A study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal on March 5, 2021, postulated that the lack of perceiving religious imagery or other displays of faith is more likely to predict atheistic tendencies later in life. The study titled, The Origins of Religious Disbelief: A Dual Inheritance Approach” said that “witnessing fewer credible cultural cues of religious commitment was the most potent” predictor.
The study authored by Will Gervais from Brunel University London, Maxine Najle from the University of Kentucky, and Nava Caluori from the University of Virginia used a nationally representative data set for the United States. This means the individuals analyzed in the study behaved with reliable similarity to each other.
Will Gervais, a senior lecturer at the Brunel University in London and one of the study’s authors, explained that there have been multiple “theories about how religion works, [and] why we have it.” “I think that atheism is an ideal way to evaluate these theories. They tend to predict really different things about what ought to relate to atheism,” Gervais added.
According to the study, the three prominent theories that attempt to explain the origins of irreligiosity are the secularization theory, cognitive byproduct theory, and the dual inheritance theory. The authors acknowledge that these theories have “subtly diverging predictions” when it comes to the origin of atheism.
To help the authors evaluate the effectiveness, they posed three questions. First, they asked, “what are the relative predictive contributions of each pathway to atheism when considered simultaneously? Next, the researchers asked, “how do the four pathways interact with each other in predicting disbelief? Finally, they asked, “does early work on each individual pathway successfully replicate in a nationally representative sample?”
According to the authors, multiple consistent patterns emerged during their analysis, indicating that the “lack of exposure to credibility enhancing displays of religious faith is a key predictor of atheism.”
Gervais said that “a lot of people like to talk about how atheism comes from rational, effortful thought.” “This work joins other recent surveys in finding that this isn’t too accurate,” he added.