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Trust in Testimony: How Children Learn About Science and Religion


  • Support for this research was provided by NICHD Grant F32 HD42860 to M. A. Koenig. We thank members of the “stubborn autodidacts?” seminar and especially Rita Astuti, Fabrice Clément, and Laurence Kaufmann for their comments on this paper.

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Many adult beliefs are based on the testimony provided by other people rather than on firsthand observation. Children also learn from other people's testimony. For example, they learn that mental processes depend on the brain, that the earth is spherical, and that hidden bodily organs constrain life and death. Such learning might indicate that other people's testimony simply amplifies children's access to empirical data. However, children's understanding of God's special powers and the afterlife shows that their acceptance of others' testimony extends beyond the empirical domain. Thus, children appear to conceptualize unobservable scientific and religious entities similarly. Nevertheless, some children distinguish between the 2 domains, arguably because a different pattern of discourse surrounds scientific as compared to religious entities.

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