If a baby is born, it seems obvious to me that it would be an atheist — at least in the sense that it has not yet been taught the concept of God, so it can’t possibly believe in a God.
It’s the very reason Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, says it would be tantamount to abuse to give a small child a religious label (like Christian or Catholic). How can it be religious when it doesn’t even understand the implications of the theology?
Psychologist Olivera Petrovich begs to differ.
In fact, according to The Age, she believes “infants are hard-wired to believe in God, and atheism has to be learned.”
An interview with her in Science & Spirit shows it’s a bit more complex than that, though:
Petrovich: … I’ve also established that children’s natural concepts of God aren’t purely anthropomorphic. They certainly acquire a conception of God-as-man through their religious education, but no child actually links the representation of, for example, God-as-Jesus with the creator of the world. Rather, their images of God the creator correspond to abstract notions like gas, air, and person without a body. When you press them, they of course fall back on what they’ve been told, saying things like, “I know he’s a man because I saw him on the telly,” or “He’s just like my daddy.” These are very rational responses, but they’re not natural conceptions formed by children. Rather they’re imposed by the culture in which the children live.
Also, it’s curious that her subjects are not infants. Rather, they’re kids who have a few years on them… at least four-years-old.
There are some very interesting comments at The Age Blogs. Barney Zwartz asks these questions to his readers:
… Are Dr Petrovich’s findings surprising? If you disagree, do you have counter explanations, or do you dismiss such belief as an evolutionary anachronism that we are outgrowing? If you agree, how far can the argument be taken? For example, Dr Petrovich’s findings do not favour any particular theological system. Should any or all or be encouraged by these findings?
(Thanks to Pseudonym for the links!)