Richard Dawkins and the Beliefs of Children

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Recently I read a few comments by Richard Dawkins on the phrase “a Christian child” or “a Muslim child” etc. he writes:

A phrase like “Catholic child” or “Muslim child” should clang furious bells of protest in the mind, just as we flinch when we hear “One man, one vote.” Children are too young to know their religious opinions. Just as you can’t vote until you are eighteen, you should be free to choose your own cosmology and ethics without society’s impertinent presumption that you will automatically inherit those of your parents. We’d be aghast to be told of a Leninist child or a neo-conservative child or a Hayekian monetarist child. So isn’t it a kind of child abuse to speak of a Catholic child or a Protestant child? Especially in Northern Ireland and Glasgow, where such labels, handed down over generations, have divided neighborhoods for centuries and can even amount to a death warrant?

Catholic child? Flinch. Protestant child? Squirm. Muslim child? Shudder. Everybody’s consciousness should be raised to this level. Occasionally a euphemism is needed, and I suggest “Child of Jewish (etc.) parents.” When you come down to it, that’s all we are really talking about anyway. Just as the upside-down (Northern Hemisphere chauvinism again: flinch!) map from New Zealand raises consciousness about a geographical truth, children should hear themselves described not as “Christian children” but as “children of Christian parents.” This in itself would raise their consciousness, empower them to make up their own minds, and choose which religion, if any, they favor, rather than just assume that religion means “same beliefs as parents.” I could well imagine that this linguistically coded freedom to choose might lead children to choose no religion at all.

There’s a certain disanalogy here with political points of view. Being a “Hayekian monetarist” or a “Leninist” is largely (or at least to some extent and in an important way) about cherishing certain values, whereas religious belief has more to do with affirming certain claims as metaphysically true.

But more importantly, Richard Dawkins is on record as treating all factual beliefs as “scientific” beliefs. There’s a factual answer to the question of whether or not the moon orbits the earth, or how many protons there are in an atom of lead. I doubt that Professor Dawkins would look kindly on the parent or teacher who answered a young boy’s question about the moon by saying “I’m sorry Timmy, you’re too young. I can’t possibly impose my view of the moon’s movement upon you. How dare I try to make you share my beliefs.” I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you agree with Richard Dawkins? Should fact claims that most people would consider “religious” be treated as exceptional – unlike all other beliefs – and excluded from the beliefs we share with our children? If so, why?

I do wonder, too, how Richard Dawkins would answer his own child (hypothically) if she asked him: Is there a god?

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{ 113 comments… add one }
  • Max May 26, 2010, 12:25 am

    “religious belief has more to do with affirming certain claims as metaphysically true….”

    True. But religious belief is more that just agreement to metaphysical truths. I would say that Dawkins is wrong for another reason entirely, and that saying parents should not “impose” their religious practices on children would be a bit like this….:

    I doubt that Professor Dawkins would look kindly on the parent who instead of making sure they advised their child on what to eat and drink instead said “I’m sorry Timmy, you’re too young. I can’t possibly impose my views about nutrition on you. How dare I try to make you share my dietary practices” .. and in doing so allowed the child to eat whatever junk they wanted.

  • Ken May 26, 2010, 8:48 am

    Glenn – your question: “I do wonder, too, how Richard Dawkins would answer his own child (hypothically) if she asked him: Is there a god?”

    You don’t have to go far for an answer. Have a look at Dawkins’ “A Prayer for my Daughter” (see Dawkins’ prayer for his daughter).

    It is a letter to his young daughter (age 10 I think)and it answers questions like this. Essentially its about open mindedness and critical thinking.

  • scrubone May 26, 2010, 9:17 am

    Well, he seems to be saying to his child to only believe evidence. Specifically, scientific evidence.

    He’s explaining the basis of his beliefs, not the beliefs themselves. The child then accepts that basis and works within that basis to look for answers.

    Which is funny, because I know a lot of christian parents work that way too.

  • Ken May 26, 2010, 9:43 am

    So do I, Scdrubone. So do I.

    It’s a great method.

  • Glenn May 26, 2010, 9:44 am

    Ken, I don’t think you’ve quite appreciated the force of the problem. Dawkins considers the God question, like all questions (in his view) to be a question for science. This leads to the moon example. In all seriousness, do you really believe that Dawkins would say “I won’t tell you whether or not the moon orbits the earth. It’s about open mindedness and critical thinking”?

    Sure, he might encourage children to investigate astronomy for themselves. But that’s not at all the same as not giving them any answers until they can do so. The truth is that of course we tell children about the moon, and then we let them investigate for themselves when they have the ability. But why is it OK to treat the moon this way, but not God? Why the inconsistency? What are your thoughts on that, Ken?

    The fact is, the only reason that this irks Dawkins so much is that he assumes that an intelligent adult would/should reject religion, so he wants people to remain free of religion until they are adults.

  • Glenn May 26, 2010, 9:50 am

    Actually I just checked the link to your own blog that you posted, Ken (surprise surprise), and I noted that Dawkins there says that sometimes people believe scientific claims on the basis of someone else’s expertise, and then later they can look into the evidence themselves. He has no problem with this.

    Thanks for the link Ken. It’s interesting to see Dawkins pull out the rug from under himself. Now, back to my question why is he inconsistent? Why doesn’t he apply this to religious beliefs?

  • Ken May 26, 2010, 10:08 am

    Good on you Glenn. You actually went to see what Dawkins says!

    For others who may have theological objections to accessing the article through my blog – you can find the full text here (A prayer for my daughter) or download it as a pdf file.

    It is well worth reading.

  • Glenn May 26, 2010, 10:31 am

    “You actually went to see what Dawkins says”

    This surprises you? I hope not. Ah, and a second link you your blog (“pdf file”). And nobody made a theological objection (what a bizarre characterisation! You may as well have called it a “geological objection”). I only commented because you always do it. I understand – incoming links boost traffic and Google visibility. I was just letting you know that I noticed.

    I wonder, however, if you have any thoughts on Dawkins’ inconsistency here.

  • Max May 26, 2010, 10:53 am

    I guess the big difference, Glenn, is that there is not massive disagreement in society about the characteristics of the moon.

  • james May 26, 2010, 11:02 am

    Criticising Richard Dawkins is like shooting fish in a barrel. He’s just a very bizarre human being.

  • Ken May 26, 2010, 11:26 am

    I know some people are thoroughly ghettoised by their beliefs and would never go to my blog or comment there. So my reference to “theological” was sort of a joke. But, come off it. One advantage of the blogosphere is people have the freedom to go anywhere and consider/comment. Don’t let that upset you. i think it’s great and that is why I am against people censoring/tinkering with comments.

    Personally It though Dawkins’ article very good. I didn’t find it at all consistent. But I can appreciate you will want to find fault with it.

  • Andre May 26, 2010, 4:03 pm

    ” … But you could try this. Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: ‘Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?’ And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.” [Please note, dear child: Naturalism is excluded from this. So of course is the important-sounding idea (which I don’t quite say, but get pretty close to) that ‘only (empirically) evidence-based positions are true.’] Thank God that “anyone is free to look carefully at [*all*] the evidence whenever they want.”

  • Joel Gonzaga May 26, 2010, 5:02 pm

    To young to know their religions opinions…

    I do not think you are ever to young to know your religious opinion. Obviously, Dawkins thinks that they are to young to have a thoroughly thought out and deeply well informed religious opinion (he does differentiate between the two right?), but don’t religious people already know that? There is a difference in depth and motivation of an opinion, but not substance.

    It isn’t the same as political opinions.

  • david winter May 26, 2010, 5:13 pm

    As Max has said, the difference between religious claims and your examples is that your examples are very well established.

    The statement “objects have mass thanks to a field of
    Higgs bosons” is also a truth claim, but it would be odd to assign that belief to a child.

  • Original Anon May 26, 2010, 5:58 pm

    Whether an opinion is established or not is irrelevant, we should teach our children what we believe is right, not what everyone else believe is right!

    As long as the opinion does not negatively affect other people. Hence the discussion should be what opinions are actually negatively impacting other people. Not at what age of the children, or how deep/shallow, or whether how established the opinion is.

