is both attracted and repelled by a sense of awe..." [R. Jones "Numinous" Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology..(405)]

a) Criticisms based on the primitive

This is apt to be taken as a disproof by internet atheists. The argument would say that the sense of awe at encountering the holy is merely the fear of the unknown experienced by primitive people. While it no doubt does contain that, the argument is merely reifying the experience. First, it is centered upon a prejudice against primitive people; O, they don't have science so how can they know anything? Secondly, it is reducing the experience to an alleged counter causality which we have no right to do. The "primitive" who intuits a sense of awe is taken for a dummy who is only frightened by the thunder. But that is merely modernist prejudice. Primitive people know what thunder is, the encounter it all the time, it is the added element of what they attach to nature that the sense in thunder (or whatever the case may be) so there is an added dimension that we are reducing and losing in the "explanation" (and explanation which is just ideologically based).

b) the Sophisticated version

In more developed world religions there is a more "sophisticated" sense of the holy that derives from a host of things, including ritual, the sense of the numinous that obtains to holy ritual, doctrine and understanding. This may contain a sense of personal relationship with the Divine. Again, while the explanation of it may be culturally conditioned, the experiencing of the thing itself must be taken on its own terms. We cannot say, without getting into the consciousness of the believer, that a particular believer has not had a particular experience.

3) Religion as the Externalization of the Archetypical

Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences Abraham H. Maslow
Appendix I. An Example of B-Analysis

Maslow talks about the psychological necessity of being able to maintain a transformative symbology. He is not merely saying that we should do this, but that we do it, it is universal and through many different techniques and psychological schools of thought he shows that this has been gleaned over and over again. What Jung called the Archetypes are universal symbols of transformation which we understand in the unconscious, and we must be able to hold them in proper relation to the mundane (the Sacred and the Profane) in order to enjoy healthy growth, or we stagnate and become pathological. It is crucial to human psychology to maintain this balance. Far from merely being stupid and not understanding science, striving to explain a pre-Newtonian world, the primitives understood this balance and held it better than we do. Religious belief is crucial to our psychological well being, and this fact far more than social order or the need for explanation explains the origins of religion.


"For practically all primitives, these matters that I have spoken about are seen in a more pious, sacred way, as Eliade has stressed, i.e., as rituals, ceremonies, and mysteries. The ceremony of puberty, which we make nothing of, is extremely important for most primitive cultures. When the girl menstruates for the first time and becomes a woman, it is truly a great event and a great ceremony; and it is truly, in the profound and naturalistic and human sense, a great religious moment in the life not only of the girl herself but also of the whole tribe. She steps into the realm of those who can carry on life and those who can produce life; so also for the boy's puberty; so also for the ceremonies of death, of old age, of marriage, of the mysteries of women, the mysteries of men. I think that an examination of primitive or preliterate cultures would show that they often manage the unitive life better than we do, at least as far as relations between the sexes are concerned and also as between adults and children. They combine better than we do the B and the D, as Eliade has pointed out. He defined primitive cultures as different from industrial cultures because they have kept their sense of the sacred about the basic biological things of life.

"We must remember, after all, that all these happenings are in truth mysteries. Even though they happen a million times, they are still mysteries. If we lose our sense of the mysterious, or the numinous, if we lose our sense of awe, of humility, of being struck dumb, if we lose our sense of good fortune, then we have lost a very real and basic human capacity and are diminished thereby."

"Now that may be taken as a frank admission of a naturalistic psychological origin, except that it involves a universal symbology which is not explicable through merely naturalistic means. How is it that all humans come to hold these same archetypical symbols? (For more on archetypes see Jesus Christ and Mythology page II) The "primitives" viewed and understood a sense of transformation which gave them an integration into the universe. This is crucial for human development. They sensed a power in the numinous, that is the origin of religion."

3) Mystical experience at the root of all religions

Transpersonal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integration (unpublished paper 1992 by Jayne Gackenback


"The experience of pure consciousness is typically called "mystical". The essence of the mystical experience has been debated for years (Horne, 1982). It is often held that "mysticism is a manifestation of something which is at the root of all religions (p. 16; Harrold, 1963)." The empirical assessment of the mystical experience in psychology has occurred to a limited extent."

a) Core of Organized Religion

The Mystical Core of Organized Religion

David Steindl-Rast

Brother David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., is a monk of Mount Savior Monastery in the Finger Lake Region of New York State and a member of the board of the Council on Spiritual Practices. He holds a Ph.D. from the Psychological Institute at the University of Vienna and has practiced Zen with Buddhist masters. His most recent book is Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer (Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1984).

"If the religious pursuit is essentially the human quest for meaning, then these most meaningful moments of human existence must certainly be called "religious." They are, in fact, quickly recognized as the very heart of religion, especially by people who have the good fortune of feeling at home in a religious tradition."

b)What all Religions hold in Common.

Cross currents

Thomas A Indianopolus
Prof of Religion at of Miami U. of Ohio


"It is the experience of the transcendent, including the human response to that experience, that creates faith, or more precisely the life of faith. [Huston] Smith seems to regard human beings as having a propensity for faith, so that one speaks of their faith as "innate." In his analysis, faith and transcendence are more accurate descriptions of the lives of religious human beings than conventional uses of the word, religion. The reason for this has to do with the distinction between participant and observer. This is a fundamental distinction for Smith, separating religious people (the participants) from the detached, so-called objective students of religious people (the observers). Smith's argument is that religious persons do not ordinarily have "a religion." The word, religion, comes into usage not as the participant's word but as the observer's word, one that focuses on observable doctrines, institutions, ceremonies, and other practices. By contrast, faith is about the non-observable, life-shaping vision of transcendence held by a participant..."

Smith considers transcendence to be the one dimension common to all peoples of religious faith: "what they have in common lies not in the tradition that introduces them to transcendence, [not in their faith by which they personally respond, but] in that to which they respond, the transcendent itself..."(11)

Next: Instinct page 2

By Metacrock. Used with Permission.
For more articles by the same author, see Doxa.