For years, people have argued that our minds’ natural default position is non-belief. Left to ourselves, we would never grow up thinking about God. Religion is, therefore, an imposition on the susceptible minds of children. Some have suggested that teaching kids about God comes close to a form of brain washing.
Our guest for this episode, Justin Barrett, says that is actually getting harder to argue. Research from the last 20 years indicates that thoughts about God aren’t by-products of American or Western culture. It’s not indoctrination. These thoughts are natural. Believing that someone – not something – governs the world comes as easily to children as curiosity, imagination and play.
- Find out more about our guest Professor Justin L Barrett.
- Get Professor Barrett’s book, Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief
- More on Ludwig Feuerbach and his ideas on religion as “wish fulfillment’
- Watch more of comedy trio Just These Please here.
- Read more about Sigmund Freud’s views on religion in this New York Times Magazine piece called ‘Defender of the Faith’.
- Professor Barrett is a big fan of Deborah Keleman’s work from Boston University. Find out more about Keleman, here.
- And read this article from New Scientist about one of Keleman’s studies from 2009, ‘Humans may be primed to believe in creation’.
- And this article from American Pscyhological Association titled ‘A Reason to Believe’
- Keleman’s findings about children in China who endorse teleological explanations of natural phenomena can be found in the May 2017 Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
- What in the world does ‘teleological’ mean? It’s an explanation by reference to some purpose, end, goal or function. So, a teleological explanation is an account of a given thing’s purpose. Check out this explanation on Britannica.
- Keleman, with other researchers, has only completed studies on whether non-religious adults have a tacit tendency to view nature as purposefully created by some being. They conducted research in Finland (a notoriously secular country) and the US and compared results. Read the report here.
- How the Borks Became: An Adventure in Evolution by Jonathan Emmett
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
- The Atlantic interviewed Philip Pullman about His Dark Materials, which has recently been made into an HBO series:
“Storytelling, for Pullman, is a way into our world—not out of it. He loves folktales and fairy tales for their clarity and everydayness; he loves William Blake; he loves what we might call the Luciferian or deity-defying side of John Milton. He even, in a cranky and rather beautiful way, loves Jesus. But he hates the bloody Church.
“You’ll pick this up quite quickly when you watch the first episode of HBO’s new dramatization of His Dark Materials. A body called the Magisterium holds a centuries-long dominion over the earthly realm. It spews doctrine; it crushes heresy; it circumscribes knowledge and inhibits discussion. Its priests are everywhere, like secret police. It’s also stealing children.”
- Here’s a different take on His Dark Materials, from Christianity Today:
“The church without a Savior is an empty shell, a vacuum that inevitably seeks power. And in His Dark Materials, the absence of Jesus is strikingly conspicuous even though he is never named. Pullman told Williams in 2004 that Jesus does not exist in the realm of his Magisterium, an acknowledgement that his church offers no redemption and is only an organization of human power. And in a world where the church controls the government, it is hardly a fantasy that the human authorities use religious manipulation to cement their control.
“The New Testament has a fair amount to say about structuring the church so that it supports the goal of pointing its people to Christ and it describes a church body with dispersed power. Without Christ at the head, the church is a slave to sin instead of proclaiming its purpose: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1).”
- John Dickson was on ABC’s Q&A program in 2013. Watch it here.
- Justin Barrett has written a research paper on Why Santa Claus is not a God. Check it out here.
- Read A.C Grayling’s attack on Professor Justin Barrett in The Guardian here (from 2008)
- And then read Professor Barrett’s response.
- Watch the Centre For Public Christianity’s interview with Olivera Petrovich
Want to send John Dickson a question? He loves them. Just click here to provide a query for our next Q and A show!
Undeceptions is part of the Eternity Podcast Network, an audio collection showcasing the seriously good news of faith today.