    Since Dawkins said that he is culturally Christian (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/7136682.stm), I assume that he believes Christian culture has positive impact on society (or at least not dangerous to society), then case is closed.

  • Original Anon May 26, 2010, 6:08 pm

    “Just as you can’t vote until you are eighteen, you should be free to choose your own cosmology and ethics without society’s impertinent presumption that you will automatically inherit those of your parents.”

    That’s just ridiculous. You can’t get a car license before certain age, that does not mean you should wait until they can get license before starting to teach your children about safe driving or about car.

    Just because you can’t vote until you are eighteen, doesn’t mean your parents should not talk to you about politics before then!

  • Glenn May 26, 2010, 6:17 pm

    David, in saying that scientific claims are “very well established” you’re merely inserting your bias that no religious views are. But if Christian parents don’t believe this, they have no reason to act int he way that Dawkins suggests.

    What’s more, explanations of how and why the moon goes around the earth are far too complex for young children, but that is no obstacle to telling them that it does. So I don’t think your comment about objects and mass really applies. Why shouldn’t belief in God be conveyed to children as well?

  • Glenn May 26, 2010, 6:20 pm

    Ken, I never said that the article you linked to was inconsistent with itself. I said that it was insconsistent with Dawkin’s comments that I quote in this blog. Big difference.

    Now that this is clear, do you have any comment ont he inconsistency between the two?

    And as a note for everyone, I only remove comments, links, spam etc in accordance with my blog policy, which everyone can read, and the link above. Here’s the address: http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/index.php/blog-policy/

  • Ken May 26, 2010, 6:48 pm

    No, Glenn. Can’t see any inconsistency at all.

    I would have felt dirty calling my children atheist children when they were young. And the fact they had mo imposed dogma probably explains why they are now such creative thinkers.

    I think the way the church cynically captures young children is also dirty.

  • david winter May 26, 2010, 7:32 pm

    Glenn,

    I should have been more clear with the Higgs example. The point there is we don’t know if particles get their mass from the Higgs, or evevn if it exists. Having an informed opinion one way or the other requires knowing a lot then thinking a lot.

    Moreover, in his criticism Dawkins isn’t talking about what parents teach their children, he’s talking about how society (and newspapers if I remember correctly) should describe children. You might tell a child the earth orbits the sun, but you wouldn’t call them a heliocentrist!

  • Glenn May 26, 2010, 8:24 pm

    David, point taken about the Higgs example, although I don’t think it’s a problem. I don’t think a person needs a degree in theology or philosophy (or anything) to know that God exists. What is more, it is perfectly acceptable to teach children that some things are true without explaining or expecting them to understand all the theory behind it. Examples include: that the moon orbits the earth, that the heart pumps blood, that stars are made of gas, etc.

    And I do think Dawkins is inevitably talking about what parents teach children. When a child believes, because he is taught, that the earth goes around the sun, he is a heliocentrist. When a child believes, on her parents authority, that plants make the air clean, she’s… I don’t know what you’d call it, but you get the idea.

    Ken: I think the inconsistency is here: When it comes to scientific beliefs, Dawkins directly states that sometimes we believe things on authority (i.e. of experts), but we can later confirm those things for ourselves via our own enquiry. However, int he piece that I quote here his stance is the reverse. When it comes specifically to religion, a child should not be supposed to adopt beliefs taught to her, and it apparently makes no difference at all that she can confirm or reject those beliefs later.

    I think the source of Dawkins’ inconsistency is not hard to find. But it’s clearly real, and I’d like to see how you justify it.

  • Matt May 26, 2010, 11:16 pm

    Glenn in fact you could look at Dawkins’s comments on the Alabama insert where he insists that evolution be taught in school ID not be taught and gives as a reason the claim that experts accept evolution and non experts should defer to them. I think its published in Think.

  • Andrew Thomson May 27, 2010, 10:44 am

    I presume Dawkins would have no problem with teaching children macro evolution: a whale gradually evolving into a cow (or is it the other way round?) or something similar; even though there is no scientific evidence to prove it. Macro evolution is, after all, believed on faith. It is a science community tradition believed on the authority of some scientists, but has never been proven by the scientific method. As Dawkins writes: “Scientists use inside feelings all the time to get ideas. But they are not worth anything until they are supported by evidence.”

    Dawkins goes on to say, however: “Of course, even in science sometimes we haven’t seen the evidence ourselves and we have to take somebody else’s word for it. I haven’t, with my own eyes/seen the evidence that light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. Instead, I believe books that tell me the speed of light. This looks like ‘authority’. But actually it is much better than authority because the people who wrote the books have seen the evidence and anyone is free to look carefully at the evidence whenever they want. That is very comforting.”

    Of course, not all evidence can be checked in a laboratory. Historical evidence often can only be based on eye witness accounts, be they verbal or written. I’m sure even Dawkins would accept that Lord Nelson was shot at the Battle of Trafalgar, and he wouldn’t have any problems with teaching children that. But he can’t prove it in a laboratory. He has to rely on eye witness accounts.

    In the same way, much of the historical portions of the Bible are based on eye witness accounts. I too, find that comforting.

    Regards
    Andrew

  • Matt May 27, 2010, 11:30 am

    Andrew you could also mention the pervasive use of journals and peer review all which involves reading and accepting what others say.

  • Ken May 27, 2010, 12:02 pm

    Glenn – “A Prayer from my Daughter” was specifically advice for children about how to think critically and be open minded. I suggested it because of the specific question you asked.

    Your post is referring to a completely different subject – the habit adults have of labeling children inappropriately. It is this labeling that makes me feel dirty. (Talk about accepting authority, etc., is a diversion and well understood if you read “A Prayer for my Daughter.” Surely no one has problems with that.)

    As an example I can take the little story I told in Why Don’t We Go To Church?. Recently I gave my Granddaughter my copy of Daniel Loxton’s book for children on evolution. She declared “I believe in evolution” (which gave me an opportunity to discuss the difference between belief and scientific knowledge with her).

    Should I label her an “Evolutionist?” -NO!

    She told me that when she said this at school some of her friends attacked her and said evolution was not true.

    Should I call them creationists? NO!

    Her fiends went on to talk about a god who created things and declared that they would exclude her, refuse to play with her if she didn’t believe in this god.

    Should I call them Christians, (or Muslims)? NO!

    My granddaughter currently does not believe in any gods.

    Should I call he an atheist? NO!

    However, she faced a dilemma of exclusion so she told he friends that yes she did believe in a god.

    Should I call; her a Christian or Muslim? NO!

    It is obviously inappropriate to use such labels on children who have not themselves committed to a particular dogma. How could they as their knowledge and brain development is just not sufficient. Rather their parents have committed them. Or a dogma has captured them (It’s no accident that the ages of 4 – 14 are seen by Christians working in this area as the most effective time to capture children for their religion).

    Perhaps when my granddaughter is older and, for example, joins a christian Church, or Muslim community, or atheist community, and labels herself then it might be appropriate for me to use labels. But not until then.

    Interestingly, my children are all in the 40s. I still don’t label them with terms like this. I don’t think any of them has a god belief but I don’t call them atheist.

    But maybe I have a thing about labels – I feel they are dehumanising and constraining.

    And I also think there is something evil about taking advantage of children at a stage when their brains have not developed sufficiently to capture them for a dogma and enforce that imprisonment through all sorts of psychological pressures. In its extreme form involving cults we recognise the psychological damage this causes and quite rightly classify it as child abuse. I think there is an argument for widening that description of child abuse to situations which are seen as less extreme (and no I am not restricting this to just religion).

    Now I realise that relgion and communities usually have very little to do with belief, more that dogma is often used to enforce the community. So things are not as simple as Dawkins relates it. Children are born into communities – that is a fact – but attributing beliefs to the child is fiction.

    But at the level of Dawkins’ argument in the piece you quote I think it would show a level of humanity and empathy if people did start referring to children as children of Christian parents, or Muslim parents, or humanist parents, etc. Rather than attaching labels directly to the child.

  • Paul from Canterbury Atheists May 27, 2010, 12:33 pm

    Peoples, here’s a pertinent explanation, via a personal analogy, of what Dawkins is espousing.

    Two Christmas’s ago my daughter, who was 11 at the time, wanted to go with one of her mates on a holiday-camp.

