Are Babies Atheists?

Are we all born atheists?
Are we all born atheists? (photo: Register Files)

One of the most common topics in discussion between Christians and atheists is the question of what atheism actually is.

For a long time, the word has been defined as the view that there is no God--i.e., the claim "God does not exist."

More recently, some atheists have begun to define it differently.

According to them, atheism is simply a lack of belief in the existence of God. On this view, a person would be an atheist if he thought there was no God, thought it unlikely that there is a God, or didn't know if there is a God.

Simply not agreeing with the claim "There is a God" would make you an atheist.

Some atheists have claimed that this is the natural state of humanity. On this view, we all start out as atheists and we have to learn belief in God.

In other words: Babies are atheists.

Are they right?


What's the Attraction?

I understand why the atheists who make this claim would be attracted to it. At least, I understand why I would find it attractive if I were an atheist:

  1. It can be plausibly claimed that babies do not have a belief in God, which makes one of the premises of the argument seem true.
  2. If every position other than outright assertion of God's existence falls under my banner, my position would seem larger and more popular.
  3. I could claim atheism as mankind's natural state, thus creating an implicit argument for it. Being in accord with human nature is good, right?
  4. I could claim atheism as the default human belief, and thus relieve me of the burden of proof in arguing with others. I could then claim that the burden of proof is on those who want to believe in God. Until I'm satisfied by their arguments, I'm entitled to act on the assumption that God does not exist.

But consider this . . .


Babies Also Do Not Believe That There Is No God

One problem with the argument some atheists pose is that it is reversible. One can just as easily say:

  1. Babies do not believe the proposition "There is no God."
  2. If everybody except those who outright assert that "There is no God" falls under my banner, that shows that my position is larger and more popular.
  3. Not believing that "There is no God" is the natural state of humanity, and being in harmony with human nature is good, right?
  4. If the default position is not that "There is no God" then the burden of proof is on those who want to prove that he does not exist. Until I'm satisfied by their arguments, I'm entitled to act on the assumption that God does exist.


The Fundamental Problem

The fundamental problem is that babies do not make a good test case for determining the popularity, natural-ness, or default-ness of any claim that is beyond their years.

You might be able to appeal to the beliefs of babies to support things like:

  • Milk tastes good.
  • Faces are interesting
  • Unexpected, loud noises are scary.

But advanced concepts like God, atoms, and the stock market are beyond their ken.

Babies neither believe nor disbelieve in these things.

They have no opinion on them, because they are not yet capable of understanding the concepts involved, because they have not heard of the concepts, and because they have never considered or agreed to the concepts.

It is therefore a mistake to appeal to babies one way or another regarding what the popular, natural, or default belief concerning them is.


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In the meantime, what do you think?

Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, April 17, 2014.

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Justice Antonin Scalia’s love of debate was one of the things that drew him to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a woman with whom he disagreed on many things, including many aspects of the law.