a smarty pants experiment with language, science and religion
Everyone is born an atheist.
There are lots of variations on this theme floating about the place. I don’t think it’s completely false. But it doesn’t make any sense. Everyone is born with a lack of belief in gods. Fair enough. But everyone is born with a lack of understanding of science and everyone is born with a lack of language to express themselves. It’s not meaningful to assert what we don’t know as babies.
Let’s imagine a nasty experiment, a la Emperor Fredrick II, who apparently in the 13th century wanted to know what ‘natural’ language was – Latin, Greek and Hebrew being among the supposed possibilities – and had a group of children raised within a language void. So, let’s imagine we can take three of groups of socialised people (socialised through silent observation and imitation) but interactionless in terms of language, science and religion. We drop them off on three different planets, exactly like earth, and observe the results in terms of the development of language, science and religion.
Now, you may be imagining the results of this experiment but you’re probably wrong. I’ll tell you what will happen, because I’m more likely to be right (my experiment).
In terms of language, sounds for basic needs would be available within the first generation. Ways to express hunger, interest, attraction and fear, location of food, things like that. Perhaps also ways to indicate incidents in the past and present. Over a few hundred years, more words would be generated and the beginnings of symbols to express the words. After a couple of thousand of years, the three groups of people would develop various functional languages that would have little in common with any languages currently in existence.
The development of scientific understanding would obviously take a lot longer. Language and writing would have to be well established. Eventually, after thousands of years, the humans would reach a level on par with our current understanding of the physical world. The method of expression would be different but the understanding would be pretty much the same.
Religion is a different kettle of fish. In the first generation, every person would undoubtedly formulate their own superstitious explanation for the many things they don’t understand. They would influence each other by their reactions to weather, animals and the world around them, and within a couple of generations groups would undoubtedly be cowering before trees that bear fruit or making fearful signs at the sun to encourage its benevolence. Innate curiosity that leads to a desire to understand a confusing physical world, plus the need to feel protected that never abandons us from childhood, would see the creation of basic deities in a flash. As common language developed, so the most successful or appealing of these superstitious thoughts would be adapted by the majority, and primitive religions would be established. The mentally ill or power-hungry ‘prophets’ would be among them within a few hundred years. Within a thousand years, none of the religions would be the same as any we currently see, but a lot of them would have come to the logical conclusion that a fundamental principle for a stable society is to treat others as you wish to be treated (science).
Therefore, as a result of my thoroughly scientific experiment, it has been proven that theism is natural and people are not born atheists. In the same way that language is natural and people are not born with an understanding of science. Don’t undervalue atheism – it’s a measure of evolutionary advancement steeped in logic and common sense – but it’s not a natural state in the absence of scientific understanding.