Skeptical parenting

By Phil Plait | October 12, 2008 3:23 pm

One of the issues with being a skeptic who happens to have reproduced is that you wind up with a kid who asks a lot of questions. Of course, every kid asks a lot of questions, but when you’re a skeptic you tend to have more of a dilemma about it. If I were a fanatic of ghost shows, and my daughter asked me what happens to you after you die, I’d have an easy answer for her.

As a skeptic, the answer I give her is a little more nuanced.

It helps to know other critically thinking parents out there. That’s why I’m so happy to see two new blogs out there for folks who have, want to, or may some day reproduce (and others who are just curious about it).

The first is Rational Moms, a group of skeptics of the XX type. Started by two women in LA (one of whom I’ve met at Amaz!ng Meetings past) who were getting a little tired of woo promulgated by new parents. There’s lots of great advice they deliver (haha! Get it? Deliver!).

The second is not so much a blog as it is a blog carnival: Skeptical Parent Crossing. Carnivals are collections of blog posts on a given topic, and this one was started by — unsurprisingly — Domestic Father (I had originally said The Skeptic Dad, but have since been corrected).

I sure remember all the nonsense Mrs. BA and I were told when The Little Astronomer was a baby. We still hear it too, so I’ll be sending any such purveyors to these two blogs. Give ’em a read, even if you haven’t spawned. I bet there’ll be interesting stuff there for you anyway.

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Comments (61)

  1. Logan

    Boo on the delivery joke, but many huzzahs for skeptical parenting!

  2. Kuroko

    Mrs. K and I were just discussing this very issue the other night. It’s not as much a fear of answering her questions and helping her to be a more reasonable person, that’s the fun part. It’s the fear of what will happen when some of her compassionate christian friends start asking her questions and she doesn’t have the right answers for them. She’s only five now and it hasn’t manifested yet, but I fear it’s only a matter of time. It’s hard enough growing up, but I almost feel guilty shackling her with something else.

    Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be lying to her or anyone else, but that is my fear as a parent.

  3. Daniel

    I’m rather happy with the fact that my Catholic father and Lutheran mother managed to raise a skeptical me. I still had to put up with learning the religious stuff when I was little, but I was encouraged to question anything that didn’t make sense to me.

    I’m curious what nonsense you’re talking about with the Little Astronomer though.

  4. I was lucky enough to have been raised to think for myself. I still went through a woo-woo phase but fortunately for my son, I got over it before he was born. Thanks for the links above. My wife and I are always looking for more resources on how to help our kid.

  5. Ad Hominid

    This is a very personal and important issue with me. My older daughter, now 30, barely speaks to me because of my skeptical outlook. She is really a brilliant young woman but she was raised, and thoroughly indoctrinated, by her fundamentalist mother and stepfather. There is no such thing as polite disagreement or resectful tolerance with these people. To them, the very fact that I support evolutionary science and reject supernaturalism makes me literally a tool of Satan, and a bad influence on my grandchildren.

    Her step-dad is a Baptist deacon and is so extreme that the supervisory organization has publicly cautioned him over some of his views. How crazy do you have to be for the Southern Baptist Convention to think you are too zealous for their taste? For example, he believes that public schools should be abolished and Phil would delete what this guy says about gay rights.

    My younger daughter has a different mother and we raised her. SHE is a scientist herself, a newly minted PhD in biochemistry. (time-out for fatherly preening and boasting). We have some disagreements over various issues, notably politics, but these disagreements have never come close to interfering with our personal relationship, and it is unthinkable that they ever would.

    Non-rational beliefs are not just an annoyance or an impediment to education, they destroy families and blight lives.

  6. IVAN3MAN

    “Any astronomer can predict with absolute accuracy just where every star in the universe will be at 11.30 tonight. He can make no such prediction about his teenage daughter.” — James T. Adams

  7. IVAN3MAN

    “I never met a kid I liked.” — W.C. Fields

  8. Jeffersonian

    “all the nonsense Mrs. BA and I were told when The Little Astronomer was a baby”

    Can you give an example to illustrate and define what you’re getting at?

    This is a topic of high interest to me. My siblings raised their kids with a high degree of nonsense and I get to watch various nieces and nephews embrace/reject various nonsense, superstitions and magical thinking and how it affects them and their lives in contrast. On the other hand, of my collegiate friends who raised their kids in the new-skeptical traditions, some have embraced woo regardless. One of the advantages of middle age is this observation. Share, BA.

