Saturday, May 12, 2007

On tabula rasa and tantamounts

In the lengthy Science and Religion thread on Thought Experiments, Rupe makes the following assertion about bringing children up within a religious faith:

But i agree, the force feeding of our kids with ideology before they have the ability to make up their own minds is tantamount to abuse.

This is one of Dawkins’s latest memes. Abuse is of course overstating it, but there is a sensible debate to be had somewhere here about the business of assuming that the children of Muslims must be Muslim and Catholics must beget further Catholics and so on.

Dawkins argues that we can no more justify this atttitude than we could an assumption that children should automatically be indoctrinated with their parents’ political views.

But on the other hand, children seek identity, and if parents believe in values, they will naturally want to pass them on. And it seems highly impractical to reverse the natural process of initial indoctrination followed by an embrace or rejection of the faith when the child reaches a sufficient maturity. The ease of this process of course varies enormously, but blank slates have never been a realistic proposition, have they?


Blogger Oroborous said...

If parents are highly religious, then they will believe that it's abuse to NOT indoctrinate the kids in religion.

It would be as if one had knowledge about how to get into Disneyland for free, but decided not to pass it on to the children.

May 12, 2007 9:49 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

To steal a comment from the linked poat, Anonymous wrote:

"I am often asked by my students the following questions; (1) is there a God? and (2) Do scientists believe in God?
They get told by me that

"(1) I believe that There Is, but that He supports Darwin and Dawkins, and that
(2) I don't know and have not known many scientists, especially physicists, who are atheists. The majority-atheists are biologists in my experience, which is odd. Can anybody explain why? As a Biochemist (there days, a sort of physicist I suppose) I cannot.

"Dawkins has never said (in my understanding of his work)that There Is No God. He has merely argued that the idea of a God is not necessary for evolution to work, nor for organised living beings to exist; their ultimate arrival depends only of physical laws prevalent everywhere (we think) to be true. this is all very well but what set "the six numbers" in the first place, more than 14 billion years ago? As a scientist I am quite happy with the proposition that God wants us to find out how to Know What Is In His Mind, in the end."

That seems about right, to me.

May 12, 2007 9:54 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

But children are indoctrinated in their parents' political beliefs, are they not? How else explain the high correlation between the generations.

While I think that indoctrinating children with superstition is impossible to justify logically, it is impossible to imagine how to prevent it.

We 'indoctrinate' them in language, manners, attitude toward regular work and much else.

Nationalism, for example. I have just started reading Huntington's 'Who Are We?', which seems to be about that. (And was amused by the dust jacket which lists the price as '$27, $39.95 in Canada,' without evident irony.)

It is a problem if the indoctrination leads to children who want to kill me, but that's not an exclusive outcome of religion.

May 12, 2007 10:44 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

I can't see any logical endpoint to this Dawkins meme except Lord of the Flies. After all, wouldn't be just as wrong to indoctrinate my child in to believing in human rights, the Golden Rule, and that politeness is good? Yet once again, despite his defenders, Dawkins demonstrates that when it comes to religion, he consistently avoids any serious consideration of what he is advocating. I just do not grasp why anyone views him as deep or meaningful thinker.

May 12, 2007 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indoctrinate into as a good ...or teaching &learning about?

Idoctrinating kids into many of these religions with their whatever bibles, korans, complex dark theologies, strict codes and consequences does equate with child abuse.

Think most would be better off with P a more general Deism, use of Reason, and teaching/forming a general code of conduct.

May 12, 2007 1:43 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Yes, well in Lilliput, the children were taken away from the parents at birth, partially to make sure they weren't indoctrinated by parents' silly ideas like religion, politics, manners, love, etc.

Seems like Dawkins would support such a thing. Does that make him a "small" thinker?

May 12, 2007 1:45 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...


In this case, normal teaching & learning about.

Just as with discipline, that can go too far. But not usually.


Ha !

May 12, 2007 2:12 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

So, SH, are you proposing that parents indoctrinating their children in, eg, hating Jews as a matter of religion is not abusive?

