One argument I’ve been hearing about with increasing frequency from the atheist community is that “everyone is born atheist” with the implication that religion is some unwitting indoctrination forced upon children too young to object. To me, such an argument represents a shockingly naive tabula rasa view of human development and, what’s more, invalidates the significant intellectual achievements of atheism as an intellectual stance.

A far more accurate view of human development would reveal that “everyone is born animist”, that is, ascribing human like traits to naturalistic phenomena. Our propensity to find and explain patterns of behavior is a product of our deep evolutionary background and even in modern, technological society, we curse our computers as malicious and believe that we can influence the timing of traffic lights. All religion does is impose an organizational framework upon our original animist intuitions. It provides a ready explanation for what we were already pre-programmed to believe.

Only atheism seeks to directly challenge the validity of our animist intuition and promote a wholly naturalistic view of the world. As a result, atheism is a deeply counter intuitive claim and one which can only be justified by deep intellectual inquiry into rationalism, skepticism and the scientific method. The argument that “everyone is born atheist” wholly discredits the significant intellectual effort that atheists must take to reach an intellectually defensible point of view.

So let’s retire this tired old canard that “everyone is born atheist”. It’s intellectually embarrassing and gives a grossly inaccurate viewpoint to outsiders on what atheism actually is.

Responses

  1. Noone is born atheist | UW's Secular Student Union says:

    December 19th, 2008 at 11:42 pm (#)

    […] Cross-posted from the blog Figuring Shit Out […]

  2. Zach Hale says:

    December 20th, 2008 at 9:40 am (#)

    Well put. I agree.

    I took me until a significant number of years into my life before I even began to think about religion and then not until within the last several years that come to any sort of a conclusion as to what I believe.

    Considering the alternate argument and effort required to explain an alternate “default” such as animist intuition, it is all too easy and understandable why in many cases arguing “everyone is born atheist” is an more likely assumption to come to consensus on.

  3. Zach Hale says:

    December 20th, 2008 at 1:40 am (#)

    Well put. I agree.

    I took me until a significant number of years into my life before I even began to think about religion and then not until within the last several years that come to any sort of a conclusion as to what I believe.

    Considering the alternate argument and effort required to explain an alternate “default” such as animist intuition, it is all too easy and understandable why in many cases arguing “everyone is born atheist” is an more likely assumption to come to consensus on.

  4. David Thompson says:

    December 20th, 2008 at 5:09 pm (#)

    Saying that everyone’s born an atheist suggests that everyone starts with the concept of what a god is, and believes they don’t exist. That’s patently silly. “No-one is born a theist” would be less so, though.

    I like the idea that everyone is born a storyteller. A good part of human learning is coming up with ideas (by induction or deduction) and casting them out into the world we perceive to see if they stick. Regardless of whether our theories have gods or spirits in them or not, we’re essentially trying to tell ourselves and each other stories about the world that help it make sense to us. Both science and religion do that – albeit in different ways, at different levels and to different intentions.

  5. David Thompson says:

    December 20th, 2008 at 9:09 am (#)

    Saying that everyone’s born an atheist suggests that everyone starts with the concept of what a god is, and believes they don’t exist. That’s patently silly. “No-one is born a theist” would be less so, though.

    I like the idea that everyone is born a storyteller. A good part of human learning is coming up with ideas (by induction or deduction) and casting them out into the world we perceive to see if they stick. Regardless of whether our theories have gods or spirits in them or not, we’re essentially trying to tell ourselves and each other stories about the world that help it make sense to us. Both science and religion do that – albeit in different ways, at different levels and to different intentions.

  6. Zzki says:

    December 20th, 2008 at 11:09 pm (#)

    Good post.

    I think you’re assigning more meaning to the word ‘atheism’ than you should though. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a deity, nothing more. This includes anyone from a guy like Dawkins, to a newborn baby, since both don’t have a belief in a god. You can’t imply that atheism is some sort of intellectual exercise that rids the individual of theism and allows them to think clearly, since the person’s ability to do this has nothing to do with their atheism.

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s ‘atheism’ that challenges our animist intuition, but rather our desire for knowledge. Just as we evolved to interpret our world through animism, maybe we’re taking the ‘next step’ through scientific inquiry and intellectual discourse to find out more about our world.

    I just don’t see how we can ascribe atheism to someone’s reason for doing anything, since it’s nothing more than a lack of belief in god. If you’re dealing with the term solely based on its definition, everyone is born without belief in god, as you have to be introduced to a god to believe in one.

  7. Zzki says:

    December 20th, 2008 at 3:09 pm (#)

    Good post.

    I think you’re assigning more meaning to the word ‘atheism’ than you should though. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a deity, nothing more. This includes anyone from a guy like Dawkins, to a newborn baby, since both don’t have a belief in a god. You can’t imply that atheism is some sort of intellectual exercise that rids the individual of theism and allows them to think clearly, since the person’s ability to do this has nothing to do with their atheism.

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s ‘atheism’ that challenges our animist intuition, but rather our desire for knowledge. Just as we evolved to interpret our world through animism, maybe we’re taking the ‘next step’ through scientific inquiry and intellectual discourse to find out more about our world.

    I just don’t see how we can ascribe atheism to someone’s reason for doing anything, since it’s nothing more than a lack of belief in god. If you’re dealing with the term solely based on its definition, everyone is born without belief in god, as you have to be introduced to a god to believe in one.

  8. Zaki says:

    December 20th, 2008 at 11:29 pm (#)

    It’s all semantics really–which is why this topic has caused so much confusion–but purely based on definition, we are all born without the belief in god which makes us atheists technically. We’re also aunicornists, atoothfairyists, etc.

