Hard-wired for religious belief?

Based on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 1), and also based on observation, I’ve long believed that we humans come by our belief in God or the gods as part of our “wiring.” A new book challenges that belief. In Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World (Cambridge), Tim Whitmarsh argues that both theism and atheism have venerable pasts.

In one way this is nothing new. We’ve known for a long time that some of the ancient Greek philosophers did not believe in the gods. And religious faith seems to remain the default setting among the vast majority of humans. But if Whitmarsh is right, we cannot oversell that conclusion; the truth could be more complex than I, for one, have believed. (Isn’t it usually that way?)

And those on the other side of the aisle might need to adjust their rhetoric too. Atheists often picture religious belief as a product of early stages in human evolution, with atheism winning ground every day until all enlightened people will eventually disbelieve in the divine. The presence of atheists in the ancient world shows that model as too simplistic.

That’s all I’ll say because I haven’t read the book. A good summary of it appears on the University of Cambridge web site.

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