We Project Our Beliefs Onto God

Those with a belief in God subconsciously bestow him with their own opinions in order to “validate and justify” them. This is a theory that has recently been strengthened by two surprisingly simple yet effective experiments conducted to find what the theist think about the beliefs of God, other people and themselves when it comes to controversial issues.

The researchers started by asking volunteers who said they believe in God to give their own views on controversial topics, such as abortion and the death penalty. They also asked what the volunteers thought were the views of God, average Americans and public figures such as Bill Gates. Volunteers’ own beliefs corresponded most strongly with those they attributed to God.

Next, the team asked another group of volunteers to undertake tasks designed to soften their existing views, such as preparing speeches on the death penalty in which they had to take the opposite view to their own. They found that this led to shifts in the beliefs attributed to God, but not in those attributed to other people.

Given that many use their deity of choice as a moral compass, the researchers suggest that “inferences about God’s beliefs may […] point people further in whatever direction they are already facing” (i.e. strengthen their already possibly controversial view on a subject).

The second experiment:

fMRI [was used] to scan the brains of volunteers while they contemplated the beliefs of themselves, God or “average Americans”. […]

In the first two cases, similar parts of the brain were active. When asked to contemplate other Americans’ beliefs, however, an area of the brain used for inferring other people’s mental states was active. This implies that people map God’s beliefs onto their own.



One response to “We Project Our Beliefs Onto God”

  1. Iain Simcock

    I wonder if this is a Protestant tendancy. I, a Catholic, find it impossible to invoke the name of the Lord to give substance to my views. It would be interesting to see an MRI brain scan of a monk in deep prayer and of an atheist in deep church-bashing.