The discovery that children have a natural inclination to believe in invisible, immortal, super-knowing agents has some religious apologists boasting that science has found the sensus divinitatis. Despite possessing this inner sense of the divine, John Calvin declared children to be morally corrupt by nature. This doctrine of total depravity has served as a justification for authoritarian child-rearing practices aimed at instilling obedience in strong-willed children. But a close look at the data suggests our theistic inclinations are byproducts of our cognitive development and not a special God-given faculty. Likewise, studies on the moral development of children reveal the foundations for empathy are present even at a young age. Authoritarian parenting may hinder that development and contribute to a variety of social ills.
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