A key Lutheran teaching is that infants can have faith. This is why Lutherans see no contradiction between infant baptism and justification by faith. Lutherans see faith not just in terms of intellectual knowledge or conscious volition, but as trust, dependence, and relationship with a Person. Infants can trust, depend on, and have a relationship with their parents and also with their Heavenly Father. The faith that begins with baptism then grows and matures, fed by the “milk” of God’s Word, as the child grows into adulthood, and continuing thereafter. (That faith can also die if it is not nourished, which is why someone can have been baptized as an infant but then reject the faith and become an unbeliever in need of conversion.)
Anyway, a new book explores, from the vantage point of scientific research, the way infants and extremely young children seemed to be wired for religious belief.
Wheaton provost Stanton L. Jones reviews Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief by psychologist Justin L. Barrett:
He summarizes creative, sophisticated research establishing that in infancy, babies understand distinctions between mere objects and agents (human and non-human, visible and invisible) which initiate actions that are not predictable and yet are goal-directed or purposeful. Only agents act to bring order out of disorder.
Children over three begin to discern and attribute purpose to much of what happens around them, which they in turn are inclined to attribute to human and superhuman agents. When children are old enough to actually discuss their intuitive concepts of god(s), they seem normatively disposed to believe in a (or many) divine agent(s) possessing “superknowledge, superperception, creative power, and immortality,” as well as to believe in a purposeful design to creation, in some sort of basic universal morality, and in the persistence of human identity after death.
Roughly the first 40 percent of Born Believers summarizes this research, while the remaining portion fleshes out its implications. Barrett’s view of religious development is that “children are naturally drawn to some basic religious ideas and related practices (natural religion), and then the meat of a religious and theological tradition as taught by parents grows on this skeleton.” He discusses trends in the research that might foster effective religious education.