  9. Our daughter was born in rural Ohio in 1980. I can’t tell you the number of total strangers who’d come up and ask me if we’d baptized her yet. I’d usually say, “We have no plans to,” but my husband always said we should say, “We plan to raise her to be a Druid.”

    So while our daughter was not raised with any particular religious upbringing, she’s not quite as skeptical as I’d like. She believes in ghosts and the like.

    However, when was (briefly) in the Army and sent to the wilds of southern Missouri for basic training, she spent some of her Sundays at a Buddhist center because “they had better donouts than the Baptists.”

  10. Another community for skeptical parents: http://atheistnexus.org/group/parentinglittleheathens

    I was lucky that my parents didn’t try to fill my head with nonsense (but then my parents were really not around much for me to start with, so that’s a double edged blade there).

  11. Thank you so much for those links.

    I am a stay-at-home dad and a skeptic. It’s nice to see that i’m not alone.

  12. Brandon

    A good site to visit is atheistparents.org. The main site has several interesting articles, and the message board area is active and helpful.

  13. How would Jesus raise a child then? Well I’m glad you asked…
    http://www.amazon.com/How-Would-Jesus-Raise-Child/dp/0801012503
    As far as I can tell though there isn’t a chapter about putting your child up for adoption when you get crucified.
    ūüėČ

  14. The Infidel Guy (Reginald Finley) had an episode titled “Parenting Beyond Belief” from July of ’07 on this very topic. I was listening to it just last week. It might resonate with some of you folks out there.

    When I’m ferrying my kids or even other people’s kids around in my Honda Element (it’s copper colored, so I tell folks it’s element 29) I make a point of listening to Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe on my iPod hooked to the truck’s sound system. Might as well promote a little thought, eh? I sometimes also play George Hrab’s “Think For Yourself” just for grins!
    Rich in Charlottesville

  15. Can anybody give me a definition on “skeptical parenting”?

  16. IVAN3MAN

    @ Jeffersonian

    I think the “woo-woo” gene skips every generation.

  17. ioresult

    I agree with Jeffersonian: Mr BA, could you give a couple of examples, please?

    My girlfriend and I are expecting our first child in January and I really hope I can be a good parent and teach my son about being a skeptical thinker.

  18. George

    From a European perspective, this is strange stuff to read. What is the problem?
    The is no Santa Claus, there is no god, bibles are crap, and so are qurans. When you die you decompose. End of story.

  19. csrster

    Hi George,
    I’m in Denmark, and I find it odd when my seven-year-old comes home from school rattling on about God, but I can’t say I’m that worried about it. She’s growing up in a secular home in a secular country so she’ll get enough counterbalancing influences for her to be able to make up her own mind. I think the lack of an institutional bias in favour of religiosity is a great luxury we enjoy in Western Europe. On the other hand, we do have plenty of woo in childrearing. Where did the anti-MMR panic start? One of the mothers in my wife’s mothers-group was anti-vaccination and was also into that weird eat-according-to-your-bloodtype stuff that was popular a few years ago. Now there was no way my wife was going to buy into any of that crap, but what if some of the other mothers were being persuaded by the woo-mongerer? I think it would be very handy for skeptical parents to have a resource to counter woo-thinking in that kind of group situation.

  20. Lisa

    My 5 year old has informed my 80 yr. old Grandmother (raised baptist in rural NC) and my mother-in-law ( a very active Mormon) that there is no god. I just kinda laughed it off (I have not told them of my lack of belief yet), but it does concern me how he will relate to his extended family. Living in the Bible belt is not going to be easy for my kids.

    He also told my mother-in-law that there is no such thing as ghosts, so maybe I’m rubbing off on him. When asked what happens when you die, he replied that you get put in a hole and someone puts lime on you and then you decompose. This was right after we buried our cat in the backyard.

  21. Naomi

    Oh man, I canNOT talk about anything related to skepticism (or, indeed, much science) to my Mum – she firmly believes in souls, reincarnation, spirits, astrology *wince*, tarot, reiki, homeopathy… yeah. (And I have no idea what my Dad thinks of all that, but he’s religious!) Not everyone who’s raised with a somewhat conflicting combination of Judaism and, well, pseudoscience ends up believing in that as well – I DID go through a period in my teens where I was in to neopaganism, reincarnation, astrology… well, you get the idea… but thankfully, I grew out of that. (Cosmos, and Sagan’s other books, helped.)

