Why do so many people still believe in God?

I’m sure this has been discussed many times here, but I just got back from a weekend in the mountains of North Carolina and was reminded of just how many people believe in the Jesus story (and other versions by culture/religious belief.) I understand why it was created; and why it was propagated for the last 2000 years. But in this day and age, with all of the scientific advancement we have; the fossil records; etc. why do the majority of people still believe? Is it really just intellectual laziness? Is it still fear of the unknown or fear of death? Personally, the vast majority of people I know are celebrating the Resurrection today as if it was an historical fact.

Inculcated belief reinforced by operant conditioning and social/peer reinforcement. Plus, most people really don’t like to think for themselves because introspection and understanding how truly inconsequential your actions are in the overall scheme of the universe is terrifyingly bleak. Being able to claim that you are on the right side of the guy who made everything means at least being a player on the winning team even if even a cursory review of the history of religion indicates that not only is such faith completely unsubstantiated by any factual evidence but also changes with the whims of society and its leadership.

Also, some religions absolve you of all guilt for the shitty things you have done if you pay them enough.


There’s really no amount of scientific advancement that can preclude a belief in god. At best, the goalposts will be moved.

Your thread title doesn’t reflect what you’re actually asking in your post. I’m going to address your post.

The main reason why a large percent of people believe the exact institutionalize-religion orthodoxy — the “here is what you’re supposed to believe” stuff — is that for a very long time it was socially unacceptable to not voice a belief in it. And until moderately recently, that didn’t just mean “you’ll be shunned and subjected to an attitude”, it means “you can be locked up or even killed, your propery seized, or you can be run out of town; at worst, you can be tied to a stake and burned to death”.

That inculates a sense of moral obligation to believe. And a sense of superiority and official propriety, that one is “doing it right”, in embracing these beliefs and asserting them as correct.

That has no more than tangential bearing on why so many members of our species have been theistic. It’s a bit like titling a thread “Why do so many people hold a political opinion?” and then the actual question is “I just got back from a totalitarian country where only the official State Party can appear on the ballot, so there’s no room for any real dissent, and yet an enormous number of the citizens still show up to cast a vote. Why do they do that?”

I think you have a great point in your second and third paragraphs. I’m not sure I understand your fourth (and the objection to the title/post.) Easter is a prime example of a continued belief in an unbelievable story. I think my title reflects that question.

The belief may be comforting, associated social activity, IOW religion may be helpful to people, and some people just want to be told how to live their lives. The belief has been a good thing in the eyes of many people many times and that’s what they’ll remember if the belief hasn’t been a bad thing for them as often.

It also inspires some people to be very good people. Religions have all sorts of problems associated with them but belief in God is not the same as religion and good people can understand that and believe in a God who has only commanded them to follow the Golden Rule.

We also do not know how many people actually belief in God because people often don’t tell the truth when asked about it. I do feel pretty sure that sociopaths don’t actually belief in God even if they profess to. Or they can’t actually maintain the belief without developing something like a messianic complex.

Personally I don’t care what anyone professes to believe in. Judging people by their actual actions instead of perceived intentions has worked best for me. YMMV

What does scientific advancement or the fossil record have to do with belief in Jesus or his resurrection?

My take is some people have been gifted aspects of experiencing God, myself included. Kind of hard to disbelieve in something one experienced. And even harder when it fits into the scriptures. So yeah my answer is because God is real and God still believes in people.

I can’t speak for other people, but I am someone who would be an atheist if it weren’t for some supernatural things that so far, to the best of my knowledge, have no natural explanation. I’ve shared some of them before in other threads but they are the only obstacle between me and atheism right now. Otherwise, my mind naturally leans towards atheism.

With inclusion of my brackets, it goes for politics as well.

Ignorance and fear.

And a large aspect of that ignorance is a license to discriminate.

One important distinction WRT the OP, all scientific discovery is not necessarily intrinsecally incompatible with any belief in a god or gods or with any religious practice. Some specific beliefs and doctrines, e.g. Young-Earth Creationism, or that the Precolumbian nations were the Lost Tribes of Israel, yes. But general belief in a Greater Power? That’s a lot tougher to falsify.

Then you run into what Stranger_On_A_Train and AHunter3 mentioned of something ingrained for, like, the whole of the existence of human societies.

