Would someone raised without exposure to religious views nonetheless come to believe in the existence of God, an afterlife, and the intentional creation of humans and other animals? Many scholars would answer yes, proposing that universal cognitive biases generate religious ideas anew within each individual mind. Drawing on evidence from developmental psychology, we argue here that the answer is no: children lack spontaneous theistic views and the emergence of religion is crucially dependent on culture.
...if universal, early-emerging cognitive biases generate religious ideas, we would expect to see these ideas emerge spontaneously. This would be akin to the process of creolization, such as when deaf children who are exposed to non-linguistic communication systems create their own sign language. However, such cases are, as best we know, non-existent. There are many examples where children are quick to endorse religious beliefs, often surprising their atheist parents. But this is consistent with receptivity, not generativity, as these beliefs correspond to those endorsed within the social environment in which children are raised.
Findings from developmental psychology support the following theory of the emergence of religious belief: humans possess a suite of sophisticated cognitive adaptations for social life, which make accessible certain concepts that are associated with religion, including design, purpose, agency, and body–soul dualism. However, more is needed to generate fully-fledged, sustained, and conscious religious beliefs, including a belief in gods, in divine creation of natural entities, and in life after death. Such beliefs require cultural support.