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Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief [Hardcover]

Justin L. Barrett

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Book Description

March 20 2012
Infants have a lot to make sense of in the world: Why does the sun shine and night fall; why do some objects move in response to words, while others won’t budge; who is it that looks over them and cares for them? How the developing brain grapples with these and other questions leads children, across cultures, to naturally develop a belief in a divine power of remarkably consistent traits––a god that is a powerful creator, knowing, immortal, and good—explains noted developmental psychologist and anthropologist Justin L. Barrett in this enlightening and provocative book. In short, we are all born believers.

Belief begins in the brain. Under the sway of powerful internal and external influences, children understand their environments by imagining at least one creative and intelligent agent, a grand creator and controller that brings order and purpose to the world. Further, these beliefs in unseen super beings help organize children’s intuitions about morality and surprising life events, making life meaningful. Summarizing scientific experiments conducted with children across the globe, Professor Barrett illustrates the ways human beings have come to develop complex belief systems about God’s omniscience, the afterlife, and the immortality of deities. He shows how the science of childhood religiosity reveals, across humanity, a “natural religion,” the organization of those beliefs that humans gravitate to organically, and how it underlies all of the world’s major religions, uniting them under one common source.

For believers and nonbelievers alike, Barrett offers a compelling argument for the human instinct for religion, as he guides all parents in how to effectively encourage children in developing a healthy constellation of beliefs about the world around them.

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“Dr. Barrett provides a provocative, compelling, tender-hearted analysis of what young children believe, why they believe it, and what the implications are for us as adults and parents. A timely response to the New Atheists who argue that religious belief is unnatural or that religious values are inappropriate to pass on to the next generation.”

-- Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman, Cordoba Initiative, and author of Moving the Mountain

“Born Believers will challenge the anti-religion camp with Barrett’s careful science. His analysis shows that infants have a natural inclination to believe in a supreme being, and that their subsequent beliefs cannot be explained as the sole result of indoctrination or brainwashing by heavy-handed adults. This book raises profound questions about the origins of theism and the place of religious belief in human affairs.”

-- Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Healing Words and The Power of Premonitions

“For those of us adults who have wondered from where our certainty derives that there is a Divine Force embedded within the world and in our lives, Justin Barrett in Born Believers provides the well-documented answer. My research into the physical and biological wonders of life’s cosmic development cemented this belief for me, but the origins, the initial stirrings, had always eluded me. Barrett’s well-written book solved that quandary.”

-- Gerald Schroeder, Ph.D., author of The Science of God and God According To God

“A fascinating and readable account of why religious beliefs are

perfectly normal and virtually universal. In an age of atheism, this

book will challenge widespread assumptions that nonbelief is the default

and that children must be indoctrinated to believe. Jam-packed with

insight and wit, Born Believers should be required reading for all

parents and for anyone else interested in the spiritual lives of children.”

--Robert A. Emmons, Professor of Psychology, University of California,

Davis and Past-President, American Psychological Association’s Division of the

Psychology of Religion

“A must read for anyone interested in knowing where and how spirituality develops in our life and our brain. A great combination of stories and information that will provide everyone with a new way of thinking about our beliefs.” (Andrew Newberg, MD., author of How God Changes Your Brain and Why God Won't Go Away)

About the Author

Justin Barrett is the author of Why Would Anyone Believe in God? A senior researcher at Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, Dr. Barrett lives in Pasadena, California.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Natural April 21 2012
By Discerning Reader - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is the culmination of various studies in childhood psychology led by the author and supplemented by those of others in the field. It makes a good case for children naturally forming a belief in order and design behind life and the world around them. This "natural religion" seems to form before children can fully verbalize it. It might suprise some that this is typical among children from religious 'and' non-religious families (i.e. athiestic and agnostic). The studies experimental methodologies are described in detail and seem accurate. The value in this book is that it shows the origin of these basic beliefs are natural, but culture fills in the details. And contrary to the assertions of the New Athiests, these inclinations do not originate from culture. To the contrary, it takes many years of 'education' for westerners to begin to distance themselves from these explanations. Even then, the majority retain spiritual beliefs of some sort. The weakness in this book is that most of its' research was done in the west, but this is typical of psychological research. The author also holds back from concluding these religious inclinations 'prove' the existance of God. Belief in divinity might come naturally, but this cannot establish it is correct. In order verify this belief, one will have to go back to philosophy. But in my own opinion,it is interesting to note our instincts match the contention of theistic religions: God's existance is self-evident. Perhaps the greatest reason to buy this book is that it bolsters this claim. I leave it with 4.5 Stars.
12 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But May 21 2012
By William O. Straub - Published on
The main question Dr. Barrett tries to address in his book is whether or not religion is innate. The question itself requires a detailed study of the religious attitudes of children, and he has done this well.

However, in Chapter 8 ("So Stupid They'll Believe Anything?") Barrett focuses on the subject of the religious indoctrination of children, and asks if this is the primary reason for religious propagation. While Barrett reaches some valid conclusions regarding the limitations and applicability of indoctrination, he fails to see the obvious, which is this: early on, children are subject to indoctrination primarily by way of unthinking mimicry via parental example, whereas later on they become indoctrinated because of fear. Barrett's kindly grandparents are acting not so much out of altruism and goodness, but out of fear of what may happen to them if they don't; their very young grandchildren simply don't understand any of this.

Barrett details the hypothetical example of a person who, for whatever reason, decides to believe in ghosts, and how this belief can propagate down through generations of family members, and he compares this situation with a similar decision to believe in trans-dimensional cows and mind-reading socks. But normal human beings, even children, are not afraid of trans-dimensional cows and mind-reading socks. They're afraid of ghosts simply because ghosts, if real, can hurt you. Young children come to the conclusion -- rationally reinforced as they reach the age of reason -- that there may be some very negative supernatural consequences for refusing to believe in a god or gods and paying them due tribute, usually by way of some kind of ritualistic behavior.

Barrett, a Christian, should consider this: if religion were innate in children, the true god or gods would ultimately manifest themselves through a convergence in the minds of all people to the true god or gods. However, the extreme diversity of religious beliefs on this planet would seem to prove that this is certainly not happening. Children in India tend to believe in the Hindu gods, while children in America tend to believe in the Judeo-Christian tradition of Jehovah and Christ; the gods involved simply couldn't be more different.

For these reasons, I believe Barrett's promotion of the "human instinct for religion" is flawed. Still, it's a book well worth reading.

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