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Children Are Born Believers in God, Academic Claims
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Topics: Fitrah Innate Disposition Intuition

Children are born believers in God, academic claims Children are "born believers" in God and do not simply acquire religious beliefs through indoctrination, according to an academic.

By Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent 2:54PM GMT 24 Nov 2008 (original source).

Dr Justin Barrett, a senior researcher at the University of Oxford's Centre for Anthropology and Mind, claims that young people have a predisposition to believe in a supreme being because they assume that everything in the world was created with a purpose.

He says that young children have faith even when they have not been taught about it by family or at school, and argues that even those raised alone on a desert island would come to believe in God.

"The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children's minds than we once thought, including a predisposition to see the natural world as designed and purposeful and that some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"If we threw a handful on an island and they raised themselves I think they would believe in God."

In a lecture to be given at the University of Cambridge's Faraday Institute on Tuesday, Dr Barrett will cite psychological experiments carried out on children that he says show they instinctively believe that almost everything has been designed with a specific purpose. Related Articles

In one study, six and seven-year-olds who were asked why the first bird existed replied "to make nice music" and "because it makes the world look nice".

Another experiment on 12-month-old babies suggested that they were surprised by a film in which a rolling ball apparently created a neat stack of blocks from a disordered heap.

Dr Barrett said there is evidence that even by the age of four, children understand that although some objects are made by humans, the natural world is different.

He added that this means children are more likely to believe in creationism rather than evolution, despite what they may be told by parents or teachers.

Dr Barrett claimed anthropologists have found that in some cultures children believe in God even when religious teachings are withheld from them.

"Children's normally and naturally developing minds make them prone to believe in divine creation and intelligent design. In contrast, evolution is unnatural for human minds; relatively difficult to believe."


This natural disposition is referred to in the Islamic texts as (الفطرة), fitrah. Every human is endowed with it and it includes a basic moral sense and knowledge of elementary truths. This innate disposition is appealed to by the Messengers of God to corroborate and establish the universal truth which is that given there is a sole, masterful, unique, powerful creator for universe (proven by natural disposition by default and also by sensory perception and reason), any devotion servitude or worship directed to what is essentially powerless (all that is besides Him) is false religion and a violation of the justice and order upon which the universe is made to stand. As a result, there is a) "false religion" that is based upon a disfigurement of the natural disposition, corruption in reason (or corruption of revealed text). Examples of this include the worship of fire, the wind, the earth, the various other elements, stones, trees, or the worship of animals or men or even the Prophets of God (such as Jesus or Muhammad for example, peace be upon them). All of this is false religion and clashes with natural disposition and sound reason. And b) authentic religion which never conflicts with sound reason and is a natural extension, corroboration and perfection of the natural disposition (fitrah) inherent in ever human. All the Messengers brought sound religion which is the shunning of worship of anything besides the creator - the greatest injustice and revilement of reason. However, over the passing of time, people may have corrupted and altered the original call and message of their respective Messenger or Prophet and this is why we see a diversity in religious belief, all of which is futile, false, opposed to sound reason and authentic revelation. Not acknowledging this historical fact, atheists tend to use straw-man arguments in their critique of religion. But often they have valid criticisms against what is false religion. This is because a distorted book, or a distorted message, or a distorted law necessitates opposition to reason.

Ibn Taymiyyah said, "Corroboration and affirmation of a Maker is firmly-rooted in the hearts of all men and jinn, it is from the binding necessities of their creation, necessary with respect to them..." (Dar' al-Ta'aarud 8/482). And "Affimation of a Creator and His (absolute) perfection is fitriyy (innate) and dhurooriyy (necessary) with respect to one whose innate disposition remains intact (safe), even though alongside [such an affirmation] it has many (other) evidences for it (as well), and often when the innate disposition is altered or in certain situations that arise (affecting this innate disposition), many people may be in need of such (other) evidences." (Majmu al-Fataawaa 6/73). Al-Raghib al-Asfahani said, "A generalized knowledge of Allaah, the Exalted (the Maker) is firmly-rooted in the soul, and it is the knowledge of every person that he is made (produced)..." (al-Dharee'ah p. 199). There is an innate and intuitive element inherent in every person that automatically recognizes the rational intelligibility of the universe. For this reason, not even an atheist can escape using teleological language in describing life and the universe. This innate, intuitive element is known as the fitrah and it has been alluded to in the Islamic texts (فِطْرَةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا) (30:30). Ibn Taymiyyah said, "The basic foundation of the knowledge of a maker is innate and necessary. It is more deeply rooted in the souls than elementary knowledge of math such as our saying "one is half of two" and elementary knowledge of natural reality such as our saying "a body cannot be in two places at the same time." (Majmu' al-Fatawa 2/15-16). As an example, when Richard Dawkins says, "The objects and phenomena that a physics book describes are simpler than a single cell in the body of its author. And the author consists of trillions of those cells, many of them different from each other, organized with intricate architecture and precision-engineering into a working machine capable of writing a book" then Dawkins knows deep in his psyche that what is organized, with intricate architecture and precision-engineering is proof-positive of a precise, organizing architect, one just follows from the other by innate, intuitive and rational necessity. However, man may have reasons to escape uncomfortable conclusions, and these reasons can be many, wealth, status, arrogance and so on. However, often it can be legitimate rational objections to false religion - and this will be elaborated upon in other articles.