    But this is exactly why I don’t like labels anyway. They don’t accomplish much in the end.

  9. Zaki says:

    December 20th, 2008 at 3:29 pm (#)

    It’s all semantics really–which is why this topic has caused so much confusion–but purely based on definition, we are all born without the belief in god which makes us atheists technically. We’re also aunicornists, atoothfairyists, etc.

    But this is exactly why I don’t like labels anyway. They don’t accomplish much in the end.

  10. Bumblebee Labs Blog » Blog Archive » What atheism isn’t says:

    December 21st, 2008 at 12:51 am (#)

    […] of the reactions to my most recent post that “No one is born atheist” contain some variant of the argument: Since atheism is defined as the lack of belief in a […]

  11. Hang says:

    December 21st, 2008 at 8:52 am (#)

    Hi Zaki,

    I’ve responded to your comments here: http://blog.figuringshitout.com/what-atheism-isnt

  12. Hang says:

    December 21st, 2008 at 12:52 am (#)

    Hi Zaki,

    I’ve responded to your comments here: http://blog.figuringshitout.com/what-atheism-isnt

  13. | UW's Secular Student Union says:

    December 21st, 2008 at 12:56 am (#)

    […] Cross-posted from the blog Figuring Shit Out […]

  14. millinniummany3k says:

    February 25th, 2009 at 11:52 am (#)

    Children are born without the knowledge of there being a god, they do not judge that there is catagorically no god, as atheism does, nor do they have the capeability to know whether or not there is god. At best children are born agnostic, but they are not born thinking god does not exist.

  15. millinniummany3k says:

    February 25th, 2009 at 3:52 am (#)

    Children are born without the knowledge of there being a god, they do not judge that there is catagorically no god, as atheism does, nor do they have the capeability to know whether or not there is god. At best children are born agnostic, but they are not born thinking god does not exist.

  16. flyndaran says:

    February 28th, 2009 at 7:40 pm (#)

    What about me? I was never animistic or superstitious even as a child. I always assumed those stories told by adults at sunday school and parents were part of some unspoken game. I was six when I realized they actually believed them. It really creeped me out. After long talk with my father he allowed me to stay home. Both parents were non-denominational christians, so I must have taken them by suprise.

  17. flyndaran says:

    February 28th, 2009 at 11:40 am (#)

    What about me? I was never animistic or superstitious even as a child. I always assumed those stories told by adults at sunday school and parents were part of some unspoken game. I was six when I realized they actually believed them. It really creeped me out. After long talk with my father he allowed me to stay home. Both parents were non-denominational christians, so I must have taken them by suprise.

  18. smartass says:

    July 16th, 2010 at 8:46 am (#)

    I couldn't get past the title… it's no one not noone… learn to spell… maybe I will read

  19. Buddy Lee says:

    November 11th, 2010 at 3:15 am (#)

    A whole book is dedicated to the alternate argument that everyone is, in fact, born atheist. See http://bornatheist.com/contents.html

  20. Gerry says:

    March 5th, 2011 at 8:00 pm (#)

    This is a biased post – obviously. The truth is, every IS born atheist. No one comes up with a god, (let alone a common god such as a judeao-christian one) without deviating from the natural world. The point isn’t so much that theism is indoctrination (which I don’t see why it’s a problem to admit that it is and go from there), but that one cannot find evidence of any god in reality except through deviation from the senses to pre-suppose a superstitious cause to reality. No young child has evidence for God…only the parents do. Moreover, the point is that if one cannot come up with the same tenant of the same god, from the same sources (i.e. reality) , then this too is evidence of the gross lack of evidence for the existence of a single, judeao-christian god. (or any other for that matter). There is a reason America is mostly Christian, Middle-east is mostly Islamic, and rational thinkers are neither. Learn to ask “Why?” and reject anything that makes non-supportive claims in leu of that question.

  21. Rita says:

    March 27th, 2013 at 1:48 am (#)

    I had no clue of God or religion til the age 8 when I had to go for religious classes. And I know many people like me, who were atheists, we did not believe in God because no one told us about God. Then someone started telling us about God and that is when I formally became an atheist. It is true, we are all born atheist. The concept of God is man made and man teaches man about God. If no one had taught me about God I would have lived my whole life without the knowledge of such a character.

  22. Paul Hannah says:

    April 13th, 2014 at 6:58 pm (#)

    Anyone, irrespective of their age, who has no belief in god, is an atheist.
    Atheism isn’t an active disbelief, it is passive. Until one understands the nature of a god claim, one cannot oppose or support it.

    We have no belief or disbelief. when we are born.
    We are therefore without belief, therefore we are atheists.

    Which particular animist claim do you imagine babies to hold?
    How can we test this claim of yours?
    What predictions flow from your claim that we can measure?

    Negative answers to the above questions, illustrate my point. If you have a positive answer, I’d love to hear it.

  23. Freethinker says:

    November 25th, 2014 at 11:52 pm (#)

    My thought on “A child is an atheist.” http://helloworldnamaste.blogspot.com/2014/10/blog-post.html

  24. Reuben Schwartzschild says:

    May 17th, 2015 at 6:23 am (#)

    Excellent article, I completely agree. I get what they want to say with saying but it’s not an accurate statement. I wasn’t born an atheist, because I didn’t know about Gods or religions in the first place! If everyone was born atheist, there wouldn’t have been all these numerous religions and other forms of worship for tens of thousands of years in our human history.

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