Why Choosing to Believe in God can be a Rational Decision

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Evolutionary psychology provides evidence that choosing to believe in God can be a rational decision. Rationality can be defined as reasoning based on empirical evidence. The empirical evidence of evolutionary psychology demonstrates that there are three kinds of relationship: power, accountability and mutuality.
They are summarized in the chart below:






Moral Implications



(i.e. Richard Dawkins)

Survival of the fittest





Human Rights




(i.e. Joshua Greene, Robert Wright,

E.O. Wilson)

Individuals who cooperate with each other are more likely to survive


Rewards and Punishments

Greatest good for the greatest number of people



(i.e. John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth)

Parents and infants who bond with each other are more likely to have infants who survive


Care for another


Care for self

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Interactions among these three relationships involve two basic principles:

  1. When the three relationships work together, the probability of moral action increases. For example,
    • Parents have more power than their child, reward and punish their child, and love their child, increasing the possibility for moral action.
    • Friendships coordinate self-interest, rewards of the relationship, and care for another, again increasing the possibility for moral action.

These examples demonstrate that the three relationships do not need to conflict with each other for interpersonal interactions.
2. When the three relationships conflict with each other, the probability of moral action decreases. For example, in socio-political situations,

    • Power relationships conflict with mutual relationships, because self-interest (power) becomes separated from care for another (mutuality). This conflict favors dominance (power) over equality (mutuality). The result is a decrease in the possibility of moral action in the socio-political arena.
    • Accountability relationships distribute rewards and punishments unevenly to different groups in a society. Those groups with more power tend to receive greater rewards, again reducing the possibility of moral action.

These examples help to explain why social justice is difficult to implement.
Together these two principles suggest that conflict among the three relationships is more likely to occur in socio-political situations than in interpersonal interactions.
To resolve conflicts between different relationships, a system of meaning that stands outside of the conflicts and coordinates the relationships together is necessary. Belief in God offers such a system of meaning. God-belief is distinctive from other systems of meaning in that the concept of God can entail the following three characteristics:

  1. Transcendence – Minimally, transcendence can be defined as that which is immaterial, greater than, outside of, and beyond ourselves. These qualities permit God to
    • stand outside of all social system (and their conflicts)
    • provide a basis for profound experiences

2. Morality – The concept of God can incorporate the understanding of morality in which all three evolutionary relationships are coordinated. Accordingly, God

    • has power to act for good
    • rewards and punishes us
    • loves us
    • asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves

3. Capacity for Relationship – The coordination of relationships also implies a capacity to relate. Consequently, the concept of God can reflect our understanding that God is a relational being, who evokes active responses from us. This understanding

    • strengthens the desire to act
    • makes every act meaningful

When God-belief incorporates these three characteristics, it generates a unique system of meaning that has both depth and breadth. As such, it can motivate people to use power and accountability in the service of mutuality. If our goal is to act morally, then choosing to believe in a moral God can be a rational decision that helps us to achieve this goal.
There are limits to this reasoning. They include (but are not restricted to):

  1. Moral behavior can arise without this belief, when no logical conflicts exist among the three relationships.
  2. Rational God-belief does not guarantee moral behavior or social justice. Morality and social justice also depend upon such qualities as:
    • How strong the belief is (How strong is the motivation to act?)
    • How we conceive and enact care for each other (harshly/compassionately).

3. Choosing to believe in God does not prove that God exists. There is a gap between God-belief and God’s existence that is filled by our personal experience of transcendence.

    • This gap also provides a space for free will as well as experiences like faith and hope.
    • Different religions give us choices about practices and pathways to God (or transcendence), because of this gap.
    • Empirical research has generated evidence that transcendent experiences are possible and personally rewarding.

Additional implications need to be explored. However, it appears that when God-belief is based in rationality, it is personally satisfying and socially beneficial. The choice to believe and act upon that belief is up to each one of us.