Are We Born With a Belief in God?

There are many people who contend we are born with a “god sense.” But are we? And is this “knowledge” of the numinous the Christian god (as many believers contend) or is it any god?

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Preparing for this post, I did some internet research. (Qualifier: I have not studied philosophy and hold no degrees. Everything I offer in this post is based on my limited research plus personal opinion.)

Nearly every site I came across was Christian-oriented which, of course, contended … “Oh Yes! The God Spirit is there at the very beginning!” They would then cite various scriptures from the bible to support this belief, along with quotes from some other individuals who affirmed this view. For example:

Swiss theologian John Calvin, who states …

That there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of deity [sensus divinitatus], we hold to be beyond dispute

Along with philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who contends that …

when human beings function naturally in the world, without coercion or indoctrination, they do in fact naturally form the belief that God is there.

Some of the websites even referenced innatism, which holds that the mind is born with ideas, knowledge and beliefs and is not a “blank slate” as early empiricists claim. Plato and Descartes were two prominent philosophers that agreed with this perspective.

Yet the best supported findings of developmental psychology tell us children are born with almost no innate concepts of anythingThey are simply innocent human beings entering this world.

Further, when one considers we have no control over our birth circumstances, to wit: we do not get to choose the day we are born, the family we are born into, what we are named at birth, what country we are born in, nor do we get to choose our ancestry, it seems unlikely we would have any kind of “special knowledge” about a supernatural being.

I feel certain many (especially those who regularly read this blog) would agree with this perspective. In fact, one person in particular (who calls himself “rawgod“) recently offered his thoughts on this subject on another blog. I tended to concur with what he had to say so, with his permission, I’ve included (some) of his remarks below:

Were a baby to be born and NEVER introduced to the god fantasy, it would never conceive of a god or gods on its own, there is no need to do so. But once gods were invented, and made popular, suddenly everyone had to have them. This was slowly accomplished through great salesmanship, and then brainwashing youngsters. But it was accomplished, and at one point in history probably 99.999% of humans had some kind of belief in gods, or a god.

We are told about religion, and gods, so now we are predisposed to believe … we are very very seldom left to ourselves to grow up not believing in something

Remember, we are not born with the idea of gods, but it is in our nature to need to feel connected to something. When our parents, teachers, and preachers turn us in the direction of religion it is an easy place for a child to go to. And it is just as easy to become trapped there.

It would seem rawgod is onto something in that last paragraph as there are studies that validate the need to feel connected/attached,  But does this automatically lead to a god figure?

Absolutely! IF this is what the child is exposed to.

For example, Christian parents begin teaching their children at a very early age about the “goodness of god.” Along with weekly Sunday School or catechism classes, reading bible stories, singing Jesus songs, saying grace at meals, praying at bedtime, the child is regularly exposed to, as rawgod put it … “the god fantasy.” (Naturally, the same would be true for children of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and all other faiths.)

As a result, there is little doubt that as the child grows and matures, the predisposition towards the chosen deity has been firmly set.

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But now let us return to the primary question (as asked by rawgod):

Were a baby to be born and NEVER introduced to the “god fantasy,”
would it conceive of a god or gods on its own?

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126 thoughts on “Are We Born With a Belief in God?

  1. “Sensus divinitatus” — that’s pretty much meaningless mumbo-jumbo that can never be pinned down.

    I’d say that rawgod has it about right. However, this is not something that I would argue about. I never did see the point of having an argument where neither side knows what they are arguing about and both sides are making it up as they go along.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I just finished watching a documentary on the Nazi propaganda system and the voice over at one point, talking about the Hitler Youth, said that if you could capture youths while they were young, you could get them to believe anything. (I kid you not.)

    If these theists really believed the above statements, then why do they work so hard to baptize their children, confirm them in a church, indoctrinate them, proselytize them, and so on? Have they no faith in the god spirit in all of us?

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    • I think that infants are born with a sense of wonder. A sense of why and how many and what. Adults feed that, but at a level a small child can understand. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy.

      I always feel a bit sad for kids who have never been allowed the slightest bit of magic and whimsy in their lives.

      And most of us, as kids, played out our lives with Tonka Trucks and sand castles at the beach and the ‘mommy/daddy” fantasies (you be the daddy and I’ll be the mommy and you come home from work…) all of which give us practice at being ‘grownup’ but at our level. We mimic the adults around us.

      But God only enters into this spontaneity if we grow up in a family that believes in a deity. Oh I just got a flash here. We learn from the people around us. We learn how to behave in the world we were born into, by role playing. And as very young children, if we are part of an atheistically oriented family, there is no God fantasy to take on.

      I seriously doubt that Christian families need to work that hard to get a kid to ‘believe”, since they are usually perfectly willing to believe what they see or hear going on around them, in a family setting. Maybe if Evangelicals pushed a little less, the kids would be willing to stick it out a bit longer. It does seem that the younger generation(s) are weary, weary, of overkill in this regard. And who can blame them.

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  3. Quote: “Were a baby to be born and NEVER introduced to the “god fantasy,” would it conceive of a god or gods on its own?” With apologies to Neil Rickert, and a hello to rawgod (we do know each other bloggingly well) I’d go with the opposite, based on the way beliefs in God, Goddess, goddesses, demons, fairies, sprites, goblins and on and on ad nauseam are found all over the world, from the most sophisticated and “civilized” to the last remnants of people living in ever diminishing wildernesses. The belief is not fed from one source and outwardly, it is endemic to the Earthian being. Instead of debating whether it is endemic or not – Rick makes an excellent point – we should find out how that belief in deities ever got started, and then we would be empowered to know why it is so widespread and shows no sign of dying out, perhaps the contrary. Many a self professed atheist has found it to be a mentally untenable position, slipping back into agnosticism and eventually rejoining some sort of religious community. Let’s not forget that even atheists now have a world-wide church. What does that say?

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    • ????? I’ve been an atheist all my life and I’ve never heard of any “atheist church”. It’s a contradiction in terms, unless the meanings of words are twisted beyond the breaking point.

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      • Hi, sorry, I should have followed up with a link. You could start here: http://firstchurchofatheism.org/

        The point for me, since I discovered such organizations, was always, ‘Why a church?’ and ‘Why have ordained ministers?’ Is it because such organizations are controlling and cash cows, or is it that a lot of atheists came from religious organizations and wanted to participate in some of the old ways, like charitable programs, or educational programs while officially registered as non-profits? Surely there are better ways than to re-enact the old ways that did not satisfy?

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    • I’d like to be nice Sha’Tara, but these final two sentences of yours reeks of intentional religious apologetic crap and demands a highly critical response.

      How can non belief be a ‘mentally untenable position’ unless confronted by overwhelming evidence from reality that directly supports the validity of the belief? And that’s certainly not the case regarding any gods or a god. The direct evidence from reality that links this proposed cause to real world effects is non existent. So something else drives some people to begin to believe in the unbelievable. Reality itself is an innocent bystander.

      The ‘slipping’ you airily claim to agnosticism by ‘many’ atheists is not just a standard apologetic PRATT but a bait and switch argument from this unsupported positive belief claim in a gods or a god to a knowledge claim that is uncertain. You present this ‘slipping’ as an either/or case – as if from one position to another – when in fact most atheists – including Dawkins, for crying out loud – quite rightly claim to be agnostic atheists which covers both the belief claim (don’t believe) and the knowledge claim (can’t know for sure). There’s simply no ‘slipping’ here whatsoever… except by those who wish to stand on a mythical middle ground and pretend this the only reasonable position to hold… usually in order to separate themselves from those nasty atheists who have the courage to take a position of no belief versus those who succumb to indoctrination.

