|Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Why do so many believe such ridiculous stories? Consider the fact that nearly everyone they trust believes the same things, including their families and friends. Also consider the myriad ways in which the culture surrounding them promotes these stories. It is not merely a matter of a brief period of indoctrination; many people will be surrounded by these social pressures their entire lives. And the stories, no matter how absurd, seem to make many people feel good. At least, believing them appears to be a source of comfort to many. The stories may also foster a sense of community among those who believe them (i.e., shared values).
With all this in mind, I wonder if the more interesting question is how some of us have managed to escape the religious component of our cultural heritage. What is it about us - our brains, our personalities, our experience - that has let us step outside this system and see the ridiculous stories for what they are. Do our minds work differently? Are we less susceptible to indoctrination or peer pressure? Do we have less of a need for social acceptance? Do we have an anti-authority streak that leads us to question what we have been taught more than others do?
Here in the U.S., something like 90% of the population reports belief in god(s). In this sense, god belief is clearly the norm and we atheists are the outliers. Are there consistent and predicable ways in which we differ from the rest of the population? Can they be quantified and measured? And if so, are these things that could be taught to others?
These are the sorts of questions that could be answered by science. In fact, I imagine that the social sciences will eventually shed some light on such questions. However, there have been so few studies published on atheists that it is going to take some time. Until then, we will likely have far more questions than answers.