Shoes for Baby Atheists

“All babies are born atheists,” claims Berlin’s Atheist Shoe Company.  The company plans to market a new line of shoes for baby atheists, who only believe in “Mummy, Daddy and boobies.” First, I’ve got to admit that the shoes are amazing (except for that political sloganeering on the soles), and the Kickstarter video is simply hilarious.  (Watch the video below; just don’t get caught up in believing their faulty premise.) But then, I’ve got to take exception with their initial premise:  Babies may, in fact, be predisposed to faith.  Babies, experiencing everything for the first time, approach the universe with a sense of wonder and anticipation.  That may, in fact, make the experience of God’s existence more plausible than for, say, a forty-year-old office worker who has become jaded and takes the world for granted, and who no longer stops to admire the intricacy of a dandelion or the gentle touch of a purring kitten. Even if babies are not, at birth, able to contemplate creation and the Creator, the decision that God does not exist would require two steps:

first, a consideration of who God is, and

second, a choice whether or not to believe in Him. 

Atheism is not simply the absence of belief, but rather, a deliberate intellectual and psychological push away from the premise of God.  Atheism is a conviction about a conviction, hence is two steps away from the unknowing agnosticism of infancy. Jimmy Akin wrote an excellent column over at Strange Notions titled, simply, Are Babies Atheist?  He writes:

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 avoid 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 is that it is reversible. One can just as easily switch to the conventional definition of atheism and say:

  1. Babies also do not believe the proposition “There is no God.” Therefore, they are non-atheists.
  2. If everybody except those who outright assert that “There is no God” falls under my banner (non-atheism), that shows that my position is larger and more popular.
  3. I could claim that non-atheism is the natural state of humanity, and being in harmony with human nature is good, right?
  4. I could claim non-atheism as the default human belief, and thus avoid of the burden of proof in arguing with atheists. I could then claim that the burden of proof is on those who assert the non-existence of God. Until I’m satisfied by their arguments, I’m entitled to act on the assumption that God does exist.

Go read the rest here. By the way, the company wants to reach out not only to atheist mums and dads in traditional families, but also to same sex couples.  They plan to offer pairs with “I believe in Daddy & Daddy” and “I believe in Mummy & Mummy” sole pairings. And they’ll offer a vegan-friendly version, presumably not made of leather. Here, as I promised, is their amusing video.

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  • Tom

    If babies are anything, they’re ignostic apatheists, since they don’t understand any concept beyond “I just pooped my pants,” and they don’t care about any concept beyond, “I just pooped my pants.”

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      Not true. They also understand, “I’m hungry,” “I need comfort,” “I’m cold,” “I’m hot,” and have an unerring instinct for, “Mom’s trying to make a really important phone call–I need her NOW.”

  • erikcampano

    Interesting piece! (The shoes do look of excellent quality.)

    How would you feel about the statement that babies are born “agnostics”, or perhaps “non-theists”?

    • kathyschiffer

      Well, I hope someone else will weigh in here–but for myself, I hear the same “judgmental capability” voiced when you call someone a “non-theist.” One has to be against something, not just oblivious to it, to be “non-“.

      Agnostics, on the other hand, just don’t know whether there is a God; they haven’t rejected Him. That, I’ll buy.

    • moseynon

      Erik, I haven’t taken a course specifically on neonatal development, and any classes related to such things were taken very long ago. I mention this because I am relying on faded memory, so may be wrong. Or my knowledge may be simply outdated.

      However, from what I recall, newborns are solipsists. They don’t recognize an external world or that other persons exist. They are only aware of Feeling. An essential part of infant development is recognition that a physical world exists outside of what they experience and that they behave within that world. They then learn that their behavior can affect (manipulate) the world they experience e.g. by crying. And only after that stage of development do they begin to recognize that other people exist.

      If this is correct, then the question of a newborn’s atheism or agnosticism makes no sense. Newborns aren’t even aware that a world exists, or that they have an existence in that world. Until they reach that stage of development, they aren’t even aware that Mother exists. The issue of theism vs non-theism would only arise much later in childhood as they develop the ability to understand the persistence of objects and, later still, grasp abstract ideas.

