Born Atheist?

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 11/13/2013

Glenn Peoples responds to the popular atheist claim that we’re all “born atheist”:

Now, there’s at least some truth here. Newborns don’t have a lot by way of beliefs. They’re an ignorant sort, you could say, so the fact that they don’t overtly believe in God, or stars, or carrots, or causation, or planets etc., really isn’t very interesting.... What is more interesting is to talk about the kind of beliefs that babies—unaided by religious education—naturally form as their minds develop. It is here that comments [claiming we’re “born atheist”] are quickly culled from the pool of those that can now make it to the level of scientific respectability. They are wrong—children are not natural atheists after all....

Drawing on the findings of developmental psychology, cognitive anthropology and the cognitive science of religion, Justin Barrett writes in this issue [of New Scientist] about the way that children naturally come to believe in teleology and agency in the universe. On the whole, the evidence shows that

The vast majority of humans are “born believers”, naturally inclined to find religious claims and explanations attractive and easily acquired, and to attain fluency in using them. This attraction to religion is an evolutionary by-product of our ordinary cognitive equipment, and while it tells us nothing about the truth or otherwise of religious claims it does help us see religion in an interesting new light.

Justin L. Barrett, “Born Believers,” New Scientist March 17–23 2012, 39.

Now what, if anything, does all of this show? That theism is true? No. If nothing else, it simply falsifies the rhetoric that people are naturally atheists by default until they get indoctrination by religion. We can now close the door on that claim and relegate it to the long list of claims that have been shown to be untrue.

Leaving aside the fact that I’m not sure what would follow from it even if it were true, this claim that we’re natural atheists has never seemed particularly credible to me. If we weren’t naturally inclined toward religion, I would expect it to exist as a custom here and there, not be universally present throughout human history, even in the most isolated cultures.

Read the rest of “Born Atheists? Science and Natural Belief in God.”

(HT: The Poached Egg)