Boyer points out that people expect their gods' minds to work very much like human minds, suggesting that they spring from the same brain system that enables us to think about absent or non-existent people.The human brain also has a tendency to seek out patterns and cause-and-effect relationships where there are none. Researchers who work with very young children who have yet to hear about religion found that the children believe that natural phenomena are caused by supernatural forces -- in effect, they invent the idea of a god spontaneously, says Olivera Petrovich, a scientist at Oxford University.
Petrovich adds that even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking. [Jesse] Bering [of Queen's University, Belfast, UK] has seen this too. When one of his students carried out interviews with atheists, it became clear that they often tacitly attribute purpose to significant or traumatic moments in their lives, as if some agency were intervening to make it happen. "They don't completely exorcise the ghost of god -- they just muzzle it," Bering says.Belief in the supernatural -- or at least significant cause-and-effect relationships -- only grows during hard times. An experiment last year at the University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University showed that people who feel a loss of control are more likely to look for patterns.
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