People know what God thinks – and it’s the same as them. That’s the conclusion of a study from the University of Chicago and Australia’s Monash University.
Chicago’s professor Nicholas Epley looked at the extent to which people’s own beliefs guide their predictions about God’s beliefs.
The team asked participants about their own belief about an issue, along with what they reckoned other people thought – not just God, but a variety of others, including Bill Gates, Major League Baseball’s Barry Bonds, President George W Bush, and an average American.
It turned out that God agreed with them much more than the others.
The researchers also manipulated people’s own beliefs, by asking them to prepare a speech propounding a particular idea, such as the death penalty. If they were pro before they started, then so was God. But if they changed their mind afterwards – guess what? – their idea of God’s beliefs changed too. The implication is that ‘God’s belief’ is modelled on the individual’s rather than the other way round.
Finally, MRI tests showed that reasoning about God’s beliefs activated many of the same regions that become active when people reason about their own beliefs.
The researchers noted that people often set their moral compasses according to what they presume to be God’s standards. “The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing,” they conclude.
“This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing.”
The research appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.