    Now this camp turns-out to be one run by her parents ‘happy clappy’ church.

    I had no problem her going and for the record she had a great time and she wasn’t speaking in tongues on her return, but did arrive home with propaganda material.

    Now let’s say I was these Christian parents and it was now their daughter who said “my mate wants me to attend a holiday camp – it’s been run by” (a.) atheists (b.) Muslims, or even say another Christian denomination.

    “Come-on dad, can I please go.”

    “It sounds like fun.”

    Would those parents be happy letting their kids attend the same way I was?

    There-in the answer to the question I posed lays the crux of Dawkins arguments.

    See ya.

    Paul.

  • Original Anon May 27, 2010, 4:27 pm

    Paul, if you think that Christianity is dangerous, you should not have let your daughter to go to that camp. You obviously did not think so.

    If it was my daughter/son, no, I wouldn’t let them go, because I think Atheism is dangerous for them.

    Dawkins just does not want Christian parents to teach their children about Christianity, by calling them names and all.

  • Max May 27, 2010, 4:58 pm

    I am surprised none of the Christians have pointed out that saying “my child is Christian” is more similar to saying “my child is a boy” or “my child is a human” than saying “my child is a marxist” or “my child is a Tory.”

    Why? Well let’s hear what they say…

  • Ken May 27, 2010, 6:29 pm

    Orig anon. In what way is atheism dangerous to children? Any different to theism?

  • Max May 27, 2010, 7:02 pm

    You are condemning them to hellfire Ken. Even touching an atheist can cause instant demonic possession.

  • Original Anon May 27, 2010, 7:42 pm

    Hi Ken, that’s off topic.

    But if you know that something is dangerous, or even just not good for your children, will you not prevent your children from being exposed to it?

    I can not always protect my children from danger, but while they are young children and under my protection, I will prevent them from places, ideologies, beliefs, etc that I believe are dangerous, false, or even just not good for them.

    And even when they are older, as a parent, I will still try my best, although I accept it will be much harder, and by then my children will need to start learning how to protect themselves.

  • Original Anon May 27, 2010, 7:49 pm

    ““my child is Christian” is more similar to saying “my child is a boy””

    Because while [most] people are born as boy/girl, people are not born Christian.

    When someone says my child is a Christian, they really mean that their child is a Christian.

    I don’t think anyone would say my child is a Christian when their child doesn’t believe in God, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an atheist, or a satanist.

  • Ken May 27, 2010, 8:19 pm

    But anon why do you think someone who doesn’t believe in gods is dangerous?
    Aren’t they just part of the rich diversity of life?

    I never thought there was danger in my kids interacting with people of other beliefs – far from it. I think that’s a valuable part of education.

    We of course wish to protect our children so I can understand keeping them away from real danger – cults, pedophiles and catholic priests, for example.

    But atheists? Come off it!

  • Max May 27, 2010, 9:18 pm

    So for you Anon, being a Christian is a matter of personal belief, and does not involve any sort of ontological change in the person? Just curious…

  • Glenn May 27, 2010, 9:56 pm

    Paul: Sorry, I don’t get it.

    And Ken: Are people who teach your kids to smoke “part of the rich diversity of life.” Perhaps. And are they dangerous?

    Ken, you might feel, for whatever reasons, that the issue accepting things on authority is a diversion. I disagree. It’s not a diversion from what I set out to talk about in this blog entry. Perhaps this just shows that I have a good idea of what I set out to write about in this blog, and it might not necessarily be the same thing you want to talk about in the comments. 🙂

    It’s not a diversion from the subject of this blog because a person who believes something can be labelled as a person who believes it. Simple, yes? And we expect that children will often believe things on the basis of authority and then investigate further later in life. Dawkins agrees. But this means that when they believe something, they can be labelled as people who believe it.

    Now – let’s say they accept that the moon goes around the earth on authority. It is appropriate to label them as someone who believes that. But are they an expert, an astronomer, or someone who can give a full and satisfying account of ho this works? of course not. But you don’t need to do those things in order to be correctly labelled as a person who accepts those things.

    All of this is also true of a child taught to believe the Gospel on the basis of authority. Are they an expert on Christianity? A Theologian? A cleric? No. But then, you don’t need to be any of those things in order to be correctly labelled as a Christian.

    So it’s not a diversion, and Dawkins really is inconsistent here. Again, I would like to see some evidence that you’ve thought about that, and your explanation for why these two different approaches are justifiable even though they seem inconsistent.

  • Ken May 27, 2010, 10:28 pm

    Glenn, do you equate smoking with not believing in gods?

    Strange. One thing I noticed about working in a scientific group is that very few were smokers. And most didn’t believe in gods.

    I think there must be something wrong with people who see atheists as “dangerous” and equate them wth people encourage smoking . All atheists do by definition is not believe in gods. That’s all. In itself completely innocent and harmless to children.

  • Glenn May 27, 2010, 10:43 pm

    “Glenn, do you equate smoking with not believing in gods?”

    This is the oddest reply I have seen in a long time. I don’t know how to even answer it! So I will ignore it.

    As for the rest, Ken, if religious beliefs are not true, then sure, there’s nothing wrong with teaching childen that there isn’t a god. But it’s perfectly obvious that it will do no good just hoping that Christian parents will adopt the belief that all religious beliefs are untrue. If Christianity is true, then it’s also perfectly obvious why teaching children that there’s no God is harmful, like teaching them to smoke.

    In short, don’t be surprised that religious parents don’t act like atheists.

  • Original Anon May 27, 2010, 10:45 pm

    Max,

    “So for you Anon, being a Christian is a matter of personal belief, and does not involve any sort of ontological change in the person?”

    That’s besides my point. The difference between being a boy and being a Christian is that, people don’t choose to be born as a boy or girl, but a Christian becomes one because his/her decision.

    Ken,

    “Aren’t they just part of the rich diversity of life?”

    New atheists and atheist leaders in world history have proven that atheism isn’t just that.

    “I never thought there was danger in my kids interacting with people of other beliefs ”

    There’s a big difference between letting your children to interact in neutral space and letting your children to go to a camp where you think the people running it holds false belief.

  • Matt May 28, 2010, 1:41 am

    Max,

    That’s besides my point. The difference between being a boy and being a Christian is that, people don’t choose to be born as a boy or girl, but a Christian becomes one because his/her decision.

    Is a kind of Baptist theology being assumed here?

    Max raises an interesting question, perhaps if we asked the question with regard to Jewish child the question would be focused. Jews define there membership by lineage.

  • Ken May 28, 2010, 9:11 am

    Yes, I thought smoking was silly too, but you raised it.

    I realize that you and anon are really only expressing your own prejudices here.

    In practice I rarely came across parents, whatever their religous views, who were that prejudiced. Our children were able to mix with their’s with no problem on either side.

    Similarly religion has rarely been a hindrance to my own social interaction.

    However, it is true that one occasionally has the problem of having to deal with that rare bigot.

    And I guess my granddaughter’s experience, while probably reflecting attitudes of her friend’s families also just reflects the fact that kids of that age simply do not have the brain and personal development to come to their own personal beliefs on such matters.

    Hence I agree with Dawkins’ point that adults should not label children in this way. And let’s face it there are a number of examples (eg Ireland, Israel, Palestine, etc demonstrating the resulting problems.

  • Original Anon May 28, 2010, 9:45 am

    “In practice I rarely came across parents, whatever their religous views, who were that prejudiced. Our children were able to mix with their’s with no problem on either side.”

    *sigh* I’ll say this again but slower

    There is a big difference between:

    – letting your children mix and mingle in neutral space

    VS

    – letting them go to a camp where you know the people running it hold what you believe to be false belief and that you know they will try to expose your children to that belief that you believe is false.

  • Ken May 28, 2010, 10:15 am

    Or letting them go into their friends’ homes.

  • Andrew Thomson May 28, 2010, 11:17 am

    A child cannot be raised in a vacuum. Their ideas and world views are forever influenced by those around them. This influence will continue to evolve them until they die. Whether it be by those who believe in God, or a god, by those who believe that you cannot know whether there is a god, by those that believe god is irrelevant, or by those who believe that there is no god.

    As a result, humans are unable to be “open minded” as such. Teaching a “critical mind” is laudable, but effectively exercised by few.

