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5/5/09

Children, Theory of Mind, & Hard-Wiring For God

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues that religion is propagated through indoctrination, especially of children. Children are gullible, explains Dawkins, and they carry into adulthood what is imprinted on their brains at an early age.

Research indicates this is not the case. Instead, it argues that "god isn't going away, and that atheism will always be a hard sell." Children the world over seem to have an innate capacity to believe in god or gods. This is apparently how the human mind works. It is a kind of intuitive thinking that is part of our brain structure throughout life. In short, studies of children imply that belief in god is hard-wired into the brain.

"There is plenty of evidence that thinking about disembodied minds comes naturally. People readily form relationships with non-existent others: roughly half of all 4-year-olds have had an imaginary friend, and adults often form and maintain relationships with dead relatives, fictional characters and fantasy partners."

Still, the ability to think about disembodied minds, is insufficient to explain belief in God. There is also our natural inclination to think in terms of cause and effect. For a hunter-gatherer if the wind rustled a bush, the cause might be construed as spirits.

Something called common-sense dualism also plays a part. Babies "as young as five months make a distinction between inanimate objects and people." More at New Scientist.

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