Can we agree that it is a bad idea?

May 12, 2007 3:22 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...


Think most [children] would be better off with P a more general Deism, use of Reason, and teaching/forming a general code of conduct.

But that's an ideology as well, to which Dawkins (according to this post) objects. Read the key quote again.

Mr. Eager;

I will agree that's bad. Do you think it's OK to teach judenhass if it is not religiously based?

May 12, 2007 6:09 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

No, but as far as I know, that's never happened.

May 13, 2007 12:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can we agree that it is a bad idea?

Sure, Harry.

Except that isn't what Dawkins and his groupies are saying and I'm surprised people aren't thinking through the practical implications here and seeing this as the hate-mongering it is. Opinions on what constitutes good and bad parenting are a dime a dozen. I think folks who deprive their little kids of the Santa myth are sad and misguided. I think parents who don't raise their kids to at least have an interest in and respect for religion are raising them two-dimensionally. Some parents spank, others don't and they all tend to have strong views about it. But it would never dawn on me to accuse any parent who disagreed with me on any of these of "abuse". That is a word that conjures up images of long term emotional damage that can't be resisted by even the hardiest child. It is a word that describes the day-to-day world of child protection authorities and family courts and it raises the spectre of losing a child or the intervention of the state to control his/her upbringing. Dawkins knows this. It is as much a war on the family as on religion.

Also, no one believes in anything called "religion". Let's be very clear about the significance of his argument. What he is saying is that a Jew who teaches his child the tenets of Judaism is abusing them, but that nobody can accuse him of anti-Semtitism because he would say the same about Christians and Hindus. And if Dawkins's idea takes widespread root, which it appears it is doing if you judge book sales and seminars and bloggers, religious parents caught in custody cases or in the sights of overly ideological young social workers are going to lose their children simply because they are religious. No further inquiry into what they actually believe or practice will be necessary. Yes, many folks will say: "Oh gosh, sure I used the word abuse, but I didn't mean that!" Sorry, too late.

May 13, 2007 2:43 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Mr. Eager;

Given the rampant judenhass in modern leftists, environmental, and Europe, that is not religiously based, you think that none of those people are passing that on to their children?

May 13, 2007 8:09 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Well, whatever Dawkins is saying, there are two separate questions: is indoctrination bad for the child (abuse); and is it bad for the world in general.

The answer to the first question is: sometimes but rarely and it depends on the content. The answer to the second is almost certainly yes, but a world where it doesn't happen is unimaginable so the question is purely academic.

May 13, 2007 8:52 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't agree that leftist etc. judenhass is not religiously based. Nobody worries about 'the eternal Canuck.'

And I'm not the one who wants to end the abuse -- which it clearly is, a lot of the time -- because, as Brit says, you couldn't.

You could, though, and we have, trained the superstitious to indoctrinate with a less poisonous poison.

Though not always. Beating children to death in a religious fervor (or at a holy camp) is still common. That formally non-religious nuts, like rebirthers, now wrap children in blankets and suffocate them in the name of superstition just shows that even the unChristian religious impulse is dangerous to young minds and bodies.

Is Dawkins implicitly attacking the family? The barely functional family, anyway. It would be ironic, to say the least, for an evolutionary biologist to attack the family.

I am reminded of one of my college roommates. His father disappeared, driven off by the wife's biblical mania, and my friend was a wreck. I knew the mother. There should be a Bad Mother's Day for people like her.

When I think of 'religious family,' that's the scene that pops into my mind.

May 13, 2007 9:38 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

If anyone fears that Dawkins's ideas are taking widespread root, then let me hasten to assure you that they are not, regardless of book sales.

There is a large minority of people who disbelieve in the concepts that Dawkins is attacking, and so they are natural supporters of his, although they may not be convinced about the specifics of what he's selling.

There is a further minority of people who belong to the groups that Dawkins is attacking, but who are willing to listen to his pitch, to see if there's any merit there.

So while Dawkins can attract a crowd, he's largely preaching to the choir, not converting society to that which he thinks of as "the better".