    If I ever sustain massive head trauma and decide to have kids, I’m going to raise them to be skeptics – a respect for the FACTS is a good thing to have!

  22. quasidog

    What about when your kid asks if Santa Clause is real … do you tell them the truth from day 1 ?

    I was the first kid in my school … um .. pre-school to know that Santa was not real. (being raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family we didn’t have Christmas) Kids gave me heaps, telling me I was stupid and Santa would not give me presents. Well I didn’t get presents, but I am damn happy my parents told me the truth regarding childhood questions from day dot. I will do the same with my kids. I am still unsure about the religious side (please don’t preach at me… creationists … and atheists … please.. I will ignore it all) but I know one thing, my kids will learn the truth about the things I know to be lies from early on. If they ask me what happens when I die, I will tell them the truth ….. ‘ I don’t know.’ I could tell them they will turn into dust and blah blah, or go to heaven, or whatever, but as far as I am concerned, I don’t know. Who does? I will just tell them what I truly believe to be the truth. I am so glad my parents gave me a head start. So when they ask at 3 years old if Santa is real, I will say, “No, he is a story”. I’m sure someone reading this want to say “Um you forgot Jesus” … ok fine … but how the hell do I know about that one. I do know for a fact that Santa is crap … and its the first thing kids care about …. so its a start.

  23. quasidog

    .. but in all seriousness … do you tell your kids from day 1 that Santa Clause is not real ? or do you let them believe the lie until they work it out for themselves ? I find it funny the first thing a kids gets his hopes up for is really just a big lie told and confirmed by parents. Isn’t that just setting kids up to distrust them ? I have talked to friends about this, and they tell me they don’t feel that way ( they all had Christmas when I didn’t) but I am not so sure. Surely it is a good thing to tell the truth to children and give them a solid foundation for trusting in Mum and Dad, right from the start.

    Are there any hardcore skeptics out there, that still tell lies to their kids about Santa ? Isn’t that hypocritical if that is the case ? I have always wondered about this. If someone truly believes in skepticism, why would they promote a lie to their kids. I’d love to hear how skeptics deal with this issue with kids. I feel quite strongly about it.

  24. kmeson

    I highly recommend the book “Parenting Beyond Belief”. The Author has a blog too: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog

    Very good stuff…

  25. Brook

    Don’t forget Dale McGowan’s secular parenting blog: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/

  26. Cheyenne

    What does being a “skeptic” mean? What’s the definition of a skeptic?

    So far what I think it means is – somebody who follows science to it’s logical end, and doesn’t believe it something unless it’s supported by fact (so, usually believe in Evolution, usually are Atheists, etc).

    Is there some link that says what a skeptic really is? That word is used a lot and I’m not sure I understand what it means exactly.

  27. Simply stated, skepticism involves critical thinking. ESPECIALLY critical thinking FOR YOURSELF. When my daughter was young, I didn’t dismiss (or encourage) Santa when she enjoyed the myth, but as she got older, I encouraged her to think about it on her own. By about 8, she had it figured out as total BS. She also understood the attractiveness of the myth, and why I didn’t just dismiss it FOR her. Clever girl! :)

  28. Gary Ansorge

    I have raised three children. Whatever they asked was answered with truth, as far as I knew it, including the disclaimer that I didn’t know everything. Santa was a story about how good people can be and God was an ideal we try to emulate. Heaven is what we wish might be real but is probably just a fairy tale.
    Teach your child to always question, look for evidence and think of the consequences. Children have a strong predisposition to believe whatever their parents/teachers or any authority figure say. Skepticism usually doesn’t become part of their world view until the mid teen years. Before that they’re just sponges, soaking up whatever they’re told as gospel.

    My bro believes our illusions are what allow us to tolerate life. Especially the illusion that we are in control of our lives. The truth is, S*&T happens and if we’re lucky(born with the capacity) we can roll with the punches.

    ,,,and anyone who thinks we’re at the apex of our evolution is full of it,,,

    We are not the crown of creation but if we’re lucky, our children might approach it,,,hopefully with clear minds and loving hearts.

