Oxford psychologist Olivia Petrovich thinks that it may be a possibility that belief in God is inherent, that humans are born with faith. Hogwash!
I don’t doubt the sincerity of Ms. Petrovich’s research, nor do I think she shows a philosophical bias, but I do think her study is deeply flawed and misleading. Her recent cross-cultural scientific study on spirituality engaged three-and-a-half-year-old children on questions of origin and primary origin of natural and manmade objects. When asked about the primary origin or genesis of each object, the children were provided with three potential answers: God, Don’t Know, or Human origin. Inevitably, despite the differences in British and Japanese cultures, the children chose “God” as their answer, which seemed surprising since the Japanese are essentially raised agnostic.
Right away we can see a huge problem… forced options that are limited and unfair. “OK, Tomohiro, who made this tree? Your options are… an all powerful creator, you don’t know, or a man?” Hmm, I wonder which answer an imaginative and creative child, who regularly converses with cartoon characters on Nick Junior, is going to choose. It really isn’t hard to imagine that the more interesting and stimulating answer would be the one most chosen. I wonder what would happen if Flying Spaghetti Monster was one of the options.
There’s also another problem with the options, the likely accurate answer isn’t among them. Ms. Petrovich omitted the answer that is most plausible, requires the least amount of faith, and has the most evidence. Of course, I’m talking about natural selection, or more broadly, evolution. Well, evolution might seem to be too complex for a child, but if you showed a series of images for the origin of a horse, and you included in the options a picture of a horse ancestor, you might find that children would be more likely to pick that than a picture of nothing (God).
Of course, religious organizations will surely pounce on this poorly designed study as proof that religion is instinctual. But why would they open themselves up to the obvious rejoinder that this study only reminds us that children are naturally easily fooled, relatively ignorant, and overly imaginative? We are talking about the types of minds that trust in the concept of a jolly elf flying from rooftop to rooftop on a magic sleigh pulled by gravity-defying reindeer.
Lastly, the Japanese children who chose God used the word “Kami“, which does not translate strictly to “Deity”. Kami is seen as spiritual beings of energy unique to different objects rather than as an ultimate creator. I hate to quibble over details, but it’s really a stretch to compare Kami with Intelligent Design.
Already blogs are reporting that infants have a natural belief in God. Theage.com goes so far as to lead their article with this misleading nugget…
“INFANTS are hard-wired to believe in God, and atheism has to be learned, according to an Oxford University psychologist.”
They then end with a quote from Ms. Petrovich that…
“Atheism is definitely an acquired position,”
I think of the term “atheism” as meaning ‘without a faith in God’. Under those terms, atheism is most certainly NOT an acquired position. We must be taught to believe in metaphysical entities, and even asking children to choose God as an option, is a form of teaching them. One must know what a God is before one can choose God as an answer, and I’m assuming that the children were guided about the meaning of the possible answers. And if so, then how does that prove a natural belief in God or that secular thought is unnatural?
What do you think?