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Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief Hardcover – March 20, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; 1st Ed. edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439196540
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439196540
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #442,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dan Knauss on May 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
==Critical Summary==
Born Believers summarizes some findings of contemporary cognitive and evolutionary psychology that suggest humans have an "instinct for religion." Barrett hypothesizes this instinct is based in something like the hypothetical "Language Acquisition Device," emerging in infancy and developing in children apart from any cultural influences but declining in power with age. Barrett uses western and non-western studies plus some anthropological data to make a case for there being several points of "natural religion" that nearly all people will normally gravitate toward, at least early in their life. Barrett does not spend much time speculating why this is the case, what good it is, and what problems it may cause. Instead he wishes to complicate skeptical arguments from Freud to the New Atheists that describe religious belief as infantile, illusory, and natural to outgrow if one is not exposed to religious indoctrination in one's family or culture. Barrett succeeds at all this, but his last three chapters are almost not worth reading. They fall into a confusing, disingenuous attempt to explain why atheists exist with mock suggestions for how they can build their confidence and numbers. This chapter seems to develop into satire with a polemical edge. The last two chapters advocate and prescribe both religious inquiry and passive indoctrination that will only make sense to western readers with some type of Christian background. Most will find Barrett's prescriptions too committed to a specific, rather deistic construction of God to jibe with their religious tradition.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Discerning Reader on April 21, 2012
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.
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14 of 25 people found the following review helpful By William O. Straub on May 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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.
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