Oxford study: Belief in God is natural

The £1.9 million study was conducted in 20 countries and looked at whether such beliefs are learned or a natural human inclination.

It found that people living in cities in developed countries were less likely to have religious beliefs than those living in rural areas, and that people with religious beliefs may be more willing to cooperate as a society.

The researchers suggested that attempts to suppress religious beliefs would ultimately fail because human thought “seems to be rooted to religious concepts”.

They found that it was especially natural for children under the age of five to believe in “superhuman properties”.

In one test, young children were asked whether their mother would know the contents of a closed box.

While children at the age of three were likely to think their mother would always know the contents of the box, by the age of four they started to understand that their mothers were not all-knowing.

Dr Justin Barrett, from Oxford University's Centre for Anthropology and Mind, noted that the findings did not amount to proof of the existence of God.

“This project does not set out to prove God or gods exist,” he said.

“Just because we find it easier to think in a particular way does not mean that it is true in fact.”

The co-director of the project, Professor Roger Trigg, from the University of Oxford, said the research showed that religion was “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,” he said.

“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.”

Christianity remains the world’s largest religion, with around 2 billion followers worldwide. Islam is second, with 1.2 billion followers, followed by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism.