In fact, says Vittachi, “…scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged.”
What does this mean in your life and mine? Although many atheists might well hate the idea, Vittachi’s article shows that evidence from several areas of science indicates that what we believe is perhaps not fully a decision we make for ourselves – and that some of our most fundamental beliefs are permanently “fixed” within us.
Vittachi says that some scientists (avowed atheists themselves) claim that actually “atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think.” This idea is based on the fact that from birth humans can be shown to have an innate sense of justice (fair play, karma, or whatever we may call it) set within them, just as C. S. Lewis argued in Mere Christianity. Other clues show that humans have a built in sense of awe and even a desire for eternity. In fact, “A slew of cognitive traits predisposes us to faith,” writes Pascal Boyer in the journal Nature, even though most people “are only aware of some of their religious ideas.”
These findings, says Vittachi, may go a long way to explaining a series of puzzles in recent social science studies – such as in the United States, where 38% of people who identified themselves as atheists or agnostics nevertheless went on to claim to believe in a God or a Higher Power (“Religion and the Unaffiliated,” Pew Forum, 2012). Likewise, in the United Kingdom, where formal religious belief is not common, only 13% of adults agreed with the statement, “Humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element.”
“The implication,” Vittachi concludes, “is that we all believe in a not dissimilar range of tangible and intangible realities. Whether a particular brand of higher consciousness is included in that list ... is little more than a detail.” The findings of the studies mentioned, and others, seem to be in harmony with the ideas put forward by many Christian thinkers and apologists that God has placed within human beings the capacity for spirituality, and whether most people ever develop that capacity or not, it is nevertheless there as a latent capacity of the human mind.
Perhaps this is what Ecclesiastes 3:11 means in saying, “He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Even if many do not feel they can recognize a spiritual dimension of life, that does not mean that they are not aware, at some level, that it is there.