So how do you build an atheist? Or a whole country of them like the Czech Republic, where 78 percent of people describe themselves as either not religious or an outright "convinced" unbeliever?
In the last decade, a growing body of psychology research has begun to home in on an answer to that question. Not surprisingly, the psychology of religion and the psychology of atheism are closely intertwined; on the whole, these studies tend to show that for most people, religion comes pretty naturally. "It seems like religiosity, or religious beliefs, are encouraged by a number of basic intuitions that we have about the world that seem to be built into our brains," explains Ara Norenzayan, a pioneering researcher on the psychology of religion at the University of British Columbia, on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream at link below).
But there are large exceptions to that statement: Some half billion people worldwide, according to one estimate, reject God. Who are they? Here are three major factors, based on Norenzayan's research, that tend to produce a secular mindset:
Less "mentalizing." One of the most surprising scientific findings of the research on the causes of religiosity (or the lack thereof) involves a trait called "mentalizing." "This is the idea that we have a basic social cognitive capacity to infer and read the minds of other people," explains Norenzayan.