      As for the idiocy of a ‘church’ for non believers, how on earth can one have anything close to the definition of a ‘church’ when there is no core beliefs, no central doctrine, no shared values, no nothing that attaches itself to not believing in something. That’s why the notion is idiotic. Do you belong to the ‘church’ of Not Collecting Postage Stamps if you don’t collect postage stamps? I mean, seriously, this common religious apologetic claim of some version of a religious affiliation by atheists boggles the rational mind that people actually can think this way, believe it to have some truth value when it so obviously does not, without the slightest shame for raping the common language to this gross of an extent. Atheism, for the umpteenth time, is an empty set; it means no belief in the theological claims (a-theism). All the rest is imported by people with an agenda other than respecting what’s true. And that’s what I think you’ve done here, Sha’Tara, imported a load of apologetic crap.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Wow, I touched a nerve there, tildeb. I should have known Nan’s topic would immediately devolve into a Christian versus Atheism debate, for which I have no use whatsoever. A lot of people in America particularly have resentful emotional issues with their imposed religion. I’m not particularly interested in that either. I was, however, interested in Nan’s real question: are we born with a sense of the numinous? The very strong protests against the idea indicate we indeed are, and how difficult it is for “Earthians” to shake themselves out of that awareness – not because being spiritual is in essence wrong, but because it is linked to the nefarious workings of religion. Atheists throw out the baby with the bathwater, attempting/pretending to live while denying what is likely the most necessary aspect of being human. Ask yourself: what makes a human, a human? Why are we so different than other animals? Because we have opposable thumbs? Is that it?

        Think about this: a human is a creature composed of spirit, mind and a physical body that includes a brain. We’re supposed to use that last one. Then think about this one: will atheists, should the world become atheist whereas it is now religious, be more successful in resolving this world’s very real social, economic and environmental problems? Will innate violence, misogyny, racism and war automatically disappear under atheist rule? It’s not what you deny or throw out that changes things, it’s what you replace it with.

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        • The very strong protests against the idea indicate we indeed are

          The fact that a lot of people say humans are not born with a sense of God doesn’t “indicate” that we are born with a sense of God. That’s illogical. If a lot of people deny that the Earth is flat, that isn’t an indication that the Earth is flat.

          what makes a human, a human? Why are we so different than other animals?

          Superior intelligence. That’s all. All the other differences between humans and other animals are by-products of the fact that we’re more intelligent. And that higher intelligence is a difference of degree, not kind, as anyone familiar with studies of ape behavior can attest.

          a human is a creature composed of spirit, mind and a physical body that includes a brain.

          There’s no evidence for the existence of any such thing as a “spirit”, although, like most religious terms, that word is so nebulously defined and used in so many different senses that it’s almost impossible to nail down what’s being asserted by it. The mind, including our self-awareness and free will, is generated by the brain in some way science doesn’t really understand yet, just as a thousand years ago science didn’t understand what lightning was or what caused tides and earthquakes. Given time we will understand it just as we came to understand those other phenomena. In the meantime, the fact that we don’t yet have an explanation is no reason to think anything supernatural is going on.

          As for the “First Church of Atheism” — as I said, meanings of words twisted beyond the breaking point. I doubt one atheist in ten thousand has ever heard of that group. The fact that the “recent forum topics” are years old indicates that it’s hardly an active organization. I could start an organization called “the vegetarian meat-eater’s club” or “the elderly children’s association”, but that wouldn’t stop those concepts from being incoherent.

          Many a self professed atheist has found it to be a mentally untenable position, slipping back into agnosticism and eventually rejoining some sort of religious community.

          Actually that very rarely happens, in comparison with the constant throngs of people abandoning religion and staying out of it, as shown by the explosive growth in the number of atheists over the last couple of decades. This is further evidence that there’s no inborn tendency to believe in God. If there were, large numbers of atheists would feel they were missing something. In fact, leaving religion seems to result in feelings similar to getting rid of a migraine — no desire at all to replace it with something similar.

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          • Well, atheist churches have been around for awhile and usually you can find them in major cities. Basically they are meeting places for atheists who miss some of the community aspects of leaving religion and some of the ritualistic elements. Or I suppose you can think of them as organizations of non-believers who meet in a building at least once a week in a structured environment to engage in certain shared values.

            see: link

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            • Meeting places…

              I’d like to further expound on your comment CR. TEDtalks in auditoriums, Arborist-Horticulturist conventions, auto-truck or boat/yacht shows-conventions, a plethora of science cons, comi-cons, a-kons, blizz-cons, literature conventions-shows, high-tech security expos, and the list goes on and on, showing that humans have ALWAYS demonstrated at least a strong desire to SHARE interests, values, and hobbies on regular basis. Yeshua-con? Mohammed-con? Sasquatch-akon! 😉 If there are regular Trekky-cons does it mean there is a Starship Enterprise warping thru the galaxy? Sasquatch-akon for the real creatures? If there are regular Steampunk-expos does that mean the Nautilus and Capt. Nemo have reached port and disembarked then after the weekend depart for the next expo?

              This social-intellectual sharing (Herd-mentality and behavior) is a HUMAN and animal phenomenon. Humans are easily fascinated (spiritual) by all sorts of dopamine-inducing activities. Many go looking for it… constantly. All good until it turns into addiction; but let’s keep it in perspective. Personally, I do not see it (nor does the science of neurocognition see it) as anything more than human creations. All of this (including churches or mosques) do not prove God exists or that a God interacts with Earth. However, this sort of regular activity most DEFINITELY gets thousands, millions, or billions of humans to participate in “fascinating” group activities like Trek-cons/churches and expos or gaming expos/churches.

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        • Then think about this one: will atheists, should the world become atheist whereas it is now religious, be more successful in resolving this world’s very real social, economic and environmental problems? Will innate violence, misogyny, racism and war automatically disappear under atheist rule?

          No need to speculate about this. We have data. The least religious countries in the world (Scandinavia, Britain, Japan) are the most crime-free and peaceful — what crime does exist in those places is disproportionately caused by immigrants from more religious cultures — and the most religious regions such as Latin America, black Africa, and the Middle East are the most violent. Similarly, within the US, the most secular states are the most peaceful while the most religious states have the highest rates of crime, teen pregnancy, divorce, etc. Over time, violence has generally declined along with the decline of religion. We can trace that trend all the way back to the time when Christianity was totally dominant in the West — the time of the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, witch-burnings, torture, and rates of conventional violent crime far higher than anything seen today. As the world continues to become more secular, there’s every reason to expect it to continue becoming more peaceful and humane as well.

          I would expect atheists to be somewhat more successful at solving social, economic, and environmental problems, since they wouldn’t be distracted by irrelevant beliefs in non-existent phenomena. A lot of American Christians’ contempt for taking care of the environment, for example, is rooted in their belief that God made the Earth for us to exploit, and that any damage we do to it doesn’t matter because Jesus will soon be coming back and bringing us a new Earth or taking the righteous up to Heaven or something equally idiotic.

          I don’t think violence, misogyny, racism and war would completely disappear if the world became entirely atheistic, but all other things being equal, they would probably be reduced to a much lower level than ever before, based on how they’ve declined as religious belief has declined.

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          • I agree with you 100% most of our problems in the US are festered by religion…racism, white supremacy, bigotry, homophobia, hatred of Muslims, hatred of Mexicans and other Latin America groups, keeping women somewhat suppressed, destruction of the environment, prosperity gospel ( in other words get rich off the backs of other people i.e.: Joel Osteen) and to some degree wars, although greed and aggression come into play. As has been said before, religion is poison and if we don’t get rid of it or drastically reduce it, we will not survive in the long run.

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        • Wow, my criticism touched a nerve there.

          You are starting with a faith-based assertion: that there really, really, really is a ‘spiritual’ reality – whatever that might mean in concrete terms. You then say strong protests indicate this claim is true.

          ?

          Like so many apologists before you, you rely on weasel-like slipperiness associating freely when convenient whatever emotional terms you care to adopt to make your case seem reasonable, that criticizing this ‘numinous’ agency Nan called ‘God’ is somehow a backward reflection on the criticizer rather than what it is in reality: a criticism of using apologetics to excuse believing whatever you want to believe about woo.

          You claim first hand experience with this supposedly real ‘spiritual’ reality… as if that is evidence in its favour! There’s no difference here with the Son of Sam listening to the voice of god through his dog… it was a first hand experience, after all, so the claim must be true!

          No.

          You have a bicameral brain. We mistake one hemisphere communicating with the other all the time with all kinds of supposedly external agencies we build in our brain. So we test this model against reality to find out if the dog really is talking. And that’s where your claims come up short as evidence. It does not independently link your claims of effect with cause you appoint. That’s why your ‘testimony’ alone is no different than any other but does highlight the dependence you place on the assumption you have made that the ‘spiritual’ realm is real… but supposedly more real than the voice of god talking to Son of Sam through the dog. You have no means to differentiate other than what you import to the claim and not what anyone can adduce from it.

