The University of Oxford is to undertake a $4 million study to examine what it is that makes people believe in God.
The three-year study, to be carried out by the university's Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, will bring together anthropologists, theologians, philosophers and other academics to answer the age-old question as to whether belief in a Supreme Being is an inherent part of mankind's makeup.
Justin Barrett, a psychologist and leading member of the research team, said to the Church of England Newspaper that he believed there is strong evidence that belief in God is a natural thing in humans. “We are interested in exploring exactly in what sense belief in God is natural," he said. “We think there is more on the nature side than a lot of people suppose.”
Roger Trigg, acting director of the centre, said though religious expression may be waning in Britain and parts of Europe, faith remained very much a deep part of cultures throughout the world.
"There are a lot of issues. What is it that is innate in human nature to believe in God, whether it is gods or something superhuman or supernatural?" he asked.
"One implication that comes from this is that religion is the default position, and atheism is perhaps more in need of explanation," he said.
Funds for the research have been provided by the John Templeton Foundation, a group which seeks to "serve as a philanthropic catalyst for scientific discovery on what scientists and philosophers call the 'Big Questions'," according to its website.