The Science of Children's Religious Belief
Free Press, Hardcover, 9781439196540, 302pp.
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
Infants have a lot to make sense of in the world: Why does the sun shine and night fall; why do some objects move in response to words, while others won't budge; who is it that looks over them and cares for them? How the developing brain grapples with these and other questions leads children, across cultures, to naturally develop a belief in a divine power of remarkably consistent traits--a god that is a powerful creator, knowing, immortal, and good--explains noted developmental psychologist and anthropologist Justin L. Barrett in this enlightening and provocative book. In short, we are all born believers.
Belief begins in the brain. Under the sway of powerful internal and external influences, children understand their environments by imagining at least one creative and intelligent agent, a grand creator and controller that brings order and purpose to the world. Further, these beliefs in unseen super beings help organize children's intuitions about morality and surprising life events, making life meaningful. Summarizing scientific experiments conducted with children across the globe, Professor Barrett illustrates the ways human beings have come to develop complex belief systems about God's omniscience, the afterlife, and the immortality of deities. He shows how the science of childhood religiosity reveals, across humanity, a "natural religion," the organization of those beliefs that humans gravitate to organically, and how it underlies all of the world's major religions, uniting them under one common source.
For believers and nonbelievers alike, Barrett offers a compelling argument for the human instinct for religion, as he guides all parents in how to effectively encourage children in developing a healthy constellation of beliefs about the world around them.
“A fascinating and readable account of why religious beliefs are perfectly normal and virtually universal. In an age of atheism, this book will challenge widespread assumptions that nonbelief is the default and that children must be indoctrinated to believe. Jam-packed with insight and wit, Born Believers should be required reading for all parents and for anyone else interested in the spiritual lives of children.”
-Robert A. Emmons, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Davis and Past-President, American Psychological Association’s Division of the Psychology of Religion
“A must read for anyone interested in knowing where and how spirituality develops in our life and our brain. A great combination of stories and information that will provide everyone with a new way of thinking about our beliefs.”
-Andrew Newberg, MD., author of How God Changes Your Brain and Why God Won't Go Away
“For those of us adults who have wondered from where our certainty derives that there is a Divine Force embedded within the world and in our lives, Justin Barrett in Born Believers provides the well-documented answer. My research into the physical and biological wonders of life’s cosmic development cemented this belief for me, but the origins, the initial stirrings, had always eluded me. Barrett’s well-written book solved that quandary.”
-Gerald Schroeder, Ph.D., author of The Science of God and God According To God
“Dr. Barrett provides a provocative, compelling, tender-hearted analysis of what young children believe, why they believe it, and what the implications are for us as adults and parents. A timely response to the New Atheists who argue that religious belief is unnatural or that religious values are inappropriate to pass on to the next generation.”
-Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman, Cordoba Initiative, and author of Moving the Mountain
“Born Believers will challenge the anti-religion camp with Barrett’s careful science. Barrett's analysis shows that infants have a natural inclination to believe in a supreme being, and that their subsequent beliefs cannot be explained as the sole result of indoctrination or brainwashing by heavy-handed adults. This book raises profound questions about the origins of theism and the place of religious belief in human affairs.”
-Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Healing Words and The Power of Premonitions