Study: Believers and atheists alike believe ‘everything happens for a reason’

WHETHER happy, sad or somewhere in between, religious and nonreligious people alike tend to believe life events “happen for a reason,” according to a recent study.

By analysing the results of three separate experiments, researchers Konika Banerjee and Paul Bloom, both of the Yale Mind and Development Lab, determined that religious faith isn’t required to credit a supernatural force with controlling earthly events. The idea of fate was supported by a majority of both religious respondents and atheists in the experiments, confirming the researchers’ sense that the saying captures a universal aspect of human life.

“Adages such as ‘it was meant to be’ and ‘everything happens for a reason’ are expressions of the way people naturally view the world — as imbued with agency, intention and reason,” their study, “Why did this happen to me? Religious believers’ and non-believers’ teleological reasoning about life events,” published in the journal “Cognition”, concluded.

In other words, people like to think there is rhyme and reason in their daily lives, even if they don’t credit God or some other higher power with putting it there.

Although the study referenced other articles that similarly reported widespread belief in fate, it focused on exploring the interplay between this desire for reason and religious belief. Researchers determined that many nonbelievers not only believe everything happens for a reason; they also credit fate with kind or instructive intentions, using the same kind of language believers used to describe God.

Banerjee and Bloom’s study explored how the belief that everything happens for a reason interacts with life events, including natural disasters like floods or hurricanes, as well as personal tragedies such as the death of a loved one.

In one of the experiments, each of the 100 participants was asked to indicate how strongly he or she believed in fate, defined as the following: “Many people believe that significant life events are meant to be and that they happen for a reason. They believe that there is an underlying order to life that determines how events turn out.”

Researchers compared responses to reported religious affiliations, determining that while believers are more likely to find lessons in life events, a majority of both groups believe in fate.

“Among God-believers, 84.8 percent reported some degree of belief in fate, 13.0 percent reported they were neutral and 2.2 percent denied belief in fate,” the article reported. “Among God-non-believers, a smaller majority, 54.3 percent, also reported some degree of belief in fate, while 5.7 percent were neutral and 40.0 percent denied belief in fate.”

Participants were then asked to characterize fate, describing what intentions, if any, it has.

Many believers saw fate as fair (62.1 percent), kind (54 percent), and instructive (72.9 percent), a finding that researchers attributed to religious teachings about God’s benevolence. But “even many non-religious people (between 33 percent and 53 percent), most of whom claimed that fate is just a fact in the universe, nonetheless personified fate as a type of goal-directed intentional force,” the article reported.


10 thoughts on “Study: Believers and atheists alike believe ‘everything happens for a reason’

  1. Someone close to me occasionally uses the phrase “everything happens for a reason”. When I was young, I understood it more as an idea of fate, but as my belief in fate faded, I came to understand that it doesn’t necessarily have to represent fate.

    Everything does happen for a reason. If you drop a ball, it falls – not because of fate, but because of gravity.


  2. Having that kind of mindset it is no wonder the events in the universe are used to confirm the perceived importance of existence within them.
    We are all hard wired for self importance .
    The problem is the reality of not having existed is put aside as irrelevant when looking at the return to that state again.


    • Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge.
      ― Stephen Colbert


      • Saying yes can lead to stagnation. saying yes can lead to inaction. It is only by saying No that things can be rethought. It is only by saying No that change can occur. How will your child get on, if you just say yes to everything? It is by facing opposition and perhaps failure, in the form of the word No, that we take thought, get ourselves up again and apply greater courage.


      • When presented with what seems like a good idea, it is tempting to agree with out too much thought. If even just one person sees deeper consequences, that voice can be drowned out in the chorus of support. That’s why our voting system, democracy, so often delivers poor results. ( I know it is so far the best system we have ever seen, just not perfect!)

        In this way I agree with Rian, but saying no for the sake of saying no is just a downright killer of nearly everything.

        I think apples and oranges are being compared here. Perhaps Rian and Bryan might agree that saying yes to negativity, to inaction, is not usually a good idea! 😆


  3. My favourite Presbyterian clergyman did not believe that God is the author of good and evil. Rather that God is totally good, and will often deal with the evil that arises by enabling good to flow from it. Thus it seems that good can come from evil, but planned evil in order to produce good would be insane.

    An interesting proposition, but I can’t see this as the action of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God. I’m willing to concede His angels could be acting thus, in His service.


  4. Atheists and believers may well both believe that things happen for a reason. However, believers think it’s all about BELIEF and that any old reason, as long as it makes you feel good, will do. Consequently their “reasons” tend to be imaginary ones, because facing life means facing hardship and death as well as the good things, and nobody really wants to do that..
    Atheists, on the other hand, like to believe as many true things and as few untrue things as possible. They cannot accept “God did it” or “because God said so” as being any sort of a proper reason for anything, partly because such an explanation advances nobody’s knowledge of exactly HOW God is supposed to have done it, so there are even more questions to ask including the obvious one:”Why should we accept such explanations when there is no reliable proof that this God even exists in the first place, much less that he would bother to arrange for a “holy” book to come from the ever-squabbling tribes of Middle-eastern losers.
    If there ever was a more God-forsaken place than the Middle East, it’d be hard to find.
    And that is still true today.
    It’s time everyone ceased trying to re-use discredited ideas from an ignorant past in order to drag us all back to it.
    Grow up, people. Any one of you could come up with better and more ethical rules and “morals” than those described in so-called holy books.


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