We Are All Born Atheist

Very good article, and very clearly written.

The sad yet clear double standard is that many, if not most, religious parents will insist that their faith is a personal choice to which they are entitled – and quite rightly so, as per Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – but fail to apply that freedom to their own children, when it comes to inculcating their beliefs into them. My gripe, I suppose, is that I do not believe that parents have a ‘right to raise their children as they see fit’, as this is a dangerously subjective precept that gives carte blanche to coercive and abusive practices (for the most extreme cases, one need look no further than the New Hartford parents who whipped their son to death with electrical cables last year,1 for wanting to leave their church) as much as it does to the teaching of socially adaptive behaviour.

By coincidence, I was reading about the matter of religious versus secular education, and came across the following from the New Zealand Secular Education Network, which includes an important distinction worth repeating:

‘Religious Instruction means teaching and endorsing a faith in its own right, for example the practice of Church volunteers “leading children to a faith in Jesus”. There is a significant difference between religious instruction and religious studies, [which teach] a comparative overview of the major world religions, taken by qualified teachers in a neutral manner.’

I am all in favour of Religious Studies, as, atheist or not, religion is an important cultural component of the backdrop of humanity, and a comparative appreciation of world religions can foster a sense of connectedness and an understanding of our heritage. On the other hand, the necessarily partial and exclusive teachings in Religious Instruction tend to foster an ‘us-and-them’ mentality that can be detrimental to social cohesion, encourage belief in the fantastical and/or magical as on an equal footing with physical reality, and finally – for the sake of their own survival – stand against critical, rational thinking.

Our children deserve better than that.

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1 Sanchez, Ray, and Lawrence Crook. “Police: Teen killed in N.Y. church assault wanted out.” Edition.cnn.com. Cable News Network, 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 7 May 2016.

Matthew Phillips

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That’s right, even the zealous, the pious and the most committed of religious characters were born without any beliefs in gods. As Richard Dawkins points out in “The God Delusion”, children don’t have religions their parents do. We are born without knowledge of our culture, without an understanding of social stratification and without superstition. Children don’t inherit characteristics of social division, they are labelled with them. We ascribe them to them. They have to be learned and are invariably taught. In fact a quick search for “Christian preschool” will return a host of results for places children from 2 to 5 years old can learn about Christianity  while learning to grip a pencil, identify colours and count to 20. Hazel’s Christian Preschool  takes the view that…

“Through creative exploration and “hands on” approach, each child is supported emotionally,cognitively, physically, social growth and foundational opportunities to know God as our loving creator and…

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5 comments on “We Are All Born Atheist

  1. Matt says:

    There’s a big leap Jack from hyperactive agency detection to a creator that must be divine and supernatural. As we begin to make that leap, we stop doing science and begin doing theology. The same is true of the assertion that children are hardwired to believe in God. They are as hardwired to believe in God as they are to believe in spirits, fairies, gods or that shadows are potential threats. I agree that we have cognitive tools that have evolutionary significance and play a part in the later acquisition of unfalsifiable beliefs but children aren’t born with beliefs. Scientific claims are often pressed into unscientific service to try to lend credibility to unfalsifiable claims.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jack The Lad says:

    This goes against scientific findings and studies of the human being see science daily, and many other studies on believing in a creator is within the human nature and atheism is adopted https://jacktheladhub.com/2016/03/06/is-believing-in-the-god-human-nature-jack-the-lad/

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    • Matt says:

      I think you misunderstand the scientific findings you’re referring to, this article and what atheism is Jack. Children may have an evolutionary predisposition towards ways of thinking that are apparent in religion but they are born without beliefs in gods. Beliefs are complex and have to be learned.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jack The Lad says:

        Professor Justin Barrett did some research by looking at the behaviour and claims of children. He concluded that the children believed in what he calls “natural religion”. This is the idea that there is a personal being that created the entire universe. That ‘being’ cannot be human – it must be divine, supernatural:

        Scientific research on children’s developing minds and supernatural beliefs suggests that children normally and rapidly acquire minds that facilitate belief in supernatural agents… Not long after their first birthday, babies appear to understand that agents, but not natural forces or ordinary objects, can create order out of disorder… Who is the creator? Children know people are not good candidates. It must have been a God… Children are born believers of what I call natural religion… [1]

        There is in fact psychological, sociological and anthropologist evidence to support this notion. Oxford University psychologist Dr Olivera Petrovich, an expert in psychology of religion, conducted some studies concerning the psychology of the human being and God’s existance. She discovered that infants are hard-wired to believe in God, and atheism has to be adopted. [2]

        References

        1. Born believers: The science of children’s religious belief, 2012, pp. 35-36

        2. Infants ‘have natural belief in God’, The Age National (Australia) Accessed 7th February 2015

        They are born in a state of submission they had no control over their creation and they did not create themselves. A baby is only conscience of it’s surroundings at the age of 2-3 and science teaches that ‘children rapidly and naturally acquire the belief of a creator which cannot be a human being but something beyond nature’.

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    • Matt S. says:

      Bear in mind that the assertion of a claim by an academic or three does not justify abandoning one’s critical scepticism. To accept claims in this way is to open oneself up to appeals to authority, and to confirmation bias.

      There are other points to consider, such as linguistic and conceptual ambiguities (e.g. inconsistent definitions of ‘babies’ or ‘gods’, such that Petrovich and Barrett could be talking about different things entirely), which do not support a hastily drawn conclusion, much less a dichotomous one.

      It is not a convincing argument to claim that “atheism is adopted” because Barrett and a few others appear to say that belief in a creator-god is innate. The argument may be logically valid, but it is not logically sound, because the reasons for believing the claim are not themselves true.

      My point is not to say “You’re wrong!”, but to hopefully highlight some of the many ways in which we should be evaluating such information.

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