          I could be wrong but I suspect the less superstitious woo we invest with confidence ‘helping’ us to deal with the very real problems of the very real world and our place in it, the better. Reality has a way of insisting it doesn’t care whatsoever about us or our superstitious beliefs. The sooner we realize that fact, the sooner we can start informing our decisions with knowledge rather than delusional imaginings.

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        • “Ask yourself: what makes a human, a human? Why are we so different than other animals? Because we have opposable thumbs? Is that it?”

          We have, apparently, a self-knowledge that many (if not all) other animals do not. We look in the mirror and recognize the face looking back. That does not mean we are any better (and sometimes we are much worse) than the ‘animals” we sneer at as being lesser. The only other animal who wages war on its own species is the chimpanzee, to which we have kinship.

          But just as we are not born with a gift for German or French or any language not normally spoken in the family, and just as we are not born with the ability to read, to factor, tap dance, even though those abilities might be inherent in our genetic makeup, it you have never been exposed to reading, or numbers, or tapdancing, I doubt if any of us would spontaneously launch into any of it. Same goes for a god belief.

          You are taught about that belief, the same way you’re taught to read, to tapdance, to play parcheesi.

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          • It’s my understanding that the post refers to a genetic predisposition to sense the divine, which is one thing, or a knowledge of the numinous, which is another thing entirely. It’s different because in your example of language, Judy54, the former refers to a genetic predisposition to sense specific and descriptive meaning in spoken patterned sounds, and the latter which presumes knowledge in a specific language. That’s why these are actually very different references Nan uses, I think, and cause much confusion about what is really being asked.

            Of course, it doesn’t help matters that there is no single and useful and descriptive definition for this thing called ‘God’ for which some people say we have an innate sense (to answer the question an innate sense of what exactly?), which is why the Latin ‘sensus divinitatus’ serves just as well… because the ‘what’ is completely arbitrary except in its broadest hand waving sense not of any specific but general and ill-defined notion… somewhat similar in its broad application to the generic term ‘language’, although ‘language’ is far, far better defined than is this term ‘god’ or ‘the divine’.

            The problem I see is that there is no bridge to cross – no means available to us – into any real of knowledge about whatever this sense indicates, what exists independent of us we can call ‘divine’ (referring back to this supposed sense of what) from this hand waved undefined god… and/or divine and/or numinous, and/or some spiritual notion being waved about as if it were a real sense of something versus our innate human ability to impose agency similar to the ‘I’ on phenomena in order to respond to it as if it were real.

            What gets lost here is the order in which agency is applied – from us outwards (this the evolutionary ability we demonstrate).

            The order is reversed by the woo-supporters who simply assume it is the other way around – that such agency exists independent from us – and then presume they can ‘know’ something about this agency as if independent of us and therefore real and knowable. This is the problem we see here in this thread. It’s like having good evidence we have an innate sense for discerning meaning through sound – language – and then arguing about some whether some specific language is therefore innate. In the same way, no specific god/religious belief is innate but the ability to project agency is.

            Religion, of course and yet again, tries to steal this ability for its own use. That’s why theists and other woo-meisters warp it and reverse the order, as if the ability itself indicated some means to ‘know’ about something independent of us. Theists and other woo-meisters then try to sell it back to us in the form of ‘knowledge’ about this independent divine/spiritual critter(s) who really, really really do exist independent of us, you see. That’s why it’s a shell game playing with an ill-defined divine/spiritual pea you have to believe resides under whichever shell you have yet to lift.

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            • Thank you, Prof, but I think I simply beat you to the punch. Neuroscience is the door through which we can actually enter to ‘know’ anything about the god/divine/spiritual meme.

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            • Concur completely. And as we know well the apologist’s typical counter-tactics against evolving, increasingly precise science, they DENY the validity of the cumulative scientific methods (based on repeatable results) until most, if not all of their supernatural claims are diluted to purely “esoteric” knowledge/experience and increasingly individualized and highly subjective. Hahahaha. So then what is their next tactic? Here in America for the last 2-3 decades those Fundy-Evangy institutions do one of two things: 1) fight to keep critical-thinking skill-sets (science) out of public school curriculums, and 2) start creating more and more “Charter” and private schools to control and teach their amputated biased “Creationist,” etc, curriculums. In a sense, more denial.

              Meanwhile, reality is their annoying persistent thorn that won’t leave ’em alone. 🙂

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            • okay, let’s put it this way. We are born with no knowledge of the outside world. We are, in many instances, blank slates, beyond our instincts to suvive. Some of the examples are concrete, some are abstract. God is one of those abstractions, as is Santa and the tooth fairy. If you were never told about any of these, I doubt if you would be able to cobble one up without strong hints from other people.
              People learn from other people.

              The hard part, as I see it, is when a child hears about this “god” and asks his parents what a “god” is…

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            • I very much liked your example of language, judyt54, which is why I immediately glommed (sp?) on to it and then shamelessly used it to try to create a bit a space around the ‘blank slate’ notion being floated here to insert the neurological recognition that our biology really does come equipped to help us deal with the reality we are about to enter. In this example of language, we are not blank slates and our brain’s readiness has already in vitro been exquisitely crafted by genetics to immediately and effortlessly begin to learn a specific language. This is an excellent example of our biological predisposition – what the religious like to call our ‘sense’ – to language itself which, by analogy, is what is being equivalently referred to for this ‘sense’ of the divine. Not a specific god, like a specific language, but the genetic predisposition to understand that we come equipped to recognize that the divine exists.

              This claim is what I disagree with… in that the ‘sense’ of the divine being referred to is not aimed at supernatural belief in divine agencies – and so I think it has been mislabeled, abused, and then sold under false pretenses by the woo-meisters to suit an agenda – but is a biological predisposition to assign the same agency as the ‘I’ to other objects and phenomena when necessary to cope with incoming sensory data and be better able to respond appropriately. So I think this ‘sense’ of the divine – like the ‘sense’ of language – is not taught and we do not come as a ‘blank slate’ regarding this automatic assigning of agency. We do this assigning because our brains automatically do this (for a variety of really sound evolutionary reasons) in the same way our brains immediately seek pattern recognition and shaped meaning in sounds. What faitheists do, however, is piggyback theistic ideas on to this biological ‘sense’ of agency with which we come equipped by our biology and then try to claim this same ‘sense’ is evidence for actual, historical, very real and interactive divine agencies. That’s why I clarify that we know this claim is wrong because the order of operation is wrong: our biology equips us to assign agency (gobs of evidence) and so this ‘sense’ does not reveal external agency (zero evidence).

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  4. One of my favorite reads was from Bartolo de las Casas and his first hand account as a priest that traveled with the Spaniards to the Caribbean. They were peaceful people that knew no violence, and as an un contacted tribe he noted they had no god or religion. They then forced Christianity on them with the point of a sword. They killed and tortured them and the did not even have a concept of violence. The point though is they had no gods. It had to be taught.

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  5. I suspect some would come up with some sort of supernatural belief. Alter all, at least one person in the distant past came up with the idea, otherwise the concept wouldn’t exist. While our understanding of the world is vastly different from that of several millennia ago, I suspect there is still enough that is unknown for some people to create “explanations” that have no scientific foundation.

    Are human beings the only species that experience awe and wonder? And are we the only species that have a need to seek explanations for practically everything? Combine those together, and I can understand how supernatural belief could arise.

    I suspect also, that being unified under a common belief might have had some evolutionary advantage, and perhaps this is why the vast majority of people feel the need to follow some form of belief, whether it is religious, political or even economic theory.

    How about this for an idea: while we might be born with a blank slate, we are born into societies that are far from being a blank slate. We are evolutionarily designed to adopt the beliefs and values of the society we grow up in, and if (and I emphasise “if”) we feel the need to justify those beliefs we have a tendency to look for “evidence” that confirms what we already believe (conformation bias). Empirical scientific methods are relatively new in human history, and I feel that where much of religion has let us down is that it mostly remains centuries behind current knowledge. And if the New Zealand experience is anywhere typical, I’d say it’s not the theologians and clergy, but the laity that are the problem in this regard.

