Dawkins vs. Dogma vs. Killer J

My buddy Ryan posted this video of Richard Dawkins, who contends religious faith is a virus that infects the young.  Dawkins asks, “Isn’t it weird we automatically label a tiny child with its parent’s religion?  We don’t label children with a political party, as they are too young to understand and yet we talk about Catholic kids, Jewish kids, Muslim kids, etc.”  Here are some more points he made:

1) Children are isolated based on their faith, differences are drilled in to them and they embark on different life trajectories.  This creates intolerance. 

2) For Darwinian reasons, a child’s brain is set up to do what it is told by its elders.  There just isn’t time for a child to experiment with warnings like “Don’t go to near the cliff’s edge.”  Any child that applies a scientific, skeptical attitude to that would be dead.  In effect, children are brainwashed by religion.

I agree with some of what he says.  I find it bizarre watching a four year old bear “his testimony” while his mother whispers what to say in his ear.  There is no way this preschooler knows what the word “transgression” means as he clumsily lisps the word through his missing front teeth.  It’s really cute, but not very believable.

I do have some contention with parts of Dawkins documentary, as well as a question maybe you can answer.  I’ll start with my contentions, but be sure to answer my question at the end.  I want to know what you think.

I contend Dawkins assertion that faith is a virus.  Faith is a basic human need, and is utilized by theists and atheists alike to achieve well being.  The course one takes in meeting that need is where people diverge.  Faith, therefore, is not the problem.  Being a dip shit is the problem.

Religion provides a strong value set that leads people towards having convictions about what is right or wrong.  This undoubtedly causes the spineless “everybody’s okay” crowd some consternation, but most people with a backbone have some beliefs that distinguish right from wrong.  In fact, I’d say most religious values unquestionably align with the majority of atheistic value sets.  Some values fall in the gray area, while just a few theistic values are outright rejected by atheists.

Also, the divide between theists and atheists isn’t as vast as Dawkins makes it out to be.  From what I’ve observed, the majority of atheists and theists have huge problems with extremist behavior of religious wackos, such as Islamic terrorists, abortion clinic bombers, and the Westboro Baptist Church that would protest at funerals. These pricks are the exception, not the rule.

Finally, Dawkins points out violent, Old Testament scripture and shows exerpts of fire-and brimstone evangelicals haranguing on about sinful lesbians as proof of the theist’s psychological instability and moral inconsistency.  I say that Dawkins must keep in mind religion is man’s interpretation of God’s commands, and is, therefore, subject to misinterpretation and corruption.  Religion is man passing down God’s word, and since man is imperfect, the original word may be subject to corruption and distortion.  Religious dogma and faith in God can be seen as close cousins, but ultimately separated by the metaphysical boundary.  My point? One can believe in God and not buy in to craziness, even if the craziness is passed off as “God’s word.”

If you managed to get through this long post, I have a question relating to Dawkin’s assertion.  Is it possible for a believer to raise their children according to their theistic values while simultaneously allowing their children to generate their own belief system?

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10 thoughts on “Dawkins vs. Dogma vs. Killer J

  1. An excellent question.

    I guess it depends on how dogmatic the parents are. Can you teach children to accept the dogmas of faith, yet also teach them to not be dogmatic? There’s always this thin line to you have to do, it seems. I’ve noticed that the more hard-lined you are with children, they seem to rebel in their teenage years. So how can you do it? I think a good way to do it is to try to imagine raising a child in your faith, but if that child later on rejects the faith and decides to hold on to a different faith, or even no faith at all. If you can see yourself doing that, then maybe that’s a way in how one can raise children to be believers of their faith, yet to remain independent. Can one really do that? I think so.

    In terms of beliefs, there have been philosophers that have had different approaches to it:

    X is false and it is wrong to believe in x. This tradition stems from Socrates, Hume, and W. K. Clifford. In some sense, I agree with this when it comes to scientific principles. If you honestly believe that the earth is 6000 years old, then you are wrong for holding that belief. When something is wrong, there is always an “ought” behind it. Thus, you ought not to hold that belief. Dawkins is following that same tradition. He finds all religions false, therefore is it wrong to believe in them. By the way, Dawkins considers all religions a meme, which is why it’s so predominant in the world.
    X is false, but it’s not wrong to believe in x. This tradition stems from the pragmatists, namely William James. I think when it comes to religion, most people hold on to this, even if it isn’t your faith. For example, a Mormon meets a Buddhist, but I doubt either one would say that the other’s faith is wrong to believe in.

