This Mayan mask unites at once the human, the animal, and the artifact. Source: Museo Popul Vuh, Guatemala City
Evolutionary psychology sheds light on child development and the acquisition of what something that comes close to being a religious instinct in humans:
- Children appear on their own to visualize a divine creator who is omniscient, superperceptive, immortal, and superpowerful. See Justin L. Barrett & Rebekah A. Richert, Anthropomorphism or Preparedness?: Exploring Children’s God Concepts, 44 Rev. Relig. 300-12 (2003). Thanks to this instinct, children naturally embrace many of the theological tenets that typify the Abrahamic traditions.
- According to the work of Olivera Petrovich, children sharply distinguish between natural and human-made things. Children also ascribe natural origins to theistic rather than human agency.
- Children see living and nonliving things as purposeful, and religion may merely confirm this instinct. See Deborah Kelemen. Function, Goals and intention: Children’s Teleological Reasoning About Objects, 3 Trends in Cognitive Scis. 461-67 (1999).
- Children devote extraordinary effort to mastering information about animals, even those that are extinct. Animals are at once resources and threats. See H. Clark Barrett, Cognitive development and the understanding of animal behavior, in Origins of the Social Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and Child Development (Bruce J. Ellis & David F. Bjorklund eds., 2004).
- Deborah Kelemen has written at least one article speculating whether children carry over thei intuitive sense of theology into other realms of thought and learning. See generally Are Children "Intuitive Theists"? Reasoning About Purpose and Design in Nature, 15 Psych. Sci. 295 (2004).
Next in this series: Avant moi, le déluge.