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  6. At birth, we don’t have the slightest notion of what is happening to us. That is exactly our assignment in life: become conscious, find out what surrounds you, and make the best of it. If we are born with concepts – according to Plato and Descartes – I think it will strongly reduce our capacity to learn [and accept!] other views.
    I love the theory of the blank slate. Our ‘parents’ [or other persons who take care of us as a child] will inevitably guide (form) the neuron circuits of our brains.
    Needless to add [sorry for doing it all the same] that my answer to the Question is: No.
    .-

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  7. I think we are born with propensities that make it easy for us to be caught up in superstitious beliefs. We, as small children, must believe what our parents tell us, that’s necessary for survival. At all ages, we have a strong pattern recognition ability, that’s another of our survival strengths. It’s so strong that we overdo it and see patterns even when none are there. And we also have the tendency to attribute events to intentional agents first, rather than random happenings. That could also have been a survival skill, because if that rustle in the grass might be someone from another tribe coming to kill you, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

    Next, we have a “theory of mind”. For our complicated social relationships, we need to be able to think about what someone else is thinking, and also about what they think about what we are thinking, and so on. But that means that we think of another mind in a different way than we think about the physical person. We can think about what a dead person would have thought, and we can assign imagined thought processes to things that don’t have them. (When your car won’t start, and you yell at it, who are you talking to?) I think that leads to belief in afterlives and also in invisible beings that have thoughts and intentions.

    And lastly, we have confirmation bias, that convinces us that our beliefs are correct. Put all this together, and I think our brains are superstition generating machines, as a side effect of the mental abilities that allow us to be such a successful social species.

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  8. “Were a baby to be born and NEVER introduced to the “god fantasy,” would it conceive of a god or gods on its own?”

    What I have noticed about television programmes – touching the lives of tribes living in isolation from all the “advances” of modern living – is the various tribes’ respect for and connection with the natural and spiritual world. Just as – on the odd occasions I am in place devoid of electrical light and under a cloudless sky – I revel in wonder at the galaxies above and my part in it … our part in it … and wonder at life not yet discovered and whether I am connected to that life… whether this is “it” … and there must be more than just my iddy-biddy few years and small bunch of dying cells … because that makes me not much different to all the stuff I cut down to eat and undermines what I need to think I am – in control.

    I wonder if we are born to connect and speculate – a by-product of sophisticated problem-solving. And then the other side of ability – the liability of connection and speculation: seeking ever more complex routes to an insoluble question … “are we alone?” Which seeds sophisticated institutional religions and faiths – complete with sophisticated “problem solving isms and ologies” – all of which seem to mirror earthly hierarchies and social structures complete with superstitions and the bogey-man – as in “control”.

    All layered over a hard-wired tribal self-survival through necessary allegiance to tribes and community – and the subsequent (different tribes and communities) power struggles now played-out in the “I am right and you are wrong” (to an insoluble question) from all sides.

    🙂

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  9. We don’t have a god hole we are trying to fill. In African religion, we live in a religious universe and thus Augustine and all after him are wrong that man only finds rest when they are united with god.

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  10. Following your logic on the concept, if a child had no inkling of God at birth, then we would not have God today. The first humans would never have developed a sense of God, and therefore would not be able to “brainwash” their children.

    So, that must mean…….

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  11. Like in all things appointed to be of value, the pauper we call religion who comes with nothing of any truth value on its own steals everything it can find of value and then claims original ownership. In this case, our species assigns the same agency we understand to be the ‘I’ with every encountered phenomena in order to assign motive to facilitate prediction. Because this is part of our reptilian brain process, emotion and emotional motive plays a much more dominant role than do collecting and considering of facts to build a modeled understanding that can then be tested against reality… a brain process that requires higher cognitive functioning. That’s why we first yell at the uncooperative car or the pot boiling over before feeling embarrassed we have invested emotional energy doing this useless assigning.

    We do this assigning without much if any conscious thought because our brains are wired to develop this way. We assign agency to all kinds of processes and patterns (“Math is not my friend”) even if we (well, most of us) don’t literally believe the assignment. We don’t literally believe the car has gremlins out to get us although we may present the problem we encounter this way… especially in story form. Agency becomes a metaphorical shortcut to understanding and predicting natural phenomena (we even give names to winds, for crying out loud!). It takes a special kind of dullard to actually believe all these agents and agencies are literally and historically real and active agents with intention and plans and purposes with us personally in ‘mind’… and then actually operate in the world as if these agencies existed to this end. It’s remarkably dull-witted because none of the assumed agencies can survive any higher cognitive functioning when modeled and checked against reality.

    Belief in a God/gods/spirits/unseen agencies is as innate as is acting like an idiot; we all do it – and do it all the time without any thought – but that doesn’t make it a virtue.

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    • Yes, exactly. There’s a straight line of progression from begging a balky car to start to begging God to help win a football game.

      Shintô (native Japanese religion) represents a somewhat earlier stage of this development. There’s no dividing line between animistic spirits believed to inhabit things like trees and the “gods” — the same word (kami) is used for both — there are just kami varying in importance and power.

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  12. Speaking as one of the apparently-rare atheists who grew up without religion (as opposed to growing up with religion and then leaving it), I don’t think so. I don’t remember ever thinking of such a concept as “god” as a child. I remember having a kid’s book of Bible stories, but I never thought of it as any different from other storybooks I had like Aesop’s fables. Obviously I eventually learned about religion and concepts of gods, but I never felt like such things resonated with some sort of unmet need. They were always just stories, and not even particularly interesting ones.

    I’m no expert on east Asian cultures, but my impression is that many of them don’t have much of a sense of a god. Buddhism is a religion in the sense of having supernatural beliefs and moral codes, but its idea of god seems hazier and less central than in religions elsewhere in the world.

    The fact that religion is so widespread is certainly no evidence that we have an inborn tendency to believe. The human tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects (how many times have you mentally begged a traffic light to stay green as you approached it?) would tend to gradually build up into a belief in spirits, and eventually gods, over many generations. Religion is such an effective mechanism for elites to control masses of people that in any culture, some malignant and imaginative element will eventually create and shape it for that goal.

    And while we don’t have an inborn sense of god, we do have an inborn tendency to believe what we’re told. Natural selection ensured that — in the stone age, when the elders told the children “don’t go near the lagoon, there are crocodiles there”, the children who simply obeyed were more likely to survive and pass on their genes than the ones who went to see for themselves. A certain tendency toward credulity and obedience is innate because it helped primitive social groups stay together and survive. Unfortunately it has also always made humans vulnerable to demagogues and scoundrels of all kinds, including those who push religion on children too young to critically assess what they’re being told.

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  13. I remember I was never born believing anything except that mum was a goddess because she had food. Seriously, if you were born in a cave with bears you would think you were a bear. Precious young minds should not be raped by religion.

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  14. I do believe, whether it’s due to those first life experiences or not, that some children are more open to trusting and believing what they are exposed to while others are more analytical and questioning.
    Therefore some kids will grow up blindly following whatever path their parents laid before them. This could be one of religious belief or racial hatred or both. Others, like myself, are immediately distrustful of any contradictions they find in the path of their parent’s chosing and question things until they find their own path.

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  15. We’re born with a hardwired ability to find agency in nature, and it’s a really, really clever evolutionary trick. The leap from this ability to saying we’re born with a sense of “god” is patently ludicrious.

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    • Hot topic, John. Guaranteed to bring out many anti-god comments which reflect more the social condition of a world in chaos with the demise of the power of the Christian church, though it still holds much political and financial clout.

      The problem is with the title question: Are we born with a belief in God? That it is followed up with a much clearer statement, it seems the comments are not dealing with that question: “And is this “knowledge” of the numinous the Christian god (as many believers contend) or is it any god?”

      I have had numinous experiences all my life, since I was a small child, and I always knew who the people I met in my “visions” were and what they were imparting to me. I wasn’t “born with a belief in God” but with a very strong sense of the spirit world. It is an error to blanket all who know about spirits as brainwashed characters. No one brainwashed me when I was a child to see very real, very intelligent and very loving individuals and to listen to them explain things to me. I have encountered and studied with more and very intelligent non-earth people through the years and much of what wisdom they imparted can be found in man’s books while some remains in the realm of “perhaps” if we evolve enough to get it. If I were the very last human on earth to be aware, to know about, the “spirit” world, I would still know that it exists, it is trustworthy and mankind has a mental ability to tap into it. That the concept was stolen and bastardized by organized religions takes nothing away from that reality. We are not alone, never have been, never will be.

      As for the Judeo-Christian God, yes he does exist and all I can say for him is, he’s a psychopathic, twisted, misogynist evil dude. No wonder so little good comes from those associated with his various religions. The “good” done in the name of God is the propaganda designed to hide the massive evil done in the same name.