  • AtheistShoes

    Thanks for writing about our project. Two points stand out. First off, if you google “atheist definition”, you get “a person who disbelieves OR lacks belief in the existence of God or gods”. Babies lack belief in gods. As do rocks and trees and cats. You don’t have to have encountered the concept of god in order to be an atheist. But if you do believe that the baby’s inability to grasp the concept of god/gods is important, then by that light surely it’s not fair to be aligning them to x or y religion before they are old enough to handle those concepts, let alone make mature and independent judgement about their veracity? Secondly, regarding the “sense of wonder and anticipation” that babies have and which most of us yearn to hang on to as long as we can. I don’t see that openness to the universe as being anything especially religions… I have it in my own life still and I have never believed in gods. I would more likely say that a curious and open mind makes a baby an intuitive scientist and predisposes it to learning and education, which may lead it to understand the wonders of evolution and chemistry and physics and to reach adulthood having never believed in god and yet being as fulfilled and awe-struck at the universe as any religious person may be. It reminds me of Oprah’s recent gaffe when she was interviewing an atheist. The religious don’t have a monopoly on wonder or emotion or intuition or fulfilment.

    • AtheistShoes

      At the same time, we have been careful NOT to design shoes that project babies as active anti-theists or miltant atheists. We just wanted to make the point that it’s silly to allign them with any supernatural faith, when the only things they are capable of having “belief” in are those physical things in the immediate environment that nurture them.

    • moseynon

      Hi AtheistShoes, welcome to the discussion!

      You questioned whether it was proper to raise a child in a specific faith tradition before they are able to grasp the concept of God. But surely parents can not be expected to shield their child from their own faith? If attending church services on a regular basis is normal for the parents, are they to leave their child in the care of someone else while they are gone?

      As the child gains an understanding of what is happening at church, s/he will naturally begin asking questions. Is it unreasonable for the parents to explain their faith to their child?

  • Lar

    Sadly, babies are more Cartesian than anything else.

  • Ron

    The “Faithful” never tire of distortion and obfuscation. Babies are purely experiential, of necessity, the ultimate existentialists. They would no more have a “non belief” in any god than they would have a non belief in the state of Ohio. As such, it is enough merely to say that without evidence, the god hypothesis is irrelevant to them. Unless a god makes itself physically known to the available senses of the baby, there is no belief. Your lack of knowledge about child development and child psychology is an embarrassment to apologists everywhere.
    By redefining Atheism, you make a puny straw man case. Atheists need not prove the validity of their non belief. It is enough to say that believers are obligated to satisfy the advocacy position…i.e. to prove the existence of their god. If they do not present enough evidence to prove the merit of their (extraordinary) claims, there is no need to place a label on those they fail to convince. What name is there for someone who doesn’t believe in Apollo? You know all this, of course, but chose to ignore it. The metaphorical ice floe upon which you float shrinks smaller and smaller every time you confront facts and logic.

    • MillerJM

      Actually, as a clinical psychologist who has taught child development for 15 years, I can say YOU are off. The talk of belief for a child is completely irrelevant – you cannot claim “there is no belief.” We have no evidence babies are capable of any cognition. Calling them existentialists is an incorrect metaphor as well. They are sensory-motor – the proper term would be experientialists. They are aware only of what they experience moment by moment. As far as we can measure, that is through their senses. Again, as far as we can measure. We have no way of measuring otherwise, including the content of their dreams, exactly what they sense, or even any supernatural experiences, if they have them. A baby is a black box in so many ways, because they cannot tell us of their experiences. We can only infer it based on a very limited number of experimental methods, especially for neonates. YOU know all this but choose to ignore it. Or maybe you don’t, WHICH MEANS YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS TALKING ABOUT IT. The metaphorical ice flow upon which your flow shrinks smaller and smaller…I think you know the rest. Stay within your own area of expertise, whatever that may be.