    Ken is no different from the rest of us. He influences those around him, whether intentionally or unintentionally. His world views and beliefs will be revealed in the comments he makes and the things he feels passionate about.

    Ken intentionally influences his granddaughter by giving her Daniel Loxton’s book on evolution. When his granddaughter predictably announces her belief in evolution, Ken is mortified and immediately tries to obfuscate the matter by passing on his belief that evolution is “science” not belief.

    That, however, flys in the face of what leading evolutionists have been saying for years:

    “The fact of evolution is the backbone of biology, and biology is thus in the peculiar position of being a science founded on an unproved theory – is it then a science, or a faith? Belief in the theory of evolution is exactly parallel to belief in special creation – both are concepts which believers know to be true but neither, up to the present, have been capable of proof.”
    (L. Harrison Matthews, Introduction to Charles Darwin, The Origin of the Species, J.M. Dent and Sons, London, 1971).

    “I have come to the conclusion that Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme.”
    (Karl Popper,Unended Quest, Open Court, La Salle, IL., p.168, 1990)

    “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion – a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. I am an ardent evolutionist and an ex-Christian, but I must admit in this one complaint … the literalists [i.e. creationists] are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”
    (Michael Ruse, Saving Darwinism from the Dawinians, National Post, 13 May 2000, p. B3)

    Regards
    Andrew

  • Ken May 28, 2010, 11:26 am

    Ah, Andrew, the old creationist trick of quote mining. I guess it’s easier than thinking.

    I also guess your claims are an embarrassment to other Christians commenting her?

  • Andrew Thomson May 28, 2010, 11:55 am

    Ken,

    You may believe that evolution isn’t a religion, that’s your prerogative. It’s obviously something you feel passionately about and as such, that passion influences those around you.

    I’m not embarrassed about my comments, or the implications of them. If others are, speak up. I’m all for critical evaluation 🙂

    Regards
    Andrew

  • Original Anon May 28, 2010, 12:07 pm

    “Or letting them go into their friends’ homes.”

    In general, I think parents should not let their young children go into their friends homes unless they know the friends parents really well and have a high degree of trust.

    I do have non Christian friends whom I would be okay for my children to visit or stay. Although they are not Christian, I know them quite well over the years and confident that they’re not going to expose my children to beliefs I do not approve of.

    Having said that I don’t think I’ll let my children stay in anyone else’s homes until they are teenagers, Christian homes or not. I want them to have as much influence from the parents in their early years. It’s hard in this day and age, but I will try my best.

    The like of Dawkins would like us to believe that it’s Christian/religious bigotry, when it is actually just common sense and good parenting. And that Dawkins himself most likely exercise it. Prejudice? Bigotry? May be he needs to look closely in the mirror.

  • Original Anon May 28, 2010, 12:10 pm

    I’m a Christian and I’m not embarrassed by Andrew’s comment.

    Prejudice presumptuous much Ken?

  • Max May 28, 2010, 12:51 pm

    I am not embarrassed by them… why would I be *I* did not say such silly things.

    But quote mining is a rather pointless exercise. I would give the same advise as I give those who want to quote mine the Bible (often the same people by the way)… read the whole thing (or at least a whole book) from start to finish. That way you will never be seeing bits and pieces out of context.

  • Original Anon May 28, 2010, 1:43 pm

    Quote mining, using references, it depends on who you are commenting and your bias I guess

  • Ken May 28, 2010, 2:50 pm

    Anon – now check your definitions. It means Fallacy of quoting out of context

    And that’s what I meant.

    But yes it does involve bias.

  • Glenn May 28, 2010, 2:54 pm

    Ken, you must surely understand the smoking comparison. You surely cannot have thought that I was actually equating atheism with smoking. It’s called an anlogy, designed to show that if something has really bad consequences then we shouldn’t celebrate it as an aspect of diversity, and we are correct to call it harmful. Surely you were only feigning failure to understand. I am absolutely certain that everyone else reading the comments section understood me perfectly well.

    And as for the old chestnut of accusing people of “quote mining,” it seems to me that the accusation is made pretty much any time someone quotes a person saying something that someone else wishes he hadn’t said. 🙂 Michael Ruse meant precisely what it looks like he said – and yes, I have read a substantial amount from him.

    You’re welcome to disagree with the people being quoted and explain why. But it’s lazy and dishonest to just accuse anyone who quotes them of quote mining.

  • Ken May 28, 2010, 5:05 pm

    Yes – I have read some of Ruse too. I have just received his most recent book to review and I am sure I will disagree with at least part of what he says. Sure – that’s based on the fact that I do disagree with other things he has written. But also on the fact that as an independent thinker I find there is always something in a book that I will disagree with – even if, on the whole, I like it a lot..

    That is the thing about quotes – they are basically arguments from authority. Interestingly Dawkins talked about problems with that approach in the article “A Prayer for my Daughter”.

    One has to take a more intelligent approach than just quoting the authority. And without the context of Andrew’s quotes you have no way of understanding what is meant. They are simply taken to “prove” Andrew’s bias – he isn’t interested in the truth here.

    And, it is a fact, isn’t it, that creationists do quote mine. How often do you see quotes from Gould or Dawkins or other scientists being used to disprove evolutionary science when we know that is certainly not what those scientists think? After all they do accept evolutionary science!

    But it sounds like, in your heart, you actually agree with Andrew. You haven’t taken him to task for his unscientific position on evolutionary science. Do you agree with him?

    Or do his claims embarrass you?

    And are you saying that simple belief in no gods “has really bad consequences”? No harm in being clear about that – forget about smoking.

  • Ken May 28, 2010, 5:08 pm

    I should have mentioned that even Darwin is quoted mined by creationists to disprove evolution!

    Just saying.

  • Max May 28, 2010, 5:16 pm

    “Quote mining, using references, it depends on who you are commenting and your bias I guess”

    Not really my bias. My bias is actually to agree with you, but I still think your approach is… I won’t say dishonest… let’s just say misguided. The difference is that quote-mining tends to take a small piece of a work and use it with no context, or explanation of a context, to make a point which has nothing to do with the authors original intentions. This is very common among Creationists who take little snippets of biologists/atheists works to misrepresent their viewpoin. It is also common with certain Christians who use bible passages completely out of context to “prove” whatever their pet theory is (eg. homophobia to pick a random example). As I said, there seems to be some crossover between these two groups.

  • Glenn May 28, 2010, 7:00 pm

    Ken, yes, quoting other peoples (something Dawkins does) is an appeal to authority. But that doesn’t mean that people who quote others are “mining” or taking out of context.

    Yes, people may quote Darwin out of context. But that doesnt make quoting people wrong. The auto-response of accusing people of “quote mining” really has no place here.

  • Ken May 28, 2010, 7:48 pm

    Hmm, can’t help noticing my questions are ignored. Or avoided.

  • Andrew Thomson May 28, 2010, 8:00 pm

    If I have quoted Matthews, Popper or Ruse out of context, I apologise. However, their statements seem plain enough to me. And they appear to have been honest enough to admit that the theory of evolution was ultimately believed on faith.

    You accuse me of having an unscientific position on evolution. I disagree of course 🙂

    You cliam to be an “independent thinker”. I don’t believe there is such a thing. We are all fashioned by our parents, families, friends, teachers and by the books we read and the events of our lives. The most we can do is attempt to critically evaluate the evidence around us, but it will still be influenced by the above whether we like it or not.

    Regards
    Andrew

  • Glenn May 28, 2010, 8:15 pm

    Ken, whether or not I agree with Andrew on every or any scientific issue is hardly even remotely relevant.

    If you feel put out by me not chasing your interests, then you know how I feel about you not acknowledging and offering a view on Dawkins’ inconsistency and speciail standards when it comes to religion, which is, at least, relevant to the topic at hand.

  • david winter May 28, 2010, 9:44 pm

    None of those quotes say evolution is based on faith.

    Ruse was not talking about the theory of evolution, but the tendancy for people to use that theory to underpin claims about the nature of the universe, the meaning of it all for us humans, and the way we should. This essay is in a similar vein.