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        • Thanks, Arkenaten… I consider being seen as silly in this discussion, a positive step. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Atheists would do themselves a great favour by a) not being so defensive about their recent discovery there is no “god” and b) by not following in the footsteps of their brothers in fundamentalist Christianity and allowing all to have their own beliefs and not react emotionally to statements they fear my be true… on the long haul. By the way Ark, I’m not a believer, either in God or in No God. Believe all things, believe IN nothing, that’s my motto, realizing that active denial is simply the other side of the same coin.

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          • I do not fear the truth of such a claim.
            I m completely open to verifiable evidence.

            Your statement merely illustrates how silly you truly are.
            But saying the judeo christian god is real, without producing any evidence to support such an outrageous statement suggests you are suffering from some form of psychosis.
            This is unfortunate in itself but not as bad that a raving nut-job like you might actually have access to children.

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            • Take it easy, Ark. This discussion is NOT about access to children. It’s about whether a newborn is “automatically” born with the predisposed belief/presence/idea of a god. Yes, at a later age, children can most definitely be influenced by “god-talk.” But the question is — when they exit the womb, do they have an inborn sense of a deity?

              P.S. I’m aware that you previously answered “No.” I’m just reinforcing my preference that the discussion doesn’t get dragged of into other directions. 🙂 Thx.

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            • I think when someone comes along as this person has and makes such an idiotic statement that the Judeo Christian god does exist it should not be allowed to go unchallenged – and her statement is not on topic either.

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            • I’m aware.

              I only called you out because I know how strong your feelings are about the indoctrination of children and I didn’t want things to get carried away. Plus it gave me the opportunity to remind everyone to stay on topic! 🙂

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          • Actually, Sha’Tara, Arkenaten called you a sill person, which I took to mean either that he believes you are typing your comments while sitting on a windowsill, or that he was comparing you to the character Sill in the movie Species, who was also prone to hallucinations of bizarre beings from an alien world. 😉

            Getting back to the matter at hand, I think fairly weighty evidence has been presented that humans do not have an inborn tendency to believe in God — evidence in the form of (1) the fact that many people leave religion for atheism and comparatively few go the other way, implying that atheists find nothing “missing”; (2) examples of cultures (in East Asia) with very little concept of God; (3) at least one case of a person who grew up with no religion and never felt any such “God-sense” (me); and (4) convincing alternative explanations for cultural phenomena which might otherwise be attributed to such an inborn belief. In reply, I haven’t seen any real evidence presented for the contrary proposition (that humans do have an inborn God belief), only assertions couched in language often too unclear for its exact meaning to be pinned down. It appears to me that the “no” side has carried the day.

            In some cases, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence. If a hypothesized phenomenon could reasonably be expected to produce certain effects, and those effects are not observed, that does count as evidence against the existence of the phenomenon. An inborn human belief in God would be expected to produce certain effects on human culture and beliefs. It has been shown that the observed reality deviates from those expected effects in enough cases to undermine the likelihood that the claimed belief exists.

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            • OK, how about, in the spirit of “democracy” that some are born with that knowledge, some are not, some pick it up later, some lose it later? That should cover the bases and explain why so many billions of people keep on believing in some kind of deity (not necessarily the Judeo-Christian/Allah variety) or some sort of spirit realm and are very comfortable with it. What if, having been born with a knowledge of “spirit” as a very important part of myself, I were to be accepted as having this belief without it being unduly challenged, unless, and here’s the rub, I used it to empower or enrich myself at the expense of innocents? I think that is why the discussion so quickly moved away from topic – the anger at religious brainwashing and worse, over the millennia. I would point out that my awareness and experiences are on point: I have that innate knowledge which I’ve explored and greatly added to over the years. Further, though not religious, I find it easy to interact with many religious people, including those I work with in disaster relief. It takes all kinds and we got all kinds and we should expend our efforts in finding the common ground and exploring another’s point of view – on an individual basis. I am extremely leery of all “isms” and I feel this has become an “ism” argument.

              On that note, I’m checking out of this discussion. I said what I meant to say, and I mostly read responses I’m only too familiar with from other involvements. May your choice(s) give you all that you hope from having made them.

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            • Although Sha’Tara has elected to leave the discussion, I’d like to comment on something she wrote.

              She started out by saying, “in the interest of democracy.” I hardly think a discussion of this nature can be “democratic.” You either believe some sort of “god sense” is present at birth or you don’t. What happens LATER is life can go in a myriad of directions, but this is not the question I’ve presented.

              Actually, I do think many of us look at our current place in life and use our existing experiences/feelings to answer the question. We try to “look backwards” from where we are now and make a determination as to what happened at the moment of our entrance into this world. This is why atheists will say there is no “god sense” at birth … but Christians will say there is.

              Unfortunately, we can’t interview any newborns …

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            • Sure you can. “Hello, little Jamie. I hear you’re 6 minutes old. Do you have a sense that there’s a god?” “Gurrgle. Waaa! Burp. Gurrgle! Waaaa!!!” This was an excellent comment, BTW. (Yours, not my silliness).

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      • “very strong sense of the spirit world”
        I guess it’s true we have derailed from the topic. I doubt we are born with any knowledge of things like god, spirit world or almost any field of human endeavor, I think all those knowledge are a result of our experience in the world

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  16. I was born with a sense that mucus, blood, and poop were all over my blue, naked infant body because…well, they were. Thus, for me, “god” was a lot of icky stuff stuck all over me against my will. Then, after a few minutes, this really sexy nurse wiped all that crap offa me and, wa-la! I was cured of my “god” belief. Then I quickly became obsessed with breasts because I associated them with food. This is an obsession I have to this day.

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  17. “Were a baby to be born and NEVER introduced to the “god fantasy,” would it conceive of a god or gods on its own?”

    My first thought: Well in time, maybe so. There’s so many other factors to consider. The most important I think would be the level of intelligence of the human world order that nurtures the baby into young adulthood. For instance, early man, Homo sapiens witnesses some astounding train of events–A young man and his crew, three others, are walking single file searching for food. One of the three guys has recently lost his temper and picked up a rock and whacked a female of the group. She dies a week later.
    The leader of the group resents the violent act, but the murderer is bigger and stronger. Suddenly, a single lioness shows up, skillfully separates the hunters and kills the murderous one. There’s no rhyme nor reason as to why. The leader of the group who has never entertained a “god fantasy” comes to the conclusion that the lion was the spirit of the dead female. Back at the cave, he carves a lion out of ivory. It has the head of a woman and breasts. He carries it about, eventually talks to it, tells his group about its power.

    Of course there’s the other fascinating theory of matriarchal spirituality that pre-dates the violent male sky-gods. The 12,000 BCE female bleeds but doesn’t die. She is cyclic like the moon. She creates life. She provides food. She oversees the crops and they grow. She is more than she is. She becomes one who must be protected. She is the life bringer. When she dies, one of her daughters assumes that role and behaves as her mother did…a god fantasy is born.

    Now jump to 2018, and my second thought leans more towards, “no.” My wife and I travel to Japan every year to see her folks and travel about and have a great time. Christianity exists in tiny pockets here and there, mostly in Kyushu, the southern most island of the big four. When I hear an American Christian say something such as, “without God a person can’t be good.” I point out that one hundred eighty million Japanese do just fine without him. I would venture to say that many Japanese who pray to their deceased loved ones, do not consider those loved ones as gods, but simply as ancestral spirits who hopefully look out for us who still fumble about trying to maintain a happy and productive life. Japanese children do not pray to god. They don’t go to church. And from what I can tell, they do not conceive of a god or gods on their own. And, they are quite happy.

    Sorry for the random thought response, but this is really an interesting issue.

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  18. No children are not born with an innate sense of god. That is preposterous. It’s brainwashing and also a need to first fit in with our parents and then the public at large…friends, groups etc.

    I have never ever had a moment of believing in god. I was somewhat exposed to religion early on, but not much and it never “took.” The whole idea always made me feel uncomfortable and like it was really weird. So I can vouch for no innate sense.

    I have a friend who has a 4 yr. old granddaughter who has already been to a children’s bible school. They start ‘um young.

