KIDS aren’t blank slates upon which we inscribe our religious or irreligious convictions. Rather, they arrive in the world with a strong, cognitively driven propensity for religious belief “preinstalled”.
That’s Justin Barrett’s argument in his book, Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief.
Barrett, a psychologist at Fuller Theological Seminary, argues that when it comes to kids’ brains, the deck is stacked against atheism. Children come into this world predisposed toward believing in supernatural entities—their “minds are naturally tuned up to believe in gods generally, and perhaps God in particular.” Drawing from a wide array of studies and experiments, including his own, Barrett shows that kids don’t need to be indoctrinated into religion, because their hardwiring all but guarantees that they will be believers, of a sort, whether or not their parents want them to be.
Barrett devotes a good chunk of Born Believers to debunking the indoctrination hypothesis, the idea, as he puts it in the book, that “children believe because their parents (and other trusted adults) act as if they believe, and talk as if they believe.”
If our brains evolved, as Barrett argues, to find religion much easier to grasp onto than nonreligion, then this isn’t simply a matter of education or culture. As popular as the atheist view that having kids read Carl Sagan and Sam Harris from an early age will lead to a profoundly secular society is, it isn’t backed up by science. Not when religious beliefs stem from such foundational parts of our cognitive architecture.