New research led by Nicholas Epley, Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, is said to compare beliefs of religious people to their estimates of God’s beliefs and the beliefs of other people. The study incorporated surveys as well as magnetic resonance imaging of brain activity. Participants supplied personal beliefs on an issue, their estimated God’s belief, and a mixture of others, and included Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Major League Baseball’s Barry Bonds, President George W. Bush, and an average American. According to researchers people often set their moral compasses according to what they presume to be God’s standards.
“The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing,” they conclude. “This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing.”
Imaging data showed that reasoning about God’s beliefs activated many of the same brain regions that were activated when people reasoned about their own beliefs.
But the research in no way denies the possibility that God’s presumed beliefs also may provide guidance in situations where people are uncertain of their own beliefs, the co-authors noted.