Some years ago there was a seminal article written on a relatively obscure blog site that offered a list of mostly secular cognitive studies on the subject of whether the existence of God was based on nature (existed at birth) or nurture (exposure during life) and further if children were naturally religious or being indoctrinated by those in authority. The conclusion was that a belief in Creation and a Creator was either inherited, or at least not due to any coercion by outsiders (parents, preachers, etc.). If correct, kids are born with a predisposition toward the supernatural, and therefore atheism, or a view that there is no God, must be a learned viewpoint from outside influencers.
I have provided a link to the original blog and the author’s added updates. This work was then expanded by a second blogger in a subsequent post. I would like to point out that both these individuals are NOT offering their personal views. They are merely citing references to original scientifically controlled studies. Each study can be questioned as to procedures and outcomes. However, I leave that to my readers since I admit to having no credibility in the evaluation of cognitive research. Comments listed on all three posts clearly show this to be an active debate with many strong opinions. Finally, these studies and conclusions come from a position of explaining this phenomenon largely from a humanistic perspective. Few offer a Biblical Christian worldview in trying to understand and defend their findings.
Below are a few quotes taken from these cognitive researchers….
- Justin Barrett is Director of the Thrive Center for Human Development (a Christian) – “Belief in God is an almost inevitable consequence of the kind of minds we have….Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?”
- Deborah Keleman studies cognitive development in children at Boston University – …. religion primarily stems from within the person rather than from external, socially organized sources …. evolved components of the human mind tend to lead people towards religiosity early in life… They conclude that [religion] “cannot be understood as resulting primarily from education or passive acquisition from parents or society”.
- Paul Bloom runs the Mind and Development Lab at Yale University – …. the universal themes of religion are not learned. They emerge as accidental by-products of our mental systems. They are part of human nature… we’ve evolved to be creationists”.
- Bruce Hood is a professor of developmental psychology at Bristol University – “Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works. Hood believes it is futile to try to get people to abandon their beliefs because these come from such a “fundamental level”.
- Olivera Petrovich is a psychologist studying religion and human development at Oxford University – “’the concept of God as creator’ is hard-wired into the human psyche”.
Of course, I am not suggesting that this list of quotes and the studies which support them is definitive evidence that God exists or that adults, and particularly parents and the church, have little influence over religious beliefs in developing children. I do think it provides a point of discussion on the God-shaped hole that can be found in all of mankind:
Ecclesiastes 3:11b He has also set eternity in the hearts of men
Christians have a belief that God placed a vacuum or emptiness in the heart of man that can only be adequately filled by a relationship with Him. We believe that mankind tries to fill that void with toys (cars, boats, etc.) but they provide only happiness, not joy. So, a series of research studies that suggest children might have an innate belief in a supreme Creator is intriguing in its application to that viewpoint.
Psalms 63:1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.