Are babies born believers? Or the idea of God is only limited to adults? With the rise of developmental psychology in the last hundred years, research showed interesting and astonishing results. “Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief” written by Justin L. Barrett (PhD) describes all of this in detail with scientific evidence both for and against.

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Just Myth or a Fact?

In Islam, there is a concept called “Fitra” or the “embed nature.” It is indicated even in The Quran. According to this phenomenon, Allah embedded the loyalty to Him into our soul when He created it. Therefore, human beings are naturally inclined to believe in some sort of God. It does not need to be forced on him/her. Other major religions also have similar beliefs. But this is what religion tells us; what about science?

Children’s Idea of God

Before asking whether a child believes in God or not, it is essential to know, “Can a child even recognize God?” According to the research, children can identify living things, physical objects, humans, and many more. They can identify the presence of both seen and unseen agents (things/beings). Not only that, they are eager to know the “why” or the reasoning behind everything. So, if there is a God, a child possesses the ability to identify Him.

Many scientific studies have shown that children are naturally inclined to God’s idea as if they know Him very well. In fact, sometimes better than adults; especially in understanding supernatural powers like – beyond time-space, controls everything, the infinity of His properties.

How do they Know Him?

But how!? How do they know Him? The easy answer is – “From parents.” Not so fast! The writer presented many studies against the “Indoctrination Hypothesis” or “taught by parents.”

For instance – If parents do not brainwash their child, would we lose all the religion from the world? Hypothetically, if atheism is natural, an atheist parent’s child would remain atheist (but evidence shows otherwise). A calculation shows that, in that scenario, after 6 generations (approx 200 years), only 5% of the world population would be religious. But we do not see that, do we? Hinduism is here for thousands of years. Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam are also surviving strongly for thousands of years. So, it is not “indoctrination,” something else must be going on.

Evidently, children do not simply trust what their parents or other authority figures tell them. If a child would listen/believe his parents that easily, our parents’ lives would be more comfortable and pleasant. Parents know this very well. They just hope that their child listens or at least pretends to believe them. Furthermore, research shows that indoctrination can backfire, resulting in the child not being interested in what is taught anymore.

Should Parents Play Any Role

Outspoken atheists of present time like Dawkins and Hitchens compares parents effort to teach their children religiosity to the child (sexual) abuse. It is well documented in the scientific studies that – if a family follows the religious value more, the children would be more mentally, spiritually, socially, and physically healthy. In contrast, the negative effect of child abuse is also well documented. However, there is no scientific evidence on the relation/connection between these two’s experiences. Thus, without any structured scientific relation between them, such claim of Dawkins and Hitchens in their lectures, writings is irresponsible in general and dangerous for science. Undoubtedly, parents’ responsibility is to ensure that their children grow up as good human beings.

Interestingly, the book also discusses in detail whether atheism is natural in children. In fact, it compiled a list of suggestions to become a successful atheist!

Parenting is Important!

It is evident from the research works of the last hundred years that children have a natural tendency towards believing in God. Yet, born believers need proper training to better utilize it. There is a story in the book. A child was asked how does he follow Jesus without seeing him? He answered, “I just watch daddy – he has to live like Jesus, and I have to live like him.”

Children primarily want to be like their parents. At an early age, they try to find their hero in them. Thus, despite being born believers, parents play an important role in later development. For example- every child has a natural tendency to eat when s/he is hungry. But it takes guidance to teach him what to eat and what not to, what is healthy and what is not. In the last two chapters, the book discusses what role parents should play in children’s theological development.

Choice is Theirs –

In the conclusion of the book, the writer commented – people are free to make their own decision. Parents, teachers, and caregivers should make a proper effort to pass down what they believe as truth. But at the end of the day, it is their choice if they become a true believer or not.

Though children may be born believers, whether they die believers is between them and God.

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