May 13, 2007 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, excuse some typos on previous comment.

What about Neuroscience re brain development and imbedding these layers of beliefs in the pathways?

Once done in developing years......

Indoctrination in religion and pumping in all the religious beliefs interferes with clear thinking.

It is a no wonder to many of us why archaic institutions do not seem to change for the better.

Deism is a more general form.
Children can learn a code of conduct. Children can learn how to think more rationally.

May 13, 2007 2:02 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Doubt that last.

The ability to think clearly is not part of the average human makeup. One survey found that only one person in eight could think critically about a belief he held, even when asked to do so.

We cannot make children or adults think more rationally. We could feed them less crap, though.

May 13, 2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Religion as a form of child abuse?

Hmmm. As a blanket statement, that seems over the top. Look at the particulars, though, and perhaps it is far less so.

Let's take circumcision. In as much as scarcely anyone old enough to form consent would agree to such a thing, it seems a clear cut assertion that imposing it upon an infant is a form of abuse, even with the antiseptic conditions of modern medicine. How many boys were irreparably deformed, or died of infection before they saw two months in the centuries of this barbaric practice?

Madrassas. Is abuse to subject children to such thoroughgoing indoctrination? That question can perhaps best be answered by the children who fall victim to the product of those breeding grounds for murderous absolutism.

anti-Judaism. I have just finished reading Constantine's Sword. Regardless of what one may think of the author's conclusions, the bill of particulars against Christianity constitutes probably the greatest stretch of religiously inspired immorality ever. While it may not have been abused Christian children to be steeped in such vile nonsense, it certainly abused heck out of untold numbers of Jewish children.

It isn't the inculcation of religious beliefs that is abuse; rather it is surrounding those beliefs with the certainty of Divinely Revealed Exclusive Truth.


Just out of curiosity, how much Dawkins have you read?

May 14, 2007 3:03 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

I read The Blind Watchmaker and I think one other shortly after that. I thought them well written.

May 14, 2007 1:58 PM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: Full marks for "Circumcision is child abuse. And so is anti-Judaism!"

May 18, 2007 2:38 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

A blanket statement calling the religious education of children child abuse is absurd and irresponsible, especially from anti-theists like Dawkins who have grown up in a religious culture and know many religious people who have grown up and thrived in a religious household. It is the mirror image of fundamentalist orthodoxy which holds doctrine to be the ultimate value above and beyond all interpersonal social values like love, respect, kindness, honor and decency. A child who is brought up within an environment of love and discipline and is given the physical, mental and emotional skills necessary to integrate with society and thrive has not been abused, no matter what metaphysical ideas have been placed in his head. It's as simple as that.

May 19, 2007 5:09 AM  
Blogger monix said...

Our household was made up of one Catholic parent and one Atheist, we've produced one recently unlapsed Catholic and one Dunnoist. Not very much abuse there, I think.

May 19, 2007 6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and one Dunnoist. Not very much abuse there, I think.

He sublimated it, monix, and is now abusing the reat of us non-stop. But, don't worry, I don't blame you, I blame your parents.

May 19, 2007 5:38 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

[that child] has not been abused, no matter what metaphysical ideas have been placed in his head.

What if that child is Hindu, and has been instructed in the divinely commanded caste system?

Or, if that child is Christian and has been instructed that all Jews are guilty of deicide (the Church's position until Vatican II)?

Alternatively, what if that child is Muslim, and has been instructed that all apostates need to be killed?

There are a great many vile religious ideas that, if they didn't have the Supreme Being Seal of Approval, would be considered an inexcusable abuse of young, impressionable minds.

Which raises the biggest quesion.

Why does the SBSA warrant a bye?

May 22, 2007 5:12 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

We all believe in things that we don't have direct experience with, or that we don't know enough about to make an informed opinion.

That's just how humans are.

So if people believe in God, that's human nature, and that belief may well be the one thing that they consider to be most important skill or concept to teach their kids.

We can't conflate "being human" and "abusive", or we might as well go straight to communal creches.

May 24, 2007 11:29 PM  

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