    GAry 7

  29. IVAN3MAN

    Extract from Wikipedia:

    […] The word skepticism can characterize a position on a single claim, but in scholastic circles more frequently describes a lasting mind-set and an approach to accepting or rejecting new information. Individuals who proclaim to have a skeptical outlook are frequently called skeptics, often without regard to whether it is philosophical skepticism or empirical skepticism that they profess. […]

    Click on the link to read the full article.

  30. themos

    “Your children are not special” — Bill Hicks

  31. Gary Ansorge

    themos:

    You obviously don’t know my children,,,,

    GAry 7

  32. kuhnigget

    @Gary:

    “We are not the crown of creation but if we‚Äôre lucky, our children might approach it,,,hopefully with clear minds and loving hearts.”

    Lovely.

    I don’t have kids myself, but I have nieces and nephews. From what I’ve witnessed, that whole “Santa Claus is a lie” line is nonsense. Kids understand the value of fictional stories that convey a message. It seems they are wired to understand. For millennia humans have used stories to transfer knowledge. Fairy Tales, folklore, mythology, and, yes, religion…all are potentially useful tools for passing on wisdom. The trouble comes when kids are led to believe that the fiction, instead of the message imbedded within the fiction, is Truth. Good parents seem to know how to communicate that at the appropriate time.

    Reminds me of a quote from Tahir Shah’s book, “In Arabian Nights.” The author is remembering his father talking to him when he was a child:

    “If I go into the kitchen and take a dry sponge and put it in a bowl of water, it will suck up a lot of water, won’t it?”

    “Yes, Baba.”

    “But if I take the same sponge and put it in a bowl of ice, it won’t suck up anything at all. That’s because the sponge isn’t designed to suck up ice. Its structure–lots of little holes–can’t take in ice, only water.”

    He sat down beside me, motioning with his hands.

    “Ice is water, but just in a different form,” he said. “To make it into water–so we can suck it up easily–we need to change its form. The water is knowledge, Tahir Jan, and the sponge is your mind. When we hear information, a lot of it,” he said, “sometimes it’s too hard for us to suck up. Like ice. We hear it in the same way that the sponge touches the bowl of ice, but it doesn’t get inside. But as soon as you melt the ice, the water penetrates deep into the middle of the sponge. And that’s what stories do. … Stories are a way of melting the ice….”

  33. jasonB

    Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he lives in a big house in Washington DC. He gives us lots of goodies that no one pays for.

  34. Gary Ansorge

    kuhnigget:

    Sounds a lot like the teaching stories in Tales of the Dervishes, by Idries Shaw. Which is a collection of Sufi parables, with attendant analyses of (some of) the underlying meaning of the stories. The point is usually made that esoteric knowledge is only comprehensible to the prepared mind,ie, that which has observed the world, thought long and deep upon those observations and eventually, has a moment of insight.

    I expect Einstein could well provide some input along those lines. It takes time and hard brain sweat to really understand anything.

    GAry 7

  35. J. D. Mack

    I realize that “skeptical” and “non-religious” are *not* synonyms, but skeptical parents who live in the Washington, DC area may be interested to know that CFI sponsors a non-theistic parents’ group that meets once a month:

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/dc/events/perplexed_parents1/

    J. D.

  36. Mrs.Schaarschmidt

    Regarding the Santa Claus question: With my elder girls I just played along. I neither encouraged nor discouraged it. The day one of them asked me about it, I answered truthfully.

    I have a younger daughter now who is six. I’ve done the same thing. It’s funny,though. She questions everything. She comes home with questions about God and Jesus (she has some Christian friends). She comes home with all kinds of questions on every subject. But she doesn’t question Santa. I think she knows.

    When she asked me questions about God and Jesus I explained that there are some people who believe (explanation here), and other people who believe (explanation here) and still other people who believe (my beliefs here). When she is older she can think about all of that and figure out what she believes. To that she replied “well, right now I believe in God, not Jesus, yes Santa). Santa had not even been discussed.

    It will be very interesting to see where her mind goes with all of this.

  37. kuhnigget

    @ Gary:

    Idries Shaw is Tahir Shaw’s father, and the one he mentions in the quote.

