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From the Guardian:

But there are no atheist babies, and certainly no agnostic ones. This is for two reasons. The first is that if we're going to be consistent, and to demand that babies only be ascribed identities that they themselves embrace, there are no German, British or Chinese children either. There are simply the children of German and English and Chinese parents, who will in due course learn the habits and the rules of the cultures around them and grow into their parents' language, nationality, food habits – and religious opinions. The way in which they express these will become more subtle and more interesting as they grow up – or at least we can hope it will – but the fact remains that babies are entirely anchored in the world by their parents.


To reach the state where you can really reflect critically on your own beliefs – rather than simply understanding that your parents are deluded old fools – takes a long time if it ever happens at all. As Bertrand Russell observed, many people would rather die than think and most of them do. And that is why no one can really be called an atheist or an agnostic until they have grown up.

I have some issues with this, because

1) Religions can and do claim babies at birth for their own teams. Yes, this is clearly the choice of the parents and not the baby, but they are conferred that identity immediately upon birth, and most religions have a much lower age than they are purporting for atheism to become fully "a member of the community" (confirmation and bar/bat mitzvah at the age of 13 or 14 comes to mind.

2) Essentially, they are saying that atheism can only happen through the rejection of religions, rather than as a state where they simply do not believe in a god at all, as if the default is to believe in a god, and only by rejecting that can someone come to atheism.

In the article, they reference children's preferences for "supernaturalism" like fairy tales and playing pretend, and note that they keep this until they are trained out of it.

Rather, I think that most people know very well the difference between reality and pretend at a much younger age... see the 12-year-olds who attempted to murder their friend on behalf of Slenderman. The shock, horror and outrage of this means that the expectation is certainly that people that age should be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy, whereas such an expectation of, say, a four-year-old would be more difficult.

Yet, the expectation here is that these kids should have known that Slenderman is not a "legitimate" fantasy, but religion is totally fine? The author argues from the perspective that god is a default, actual reality that takes far more to reject, but Slenderman should not be, as if god has more reality than Slenderman.

I argue that this is not true, god just has had much better marketing for a far longer period of time.

The author makes a good point about culture, of course, there is no such thing as a culturally-German or culturally-Chinese baby, culture and language are, of course, learned. There are certainly phenotypes that can dictate certain genetic tendencies, and of course place of birth/place of parents' birth dictates citizenship, but an adopted child raised in a home of another culture will grow up within that culture.

But the point remains, that, left to their own devices, it is highly unlikely that a child will invent a god, given other explanations for natural phenomenon. A child told that "the gods are angry" during a thunderstorm will believe that there are gods, and a child told about sound waves will not invent a god to explain what already has a perfectly reasonable explanation.

There are, of course, larger questions ("where did the universe come from?") but I would be hard-pressed to believe that a child would arrive naturally at the idea that a woman was impregnated by a spirit and then a bunch of people nailed him to a cross because you are a bad person without that sacrifice, all on their own otherwise.

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