Does Research Prove that Children in Christian Families Struggle to Distinguish Fact from Fiction?

Are Christian children delusional? The author of the Huffington Post article, “Children Exposed To Religion Have Difficulty Distinguishing Fact From Fiction, Study Finds”, would have you think that Christian children unlike secular children cannot identify fictional stories including talking animals. Although, the referenced study did not include telling children stories of talking animals. Furthermore, this post exposes such prejudice by examining that study. Secular prejudice is exposed by such examples of twisting research. In fact, the research showed that nonreligious children had to be taught to be anti-religious and anti-God to not believe in God. The fact that so many secularists are jumping on to this story shows their gullible bias against God and Christians.

In this study by K. H. Corriveau et al. entitled, “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds,” researchers recorded the responses of 5- and 6-year-old children from churchgoing and non-churchgoing families in parochial school, and churchgoing and “nonreligious” children in public school. With the instruction to distinguish between fact and fiction, researchers told sixty-five children only stories from the Old and New Testaments. K. H. Corriveau et al. reported,

The religious stories were adapted from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, in which an ordinarily impossible event was brought about via divine intervention. In the fantastical stories, the same Bible stories were modified to exclude any reference to divine intervention, so that the impossible event was effectively presented as magical rather than miraculous. Finally, in the realistic stories, the Bible stories were modified such that the improbable event was made plausible due to human intervention. (emp. added)

Nine stories were randomized, and the children were assigned the goal of recognizing each story as religious, pretend, or real. A third of the participants heard the Biblical story; another third heard the Biblical character in a similar but fictitious story referencing “magic”; and for the other third, the Biblical character was placed in a “realistic story.”religious children cannot tell reality from pretend

Nonreligious children were significantly more likely to think biblical stories are pretend rather than real. Secular children were also more likely to think that fictional stories of magic were real more than biblical stories. The study found that secular children rejected religious stories because they were taught to reject God. Corriveau et al. found,

Considering first the characters embedded in religious stories, secular children categorized these characters as pretend. Very few categorized them as real and of those that did, none made any reference to God. Indeed, whenever these secular children did refer to religion—which they sometimes did in the context of the religious stories—it was to justify a decision that the character was pretend. […] In other words, although the characters in the religious stories were implicated in ordinarily impossible events, namely miracles, all three religious groups invoked God as a justification for categorizing those figures as real, whereas their secular peers invoked God as a justification for categorizing those figures as pretend. (emp. added)

Note that someone taught “nonreligious” children antagonism toward God. The study also observed that secular children were also more likely to reject a story as real without a reason to justify their decisions. These secular children were also more likely to reject the fantastical for being simply “impossible.”

Now, the bias stands out toward naturalism. For instance, the implication that altering the biblical story to become realistic presents the researchers’ bias against reality of biblical accounts. Despite the title, this study was specifically comparing Christian and secular children rather than simply the religious and nonreligious. This is seen that by the children grouped as churchgoers whose guardians taught Christianity. Add to this that they were told biblical stories including stories of Elisha, Jonah, Joseph, Samson, Peter, David, Moses, Noah, and erroneously “Libnah.” Curiously, there is no woman named Libnah who was healed by Jesus in the Bible, but the research referenced her. What does that do to the research and statistics if a child identified this story as fact or fiction? Either the researchers knew this and lied about using biblical stories, or somehow they did not know and were incapable of seeing that a woman named “Libnah” is not in the Bible.

As expected, the churchgoing children were more likely and often confused when researchers identified biblical figures and stories with magic rather than God. In fact, the study found that some religious children considered fantastical stories as true when including biblical characters. Those children who did think these stories were true applied God to the biblical characters and events. As the research noted, “One possibility is that important elements in the fantastical stories sounded familiar to children with religious exposure.” Corriveau et al. observed this in their second study.

In the second study, the researchers examined thirty-three children with sixteen secular children from public school and seventeen churchgoing children from parochial school. This study looked at how these children would contrast in recognizing fact, fiction, or religion by using biblical stories without the biblical names of characters. They found that churchgoing and secular children did not accept one of the fictional stories attributed to magic. The noted results were that Christian children as well as secular children always recognized a fictional story as pretend.

By altering biblical stories, these researcher twisted the idea that religious people (Christians) raise gullible children. Again, the anti-religious bias is exposed. Still, the researchers themselves, Corriveau et al., come to the skewed conclusion that children are not born with the innate ability to believe in God while disregarding the observation that nonreligious parents et cetera taught their children to reject God as fictitious. The researchers observed this about secular children,

They adopted a dichotomous and essentially secular view of narratives and their characters, thinking of them as either fictional or factual. Contrary to what might be expected if children were ‘born believers’ (Barrett, 2012) or possessed a ‘belief instinct’ (Bering, 2011), they treated stories of the miraculous as akin to fairy stories. Indeed, some secular children displayed an attitude of active skepticism toward religion. They referred to God to justify their categorization of a story protagonist as pretend. (emp. added)

The researchers somehow reasoned that secular children who were raised to oppose God show that children are not born with the innate ability to believe in God. In passing, the researchers also disregarded without reason “an alternative possibility,” recognizing,

[C]hildren are disposed to credulity unless they are taught otherwise by their families. Thus, secular children are schooled in the idea that natural laws preclude any kind of miraculous or magical outcome. For example, their parents might cast doubt on any invocation of non-natural powers. According to this interpretation, secular children would likely differ from religious children in thinking about what can happen even when no agent, divine or otherwise, is present.

Corriveau et al. should have considered further that children are born with the innate ability to believe in God and the biblical accounts. These researchers did note the book “Born Believers” (2012) in which the author, Barrett argued that children readily see the natural world as designed and purposeful. Another referenced book is “The Belief Instinct” (Bering, 2011. p.51) that noted “an insuppressible eruption of our innate human minds” by how deaf children with little or no ability to communicate with others think about the origins and purpose of human beings. The conclusion that children have the natural disposition to believe in the one God is the consistent reasoning of the Christian and a revelation of the Bible.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Divinity, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom 1:20–21)


Bibliography:

Corriveau, K. H., Chen, E. E. and Harris, P. L. (2014), Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds. Cognitive Science. Doi: 10.1111/cogs.12138


Addendum: Here is an example of a story in its 3 forms:

Religious

This is Joseph. Joseph was sent to a mean king in a land far away. However, God sent Joseph many dreams warning about terrible storms, and Joseph used those dreams to tell the king how to protect his kingdom from the storms. The king was so amazed by Joseph and they became friends.

Fantastical

This is Joseph. Joseph was sent to a mean king in a land far away where there were terrible storms. Joseph used his magical powers to see into the future, and told the king how to protect his kingdom from the storms. The king was so amazed by Joseph and they became friends.

Realistic

This is Joseph. Joseph was sent to a mean king in a land far away where there were terrible storms. The king realized that Joseph was very good at looking at clouds and predicting when there would be rain. The king was so amazed by Joseph and they became friends.

About Scott J. Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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