The Oxford academics have been given a grant to try to discover whether belief in a deity is a matter of nature or nurture.
The team said that they would not examine the question of whether God exists but will look at evidence in an effort to prove whether belief in God bestowed an evolutionary advantage to mankind.
AdvertisementThey added that they would also judge the possibility that faith developed as a by-product of other human characteristics, such as sociability.
Researchers at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion and the Centre for Anthropology and Mind in Oxford will use the cognitive science disciplines to develop 'a scientific approach to why we believe in God and other issues around the nature and origin of religious belief'.
'We are interested in exploring exactly in what sense belief in God is natural. We think there is more on the nature side than a lot of people suppose,' Times Online quoted psychologist Justin Barrett, as saying.
Dr Barrett compared believers to three-year-olds who 'assume that other people know almost everything there is to be known'.
He explained that the childish propensity to believe in the omniscience of others was reduced by experience as people grew up. But this tendency, essential to let human beings to socialise and cooperate with each other in a productive way, continued when it came to belief in God.
'It usually does continue into adult life. It is easy, it is intuitive, it is natural. It fits our default assumptions about things,' he said.
He further revealed that the study would look into other areas, such as whether the conflicts linked to religion are a product of human nature.
The project will also inspect whether belief in life after death is something that needs to be taught or is a product of natural selection.
'The next step therefore is to look at some of the detailed questions which religious beliefs are most common and most natural for the human mind to grasp?' he said.
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