By Victor Casenelli
Anyone who has spent much time in Bible class with me has probably heard me talk about how I believe we all seek God or in some sense, religion. The human mind is a fascinating piece of God’s handiwork, and I have come to believe there is a spark inside every person that seeks to resolve its purpose for existence through worship.
I believe that the human mind was created by God as the bible teaches. We at Marrtown Road Church of Christ teach and preach this fervently. It’s important you understand that is where I am coming from and is my background. The bible states in Psalm 14:1 that “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’… Verse 2 of that same passage states that “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God.” I think it’s important to put my money where my mouth is and show you some evidence in regard to this idea.
Science and religion seem to be at odds with one another in our world today. When you look at some of the things that come out of honest, verifiable research, however, some wonderful faith-building facts can be taken from scientific findings. Some of these findings I want to explore these bit in this article. When tempered with what we know already from the Bible, we can see how the evidence points toward our human minds being predisposed to believe in not only God but the afterlife as well.
A three-year international research project, directed by two academics at the University of Oxford finds that humans have natural tendencies to believe in gods and an afterlife.
The study which cost almost 2 million Euro’s involved 57 researchers who conducted over 40 separate studies in 20 countries representing a diverse range of cultures. These findings led the researchers to conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind. In other words, Buddhism, atheism, Islam, and even pagan deities in the most remote tribal societies you can find on earth are a response to this pre-programming of the human mind.
The study wasn’t designed to prove the existence of god or otherwise, but sought to find out whether concepts such as gods and an afterlife appear to be learned through our experiences or were they basic expressions of human nature.
‘The Cognition, Religion and Theology Project’ led by Dr. Justin Barrett, from the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at Oxford University drew on research from a range of disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology. They studied in 20 different countries that represented both traditionally religious and atheist societies.
The findings were published in two separate books by psychologist Dr. Barrett in Cognitive Science, Religion and Theology and Born Believers: The Science of Childhood Religion.
Project Co-director Professor Roger Trigg, from the Ian Ramsey Centre in the Theology Faculty at Oxford University, has also written a forthcoming book, applying the wider implications of the research to issues about freedom of religion in Equality, Freedom, and Religion
Here are some of the findings of the Cognition, Religion, and Theology Project as posted by the University of Oxford and the website Science Daily:
“The studies suggest that children below the age of five find it easier to believe in some superhuman properties than to understand similar human limitations. Children were asked whether their mother would know the contents of a box in which she could not see. Children aged three believed that their mother and God would always know the contents, but by the age of four, children start to understand that their mothers are not all-seeing and all-knowing. However, children may continue to believe in all-seeing, all-knowing supernatural agents, such as a god or gods.
Experiments involving adults, conducted by Jing Zhu from Tsinghua University (China), and Natalie Emmons and Jesse Bering from The Queen’s University, Belfast, suggest that people across many different cultures instinctively believe that some part of their mind, soul, or spirit lives on after death. The studies demonstrate that people are natural ‘dualists’ finding it easy to conceive of the separation of the mind and the body.
Project Director Dr. Justin Barrett, from the University of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, said: “…Just because we find it easier to think in a particular way does not mean that it is true in fact. If we look at why religious beliefs and practices persist in societies across the world, we conclude that individuals bound by religious ties might be more likely to cooperate as societies. Interestingly, we found that religion is less likely to thrive in populations living in cities in developed nations where there is already a strong social support network.’
Project Co-Director Professor Roger Trigg, from the University of Oxford’s Ian Ramsey Centre, said: ‘This project suggests that religion is not just something for a peculiar few to do on Sundays instead of playing golf. We have gathered a body of evidence that suggests that religion is a common fact of human nature across different societies. This suggests that attempts to suppress religion are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted to religious concepts, such as the existence of supernatural agents or gods, and the possibility of an afterlife or pre-life.’
This calls to mind the idea of a “divine spark”. The idea of a divine spark is that every human being possesses either a connection with God or a “part” of God. The goal of life, then, is to allow the divine spark to influence us toward a relationship with God. Or in our case, as the study reveals above, it influences children and adults to instinctively believe in the idea of a soul and in finding purpose in life. Is the idea of a divine spark biblical?
Well if you ask me, this matter is not concluded in my mind. But there are some biblical truths that are somewhat similar to the idea of a divine spark. Genesis 1:26 teaches that every human being possesses the image of God. Ecclesiastes 3:11 declares that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.” In Luke 17:21, Jesus proclaims, “The kingdom of God is within you.” The Bible teaches that every human being possesses an immaterial soul-spirit, and it is this part of us that connects with God (Hebrews 4:12).
From these verses we learn that each of us possesses a soul, is made in the image of God, and is innately aware of eternity. However, we also know that only a person who has been redeemed by Christ can truly connect with God. The indwelling kingdom of God is true only for believers in Jesus Christ. These scriptural principles do not teach a “divine spark,” as commonly defined, but they do point toward it in an indirect way.
Without the death of Jesus Christ (John 14:6), there is no point in the spark. Jesus was the light of the world (John 8:12) and without Him, we can become blinded to the light of the spark, and the light of truth (the bible) in life (2 Corinthians 4:2-4). This blinding of the mind we read about in 2 Corinthians is a result of the craftiness of life. That spark that should lead us to God seems to be distorted or transformed by what we learn. The experiences we have, and what we learn are essential it seems in cultivating this spark, if it exists, into something profitable for an individual.