    I think it’s interesting that most people hold on to either one of those in various topics. I know many people that say that number (1) holds to for politics, but I also know many people that say number (2) is best for politics. In terms of science, I know many people who hold for number (1), but also for number (2), (call me arrogant, but when it comes to science, it is number (1)).

    It seems that the more abstract the idea becomes, the more people go for number (2). But I’ve noticed that when people hold onto number (1) when it comes to abstract principles, they either (a) are an expert at that field, or (b) has a really strong conviction in their belief.

    With your question too, Dawkins holds that religion is intrinsically wrong. So for him, no matter what you do and no matter how nice you are, religion is always wrong, mainly because it’s false. Based on your picture and your writings, I’m willing to bet that you’ll say that religion can be wrong, but not necessarily. It only becomes wrong when the people use it in the wrong way. Thus, religion is a tool, and tools can be helpful or it can destroy. Thus, religion is an instrumental thing.

    So back to your original question, I think it’s possible to teach children to come up with their own belief system, but only if the parents instill either (1) or (2) (or maybe both depending on the issue) into the children’s knowledge system. Also, I think the main thing to teach children (well, basically anybody) is this principle: I believe in x, but if someone can show me that x is false, I’ll gladly listen.

  2. I like this blog.
    To your question, I think yes and no.
    You can instill values and religions beliefs and teach your kids when they’re old enough to find their own truth, but with how you retain stuff from being a child, do you think that you would stray too far from your original beliefs? You know it is one thing to go from like luthern to morman or babtist to catholic because they are all christianity but its another to stray from chrisitianity to judism or jehovah witness.
    Can you ever really stray from your core ‘taught’ beliefs and not in turn feel uncomfortable?

  3. If you let Dawkins talk enough, he’ll eventually come back against his own position. All it takes is Ben Stein interviewing him for a documentary to show that this is the case.

    To answer your question: Yes. If parents raise their children to value independence and critical thinking. Those two traits will invariably force that child to inspect their faith, to search it for flaws or contradictions. Furthermore, good Christians, or any religious followers for that matter, should apply a healthy dose of skepticism and criticism to their own faiths as well.

    And to provide some religious insight on the matter. The Old Testament needs to be taken in context. Some pastors and atheists don’t do that. They take one or two verses and grossly over-exaggerate it. Instead of looking at how it fits into the entirety of the context. Do I know why God commanded the Israelites to destroy entire peoples? No. The bible suggests it was punishment for their sins, and since I’m not a 7th century BC Hebrew, I can’t really make a definitive statement on what was occurring at the time.

    • I agree about your assertion that religious folks should apply a healthy dose of skepticism and criticism to their faith. Unquestioned faith seems a little block headed to me, and less solid than faith that has been put through the rigors of objective thought.

  4. I think that’s the main reason people with faith usually don’t want to introduce skepticism or critical thinking to their kids. By doing so, it seems to undermine the faith.

    It seems like there’s two options from the parents point of view: introduce skepticism and critical thinking, but run the risk of them losing their faith when their older, or have no skepticism so that they will always be faithful, but then they run the risk of extreme fundamentalism. Sadly, parents seem to choose the latter but they forget (intentionally?) about the consequences of having kids without critical thinking skills.

    I think logic should be taught in high school and make it required for at least one year.

  5. Which is interesting given that blind faith, that is to say faith untested, is a bad thing.

    It also boils down to a defensive mechanism, I think. Many scientists, philosophers, writers, and others attack religion. It makes it incredibly difficult for a Christian, or any religious person, to be active in the process of scientific inquiry, reason or philosophical debate because their position is immediately written off as foolish. Even something similar is dismissed (look at those who believe in intelligent design). Why engage in those processes if it isn’t going to be fair and unbiased?

    It’s rather sad that everything has come to this point. Owing to the fact that modern science has its base in Christianity and the early church was full of philosophers and apologists. Sir Isaac Newton studied the world around him, because he believed that it was created by God, and therefore would have logical rules and patterns that could be observed and understood.

    I agree with Shaun that logic should be taught, along with debate. I get so tired of personal attacks and appeals to emotion when I try to debate somebody.

  6. First Idiot is Mr. Holy british Biologe!
    1. Holy Sperma of Mr. Dawkins!
    2. British Biology of Birth Jesus Christ!
    3. Maria are Dawkins Mother!
    4. Dawkins are Jesus Brother!
    5. God is Dawkins Father!
    6. Jesus is british Atheist of Biology!
    7. Holy Jesus Birth of britih Biology!

    Atheist 100%!!!

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