Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Child Thinks About God

I once wrote a blog post on my early animistic beliefs. It so happens I was raised by parents who were fundamentalist Christians, was raised in such a church, so of course I absorbed those ideas from my earliest days. All the while, alongside all that, was my own natural ideas about the big picture.
Often the two conflicted, and it would also often be pointed out where my beliefs (supposedly) floundered. But I couldn't fully suppress certain ideas that made so much sense even to my young mind. The God of the orthodox Christians contained so many contradictions to my young mind that I suppose it was inevitable I would rethink the whole matter eventually - and become a heretic!
Always have I felt that we humans instinctively "know" certain things. (I'll put that in parenthesis because only a fool would argue that our human instincts are always exactly accurate.) But I just never could take seriously the claim some atheists have made that we are born atheists. I wasn't born an atheist (and I don't think you were either), nor a fundamentalist Christian. I was born with a natural instinct towards life and purpose, and following my gut feelings, I left the indoctrination of my youth and returned (after mature refinement) to my earlier belief that existence is alive and purposeful. 
I'm writing this now after having read over an article in the journal Psychological Science titled Young Children Can Be Taught Basic Natural Selection Using a Picture-Storybook Intervention. How is that? Intervention? Interesting. This article states:
With regard to understanding the source of the problem, developmental research points in an important direction. From early in development, young children display conceptual biases that can be useful in everyday reasoning but can also begin to interact to yield older students’ theoretical misconceptions about adaptation (Coley & Tanner, 2012; Rosengren, Brem, Evans, & Sinatra, 2012). For example, children in preschool and early elementary school show teleological biases to explain the origins of natural objects’ properties by reference to functions (Keil, 1995; Kelemen, 2004), intentionality biases to construe events and objects as intentionally caused (Evans, 2001; Rosset & Rottman, 2014), and essentialist biases to view species members as sharing an invariant, inviolable essence (Gelman, 2003; Shtulman & Shulz, 2008). Children are natural explanation seekers who organize their knowledge into theoretical frameworks (Carey, 1985; Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1997; Wellman & Gelman, 1992), and by the time children are 6 to 10 years old, these potentially independent conceptual biases show signs of integrating into intuitive causal theories that connect ideas about biological functionality in nature with notions of invariant essences (Shtulman & Shulz, 2008) and goal-directed design (Kelemen & DiYanni, 2005). In short, a by-product of useful everyday cognition is that untutored theories that impede older students’ understanding of natural selection are already beginning to coalesce in early elementary school, if not before.
Yep, that sounds about right and certainly aligns with my experience. And when I got old enough to digest the scientific evidence, I found no problem incorporating that into my earlier views. As I learned about biological evolution it didn't cause my earlier natural beliefs to break down. So God used evolution (or processes) to create everything. Big deal.
What did break down was my fundamentalist indoctrination. The natural progression for me was to treat the Genesis story of my youth as a religious mythology. Before long I found that there are many such genesis myths everywhere among all the world's people. Again, big deal.

What never did click with me is the idea that existence is a purposeless and freakish accident. And I don't think an "intervention" of preadolescent picture books would have changed that for long. I think we either think about the big questions for ourselves or we allow others to do our thinking for us.


  1. I think we either think about the big questions for ourselves or we allow others to do our thinking for us.


    We just finished watching "Lost" last night on Netflix and what struck me (esp. at this point and time in my life) is that the church had stained glass windows and religious articles that represented all the major faiths of the know a kind of all roads lead there thing.

    I always thought that as a child, but of course that was stripped away with fundamentalism.

    1. Fundamentalism was a detour for me. It could never have been home. It is against my personality type (and I do think it only really clicks with certain personality types). Evidently it was against yours too.