Related to that, and this is something that I ran into listening to a podcast recently, there is the not to be underestimated component of Identity involved in being part of a defined belief system. A teacher in a Native American school was talking about their curriculum based on her people’s ways, including the telling of their myths as part of their history, and mentioning how children who had been previously to secular public school would at first go in with “wait, that’s not real” but as they grew into it being able to embrace the meaning thereof and eagerly engaging in the rituals and retelling the stories, now able to simultaneously be aware of the objective facts about human origin AND of the elders’ stories as to how The People came into being, and deciding which constitutes the Fundamental Truth by which they should live.

It’s a difficult thing to let go of. Most people who believe in it had it drilled into their heads starting when they were way too young to question it, and had full trust and reverence for the people who were doing the drilling. It ends up being a thing that is easier to just hang on to, rather than let go.

As another poster said, it’s comforting to believe there’s a plan behind all the perplexing and often disturbing shit that happens, while intolerable to think that it’s random.

Similarly, it’s comforting to believers in conspiracy theories to think that there’s a plan behind distressing events and that they’re aware of the plan, even though they can’t do anything about it.

It may also be comforting to believe that there’s a significant correlation between religiosity and belief in conspiracies, although the few studies I’ve seen on the subject suggest that a true correlation requires dogmatic fundamentalism.

The thought of death and non-existence is terrifying, we can’t really comprehend non-existence on a deeply intuitively level because we’ve only experienced existence, and so you need a story that makes you feel warm and fuzzy about your own mortality instead of cold and horrified.

We’re also deeply uncomfortable with the idea of a random, meaningless existence where there’s no ultimate control and no ultimate justice. This is a lesser concern, but finding agency behind things and getting the sense that something is in control is another psychological need.

What particular flavor of god you believe in is where all the social control stuff that people mentioned upthread comes in, but the underlying need to be filled is mostly in the two above points.

People everywhere are the same in one thing - they’re all afraid to die. - Elmer Gantry

It’s a pretty standard religious tactic, “something terrible is coming, and you can only avoid it by joining us!”. Very helpful in controlling people.

Here’s all I can say:

I was raised Methodist. I was forced to go to church every Sunday. I never cared about it, and I hated going. As soon as I didn’t have to go every week (17? 18?) I didn’t.

Yet, for several years after that, I believed in god. Why? Because for my entire life I had been told to. And then one day, I realized it was all bullshit. I didn’t believe, and I don’t have any reason to. That was 25 years ago, and I still see no reason to believe.

I never debate with theists, because it is an argument, as an atheist, that is impossible to win. If god appears to humans, the theist wins. If god doesn’t appear, there will always be the possibility that god will appear. If I die and there is an afterlife, the theist can rub it in my face. If I die and there is no afterlife, I’ll get no such satisfaction. There is Pascal’s Gambit. It is better to believe in god and be wrong because the consequences for believing in god and being wrong is presumably less than not believing in god and being wrong. But as I understand theology, god would not favor skeptics, or false believers. Thus, IMHO, god would punish me more for believing in him/her/it merely for security and not faith. Theists say that if you’re evil or do bad things, you will be sent to hell where satan will punish you. But will not satan treat me well for serving them as god would for serving them? It’s very confusing and no side has any credible argument. It’s not much more than the “Is” “Is not” “Is too” arguments I had with my sister when I was 6 years old. But I will never begrudge a person of their beliefs and I hope they will never begrudge me of mine.

I think this is backwards. What is terrifying is not that your actions are inconsequential, it is that they are of the first importance to you and those around you, and you have to take full responsibility for them. If you don’t believe, then you don’t have the “out” of having a deity forgive you for all your mistakes, and love you anyway.

Not believing also frees you from a lot of duties to atone for things that were not your fault, like original sin, which is kind of the other side of the coin. But having prescribed ceremonies that you can follow and that guarantee a good outcome is probably comforting if you’re not inclined to spend time thinking about things for yourself.

I attend church. For social reasons, for ritual, for tradition, for moral messages I can think about. To keep me on a good path.

It is faith. Not certainty.

My mom is 97. She was a regular churchgoer and active. Now she is in memory care and can do little. She is not quite there, still better for her to be alive because death is death. As little as she has any more, she still has some life.

I’ve been alone with my own mind plenty. My own mind is not always a great or productive place. Other people, traditions can help. Has nothing to do with “thinking for yourself.”