    You other two quotes are really about the difference between the fact of evolution (common descent, whcih is absurdly well established) and the theory that explains it (natural selection etc). Your clue that Matthews acceoted the fact of evolution should have been the first sentence of his quote. Popper went on to change his mind (in “Natural selection and the emergence of mind”) which isn’t quite quote mining but presenting it alone isn’t quite fair either.

  • Glenn May 28, 2010, 10:17 pm

    David, Ruse was talking about evolution being treated like a religion by many who promote it. As such, Andrew was being fair in the way that he used it – unless I have badly misconstrued what Andrew was saying.

  • Ken May 28, 2010, 11:17 pm

    Glenn, Andrews little fit of dissaproval and quote mining was a silly reaction to my story illustrating the problem of labelling children. He seemed to be upset about me giving my granddaughter a book and chatting to her about the nature of scientific knowledge vs “belief.”

    So it’s all related to your post.

    However, what comes out of all this is that some Christians seem to think their religion requires them to dissaprove if others. To condemn them for not having mythical beliefs they approve of and for accepting modern scientific ideas instead. That is Andrew’s problem.

    Your problem is one I find quite commonly with the god botherers who knock on my door. They hum and ha when asked about issues like evolutionary science. They start muttering about “only a theory” or that evolution is a religion.

    All rubbish if course. But in the end they usually admit they don’t accept the science because they prefer biblical mythology.

    I am always amazed at their cowardice , their inability to honestly front up and their fear of dissaproval from their belief community.

    Glenn, you strike me as behaving the same way. And it’s silly because simple questions like that are easily answered by a yes or no. Not to do so discredits you.

  • Glenn May 28, 2010, 11:31 pm

    Ken, that’s funny, I don’t disapprove of anyone for not having mythical beliefs. What you really mean is that some Christians disapprove of other people rejecting beliefs that you think are mythical. But once it’s stated that way, it’s just unremarkable.

    And I daresay it’s a bit hypocritical to accuse me of not answering questions when you yourself simply refuse to acknowledge things that I am asking you about, like Richard Dawkins’ inconsistency. You say say it’s not there.

    I can do the same: Question? What question? I see no question at all to answer! Now, you can just throw out insults about people being silly and having fits all you like, but just ignoring Dawkins’ inconsistency isn’t going to make it go away. I understand your desire to talk about other subjects with me, but I choose not to entertain it. I wrote this blog entry to get feedback on Dawkins’ rules for parenting and teaching. You replied with a link to a piece by Dawkins where he created an inconsistency with what he says here. You don’t want to talk about that? Fine, but insisting that we have a chat about what various Christians believe about the beginning of the universe and origins etc isn’t going to get you very far.

    I don’t mind in the least whether I am discedited in your eyes, Ken, because I know that your standards of what’s worthwhile and what’s not are very different from mine. I think you’re unreasonable and dogmatic about most things related to religion, so in a way I suspect being discredited in your eyes might not be a bad thing at all.

    Again, you don’t have to alk about Dawkins’ inconsistency, but I’m not interested in a friendly chat about evolution. I’m not a slot machine. I make substantial comments about my views on cosmology and the like from time to time at the blog. When the subject actually comes up, you’re welcome to take part.

  • mAX May 29, 2010, 1:15 am

    Its not about being a slot machine Glenn. Its about being a human. Conversations often flow this way and that. I find it odd that people won’t answer questions another person asks them as well. Its just a conversation… there are no rules you know.

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 1:29 am

    Max, the reason for my reluctance was that Ken has made it clear that he doesn’t want to “play ball” when it comes to probing Dawkins and his inconsistencies, but now he wants me to just placate him in whatever he decides he wants to talk about. Tell you what – you keep him happy then, will you? Talk to him about evolution. Apparently that’s what he wants to do, and for some reason this comment thread is where he wants to do it.

  • The Atheist Missionary May 29, 2010, 6:19 am

    Dawkins’ letter to his daughter speaks for itself. I imagine that Dawkins would respond to your question something like this:

    “Juliet, no – I don’t believe there is a god if, by using that word, you mean the god described in the Bible. The reason why I don’t believe in the god of the Bible is because there is insufficient evidence to support his existence and plenty of evidence to suggest that he doesn’t exist. People who believe in the god of the Bible (and I want you to know that there are millions of them) believe in the power of prayer – this is a claim which could be easily proven but which hasn’t been proven. People who believe in the god of the Bible believe that a man died, started to rot and came back to life. They rely on eyewitness accounts recorded decades after the supposed event to support this belief and yet ignore the notorious unreliability of eyewitness testimony. People who believe in the god of the Bible believe that the man who died was sacrificed to save all of humanity from its sins. I find this concept, otherwise known as substitionary atonement, reprehensible and intellectually vacuous.

    People who criticize my position suggest that I also have faith and that I simply place my faith in science instead of religion. My answer to that criticism would be as follows: if you are referring to absolute certainty, I am not certain of anything aside from Cogito ergo sum. If we are referring to practical certainty, I am practically certain of many things including my existence, the existence of the world around me, gravitational theory, the theory of evolution by natural selection and the non-existence of supernatural god(s). If people want to define my practical certainty as faith, fine.

    Juliet, because I cannot be absolutely certain of almost anything, there may in fact be a god or gods. I just want you to grow up to think for yourself and make up your own mind without people telling you what you should or should not believe.

    If I believe anything, it is that there are matters beyond our comprehension in much the same way as the theory of relativity will forever be beyond the comprehension of an ant. In my opinion, religious believers respond to this uncertainty by accepting myths which provide them with comfort to salve the potentially nihilistic implications of this uncertainty. I, on the other hand, do not need myths to respond to this uncertainty – I find it both invigorating and humbling. Science may not be able to provide us with all the answers but it is the best way to find them that I have found yet.”

  • mAX May 29, 2010, 10:54 am

    Glen: That comment about not answering direct questions could equally have been aimed at Ken! 😉

  • james May 29, 2010, 11:00 am

    Okay, can I just point out two completely obvious facts:

    1. Dawkins is being totally disingenuous when he says that children shouldn’t be taught to believe religious facts because they are too young. We all know that what he really believe is that no one should ever be taught religious facts because they are false.

    2. The portrayal Dawkins (both by himself and others) as a champion of ‘thinking for yourself’ has got to be some kind of bizarre joke (see comment above). He makes a living out of telling people what they should and shouldn’t believe, and mocking those who disagree.

    It is strange how quick atheists are to rush to Dawkins’ defence, no matter how bizarre the assertion. I guess all papacies need be infallible to prevail.

  • ropata May 29, 2010, 11:16 am

    God has given us free will and hearts and minds and a beautiful world to explore. It is a tragedy when a person becomes ruled by fear and loses their sense of adventure. Unfortunately this happens all too often to Christians: they become timid and retreat to a safe comfort zone where they become fat and dream of pie-in-the-sky instead of truly living here and now. (There are plenty of happy, well-adjusted people in churches, but I’m not talking about them)

    Teaching your child values and behaviour is good parenting but there is a point at which parents must relinquish control and respect their son/daughters independence and freedom to choose whether to follow a faith tradition. LIBERTY is the whole point of secular democracy!

    PS: The Cross may seem like foolishness to some, but to others who have been burdened by guilt and shame it is life-giving.

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 1:31 pm

    Pity that Glenn has misrepresented me again. I actually did answer his question, Max. It’s just that he didn’t like my answer.

    To repeat – the section quoted by Glenn in this post and the Dawkins’ article “Prayer for my Granddaughter” talk about different things. The word “inconsistency” is therefore just not relevant.

    The article is advice to children about critical thinking and open mindedness. It is written for children. Aimed at children (although quite a few adults need that advice too).

    A different subject.

    In Glenn’s quote Dawkins is referring to the inappropriate habits of many adults in labeling children. And automatically labeling them, not with respect to anything the child has said, but with the beliefs of the parent.

    I know Glennn has problems with the tendons in his knees when the word “Dawkins” comes up and always wants to find Dawkins doing or saying silly things. But, to be fair, perhaps he should go back and read what he has quoted. (And really, realise Dawkins is not a fool – he doesn’t go around saying the silly things some people love to apply to him. He will, (has) make (made) many mistakes but you have to put the work in to deal with those).