Consider also the following interesting remarks by Del Ratzsch (Philosopher of Science) in a 2006 interview which describe a reality that in Islamic texts is characterized through the word "fitrah" (innate disposition): "Furthermore, given the role of theology in the rise of science itself, and given that the cosmos which science presupposes has a creation-esque flavor (orderly, law-governed, elegant, intelligible, coherent, unified - as one might reasonably expect of a deliberately designed creation), it may be that science itself is a design payoff... In any case, design theories might conceptually lock into those design-shaped foundations more elegantly than do non-design or anti-design theories. On the Reidian view, we have innate faculties which simply generate such beliefs (both general principles and specifics) within us, and if these faculties are operating properly and under appropriate circumstances, the produced beliefs are rationally legitimate for us. Reid catalogued a variety of belief areas in which such belief-producing dispositions operated - again, the past, other minds, the external world, as well as basic moral principles, principles and processes of reason, acceptance of the testimony of others, aesthetics, and of present interest design in nature which, by a very short inference, led to conclusions about a designing mind. Reid's basic idea was that we perceptually (and immediately albeit often implicitly) recognize marks of design and that it is a short (inferential) step from that recognition to the thing in question being designed and the existence of a designing agent. Among the marks Reid cites were contrivance, order, organization, intent, purpose, regularity, beauty and adaptation.... Science requires a battery of presuppositions and those presuppositions are not direct results of science - they are conceptual structural materials science itself depends upon and without which there would be no science. Thus if we are rationally justified in accepting science then we must be rationally justified in accepting those foundational presuppositions. But not being results of science, their rational justification cannot rest upon science, but must lie beyond science. Thus, if we take science and its results to be rationally justified, science is not the only source of rational justification. There must then evidently be some deeper source of rational justification. Historically religion played a significant role here. But the present point is that even if the usual empirical gap-closing induction worked flawlessly, the story - even of science's own rational legitimacy - is not complete, and may require design ideas at some deeper level... any simple, sharp separation of science and religion does not reflect our cognitive and neurological architectures, that there are deep interconnections between what we take to be scientific and religious beliefs, and that cases for the two being in deadly conflict - which already fail historically and philosophically - fail at the even deeper level of neural structures giving rise to our very cognition as well. Some of the deep interconnections between science and religion I think ultimately track back philosophically to the created structure of the cosmos itself, but also back to the fact that inputs from neurological structures and systems routinely associated with science - e.g., reason - and those routinely associated with religion - e.g., emotion - are not completely separate or separable systems. There is increasing and no longer even controversial evidence that reason itself does not function properly in the absence of properly functioning emotion neural systems, and in some cases the structures themselves and their inputs and outputs are integrated - fused - prior to our having conscious access to them." End quote from Ratzsch. Note the following points:

a) Scientific enquiry (observation and inference) has to presuppose design, order and purpose, otherwise it simply cannot take place and cannot investigate causes, b) The scientific enterprise therefore is in reality a consequence of design, order and purpose, c) Innate faculties generate these beliefs (of design, order and purpose) and these beliefs are rationally legitimate, d) Marks of design are recognized perceptually and implicitly (innately) and the inferential step to a designer is minimal, innate and natural, e) Such marks include contrivance, order, organization, intent, purpose, regularity, beauty and adaptation, f) This rational justification is actually the source of the rational justification of science and the scientific method, g) It is therefore not possible to separate innate (relgious) beliefs about the universe from scientific enquiry. This is precisely why you see atheists like Dawkins unable to flee from teleological language and subsequently suffer from such illusions and delusions that we shall elaborate in a separate article.

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