The Science of Children’s Religious Belief

Mar 31, 2012

Though some people are born with natural talents, artistic, athletic, even mathematical, it seems that all people are born with a propensity to become religious. In his new book “Born Believers” author and researcher Justin Barrett argues that the way our brains naturally develop, make us prone to believe in a complex system of beliefs about God’s omnipotence, about spirits and the afterlife.

From a series of scientific experiments conducted with children throughout the world Barrett has developed his theory of “Natural Religion,” a set of religious beliefs that children are naturally inclined to regardless of culture or ideology. After analyzing these experiments Barrett has concluded that the developing mind of a child is perfectly suited for belief in the divine. When introduced to unexpected events children will, according to the author, automatically see them as caused by a non-human creator or agent.

In other words, children have a natural tendency to see the world as purposefully designed by a grand controller. It was supposed that without religious input from adults, children would become non-believers but Barrett’s work illustrates the contrary, that indoctrination is not the reason people are religious.

So why do some people grow up to be atheists? What implications do these claims have for parents who want to encourage their children to believe in God? Can and should atheist parents try to prevent the “natural” tendency for children to believe in the divine?


Justin Barrett, PhD, author of “Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Beliefs” (Free Press)

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