    I think “A Prayer for my Daughter” is a great article. However, I have criticisms of Dawkins’ arguments quoted by Glenn. It was one of the criticisms I had of his book “The God Delusion” when I read it a few years ago. Dawkins does not sufficiently deal with the evolutionary and social origins and nature of religion (others have critiqued it for the same reason). Consequently he really doesn’t consider, in this argument, that religious “belief” is more a community rather than a real “belief.” The dogma is in essence a way of reinforcing the community, which is really just a form of tribalism.

    If Dawkins had considered this aspect more he would see that a reason for the labeling may have more to do with community, tribalism and the “them vs us” instinct than about beliefs.

    However, I think this labeling is still very inappropriate because if helps to encourage hatred at a very early age. And it is certainly interesting that, on the whole, atheists, agnostics, Marxists, communists, anarchists, etc., etc., do not label their children the same way. Neither would society accept such labeling. It seems peculiar to religion.

    (I should add that most people react very badly when door knocking god botherers include their children in their prosletysing party. So perhaps we are partly aware of the problem.)

    James, Dawkins does NOT suggest that it is wrong for parents to teach their children about their beliefs and culture. Nor, Glenn, does he claim that authority should not be used in such teaching. He is on record advocating teaching about religions and cultures to all children in school. I imagine that he would urge this be done in an honest way. Not as “instruction” and that lessons make clear the distinction between myths, stories and evidence based knowledge.

    I am not aware of anything of his claiming religion should not be treated like any other subject when taught.

    There is actually a video somewhere of a lecture given by Dawkins on this whole subject to a Conference of British teachers. You should watch that to get a better understanding.

    And I actually like Dan Dennett’s comments on this subject. Very level headed.

    But have a look at what is happening in New South Wales with the pilot trial of ethics classes for school children and the mobilisation by some Christians to stop it. Rather revealing. Those Christians do not want children to develop the skill of moral logic!

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 1:39 pm

    Forgot to remind Glenn of my questions:

    Does he accept the Findings of modern evolutionary science? (or some other alternative?

    Does he think people who don’t believe in gods are dangerous for children?

  • The Atheist Missionary May 29, 2010, 2:15 pm

    … and I’ll add this question for Glenn. Does he have any objection to Christian proselytizers handing this crap out to my kids? http://www.atheistmissionary.com/2009/11/im-as-mad-as-hell-and-im-not-going-to.html

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 2:30 pm

    Ken, you are free to feel that I misrepresented you. I know that you uttered a response to the question, but I thought at the time that you were simply unwilling to grapple with the very real inconsistency in Dawkins, brushing it aside instead.

    You might think that two statements given at different times cannot really be inconsistent with each other, but the fact is, they certainly can be. The two statements appeal to two different principles,a nd those principles just don’t get along well at all. On the one hand he asserts that you just shouldn’t label children as having a certain position (specifically a religious position – that’s important) because they cannot yet investgate for themselves etc. On the other hand he says that often we believe things on the basis of authority, knowing that later we will be able to investigate for ourselves.

    These two things just clash. the fact that he’s talking about different things doesn’t make any difference. He is, in each contact, drawing on principles that apply equally well to both scenarios.

    It’s no good trying to make the case against seeing children as holding views without yet having investigated for themselves (on religion, science, values or anything) by tacking on extras about hatred, “them vs us” mentalities etc. This is a new issue. You can be correctly labelled as a Chriatian without being a hateful “them vs us” bigot, can’t you? Just painting things in such a pejorative way doesn’t add anything to this.

    Some of your comments about “myths” are simply driven by your own subjective bias. You feel that you are in a position to know that all religious claims are mythological, so you just talk to me in a way that assumes this to be true, as though I should take it seriously. Of course, knowing that this outlook isn’t true, I have no reason to take it seriously.

    Now, I suppose this is as good as it will get, given that you won’t allow Dawkins (pbuh) to be guilty of any inconsistency or error of any kind. So I’ll indulge your questions on a subject unrelated to this blog entry, and which for some reason you have a burning desire to talk about, here, with me, and right now (again, for some reason). You knew that there was no reason to “remind” me of them since I already ex[plained why I didn’t answer them, but you enjored the rhetorical thrill of implying that I was frightened and feigning forgetfulness. I hope you enjoyed it.

    As I have already stated fairly clearly, yes, people who teach children that there is no god are dangerous, and they represent a real danger to children. Remember, I used the smoking analogy, and when you replied as though you didn’t udnerstand the analogy, I unpacked it for you. So yes, to repeat what I’ve already said, such people who teach such things to children are dangerous, and they harm children.

    As far as “modern evolutionary science” goes, don’t believe it – in the same way that you don’t believe in aliens. It’s not that you have certainty that there are no such things, but you just aren’t in a place where you’re compelled to think that they exist.

    Strange though many might find it, Christians can genuinely afford to be open minded when it comes to evolution, whereas someone who has settled on atheism really has no choice in the matter. To quote myself:

    It should be clear that one’s worldview will control the way one is able to understand the evidential data in the natural world, but an example should make this clearer still. Alvin Plantinga uses the issue of Darwinian evolution to make the point. It will be clear from the way I am using this illustration that the truth of evolution has nothing to do with the point I am making. Surveying the literature, Plantinga notes the overwhelming certainty of Richard Dawkins, Stephen Gould, William Provine and others, who unite in declaring that evolution is not simply a theory, but an established fact. Why is there such certainty?

    Given the spotty character of the evidence — for example, a fossil record displaying sudden appearance and subsequent stasis and few if any genuine examples of macroevolution, no satisfactory account of a mechanism by which the whole process could have happened, and the like – these claims of certainty seem at best wildly excessive. The answer can be seen, I think, when we realize that what you properly think about these claims of certainty depends in part on how you think about theism. If you reject theism in favor of naturalism, this evolutionary story is the only game in town, the only visible answer to the question: Where did all this enormous variety of flora and fauna come from? How did it all get here? Even if the fossil record is at best spotty and at worst disconfirming, this story is the only answer on offer (from a naturalistic perspective) to these questions.
    From a theistic or Christian perspective, however, things are much less frantic. The theist knows that God created the heavens and the earth and all that they contain; she knows, therefore, that in one way or another God has created all the vast diversity of contemporary plant and animal life. But of course she isn’t thereby committed to any particular way in which God did this. He could have done it by broadly evolutionary means; but on the other hand he could have done it in some totally different way.

    My point is not that evolution is false or anything of the sort. My point is simply to draw attention to the obvious problem of assuming that “natural” evidence will demonstrate the same thing to one person that it demonstrates to another. The reality is that the worldview of the observer will control and limit the possible ways of interpreting the natural world.
    Peoples, “Faith in Public: A Reponse to Greg Dawes,” Journal of Religion and Society 7 (2005), 12.

    So whereas you’re absolutely compelled to believe that evolution played the role in our development that Dawkins believes in – in principle, regardless of the quality of the evidence – I am not. I can afford to be open minded in a way that you simply can’t. Evolutionary science is therefore much less important to me than to you, and it’s even less important to me than it is to a large number of Christians. If I one day became convinced that the Darwinian model is true, then very little would change for me.

    Of course, none of this has anything at all to do with Dawkins’ (pbuh) rules for parenting, but since you really really wanted to talk about evolution (I guess that subject matters to you in a way that it doesn’t to me), there you go.

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 2:32 pm

    Missionary, I can sympathize with your anger.

    But just imagine the children of parents who lay this on them all the time. That is clearly child abuse.

    I remember as a child being picked on by a women like this, calling me a sinner etc. It was terrifying but I could escape eventually (I was just the paper boy). If she had been my mother I would have ended up even more screwed up than I am already.

    This is certainly a form of psychological abuse of children. Unfortunately authorities usually don’t recognise it as abuse – and the kids suffer hell.

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 2:42 pm

    T.A.M., I’ve read your link. In the first place, you’ve indicated that you do not teach your children that atheism is true, and you don’t teach other children this either. It’s good that you don’t do these things – but then, I only say this because I think that to do so would be to harm children.