  38. KC

    Ad Homind said:

    >Her step-dad is a Baptist deacon and is so extreme that the supervisory organization has >publicly cautioned him over some of his views.

    Unlike many denominations, Baptists organizations are independent coalitions of churches, who originally formed to cooperate on missionary work and purchasing literature. Thus Baptists have no supervisory organization. Baptist organizations can vote whether or not to accept or remove member churches, but they cannot dictate what goes on in those churches. In fact, one of the touchiest issues among Baptist organizations is whether there should be an organizational creed. The closest Baptists come to this is a confession of faith.

    This means that, as denominations go, just about any church can call itself baptist. Whether or not they’re accepted by other baptist churches is another issue, but doctrinal issues vary. For example, churches who are members of the Southern Baptist Convention tend to be between Calvinism and Arminianism, while Primitive Baptist churches tend to be strongly Calvinistic.

    Thus the only supervisory organization in a Baptist church is the preacher, the other deacons, and the church members. And Baptist churches have a long history of voting out preachers who disagree with members.

  39. KC

    I’m a little “ick” on the Santa Claus issue. At the age of four I figured out – and tested my hypothesis – about the truth of Santa Claus, and was disappointed that the family insisted that this wasn’t so. My own children knew by an early age, but regarded it as a game of pretend. I never pushed Santa Claus, but I’ve never been obnoxious with it. Instead, I’ve told the story of the real Nicholas and how Santa Claus to represent the spirit of selfless giving (How it’s also a major marketing tool I’ll save until they’re older :-) )

  40. Calli Arcale

    Regarding religion, it is interesting that my Lutheran mother taught me more about critical thinking than my atheist father did. But both strongly emphasized critical thinking. It’s just that only one believed in God. (Though to this day he has never told me that. I found it out second-hand. So my atheist father, who is incidentally a big PZ fan, led me to believe he was a Christian. I’ve often wondered why, but haven’t had the opportunity to ask him. I see him so rarely these days.)

    In any case, I will enjoy those blogs!

  41. KC

    Clicking on the link Phil provided, I found that I had suspected: The so-called “rational” moms would be more accurately called “atheist” moms. Since most atheists aren’t ashamed of that fact, I don’t see where that would be a problem. On the other hand, to equate rational with atheist requires a form of circular reasoning: Rational people are atheist because atheists are rational people.

    No doubt many today in the Skeptic “movement” would assert just that. Yet such an assertion begs the question of whether men like C.S. Lewis, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, and Augustine of Hippo were irrational because they had a deep faith in Jesus Christ. It also raises the issue of what are we to make of atheists who make irrational decisions.

    In any event, while I’m quite sure that the members of Rational Moms consider themselves to be rational people, I get the distinct impression that they would not consider a Christian to be one of their number.

  42. ixnu

    @KC,

    I have found that there is a correlation between atheist/agnostic thought and “rational” thought. In fact, most intelligent religious individuals who have deep faith in Jesus Christ or any other deity usually separate the rational from the religious. When I ask them about the details and reasons for their beliefs, they usually define faith as “super rational” or unrelated to the rational. In this regard, they recognize that some of their beliefs are based on the irrational. Most of my friends who separate these lines of thought are of the liberal or mainstream Christian faiths and I believe make up about half of the believers that I know. They have erected a firewall between the religious and the rational.

    For Isaac Newton, he was equally irrational in his deep faith in both Jesus Christ and alchemy.

    As for the acceptance of Christians by rational moms, I don’t have any experience with the group, but I have a suspicion that they would be more accepting than a fundementalist parenting group would be of an atheist parent injecting an opposing viewpoint.

  43. KC

    Your post immediately made me think of apologetics. There is no barrier between the rational and the religious. In fact, we would do well to know *why* we believe what we do. I once heard a minister take a congregation to task on blindly accepting what they heard from the pulpit, and that was in a Fundamentalist Christian church.

    While you may very well be right about the reaction of the atheist moms, in my own experience I’m not so certain. Many skeptics refuse to accept that once can be skeptical and still conclude that Christianity is valid.

  44. ixnu

    @KC,

    It is not surprising to me that a fundamentalist minister would attempt to marry the rational and religious in a shotgun wedding. Islamic and Christian apologists emphasize that their respective holy books contain scientific truths that are only now being discovered.