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    • In thinking on this I did actually believe in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. Seriously. I did because my parents made it so real with eaten cookies and an orange with an empty glass of milk and my Mother waking me up Easter Sunday (no church) and looking out the window and saying she just saw the bunny and I’d get up to look and of course he’d be gone. So parents are the influence because a child trusts them to be honest and know what they’re talking about. That’s how it begins.

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    • This is why I’m optimistic for the long-term future. Religion survives by indoctrination of the young and by social pressure. Those are the only things keeping it going, and millions of people are escaping year by year.

      And the modern world is vastly different from the conditions under which religion developed originally. Clearing it out of our species’s brains will be a hell of a struggle, but once it’s gone from the world, it’s probably gone for good.

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  19. In my post, I used the phrase “level of intelligence.” I should have said “level of understanding of natural phenomena.”

    Marypumbago said it perfectly. It’s all about nurture. The first social community one experiences is the family. If god isn’t mentioned in any form or fashion, which probably happens more often than we might think, then the child who grows up in a nurturing, caring family atmosphere will not develop a god-sense, but they will develop a deep love for their parents.

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  20. Nature or Nurture?
    Here’s Terry Pratchett’s off the wall take!

    ‘Apprentice Postman Stanley,’ mumbled Groat. ‘Orphan, sir. Very sad. Came to us from the Siblings of Offler Charity Home, sir. Both parents passed away of the Gnats on their farm out in the wilds, sir, and he was raised by peas.’
    ‘Surely you mean on peas, Mr Groat?’
    By peas, sir. Very unusual case. A good lad if he doesn’t get upset but he tends to twist towards the sun, sir, if you get my meaning.’

    Going Postal – Terry Pratchett

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  21. Too bad I missed the bulk of this conversation, esp with Sha ‘Tara.

    I find that all living species, esp humans, are in stages adapting products of their mother, parents, family, and environment. From conception newborns are TOTALLY dependent on those four simple factors until they can reasonably survive/thrive on their own. This has nothing to do at all with supernatural entities unless the parents teach it. The young toddler/child has little choice but to believe them — HAH! What else does the child have to compare?

    Are We Born With a Belief in God?

    No. There’s no compelling hard evidence to suggest this. Children raised in religious or non-religious environs mimick those humans in order to belong and survive. These controlled conditions do have evidence, but there are not too many parents willing to donate their child(ren) as guinea pigs to prove the logic. And as you alluded Nan, the psychology or Paleopsychology is increasingly shedding more light on this antiquated philosophical debate. The problem is that certain “groups” refuse to be equitable about the debate. 😉

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    • I agree the only thing a newborn child wants is mums breast. Survival is the only thing that is important because this is the most vulnerable times in our short lives. Not so much today but childbirth deaths until modern science was a far more regular occurrence.

      We are animals, and to believe we are born with any ideas in our heads about anything else, particularly a god is simply ludicrous.

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  22. One other thought about this: if we were born with an innate belief in a higher power (no matter what you call him or her or them) there would be no need to be introduced to it. No need to have it explained to us. We–and the people around us–would need no indoctrination, Bible stories, Koran, whatever, to anchor our beliefs.

    It would just be.

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    • Judy, that’s an excellent observation! (Scratching head and wondering why I didn’t think of that.)

      BTW, thanks for following my blog. Hope you’ll visit often.

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      • Again, if you think of language and out biology, you wouldn’t expect babies to speak English and think this is what demonstrates innate sense of language any more that the hypothesis that we are born with an innate sense of the divine doesn’t mean we would expect babies to know any specific religion’s god. What we would expect in the former is language development of some means, and this is exactly what we find. Children develop language even independently of any specific language. The secret languages of twins is particularly revealing.

        What we really do find is that during development children across all cultures (and religions) really do assign hidden agency, which the religious then misidentify as a sense of the exterior divine agency they call ‘God’. And again, the order is backwards: children assign, which is not evidence of something exterior they have ‘sensed’.

        Now, I keep coming back to this because our biology is a major factor absolutely negating this idea of tabula rasa. Our biology equips us to handle this reality. So just for clarity’s sake the blank slate idea is dead wrong.

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        • I’m confused, tildeb. Do you or do you not support the idea that a child is BORN with an innate sense of the divine, numinous, spiritual, “god” … whatever you want to call it?

          As I’ve mentioned before, what happens LATER in life is entirely different since all the factors of a child’s environment come into play as s/he grows and adapts.

          BTW, I had to look up “tabula rasa” (as I bet several others did as well) … and if I understand it correctly, I don’t think I agree with your assessment.

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          • And here I was thinking I was being very clear: children are not born – not – with any sense of the divine.

            But children are born – are – with the neurology necessary for assigning agency as their brain development continues. It’s like being born with the foundations, the framework, the grammar, already in place. It’s not an empty lot, a blank slate, a tabula rasa. This is a false dichotomy, an incorrect either/or.

            We come equipped with our biology to assign agency… whatever those may happen to be, from the rustling in the grass to wincing when we see someone else get hurt. It’s our biology that activates for us to be empathetic. That’s why I keep comparing this equipped state our brains have after birth to language acquisition; again, our biology comes equipped – has the foundation necessary – to make meaning out of sound and communicate this meaning. That’s why we are not born with a clean slate upon which anything can be impressed but a neurology capable of incredibly rapid and detailed development because the groundwork has already been done by our biology. This is what the religious abuse by claiming this ability to assign agency is not an inward-applied-outward projection we do but a sense – like smelling or touching or tasting – we can activate to recognize a very real, historical, actual exterior divine agency. That’s why I keep saying the religious understanding is just as wrong (because the order is wrong) as the idea we are born as blank slates. We are in fact born with a biology that comes with all kinds of abilities ready to be further developed. The ‘god sense’ is not one of them because it’s not a sense at all.

            Still clear as mud?

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            • It seems clear enough to me. In a state of nature, failing to identify a dangerous animal or human is far more dangerous than mistaking an inanimate object for a threat; therefore, natural selection has programmed us with an overactive tendency to interpret things and events around us as having consciousness and intentionality, which is why children tend to think things like dolls, shadows, noises in the night, etc. are living entities.

              Religionists then mistake this tendency for an inborn belief in their god(s), which it is not, although historically religion has exploited the tendency while brainwashing children into belief.

              Naturally humans are born with various instincts and predispositions, not as a tabula rasa. We evolved in the context of a particular environment and social structure and are adapted to that, as opposed to being merely generic minds without context.

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            • Oh good, Infidel 753. I was beginning to get worried that perhaps I’d had a stroke and writing gibberish but assuming it made perfect sense. You’ve put my worries at ease.

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            • Much better. 🙂

              Sometimes your style of writing takes a LOT of concentration to finally get to the crux of what you’re saying. Most of the time I “get it,” but occasionally …

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          • “tabula rasa” From Wikipedia: “The tabula rasa is the small bone located behind the femur of the right leg on left handed people. Right handed people do not have a tabula rasa. They have a hamma bone-ackus instead located in the same place as the tabula rasa on left handed people.”

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        • Again, if you think of language and out biology, you wouldn’t expect babies to speak English and think this is what demonstrates innate sense of language …

          In my way of looking at things, we do not have an innate sense of language. Rather, we have an innate drive to communicate, and “language” is the name we give to what we invent in order to satisfy that drive.

          Now, I keep coming back to this because our biology is a major factor absolutely negating this idea of tabula rasa. Our biology equips us to handle this reality.

          I disagree here, too. I take the idea of a tabula rasa to be that we are born without any facts or concepts that relate to the world. Whether we are born with abilities to handle reality (and I agree that we are) is a different question.

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          • Neil … I tend to think along the same lines as you. tildeb makes some good points … and defends his position quite thoroughly … but that doesn’t make it the end-all, be-all. 🙂

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            • Yes, I agree that tildeb did support his position quite well. But I think he may have missed what people usually mean by “tabula rasa” or by “innate sense of language”. But that’s okay. Language is an imperfect communication system, and disagreement sometimes leads to good discussions.

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            • It’s been a while since I studied linguistics and so I don’t have good information at my fingertips. But I have very strong recollections about the academic furor mapping Chomsky’s Language Acquisition Device (LAD) to infant neurology.