    But as for those pamphlets, no of course they aren’t appropriate for young children – especially other people’s children whose parents wouldn’t appreciate it. And that pamphlet is a mild example, I’ve seen much worse. The one I saw had a photo of a hamburger on one side, and it read, “feel like a flame grilled burger?” On the other side it read: “You will if you end up in HELL!” It was followed by an evangelistic message.

    hopefully you wouldn’t suggest that the mere fact that I believe atheism is bad for children means that I must therefore endorse any and all methods of telling children about God. I certainly don’t.

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 3:20 pm

    Thanks for your replies, Glenn. I have no interest in debating those issues but I will say it is as I expected.

    My only comment us that it does reinforce my belief that Dawkins is wrong when he points out in his last book that “senior clergy and theologians have no problem with evolution”. He and other scientists and philosophers of science need to recognise that plenty of theologians and philosophers of religion are maliciously misrepresenting science to accomadate there desire to hold on to mythical beliefs. This is the source of the “naturalism”, “supernaturalism”, “materialism” rubbish. Unfortunately some scientists opportunistically also use those words. Their meaning is different but they should be more careful and define this.

    Jerry Coyne has done some good work taking some theologians and people like Ruse to task on this. But I am convinced a lot more needs to be done. Your explanation confirmed me in my convictions.

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 3:28 pm

    Ken, care to identify the problem wiuth evolution that I spoke about? I must have amnesia. 😉

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 4:05 pm

    As you said “you don’t believe it” and as I said I have no interest in debating that with you.

    I have the information I was interested in.

    The real issues are around the misrepresentation of science which is an ongoing issue. (I have a post in this scheduled for Monday).

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 4:34 pm

    Ken, so not believing in something – in the sense of neither affirming nore rejecting it (as I explained) means that I have a problem with a belief?

    I think you knew what you were looking for and felt compelled to say that your belief was confirmed, regardless of what I said. No matter what I had said, you would always feel that your assumptions and beliefs were affirmed, because they are held as something very dear. As I explained, you hold your beliefs about evolution as a matter of necessity. I very clearly did not express a problem. I agree with you that misrepresentation is an issue here (but it’s not science that is being misrepresented).

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 5:26 pm

    You are of course wrong about me. I don’t believe in evolution any more than I believe in gravity or atoms. It’s about evidence and validation not belief.

    But as I said it is pointless debating such issues as the more fundamental mistakes about the nature of science are being ignored. That’s where the problems are.

  • Max May 29, 2010, 5:29 pm

    What do you make of atheists who reject evolution as a matter of interest?

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 5:45 pm

    Ken doesn’t believe in gravity. OK…

  • Max May 29, 2010, 6:02 pm

    Context context context. Now what do people think, in the context it appears, Ken meant by “I don’t believe in …gravity”? Shall we pick the most implausible option that Ken thinks physical theories about gravity are wrong, or shall we pick the much more likely explanation that he is drawing a distinction between belief and knowledge?

    Pretending not to understand people’s point is tiresome.

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 6:25 pm

    Max, don’t be an idiot. I know exactly what Ken meant. You are now, ironically, doing precisely what you accuse me of (i.e. interpreting me in an utterly ridiculous way). I was simply pointing out that it’s best to just drop the fear of the word “belief” that Ken exhibits. Why do you do this? Why go to other peoples’ blogs and post this sort of thing? How about you try to interpret people in a way that you ask them to interpret others? Why are you deliberately making a menace of yourself? See, this is the kind of behaviour that has prompted terse responses in the past, both here and on Facebook. If you have nothing useful to say, say nothing.

    I could also have pointed out that Ken saw me say that I “don’t believe” in Dariwnian evolution and he then said I had a problem with it, but now he applies a different standard of interpretation to himself when he says he doesn’t “believe” in it.

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 6:57 pm

    Glenn, reread what I wrote. You have got it wrong. It was Dawkins saying that theolgians etc have no problem. I think he is wrong but I wasn’t including you in that lot.

    As I said I think there is the more fundamental problem of misrepresenting the nature if science. One which has been debated before and no doubt will be in the future.

    Max, I dont usually bother identifying people’s religion. I did it with a sample from the Disc. Inst. I. D. anti Darwin petition and they seem overwhelmingly religious wherever I could get information. (I couldn’t identify any non-religious).

    There are a few well known people who identify as atheist and support ID. They have written books. I tried to get a recent one to review without any luck. What arguments I have seen seem pretty silly. I don’t know of any scientists in that group.

    But let’s face it being an atheist, or even a scientist, is no protection from silliness. I have come across scientists who believe in astrology. Even one who was a member if the ACT Party. People can be weird.

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 7:07 pm

    Ken, I understood it the first time. Dawkins said that theologians have no problem with evolution. Because I said that I “don’t believe” in it, you suggested that these comments of mine reinforced you view that Dawkins was wrong, which indicates that you think I have a problem with it. When I challenged you as to where I said that I have a problem with evolution, you replied by saying that I had said that I “don’t believe” in it, as though that supported the idea that I have a problem with it.

    So I didn’t read you wrong at all.

  • Ken G May 29, 2010, 8:05 pm

    I read somewhere (I forget where) that the success of a blog can be measured in terms of trollish, inane posts from passers by who feel the need to treat the blog like a target. If what I read is correct, Glenn, you’ve got a very successful blog here. 🙂

  • Max May 29, 2010, 9:20 pm

    Its called Meta-humor Glenn. Sorry – it was kinda subtle.

    You make a silly statement which pretends to misunderstand for rhetorical purposes. I reply with an exaggerated version of the same thing. The last line was deliberate irony…… never mind… I guess you just don’t get my sense of humor. Don’t take it personally though.

  • Max May 29, 2010, 9:22 pm

    What is odd.. reading back.. is that you appreciated that I was “interpreting [you] in an utterly ridiculous way” but still took me seriously ;).

  • Max May 29, 2010, 9:32 pm

    But Ken – the reason I asked about atheist anti-evolutionists was that Glenn insisted that while he had a choice about accepting evolution, you were “absolutely compelled” to accept the idea. Do you feel that as an atheist you *must* accept evolution.

    I think I can predict your answer – but it would be good to clarify this issue and get rid of some of the false ideas people have.

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 9:34 pm

    Max, this is the point, widely recognised on the internet, where a person says something foolish (as you did in post #14), is exposed as doing so, and then very quickly pretends that it was intentional all along and they were just joking. It reminds me of something I saw recently (pardon the profanity): http://static.funnyjunk.com/pictures/lol_i_troll_you.png

  • Max May 29, 2010, 9:37 pm

    Fascinating. But lets stop this silliness and get back to the issue. Do you think that atheists are compelled to accept an evolutionary framework?

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 9:39 pm

    Max, I’ve already clearly stated my opinion on this in this very comment thread. Look, do you have something to add?

  • Max May 29, 2010, 9:45 pm

    I am asking you to elaborate, expand, unpack, etc, your claim that:

    “Strange though many might find it, Christians can genuinely afford to be open minded when it comes to evolution, whereas someone who has settled on atheism really has no choice in the matter”

    It seems a bold claim to make since atheists existed long before evolution was around, and there are still atheists around today who reject evolution. It seems that people do have choice on the matter after all. But if you have nothing further to add, that is fine.

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 9:50 pm

    So why didn’t you ask me to expand then instead of just asking me a question that I had already answered?

    Sure there were atheists around before Darwin – atheists with a gap in their explanations. As Dawkins put it, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

  • Max May 29, 2010, 10:04 pm

    Never mind.

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 10:10 pm

    No, I don’t Max. Atheism is the most minimal statement one can use about a person. It just means they don’t believe in gods. That’s all. They could believe in goblins or fairies, for example. They could reject the scientific method.

    Obviosly my world outlook is deeper than that. I refuse to name it as I believe it limits both other peoples understanding of it and inhibits my own development.

    However, I have spent a lifetime doing scientific research and am passionate about that. I have had a scientific philosophy from early days.

    This means I see evidence and mapping against reality as fundamental to our knowledge if reality.

    And that is why I accept evolutionary science. Obviously I may have some preferences on the controversial aspects like group selection, etc., and must rely on authority on many of the issues. But there is no doubt that it is one of the most strongly supported scientific ideas around (evidence wise). And there is plenty of good literature showing this for the non-specialist lay person. In general language we are justified in calling evolution a fact just a much as gravity. It doesn’t mean we know everything about either (we still have a lot to learn about gravity and there are speculative and controversial areas in that theory too).

