Developmental neurotheology

Children respond easily and naturally to the concept of God. They assume his omniscience, for instance, as a matter of course. In one study which asked children what kinds of beings could know everything, specifically what was in a closed box, 5 and 6-year-olds answered that only God and an orange kitty with special vision could. They had already figured out that their mothers did not know everything (which is what the 3 and 4-year-olds had believed). Other studies have shown that children associate God with the creation of natural objects, as opposed to the humans who create artificial objects. Yet additional studies in cultures with a hierarchy of supernatural beings showed the children could order the beings by their power, from God on down to the sun and rocks. Most studies contradict the notion that children build their notions of God as superpowerful versions of their parents.

At the same time, a prodigious amount of research in the field of developmental neuroscience is gradually illuminating the incredibly elaborate process by which our brains take shape in the womb and develop through puberty.

What’s remarkable is that no one has pulled together these two threads—children’s concepts of God, and the development of children’s brains—into a science I will call “developmental neurotheology”. A robust research program could track the parallel development of the child’s brain and his concept of God to find key linkages, expanding our knowledge of both fields. This, not transcranial stimulation or made-up theories of God modules in the brain, is what neurotheology should be about.

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