A few years ago, I read the following claim pastor-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser:
“Every child born into this world is born an atheist. They don’t know one thing about god or religion. They don’t know about sin, salvation, or morality. As far as god and religion are concerned, every newborn is a blank slate.
Belief in god must be taught and learned. This teaching is done by parents, extended family, and the culture/society the child grows up in. If a child is taken to a church, temple, or synagogue, they are taught to KNOW god, to know their parents’ religion.
Most children embrace the religion of their parents.”
Gerencser’s claim isn’t unique. In 1900, Baron d’Holbach wrote a book called Good Sense without God, or Freethoughts Opposed to Supernatural Ideas in which he made the claim:
“All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God.”
More recently, the late Andy Rooney stated:
“Everyone starts out being an atheist. No one is born with belief in anything. Infants are atheists until they are indoctrinated.”
(Marian Christy, “Conversations: We make our own destiny”, Boston Globe, 30 May 1982)
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention those bumper sticker T-shirt slogans that read:
“We are all born atheists until someone starts telling us lies.”
I realize that this is the dearest hope of atheism, but science suggests otherwise.
Agrowing body of research has shown that children have this natural tendency to interpret features of the natural world things as if they have a purpose and this naturally leads to a belief in a Creator God, what has been termed “intuitive theism” by Deborah Kelemen, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University.
The Bible says much the same thing in several passages. For example:
“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Hebrews 11:3
Romans 1:19-20 is much more bold in its declaration of intuitive theism:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”
Did you catch that? There’s no excuse for ungodliness or unbelief because the Creation itself leads to intuitive theism – and as I’ve always said, if you suspect there’s a god of any sort, it’s in your best interests to see what sort of god that is and what they might expect of you!
Richard Dawkins admitted to this human tendency toward intuitive theism when he wrote that “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He of course believes that this “apparent design” is merely an illusion, but he remains a hostile witness to our tendency to think of the world as having a Designer.
So atheists might be able to contend that children are indoctrinated into a particular religion [Proverbs 22:6] or even irreligion, but we are not born atheists. We are born with “eternity in our hearts” [Ecclesiastes 3:11]. He has stacked the deck in favor of theistic belief and He also promises that if we search for Him with all our heart, we will find Him [Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13; Acts 17:27], regardless of where we are in the world or what false religion we were brought up in.
This post appeared in a slightly different version on my other website, How To Fall Down, back in 2016.