    KC, if you believe that there is no barrier between the rational and the religious, then how was Christ born of a virgin? Please, without special pleading for your religion, explain how it can be proved AND disproved without invoking invisible entities or other closed systems of knowledge.

    And don’t count me among the many. I’m “skeptical” and I fully accept that Christianity can be valid in the sense that it is effective at creating meaning for many of its followers. In this respect all religions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Aztec mythology, are valid.

  45. quasidog

    I have read some posts regarding the Santa Claus thing that a asked about, but I haven’t read anything that I would regard as honest yet. ( I know people are being honest, I am just fishing for more) This is the thing that bugs me. When skeptically minded people pound the idea that truth is important, and deductive reasoning is good, but still apologise for lying to their kids. Let’s not beat around the bush. If you convince your child, or someone elses child that it was Santa that put the presents under the tree, or it was the tooth fairy that put the money there, or whatever …. it is a lie. A lie. Fullstop. It doesn’t do anyone any good to pretend it is not. Just because it is nice to have fun at Christmas (which I have no doubt that it is) does not give anyone the right to tell a lie about it.

    I just wonder why people can’t have everything else that it may offer, like the fun, and presents, and family (which are all great) but leave out the parts that are lies. Why is it so important to perpetuate this small myth to kids as a real thing. Why not just include it into Christmas, but be clear to young minds about it, that Santa is completely made up, regarding how he is portrayed today. I just don’t see why the tradition of Santa has to be told to kids as if it was true. There is no point.

    Why not just still have Santa, but promote it as a story, of fiction. Or refer to the man it was supposed to be about in the original, celtic versions. After all he is supposed to be based on a real person in history. It just seems to me like a conflict of interest to be all high and mighty about skepticism and truth, but at the same time perpetuate lies to kids.

    I understand it is good for kids to think critically and work it out for themselves, but surely their is plenty of subjects they can do that with. Why does that make it ok to tell your kids a lie ? If a kid asks if he is real, and you say he is, or even suggest that maybe he is, it is a lie. I am still bugged by this, probably always will be.

  46. quasidog

    … yes I didn’t put a ? at the end of any of those questions …. doh … sorry.

  47. Tim G

    Maybe telling your kids about Santa Claus isn’t too bad. They’ll learn that they can potentially be indoctrinated and in the future they’ll absorb ideas cum grano salis.

    I was always skeptical of Santa Claus myself. When I heard a rumor in kindergarten that he may not exist, I thought to myself, “Yeah. He probably doesn’t. He was a bit too good to be true.” Maybe that was due to more of my cynical side than skeptical side, but I didn’t think Santa would be so tacky as to leave price tags on presents (my parents sure would have been). Since I loved numbers, not too much later I calculated the average time Santa would have spent in each household. The result pretty much killed Santa.

  48. kuhnigget

    @ quasidog:

    ” Let‚Äôs not beat around the bush. If you convince your child, or someone elses child that it was Santa that put the presents under the tree, or it was the tooth fairy that put the money there, or whatever ‚Ķ. it is a lie.”

    Please see my earlier comment, for an attempt to explain. Fiction is not “a lie.” It is fiction. A story might be fictional in regards to plot, but convey a great truth about human nature, the world we live in, and life in general. There is more “truth” in Crime and Punishment than in many history or psychology books.

    I would hate to see children deprived of such a powerful medium for learning about the world around them. That is why fairy tales are so universal, and so powerful.

    Yes, I suppose if a parent continually insisted upon the real existence of Santa Claus, long after the fictional medium had been outgrown, I’d say there was a problem. But to deny a child the magic and power of fiction because it’s “a lie”? Oh dear. That would be a sad, sad child.

  49. kuhnigget

    BTW, I figured out Santa wasn’t real long before kindergarten. I have a vivid memory of me sitting in school in January, being a snotty little brat (go figure), and responding with a loud hoot when a little classmate blurted out, “I heard Santa come down the chimney!”

  50. quasidog

    @ kuhnigget ….. yeah mate I see your point and I was not talking about anyone specifically. I love fiction. I buy fictional things for my nephew. Fiction is great for the imagination. I am not arguing against fiction. Fiction has its place. What I am arguing against, is when some people take that fiction, and make out that it is true. Sure it might be fun to have the fiction of Santa Claus and whatever in the holiday. I see that. I see why it would be fun for kids.

