For the investigations, researchers enrolled 5- and 6- year old children and separated them into four groups: children who attend public school and church, children who attend public school but not church, children who attend parochial school and church and children who attend parochial school but not church.So what happened was that both groups believed the completely realistic stories (read: naturalistic). Also predictably, the Biblical stories -- like Noah's Ark -- were predominantly judged as true by children from religious backgrounds and fictional from children from secular upbringings.
They then exposed the children to three different types of stories- biblical (religious), fantastical (where the divine element was replaced with magic) or realistic (all supernatural elements removed). They then asked the children to judge whether the protagonist (lead character) was fictional or real.
The interesting part comes with the fantastical stories.
Children exposed to religion, either through school or church, decided that the characters were real, whereas secular children judged them to be fictional.So it seems like being raised to believe in certain supernatural stories opens up the door to all kinds of belief in the supernatural without evidence, while a grounding in a more naturalistic secular point of view inoculates kids against believing in magic. Really, both groups of kids are behaving perfectly consistently.
Fast-forward now to an article by David Roach in the Baptist Press.
Religious beliefs form by age 6
About the title. Personally, I think that if religious beliefs are cemented by the age of six, we should all be concerned. A six year old is not qualified to critically examine metaphysical truth claims or realise when they possess inadequate knowledge to come to a sound conclusion. This is why we ought to let their brains develop first.
Anyway, what's really amazing with this piece is how it tries to turn the conclusion of most media observers -- including the study authors -- on its head. It's the secular kids who are most impaired here because they're unable to see the Biblical accounts as non fiction!
Media reports of the study have tended to portray children with Christian training as ignorant or developmentally challenged. For example, the Huffington Post reported that “young children who are exposed to religion have a hard time differentiating between fact and fiction.” But a careful examination of the study suggests the opposite of what some media reports imply. In the rush to slam Christianity, it’s been overlooked that religious children correctly identified the true stories far more often than did secular children. After all, the “realistic” and “fantastical” stories were mere concoctions of the researchers’ imaginations, unlike the biblically-based stories, which were largely true though some changed the details of Bible stories and one was an apocryphal story about Jesus that contained elements similar to what is reported in the Gospels.
Roach had pointed out earlier in his article that some of the Biblical stories were somewhat Biblically inaccurate, so the children could be excused for not always believing those versions to be true.
This is what happens when True or Non-Fictional equals, in all cases, what's in the Bible. Boat full of pairs of every kind of animal on the planet? TRUE! Earth created in six days? TRUE! Talking donkey? TRUE!
It turns out that the poor secular children were unable to properly identify all those Biblical accounts -- because, I suppose, they just evaluate the plausibility of these stories as they would the The Cat In the Hat or Jason And The Argonauts! Aren't they silly?
Still, the secular children misidentified the religious stories as false at a higher rate than the religious children misidentified the fantastical stories as true. In the end, the Christian worldview proved more effective at recognizing truth than the secular worldview.