    Of couse I have a choice about accepting evolutionary science and the theory of gravity. In the end that boils down to how well it accords with reality. And like everything in science that choice is provisional. Just as my ideas on gravity could well change with new evidence (a quantum theory of gravity would do this and be very exciting) so my ideas on evolution could change. In fact I am sure they will in details – that’s the nature of scientific knowledge.

    That’s me talking as a scientist and I am sure that if I were a Christian as well I would see it the same way. (My scientist Christian colleagues do).

    But there will be plenty of atheists who don’t think like that. I have come across a few whose take on climate change, for example, is very unscientific.

    I suspect, though, an interest in science is common amongst atheists. It certainly was at the Global Atheist Convention I attended in Melbourne recently.

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 10:15 pm

    Glenn, I have never understood that quote of Dawkins. I was an intellectually fulfilled atheist long before I developed a proper understanding of evolution.

    I think that just demonstrates his biological bias. I had very little biological training and specialized in chemistry. Perhaps if I were a biologist I may have thought like him. But I don’t.

  • Ken May 29, 2010, 10:19 pm

    And gaps in explanations are extremely common. It keeps us on jobs.

    Far from being a problem we thrive on them.

  • Max May 29, 2010, 10:26 pm

    Interestingly Ken, I find that the deepest and most honest sort of faith also thrives upon gaps, and does not try to fill them with simplistic explanations, and apologetics.

  • Glenn May 29, 2010, 10:31 pm

    Ken, well, I understand that quote from Dawkins, and in my longer post earlier I tried to explain why. Fulfilment isn’t just a feeling (e.g. a complete madman might say “I feel fulfilled”). Something like evolution just needs to be true, ebcause if it isn’t, then atheism has a gap not merely in terms of the ability to talk about how humanity got here, but a gap along the lines of “humanity could not have gotten here” (setting aside things like “the aliens put us here,” which just pushes the question into the world of the aliens).

    It’s a rare moment, because I think Dawkins was right about this.

  • Ken May 30, 2010, 8:00 am

    Atheism has a gap about absolutely everything except the belief gods don’t exist. Similarly for theism except he opposite assertion.

    Attitudes on other things require further development of a world view and are not included on the definitions.

  • mAX May 30, 2010, 7:46 pm

    “Atheism has a gap about absolutely everything except the belief gods don’t exist.”

    Excellent answer. I think it is important to separate atheism/theism from debates over matters which are perfectly compatible with both.

  • Glenn May 30, 2010, 8:00 pm

    It’s true that beliefs about God are not identical with beliefs about, say, evolution. But the fact that two beliefs are not the same doesn’t mean that there’s no important relationship between the two, as Dawkins saw.

  • Ken May 30, 2010, 8:25 pm

    But knowledge (rather than belief) about evolution comes from objective reality. Sure one may wish to protect ones beliefs by refusing to accept objective evidence. But the fact is that people who have theist and people have non- theist beliefs can agree on objective evidences and the conclusions rationally arising from them.

    Hence the overwhelming acceptance of evolutionary science across different religious beliefs. It’s a matter if scientific literacy rather than religious belief.

    Now, I might feel that the philosophical conclusions which should be drawn from the facts of evolution make ideas like theistic evolution impossible. And Dan Dennett’s book does seem to indicate that.

    But I personally don’t feel I have the right to talk for others. I don’t think it is possible for me to confidently put myself in a theists shoes, let alone their brain, so it would be arrogant for me to speak for them.

    Similarly I think it is arrogant for a theist to make claims about how an atheist must think. About what knowledge choices they have.

  • Glenn May 30, 2010, 8:43 pm

    Well Ken, you might not feel comfortable talking about other people’s ideas and what they imply about their other beliefs or knowledge. That’s fine. One of the things emphasised in philosophy, however (which is the area where I did my doctoral studies) is that ideas – even if they’re not your own ideas, even if they are other peoples’ ideas – can be subjected to critical scrutiny without reference to who holds those ideas, and we can ask what they imply or presuppose. We can critically assess the compatability of belief sets and reach conclusions about whether some beliefs logically require other beliefs to be true (or if some beliefs, when true, make the truth of other beliefs more or less likely). I don’t see that as arrogant, but then, philosophy’s not for everyone.

  • Ken May 30, 2010, 9:57 pm

    The arrogance if pretending to “know” the other’s mind, to dictate what choices they have, is the same arrogance of substituting wishes and prejudice for actual facts.

    In the end this means one cannot really know the real world.

  • Glenn May 30, 2010, 10:06 pm

    Ken, nobody is claiming to know other people’s minds. I am only talking about ideas, and the implications of those ideas. Nothing personal, just ideas. If you are to be taken at face value, you essentially think that philosophy is an arrogant thing to engage in.

  • Original Anon May 31, 2010, 2:53 am

    I’m really lost about what Ken is on about. Way off topic, Ken.

    But then again he’s done it in almost every similar articles that he’s on.

  • mAX May 31, 2010, 9:49 am

    Arrogant philosophy is an arrogant thing to engage in. Humble philosophy is a humble thing to engage in. The sort of philosophy which comes from a fundamentalist mindset is perhaps what Ken is talking about? Obviously not all philosophy – as he engages in much philosophy himself, and does not seem to consider it all to be arrogant.

    I think the attitude of accepting that one doesn’t have all of the experiences of another person, nor all of their knowledge and expertise, is a valuable one to obtain. Paradoxically it will increase one’s knowledge because one will be more open to other ideas which a fundamentalist attitude might preclude.

  • Ken May 31, 2010, 11:29 am

    Glenn, again the old problem of you putting words into others mouths or minds.

    No I I don’t “think that philosophy is an arrogant thing to engage in.” Arrogance comes form the person – the way it is used. And I think not listening to ones propositions but claiming you know how a whole group of people think (atheists have no choice about evolution) is arrogant.

    Another sign of arrogance is to use the argument from authority and talk about philosophy as if it is one uniform school of thinking. We know that it isn’t. There are philosophies and philosophies.

    The latter arrogance, I seem to find, is common with those who have a theological philosophy but don’t wish to acknowledge the adjective.

    I might help if you sue the words “I think” a bit more.

  • Glenn May 31, 2010, 7:30 pm

    Ken, I seriously do not know what you’re driving at. I haven’t put words in your mouth. I was talking about the options that are available to a person who accepts atheism. You reacted, saying that you personally found it arrogant to talk about what options are available to other people.

    All I have have tried to explain in response is that it is the business of philosophy to critically examine beliefs that people hold, and ask what those things imply. I said that if you find this arrogant, then you end up saying that philosophy is arrogant.

    You can feel offended and accuse me of arrogance all you like. But it is simply not true that talking about another person’s belief and making claims about what that belief implies isn’t arrogant. If you insist on finding something nefarious in that, then knock yourself out.

  • Neo June 10, 2010, 1:11 pm

    Should fact claims that most people would consider “religious” be treated as exceptional – unlike all other beliefs – and excluded from the beliefs we share with our children? If so, why?

    I don’t think this represents what RD is talking about. What I believe that he’s trying to say is that the general assumption that your offspring share your beliefs is misleading and wrong. He’s attempting to challenge that generalisation.

    I think that you’re also equivocating beliefs to fact claims. The moon orbits the earth is a fact claim. God is an omnipotent, omniscient omnipresence is a belief. The difference between the two is credible evidence. As such I don’t think we should enforce our beliefs on our children. It’s more important to teach them to think critically and eventually they will come to their own conclusion regarding such matters.

    “I’m sorry Timmy, you’re too young. I can’t possibly impose my view of the moon’s movement upon you. How dare I try to make you share my beliefs.”

    I think that human kind has settled the debate over whether the moon orbits the earth and as such teaching these facts as truth no longer runs the risk of polluting our (human kind’s) collective knowledge. The theological debate has been raging, for thousands of years, and is set to continue.

  • Claudia March 9, 2015, 2:16 pm

    If as a person of faith, I find that faith to be a source of strength and comfort, then it might be more negligent not to teach my children how to pray when they are in need of spiritual comfort or courage, and to be able to say things like “when I’m feeling xyz, I find it helpful to remember my belief that. ..”?

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