    I am against however, parents that take the fiction, and make it so real to their children, that the children can’t see it as fiction. That is where is is blurry for me. If I tell a kid a story about Snow White, but then I suggest that it actually happened, I am taking something fun, and fictional for a child, and turning into a reality for that child. It is the lack of definition of fiction vs reality that bugs me with this issue. I have seen so many parents use the threats of ‘ if you dont behave Santa will not bring you gifts’ and such … and parents many times (usually run by church groups) teach their kids the Santa story as if it was fact. My point is that it may be fine to have fiction, but a child needs to know its fiction. If you teach fiction … and leave the child knowingly thinking it is fact … you have told the child a lie. I don’t see how this could be any clearer. It is a pretty simple concept.

    I love fiction … because it is fiction. I will teach my child to keep a place for fiction, but to differentiate that completely with what is fact. I reckon that is a basic and solid foundation for a child to develop clear and rational thinking abilities. I agree some kids might work it out, but that is not the case for most. The fact I copped so much dirt for not believing in Santa reminds of this .. heheh :)

  51. Holli

    Quasidog, I don’t lie to my son. The first he knew of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or any of that was from other sources(books, mostly), and they got the same treatment from me that ghosts, zombies, gods, dragons and fairies got. “No, it’s not real, but it’s a fun story!” For him, everything is based on reality, and it’s not just because of me and my husband. He’s anxious and eager to know the real world; he wants to know how things work and whether the things he sees are real or not. He has no fear of the supernatural, either. He sleeps in a dark room with his closet door hanging open most nights and his bedroom door closed. And he sleeps well! We are completely straightforward with him, even about death. He knows that when people die, their bodies are just empty meat that would rot if it wasn’t dealt with–and he knows about burial and cremation, too.
    And in spite of what my mom said (over and over), this has not done a darned thing to reduce his childish joy in the world. He loves stories of the supernatural, he LOVES christmas (duh! presents!! that’s what it’s all about, after all!) and he loves learning about the world. He just does it with realistic expectations.
    Holli

  52. quasidog

    @ Holli …

    Cool. That is what I am getting at. I knew I wasn’t alone. :) hehe That is great.

  53. quasidog

    @ Cheyenne

    Way back you asked what a definition of a ‘skeptic’ is. I am using it in the sense of someone holding a skeptic viewpoint or attitude to most things that cannot be discerned or measured by application of a/the scientific method. I am mainly posing the questions to those that embrace a strong skeptical viewpoint with most issues that are fuzzy with data and facts and heavy on faith or belief. I am sure there are other definitions depending on other uses of the word. I am not really referring to those.

  54. KC

    Ixnu:

    Given the proposition that you have a being that created the entire universe, why is it irrational to accept the same being cannot do whatever He pleases? Is it not rational to acknowledge that he could? The question then becomes not *if* He could, but *did* He? Why did you think Joseph wanted to quietly divorce Mary? He knew very well that virgin births wasn’t the natural order of things. It’s also why it took an extraordinary event to convince him otherwise.

    This is an odd blind spot in “rationalism,” the assumption is that the atheist viewpoint is the only valid one. A devout atheist is closer to a devout Fundamentalist Christian than perhaps either would be willing to admit.

    As it happens, the responses so far have pretty much underscored my argument. Note that every one so far argues that religious belief cannot be rational. Yet whether one believes in religion or not, neither C.S. Lewis or, for a contemporary example, Billy Graham are irrational men. The only way to argue that position is to accept as a given that religious belief cannot be rational while never considering that it might.

    That doesn’t strike me as being a rational thought process. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I think there isn’t a true skeptics movement.

  55. kuhnigget

    @ quasi

    “My point is that it may be fine to have fiction, but a child needs to know its fiction.”

    I think that’s cool…at the right time. But you’ve got to wait until they’re ready. Young children see the world a little differently than adults. Their brains don’t differentiate between fact and fiction. To a very young child, it simply doesn’t matter whether or not Snow White is real or just a fictional character. From a child’s p.o.v. the distinction doesn’t count. What matters is the story itself. That’s just the way a young child’s brain is wired. At that stage, learning is all about make believe, pretending, role-playing. Cardboard boxes aren’t really airplanes or transmogrifiers, but they are when the child is inside of one using her imagination. And that’s what a young brain needs at that age, not a strictly adult sensibility about “truth.”

