Is this what God looks like? Scientists produce an e-fit of a ‘youthful and feminine’ deity based on responses from hundreds of Christians
- Study was done by a team of psychologists at the University of North Carolina
- They asked 511 American Christians to look at images of hundreds of face-pairs
- They selected which face from each pair appeared more like their image of God
- By combining the faces, the scientists could assemble a composite ‘face of God’
God has a youthful face with feminine features.
At least that’s according to a bizarre study by scientists in North Carolina who have created an ‘e-fit’ of God based on what American Christians think he looks like.
Far from being an old man with a beard, they found people’s perceptions of God tend towards a deity that is young and less Caucasian that popular culture suggests.
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Is this the face of God? Scientists have created an ‘e-fit’ of what American Christians imagine he looks like. According to the research, God is believed by many to be far more youthful and feminine than popular culture suggests
A team of psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created the sketch with the help of 511 American Christians.
Participants in the study saw hundreds of randomly varying face-pairs and selected which face from each pair appeared more like how they imagined God to appear.
By combining all the selected faces, the researchers could assemble a composite ‘face of God’ that reflected how each person imagined God to appear.
Their results were both surprising and revealing.
From Michelangelo to Monty Python, Illustrations of God have nearly always shown him as an old and august white-bearded Caucasian man.
But the researchers found that many Christians saw God as younger, more feminine, and less Caucasian that popular culture suggests.
The image on the left shows what younger participants believe God looks like, compared to older participants (right). A team of psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created the sketch with the help of 511 American Christians
Participants in the study saw hundreds of randomly varying face-pairs and selected which face from each pair appeared more like how they imagined God to appear. The image on the left shows God’s perceived face and anti-face across all American Christians
The image on the left shows God’s face as perceived by liberals versus conservatives. Liberals tended to see God as more feminine, younger, and more loving than conservatives. Conservatives saw God as more Caucasian and more powerful than liberals
In fact, people’s perceptions of God tended to rely partly on their political affiliation.
Liberals tended to see God as more feminine, younger, and more loving than conservatives.
Conservatives also saw God as more Caucasian and more powerful than liberals.
‘These biases might have stemmed from the type of societies that liberals and conservatives want,’ suggested Joshua Conrad Jackson, the study’s lead author.
‘Past research shows that conservatives are more motivated than liberals to live in a well-ordered society, one that would be best regulated by a powerful God.
‘On the other hand, liberals are more motivated to live in a tolerant society, which would be better regulated by a loving God.’
The top image shows a composite of 50 faces that represents the collective demographics of the US population. Below are three of the 300 stimuli created by adding visual noise to the base image which participants could use to customise their image of God
People’s perceptions also related to their own demographic characteristics.
Younger people believed in a younger-looking God.
People who reported being more physically attractive also believed in a more physically attractive God.
And African Americans believed in a God that looked more African American than did Caucasians.
‘People’s tendency to believe in a God that looks like them is consistent with an egocentric bias,’ said Professor Kurt Gray, the study’s senior author and a psychology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill.
‘People often project their beliefs and traits onto others, and our study shows that God’s appearance is no different-people believe in a God who not only thinks like them, but also looks like them.’
The full findings of the paper were published in the journal PLOS One.
ARE WE HEADING FOR A GODLESS FUTURE?
Graham Lawton, author of the new book ‘How to be Human,’ suggests that as our lives become more stable, society could become ‘godless’ as our need for religion fades away.
When children encounter religion, Mr Lawson argues they find the explanations it offers intuitively appealing and believable – making them born believers – but this instinct is drummed out of them by education.
The author claimed the reason people continue to be believe it because ‘they haven’t thought that hard about it’.
However, although the future will be increasingly secular, humans will never totally lose the god instinct.
As long as existential uncertainty exists Mr Lawton claims religion will not disappear completely – even though he believes some of the things in the bible are ‘just crazy’.
People cling onto moral guidance and existential comfort and they don’t let go of them easily, he said.
His comments are based on the cognitive theory of religion which states that belief is a by-product of our cognitive equipment.
Our brain is primed to see meaning everywhere, which helps us make sense of random events.
Children like the idea that there is order and design in the world and it is actually useful as it allows them to reason about possible threats that we cannot see, for example a predator lurking in a nearby bush.
According to Mr Lawton, although this is an evolutionary advantage, it also facilitates the build-up of delusional belief and a ‘feeling of rightness’.
‘To be an actual atheist and reject all religious ideas is not humanly possible – we’ll still fill that hole with something’, said Mr Lawton.
As long as existential uncertainty exists, Mr Lawton claims religion will not disappear completely.
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