God–Mother–Baby: What Children Think They Know


  • This research was supported by the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme (“Explaining Religion”) and the European Science Foundation EUROCORES programmes “Consciousness in a Natural and Cultural Context” funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF Project I93-G15 “Metacognition of Perspective Differences”). We thank the children who participated in this study and the staff of several kindergartens in Salzburg (St. Erhard, St. Leonhard, St. Nikolaus, St. Paul, Pfarrkindergärten Liefering-Baldehof, Gneisand Herrnau).


This study tested one hundred and nine 3- to 6-year-old children on a knowledge-ignorance task about knowledge in humans (mother, baby) and God. In their responses, participants not reliably grasping that seeing leads to knowing in humans (pre-representational) were significantly influenced by own knowledge and marginally by question format. Moreover, knowledge was attributed significantly more often to mother than baby and explained by agent-based characteristics. Of participants mastering the task for humans (representational), God was largely conceived as ignorant “man in the sky” by younger and increasingly as “supernatural agent in the sky” by older children. Evidence for egocentrism and for anthropomorphizing God lends support to an anthropomorphism hypothesis. First-time evidence for an agent-based conception of others' knowledge in pre-representational children is presented.