              What was not in question even then (early days of neurology) was the preponderance of evidence for children’s innate predisposition for language acquisition. This has been studied up the wazoo especially in child development. It has to do with how the brain interprets/maps/duplicates sounds with meaning and the emerging mountain of data from PET and fMRI that shows we have a preset neurology at birth that unquestionably ‘predisposes’ the human brain to do just this. Without that very and highly specific neurology in place (now, we’re talking strictly about infant biology) the sounds we hear and the same sounds many studied critters hear are processed very differently in the associated brains, which indicates that the neurology in humans (much more so than other primates and other related mammals) is already prepared by biological inheritance to undertake this staggering development (staggering in the sense of huge brain power and the speed at which acquisition occurs used to learn specific languages, usage that also incorporates subtle ways and means depending on communicative goals). This evidence of a preset neurobiology framed for grasping linguistic complexity into useful languages is so widespread and plentiful in humans that the idea of predisposition to language acquisition not questioned in human linguistics. It is to all extents and purposes a fact.

              Some confusion arises between this prepared ground for linguistics and the brain’s disposition to acquire a specific language. Without the former, you can’t get the latter. As our brains develop and become less plastic with age, we can still learn other specific languages but lose the innate sense of very subtle pronunciations we grasp effortlessly as a young ‘un. We can immediately hear this ‘accent’ when a language is learned after the neurology is mostly set for the first language. This is why children have little difficulty learning many languages at the same time and can speak all without any accent if done at the most opportune time for neurological language development, whereas we have all heard even very well spoken people reveal a linguistic subtly that isn’t quite right to our native ear, indicating it’s not the native language.

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            • What was not in question even then (early days of neurology) was the preponderance of evidence for children’s innate predisposition for language acquisition.

              I agree that there is a disposition toward acquiring language.

              However, that could mean two very different things:

              (1) There is a thing called language, and children have a predisposition toward acquiring that thing; or

              (2) Children have a predisposition toward establishing communication, and “language” is simply the name we use for whatever system of communication that they manage to establish.

              You seem to be arguing for (1), which is also the Chomsky view. But I think (2) better fits the evidence.

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            • Your point is uncomfortably close to a distinction without a difference in the sense that our brains have already been neurology laid out to organize syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, and other aspects of ‘communication’ to make meaning. Chomsky was an early advocate of ‘predisposition’ which is explained using the term ‘grammar’ but biolinguistics is its evolutionary offspring and this field has everything to do with genes and genetics in place of ‘predisposition’. What this field has yielded is that our brains are not a blank slate when it comes to language but a biological starting point already well developed by the time the brain encounters what we now call the environment, which is my point.

              And I raise this point to counter the idea the religious use to suggest a similar ‘sense’ of the divine, an innate predisposition that comes equipped with the ability to ‘sense’ some god. I like the analogy with language because we do come similarly equipped to assign agency… another evolutionary product of our biology that is equivalently contrary to the tabula rasa behaviouralists continue to use… but misunderstood by faitheists to sell a product of their own creation.

              We are not born blank. We are born with our biology. And the biology is a product of genes being expressed in various social environments to various effects. This has huge scientific ramifications when it comes to human development and especially when it comes to aiding the achievement of higher potential: once the genetics is better understood, I am quite confident we can then begin using much stronger (meaning informed by knowledge) science to determine the deleterious affects of religious indoctrination and thus better arm people like Ark with facts to wage against the indoctrinated.

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            • Your point is uncomfortably close to a distinction without a difference in the sense that our brains have already been neurology laid out to organize syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, and other aspects of ‘communication’ to make meaning.

              I’ll take that as indicating that you fail to see the distinction that I am making.

              I’ll be blunt (and thus brief).

              If a language is the kind of thing that Chomsky’s theory characterizes, then computer programming languages are indeed languages. But human natural languages are not languages at all. Human natural languages are very different things from what Chomsky’s theory characterizes.

              At least that’s my opinion.

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            • Yes, Chomsky tried to explain his idea of LAD by analogy with the computer program but biolinguistics has moved well beyond this problematic comparison. Computers do not come with innate programming; they have to start with a BIOS, which is an imported language to artificially create a firmware framework and not reflective of the idea of a linguistic neurology innate to all computers.

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            • The problem here I think, Neil, is using the term ‘languages’ to represent both linguistic neurology as well specific examples of that neurology in action. My point is that the brain comes already developed by inheritance of genes that creates a neurology specifically to develop spoken language. It’s not a neurology that is blank or dedicated to other uses but associated with very specific parts of the brain. (Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas). It is the means to create whatever meaningful language is then spoken. It is a social ability because without linguistic reciprocity there can be no shared meaning. Without the neurology, human spoken language would not, could not, develop. I have no clue how you wave this away with the term ‘natural’ languages not fitting with Chomsky’s idea of a LAD. Unquestionably, we do acquire specific languages – I think around 6000 spoken languages. All use the identical areas of the brain, what Chomsky called the ‘device’. I fail to see how this idea is incompatible with linguistics.

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            • It’s not a neurology that is blank or dedicated to other uses but associated with very specific parts of the brain. (Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas).

              I disagree with the way that you are using “blank”.

              The idea of a blank slate is that you start with a chalk board but with no chalk marks on it. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t even a chalkboard.

              So sure, we start with abilities to learn a language. But we start without a language.

              We are getting off topic, so I’ll keep this short.

              According to Chomsky, a language is a syntactic structure, to which somehow semantics is added (and Chomsky fails to explain that last part). This requires a great deal of innate structure to support the syntactic structure.

              According to me, a natural language is primarily a semantic system, and the syntactic structure is mostly ad hoc but shared across the community.

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            • I’m tempted to think you’re trying to argue for the sake of arguing: if what you suggest were true, then why do all humans have the language center in Broca’s area and the semantic area in Wernicke’s? These are not empty blackboards where anything can be imprinted. They are very specific areas formed by genetics to produce spoken linguistics. Not writing. Speaking. Not drawing symbols or pictures. Speaking sounds for the intention to make communicative meaning. This is what ‘innate’ means: natural. We are born with all the ‘natural’ tools necessary to produce spoken language. Only which language is up for grabs.

              You seem to be throwing up terms and disagreeing that they mean what they mean apparently to suit your desire to argue! My point is that we are born with the innate ability – a purely biological predisposition and not a blank slate or empty chalkboard but all the rules and regulations necessary to learn a specific spoken language, meaning the ability to recognize and incorporate phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics – to learn a specific spoken language. Nothing you have said so far demonstrates any of this to be factually wrong. You seem to have a burr over my reference to Chomsky, who is widely recognized in linguistics as a founding ‘father’ of our modern understanding even though his LAD model has long been replaced by a much more sophisticated biolinguistics. Nevertheless, biology does replace the blank slate model with a genetic predisposition and an innate ability to produce spoken language. In no sense is this considered somehow equivalent to ‘blank’… unless you change the meaning of the term to something it is not.

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            • I’m tempted to think you’re trying to argue for the sake of arguing

              I’ve tried to avoid personal characterizations such as that.

              if what you suggest were true, then why do all humans have the language center in Broca’s area and the semantic area in Wernicke’s?

              Oh yes. There’s an area in the brain for language. Therefore there must be an innate universal grammar organ.

              That seems like a huge jumping to conclusions.

              Chomsky has had critics since he proposed his theory in the 1950. There’s quite a literature out there. This thread on Nan’s blog is not the place to argue it.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you, Neil.

              tildeb, I know you want to “prove your point,” but it seems quite apparent you’re not persuading Neil so please, as they say, “give it up.” Thanks!

              Liked by 1 person

            • Neil is not refuting my point whatsoever. He’s simply saying he disagrees. But when pressed to explain why he disagrees, he just changes the terminology, makes references to disagreements about Chomsky’s rather archaic view (which I did in my very first reference) as if it were the predominant one today (it’s not, as I’ve also said repeatedly), but does all this without addressing the substance of my point that refers to your post. We are born with an innate ability to develop language just as we are born with an innate ability to assign agency.

              Now, it’s fine to have an opinion – even a contrary opinion – but it’s quite another to go public, so to speak, and disagree with settled science about this predisposition that was the heart and soul of Chomsky’s work, and then use really poorly informed reasoning, intentionally bad terminology, and flippant hand waving to make his counter point (with which you say you tend to agree).

              So I’m not trying to persuade Neil to change his opinion; I’m trying to hold him accountable for it. His failure to do so is not of my making but it should be instructive how much confidence should be lent to his contrary opinion, namely, the same amount he offers in its defense: hand waving.

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            • To quote Neil … This thread on Nan’s blog is not the place to argue it.