    That’s all I’m getting at.

    @ Ixnu

    You answered your own question.

    “Why did you think Joseph wanted to quietly divorce Mary? He knew very well that virgin births wasn‚Äôt the natural order of things. It‚Äôs also why it took an extraordinary event to convince him otherwise.”

    As is repeated in this blog and its comments numerous times, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” It’s not that “rational” atheists (unless driven by other issues) are being pig-headed, it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be any “extraordinary evidences” or “events” around to suggest the theistic case might be a reasonable possibility.

    Religious mythology doesn’t count. Evidence does. Testable evidence.

    As to C.S. Lewis, et al, I would suggest that it is entirely possible for people to hold rational beliefs and irrational beliefs at the same time. I suspect that a majority of the human population could be lumped into that category.

  56. ixnu

    @KC,

    Given YOUR proposition that an all-powerful being can do whatever he pleases, including the ability to erase thoughts, reverse time, and ignore causality, then it is rational to conclude that human rationality is not possible. The mention of God does not destroy rational discussion, it ends it.

    In this sense, you can not possibly claim that I hold rationalism as the only valid viewpoint. I am a live and truthful human with kids who recognizes the value that others have in religion. I stand fully willing to accept a religion (and teach it to my kids as true) if anyone can convincingly demonstrate that his holy book is without flaw.

    KC writes “As it happens, the responses so far have pretty much underscored my argument. Note that every one so far argues that religious belief cannot be rational.” You must include your own comments in this criticism! You complain of rationalism’s “odd blind spot” when you completely ignored my question. I’m asking you to demonstrate what you have claimed. I will ask you again: please rationally explain how Jesus’ virgin birth can be UNIQUELY proved AND disproved. If no evidence or logic can disprove it, it is not a question that can be discussed in rational terms. Rational discussion of any premise can’t start with the assumption that the premise is true. You have assumed that there is an all-powerful being who can do whatever he wants and therefore he *could possibly* do what you claim. This is not rational explanation; it is begging the question.

    Let me demonstrate:
    Assume all-powerful being…the question then becomes not *if* He could, but *has* the messianic figure al-Mahdi, who is an infallible male descendant of Muhammad, been born but has disappeared and we await his return to fill the world with justice. On your terms, I have now rationally explained why Shia Islam is “a valid religion.” It is less than a minor point that Sunnis reject this “valid” explanation.

    KC, I respect your views and I would defend your right to worship with my life, but you have not supported your position and have cast atheists as fundamentalist. Moreover, you claim that there is no “true” skeptic movement, and perhaps you are correct, but let me end my comments with a quotation:

    ‚ÄúThere was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.‚ÄĚ – Nietzsche

  57. kuhnigget

    Oops. the last part of my previous post should have been aimed at KC, not Ixnu. Appypollyloggies.

  58. Yu Mi

    Wow, you people need to lighten up.

    Perhap in your own childhood toilet training was a little too strict.

  59. quasidog

    @ kuhnigget

    … yeah I see what you mean about young minds and imagination, yet I don’t have the same outlook with regards to how a child deals with fact and fiction. I see a difference between imagination and story telling, and when a child asks a question. When a child asks ” Mum … is Santa real?” ….we are not in the realm of imagination any more. A question like that is usually a request for a truthful answer. Children have just as much ability to ask a question as they do to have an imagination, I reckon they can do it both at the same time. So when a question like that is asked, the answer is important. A parent may say .. maybe ( which is a grey area)… or no … and that would be the truth. If the parent says yes … its a lie. The thing is, when I was a child ( I have good memories from age 3) I did want answers to things, but I also had a good imagination. The two didn’t conflict. Knowledge of the truth about Santa did nothing to diminish my imagination. I think children deserve more credit with what they can and can’t discern about their world around them, and their world within.

  60. kuhnigget

    @ quasi:

    I buy that. If a child is the one who asks, by all means the truth should out. But I don’t think parents should be hung up from day one about “telling their children lies,” when in fact the “lies” are compelling stories laden with meaning. I think forcing “truth” onto children who are yet at a stage where they are learning equally well from a perfectly healthy mix of fact and fiction is neither beneficial nor particularly helpful.

    Ho ho ho! (He says, mimicking that jolly old non-entity.)

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