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Justin Barrett and Lewis Wolpert on belief in God

I was listening to the Today programme this morning, in which there was a brief discussion between Justin Barrett and Lewis Wolpert about Barret's view that young children have a natural tendency to believe in a god (or gods?). Although the discussion was supposed to provide a conflict of views, there didn't seem to be much disagreement between the two. Barrett was not saying that the existence of such a tendency had any theological implications, simply that it was a psychological characteristic.

Wolpert's argument was that children had a natural tendency to see intention in natural phenomena, which I think is correct. When I was five I had worked out a theory about what causes the wind: I thought it was caused by the branches of trees waving about. This seemed quite logical: I knew that I could produce wind by waving my arms, so presumably trees could do the same on a larger scale. And certainly the branches did move about when it was windy and not at other times.

I proposed this theory to adults and it they rejected it, but I was not entirely convinced that they were right.

Much of early religion was presumably based on a similar tendency to animistic thinking; it is not a big step to go from thinking that trees have minds and purposes to believe that rocks and streams do too.


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