              I welcome your input, tildeb, on any topic you care to comment on. But there comes a point when it’s apparent you are not convincing the person you disagree with. So, as I wrote in a previous comment … please “give it up.” Thanks! ❤

              Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Steven!

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I always like to hear other people’s thoughts on the subjects I write on.

      I did take a quick look at your post and I really liked what it said about atheism, i.e., “Atheism is not a religion. It’s a personal relationship with reality.” While I don’t agree with you that we are born as “agnostics,” your reasoning on this is interesting.

      Anyway, thanks again for stopping by. I hope you’ll come back again … and often.

      Liked by 2 people

  23. As the Greeks said, the unexamined life is not worth living. Assuming we do not spend every waking moment in a brute fight for survival, then naturally we begin to wonder who we are and how we are to live. This longing for the truth about ourselves I would argue is innate. It inevitably leads us toward God, who is Truth and Being as such. Atheism, on the other hand, is the ultimate dead end.

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    • I have blogged someone today about this attitude. I have to ask you why do you have this delusion that atheism is the ultimate dead end, and what evidence do you use to assume this is true?

      I for one do not have a longing for the truth about myself but you say you would argue this is an innate process of humans and for what reasons would you assume this?

      I quite well understand how humans have developed on this planet, and what’s more, I have incontestable scientific evidence that happens to be the whole truth and the only truth.

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    • It may be inevitable to wonder about one’s place in the cosmos if one has the luxury to do so, but I don’t see how that leads inevitably to some god… beyond others insisting it does. And so the proposition is pondered and found empty of any reasonable and/or rational merit other than a belief that the connection to the cosmos may or must require a divine middleman. That’s an imported proposition and not an innate presumption.

      As to the notion that having no such belief in a divine middleman therefore leads one away from truth about being sentient and what it means to be human, again I see no reasonable or rational connection between some god and it central importance to truth or being. You certainly haven’t deduced this from any consideration from the cosmos’ position revealed to us through our curiosity about it; rather, you have imported this conclusion based entirely on the belief you’ve already used in place of this examination!

      But I always find it interesting that so many theists like yourself have accepted a belief that by fiat places non believers on some lower rung without any external justification whatsoever. And rather than have this raise a red flag to you, you go along with it. I’m curious why. It seems to me to be a case that you raise your own esteem only by intentionally reducing others. And you’re okay with this, which tells me you haven’t come away from your ‘inevitable’ pondering with any wisdom about either what’s true or what it means to be human whatsoever. All you’ve done is come away with rationalizing a bigotry towards non believers.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Loy, you mention “longing for truth about ourselves” being “innate” … and this “inevitably leads us toward God.”

      My first question is what parameters do you use to determine this longing for truth is “innate,” e.g., present at birth (the subject of the post)? Secondly, what “god” are we “inevitably” led towards?

      Further, what do you mean when you say atheism is “the ultimate dead end.” Dead end to what?

      Liked by 3 people

      • My intent was to address the nature/nurture question as I understand it from the above post, i.e., whether something like sensus divinitatus is inherent in human nature, or rather, only arises because it is inculcated. (To be clear I did not mean to suggest anything about what a newborn “knows”.)

        My personal opinion, based only on personal observation, and my own very modest knowledge of philosophy and human nature, is that the desire to know the truth about ourselves and our kind is indeed deeply rooted. Similarly, we naturally conceive of Truth as a reality that exists with or without us. Moreover, this reality is inseparable and indistinguishable from what we mean by God.

        To the extent that atheism claims to “know” the limits of our existence, rejects any possibility of transcendence, and denies any notion of reality beyond the obvious, I’d say it’s fair to describe it as a philosophical dead end. Others may disagree.

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        • Loy, atheism claims nothing. Nada. Bupkus. Zilch. It is an empty set. That you don’t grasp even this simple fact is rather telling. Actually, it’s a clue you’re missing…

          Theism, in stark contrast, pretends to know about all kinds of stuff that isn’t stuff, pretends to know about stuff that no one has any means to know anything about (ie. some realm referred to as a state of ‘transcendence’ – whatever that could possible mean – which, it just so happens, is ‘beyond’ our ability to know anything about, which is why science is the wrong tool, you see…!).

          Lacking any evidence for this realm, nor offering any means to know anything about what this realm supposedly contains, non believers have absolutely nothing to ‘know’ about this hypothetical realm so they reject this claim in exactly the same way you reject claims about invisible dragons living in your bathtub. Atheists are honest in this regard about awarding belief to the unbelievable, whereas theist? Not so much.

          They seem unconstrained by any reasonable sense of honesty in their desire to make wishful thinking a suitable replacement for knowledge and then tell others their honest lack of knowledge is misplaced. Theists, as is their wont, like nothing better than to stick all kinds of woo in that hypothetical realm and then chastise people (who honestly have nothing but good reasons for not believing in the woo) for not going along with their pseudo-knowledge (ignorance-masquerading-as-knowledge) as if not going along with the charade is a moral failing. This unwillingness to go along with the believer’s belief (presumably to get along) is then accompanied by the theist’s assumption that their beliefs are not to be criticized for their lack of knowledge merit, that theists who merely pretend to know stuff they by their own admission cannot possibly know anything about is of a higher moral standard. Hypocrisy good, honesty bad, am I right? Ignorance is actually the Truth, whereas respecting knowledge is the “ultimate” aka “philosophical dead end.” You’d think this abuse of language would be a clue to theists that they’ve made an error somewhere along the way, but nope; time to double down! After all, they already know the Truth!

          Liked by 3 people

            • Loy, you’ve mistaken your conclusion – what you presume is a dead end – with a premise – no imported supernatural beliefs. This is common mistake made by theists in order to make up stuff and then pretend these claims about reality are the product of ‘another way of knowing’… ie. faith-based beliefs confused to be evidence-adduced beliefs. You methodology – to try to rationalize your faith-based beliefs reality does not support by misunderstanding that no beliefs in either Oogity Boogity or POOF!ism is less enlightening – is clearly broken and this is why you don’t follow the clues: you fail to even see them.

              Liked by 2 people

        • Similarly, we naturally conceive of Truth as a reality that exists with or without us

          The sun can exist without us, so does that make it god

          Moreover, this reality is inseparable and indistinguishable from what we mean by God.

          I don’t see how you equate two fundamentally different concepts “reality” and “god” as being the same thing

          To the extent that atheism claims to “know” the limits of our existence, rejects any possibility of transcendence, and denies any notion of reality beyond the obvious, I’d say it’s fair to describe it as a philosophical dead end. Others may disagree.

          Atheism is simply lack of belief in the existence of god
          I don’t know were you got atheism claims to “know” the limits of our existence
          Atheism makes no claim

          like I said if someone is genuine about their search for truth, they will follow were the evidence goes. What evidence do you have for the possibility of transcendence

          denies any notion of reality beyond the obvious

          I don’t get what you are saying. The atomic, sub-atomic, quantum, even outer space are realities beyond the obvious, I don’t see many atheist denying the existence of these “reality beyond the obvious”

          Liked by 2 people

    • It inevitably leads us toward God, who is Truth and Being as such. Atheism, on the other hand, is the ultimate dead end.

      Now if one was to be wondering how the universe came about without any religious influence I don’t see how the would arrive at “God, who is Truth”

      If someone is genuine about finding truth, he or she would follow were the evidence points to and not make faith based conclusions rather than fact based

      I don’t understand what you mean by “God, who is Truth”

      Atheism, on the other hand, is the ultimate dead end.

      How is this the case

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I have to add that re “(Qualifier: I have not studied philosophy and hold no degrees. Everything I offer in this post is based on my limited research plus personal opinion.)” All philosophy is is a collection of opinions. If you were a learned philosopher, you would have a vast knowledge of the opinions of philosophers, that’s it. There is nothing to arbitrate their differences of opinion as the only branches of philosophy that had arbiters were math and science and they split off on their own and no longer associate with the subject.

    So, you know what they say about opinions. That and yours is as good as mine or anyone else’s … as a basis for conducting a discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t doubt your take on the meaning of philosophy … but you know as well as I do that some people feel THEIR “philosophical” perspective is more than opinion. I just wanted to head them off at the pass. 🙂

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    • Even an armchair philosopher can recognize a worthless opinion — and the opinion that Plato et al. are just chewing the fat is certainly that.

      Like

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