Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Does Dawkins base his "religion is child abuse" argument on one letter?

No, he doesn't. He bases it on intuition. It can't be wrong if it feels so right. 

Richard Dawkins: That is of course true. And I am not basing it on that. It seems to me that telling children, such that they really, really believe, that people who sin are going to go to hell, and roast forever, forever, that your skin grows again when it peels off from burning, it seems to me to be intuitively entirely reasonable that that is a worse form of child abuse, that it will give more nightmares, that will give more genuine distress, if they don’t believe it its not a problem, of course.

What does the evidence say? This. 



13 comments:

B. Prokop said...

Dawkins's "intuition" should not surprise anyone. It echoes what fellow atheist Hitchens wrote about his own path to godlessness:

Nine year old Hitchens: I simply knew, almost as if I had privileged access to a higher authority, that my teacher [in asserting that the world was designed] had managed to get everything wrong.

Anyone else see a pattern here?

Jezu ufam tobie!

John Moore said...

It's just a handy principle that children should be encouraged to discover for themselves and not rely on authority.

Of course it's hard for young children because it takes a lot of time and effort to discover things themselves, so for practical reasons children tend to accept what their trusted authority figures say. With time, they tend to grow out of that.

But again, it's a good principle for adults to encourage children to discover for themselves, as soon as it's practical for them to do so.

Victor Reppert said...

But this happens automatically in our culture. It's called adolescence. Shoot, even the Amish give their kids the chance to experience the outside world before choosing to stay in the Amish community.

We did present our religious beliefs to our kids as true without all sorts of disclaimers that they have to check this out for themselves. But why should we do a thing like that?

I learned a Republican political viewpoint from my parents. Later, I rejected it and became a Democrat. My parents took me to church, but they didn't try to force me to believe anything. Why don't you ask Bill Murray (not the actor/comedian, but the son of Madalyn Murray O'Hair), how his mother took it when he became a Christian.

"One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times. He is beyond human forgiveness."

John Moore said...

One can rebel against authority by pledging allegiance to an opposing authority. Ha! How perverse is that. It sounds like Bill Murray's mom was too overbearing, and he needed to escape from that and find his own path.

You can't force kids to be free-thinkers, just as you can't force them to be sincere Christians. All you can do is let them know that you'll keep loving them no matter what. So it sounds like Madalyn Murray O'Hair was as bad a Dawkins-style "child abuser" as anybody in the rural Bible belt.

Legion of Logic said...

As a resident of the rural Bible belt, I find Dawkins to be quite funny here.

Ilíon said...

"No, he doesn't. He bases it on intuition. It can't be wrong if it feels so right."

So, do you think Dawkins' favorite song goes something like this: If [hatin'] you is wrong, I don't wanna be ri-i-i-ght.

Ilíon said...

"You can't force kids to be free-thinkers, just as you can't force them to be sincere Christians."

So, the ol' "you're just a Christian because you were born in the west" gambit is a pseudo-argument?

Gosh! Whodda thunk?

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Does Dawkins base his "religion is child abuse" argument on one letter?"

No.

And we can see this by looking at what he says in the interview you quoted (which is not, btw, an argument, per se), "...I am not basing it on that. It seems to me that telling children, such that they really, really believe, that people who sin are going to go to hell, and roast forever, forever, that your skin grows again when it peels off from burning, it seems to me to be intuitively entirely reasonable..."

It seems to me from your writing (and some other commenters here) that when one doesn't really understand evidence, and it's relationship to basic critical thinking, one doesn't know how to criticize those who do understand these things.



Legion of Logic said...

"when one doesn't really understand evidence, and it's relationship to basic critical thinking, one doesn't know how to criticize those who do understand these things."

So THAT'S why Harris and Dawkins say so many ridiculous things about religion. :)

Victor Reppert said...

It seems intuitively reasonable to suppose that people will fear the death penalty more than they fear life imprisonment. But we have crime statistics on this, and comparing similar jurisdictions that have, and do not have, the death penalty, these do not bear out the argument from deterrence (which, in all fairness, is probably the weakest of the pro-death penalty arguments).

It may seem intuitive that children who are taught the doctrine of hell might be harmed by it, but where is the statistical evidence?

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "It seems intuitively reasonable to suppose that people will fear the death penalty more than they fear life imprisonment. But we have crime statistics on this, and comparing similar jurisdictions that have, and do not have, the death penalty, these do not bear out the argument from deterrence...."

I completely agree.

VR: "It may seem intuitive that children who are taught the doctrine of hell might be harmed by it, but where is the statistical evidence?"

I don't think statistical evidence (do you mean psychological testing?) exists for this kind of thing, and that's partly because I don't know that one could reasonably research such a thing, and if one even should. How does one test for teaching a kind of doctrine of hell, and how seriously a child takes that threat?

All Dawkins is doing is wondering aloud why it's considered okay to psychologically traumatize children if the reasons are religious, but not okay if the reasons are based on something else. We don't consider it okay to send 5 year olds to violent R-Rate movies, nor allow them to watch pornography, nor be exposed to violent video games, etc. And yet society has largely deemed these things harmful to children, and we discourage people from doing them. That's what Dawkins is asking -- why do the darker sides of religious traditions get to avoid the stigma (and scrutiny) society imposes on similar practices that we deem inappropriate for children?





Victor Reppert said...

What Dawkins is talking about is a way of teaching the doctrine of hell to children which has pretty much disappeared from the Christian churches even amongst those who believe in damnation. But he thinks that any identification of a child religiously is abusive, even where hell is not concerned. If his worry is traumatization, why does he say this?

He also downplays the effects of sexual abuse on children, which is VERY well documented. Where is his insistence on the importance of evidence here? I hate to call Dawkins a science denier, well, actually I did call him one.

Cal Metzger said...

The best version I can make of your argument is that 1) very few people traumatize children with stories about hell, and 2) lots of people still sexually abuse children, so 3) if one wants to reduce the abuse of children one should focus on sexual abuse.

I agree (without knowing this) that it seems more likely that more children are harmed by sexual abuse than they are traumatized by stories about hell. And, assuming that I'm correct in summarizing your argument, I completely agree.

VR: "He also downplays the effects of sexual abuse on children, which is VERY well documented. Where is his insistence on the importance of evidence here? I hate to call Dawkins a science denier, well, actually I did call him one."

Well, no. This takes nuanced thinking. Dawkins suggested that SOME kinds of psychological abuse could be worse than SOME kinds of physical, sexual abuse.* And he brought this up, I think, because there is currently so much focus worldwide on the sexual abuse, by clergy, of children, and that the revulsion we feel about this physical abuse could diminish our awareness of some psychological abuse that SOME children experience as a result of their religious indoctrination. You might think this somehow results in more children suffering from sexual abuse than would otherwise have, but I don't see why this would be the case.

* This shouldn't be hard to understand. Imagine someone who had a foot fetish, who tied a child's shoe and was sexually aroused by doing this, but that the child was unaware of all this. This would classify, I think, as a kind of sexual abuse, but if you can't imagine that this abuse would be less traumatizing to a child than other kinds of physical abuse, or some other kind of psychological abuse, then I don't suppose you will ever understand the point that Dawkins was making.

VR: "I hate to call Dawkins a science denier, well, actually I did call him one."

I think it's odd that you'd believe that thinking out loud -- suggesting something that on examination could turn out not to be correct -- is a way of denying science. If that were the case, there would be no science.