Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, Vol 5, No 1

Some, But Not All, Children Believe in Miracles

Paul L. Harris, Kathleen H. Corriveau
Issued Date: 30 Jan 2020

Abstract


Recent findings have shown that young children resemble adults in claiming that events which violate causal laws cannot happen. Indeed, young children are especially conservative. They claim that even highly improbable events, such as finding an alligator under one’s bed, cannot happen. Children make use of this knowledge about possibility and impossibility in assessing the status of a narrative. When presented with narratives that include extraordinary or magical possibilities, children typically judge them to be fictional narratives rather than genuinely factual accounts. However, despite their doubts about any radical departure from the ordinary course of events, some young children believe in various extraordinary or miraculous possibilities. They accept that God has special powers, unlike ordinary mortals. In addition, when presented with narratives that include miraculous events, they often claim that the narrative is an account of what truly happened rather than being purely fictional. We discuss the origins and scope of this apparent tension between a naturalistic stance and a belief in the miraculous.

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DOI: 10.1558/jcsr.37343

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