Re: Religion and evidence

From: Ben Dawson (
Date: Wed 18 Jan 2006 - 17:29:15 GMT

  • Next message: Price, Ilfryn: "RE: Religion and evidence"

    On Wed, 18 Jan 2006 10:30:17 +0000, you wrote:

    >Price, Ilfryn wrote:
    >> I hope your advice includes not force feeding the kids religion before the age of say 6 so that they are free to make their own
    >> choices later rather than programmed.
    >> If
    >>>Oh, suspicious one. Book two is "Gifted Children: A Guide for Parents
    >> and Professionals" (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, April 2006). And thank
    >> you. I've been wondering how with a clear conscience I could get a plug
    >> in on such a completely irrelevant list.
    >> Ok, maybe not a *totally* clear conscience.
    >> Kate>
    >Obviously the book isn't about religion at all. Why would it be?
    >But there are some interesting points, memetic and otherwise, in your
    >Do you really believe that children under the age of 6 cannot ask
    >questions about what they are told? My children are 3 and 6, and I can
    >tell you that this is not my experience!
    >I "force feed" my children with all manner of my own prejudices,
    >beliefs, attitudes and morals, all the time, consciously and
    >unconsciously. We all do. Why should religion be any different?
    >Presumably you would "force feed" yours with atheism, amongst other
    >things. It's what we do as parents. If we honestly believe something
    >to be true then of course that's what we tell our children.

    A man believes he's the reincarnation of Elvis Presley. He's utterly convinced of it. He brings his two young children up to believe he's Elvis too, and demands that they address him as "The King". Every Sunday, he takes them to the local music hall and subjects them to a horrendous karaoke rendition of his favourite Elvis classics. He then offers them each a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, in commemoration of his past incarnation. He tells them that as long as they stay true and believe in the Power Of The Quiff, they'll all go to Elvis-land when they die and make some great rock-and-roll music together.

    It's a relatively harmless belief, just like Christianity, and just like your faith in Christianity, it's a belief that is based on the man's subjective personal experience.

    OK, it's a hypothetical situation (I hope), but do you think this man's behaviour is ethical?

    >BUT this doesn't preclude our also telling them that other people have
    >different attitudes, and expecting to have to justify our own when our
    >children ask questions. You can imagine that as the
    >ceaselessly-questioning children of a former RE teacher and a goalie for
    >a Sikh hockey team, mine have a better grasp of some other faiths than
    >many children their age. They also know that most of their friends and
    >relatives do not go to church or believe in Jesus. Just as they know
    >that lots of other families make different choices about lots of things
    >from us. I don't see why religion should be given special treatment in
    >this context.
    >I also don't get why religion, or anything else, should be seen as
    >something with which we are "programmed" as small children. Case in
    >point: my own parents "force fed" me with no claims about God, positive
    >or negative, although they did assure me that Santa and the tooth fairy
    >existed. Yet not only did I shed these latter beliefs at the normal
    >sort of time, I don't even impose them upon my own children. Our family
    >doesn't "do" Santa and the tooth fairy, although of course they know
    >that most other families do.
    >This is where I get back to meta-representation, I guess. We can
    >meta-represent: we can reflect on what we are told, wonder whether it's
    >true, test it out for ourselves, synthesise information and observations
    >from a variety of sources. We aren't mindlessly "programmed" by our
    >memes. We select them as they compete for our attention.

    I'm not convinced that this is a very realistic view of the world, and I'm inclined to agree with Ilfryn that there is certainly some element of "programming".

    Again, this is going back to the assertion that people with a religious belief continually weigh up their beliefs against contradictory evidence. OK, we've heard examples of how members of this list did just that and started to question their own beliefs at a younger age, but I just don't think it is representative of the general population at all. Some people do shake off their beliefs when they hit adulthood, in light of contradictory evidence, but *many* don't.

    Rather, I believe that people who do follow a religion are more inclined to attempt to reconcile their experiences in the World with their religion than to drop their beliefs altogether. For example, I have heard people brought up as fundamentalists saying that hurricane Katrina was sent by God as a punishment to the people of New Orleans. They are so desperate to fit their existing beliefs with what they see here on Earth.

    As another example, a Jehovah's witness once came to our door when I was younger. He had a conversation with my Dad and informed him that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. When my Dad disputed this by pointing out the evidence of fossil records, he remarked that God had put them there in order to fool us!

    This all goes back to the point that you made yourself in a previous message - that people are scared of embracing reality because they fear it may disprove their existing views. But I think it also shows that infants are more programmable than you think. A child's mind is incredibly sticky. The more garbage you throw at it, the more difficult it is for the child to dispose of it later in life.

    Of course, it's easier to identify the difficulty, than suggest the answer, and if I ever have children, I am going to be faced with exactly the same conundrum.

    Children are born into a very complex world. At some point, they are going to discover religion and their parents' views on religion. There is no way to avoid that. However, I think my own strategy will be to teach them about the main religions whilst avoiding making a recommendation as to what they ought to believe themselves. I know nothing about raising children and I hope that presenting it as an unknown wouldn't cause upset or confusion. Actually it probably would wouldn't it?

    I'd also attach a high importance to the teaching of critical thinking.

    That's my (unqualified) opinion anyway.

    (By the way, please don't think I was parodying Christianity with the Elvis thing - it was just an example that I deliberately made similar in order to illustrate the point.)

    Thank you... thank you very much.


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