Sunday, 13 November 2011

On Indoctrination

Part of this post is inspired by my continuing journey from 'weak' atheism to 'strong' atheism, which is continuing apace as I attempt to logically justify the things I've come to believe. This will be the subject of another post, to come probably sooner rather than later.

It's a fairly standard line in the skeptical community: indoctrination is bad. We give religious communities all kinds of flak for indoctrinating their children, and for good reasons, given that in the absence of evidence, or even logical sense, indoctrination is the only way that religion continues to survive.

But of course, we try to be as intellectually honest as we can, and we try to avoid double standards, and so we hold ourselves to the same expectations. I see many posts by atheist parents who talk about how their children we allowed the benefit of a choice, who were given all the information, and who have, far more often than not, chosen non-belief. All this is, of course, fantastic.

Recently, however, I've been wondering if 'indoctrination' is a word that applies to the teaching of atheism to children. It is, logically and scientifically, the standpoint that's most likely to be true - and I do realize that the religious will say the same thing about their viewpoint, but please bear with me.

I now see the non-existence of god as a fact - I cannot justify this, but it's how I think. Given that, how is the teaching of atheism to my child indoctrination? I also intend to teach him/her that the sun is fusing hydrogen into helium, that evolution is true, and that physical activity is good for you. None of these things are viewed as indoctrination - because they're all simply, indisputably, true. It's not indoctrination to pass on facts.

And lately, as far as I'm concerned, the fact is that god does not exist.

This is, I realize, a risky position for me to hold. I cannot fully justify this belief. But at the same time, I cannot fully justify my believe that centaurs do not, and never have, existed. It's the outright, worldwide lack of evidence for centaurs, along with the physiological improbability of them, that causes my belief that they do not exist - and the same is true of god. There is not, nor has there ever been, a speck of credible evidence for god, and his existence would flatly contradict our entire knowledge of physics. He is, to put it shortly, so unlikely to actually exist that the probability is a number indistinguishable from zero.

The gist of all this is that I plan to teach my child that he or she is growing up surrounded by people who believe a myth, as well as all the various reasons why they believe it. I intend to teach the non-existence of god with the same certainty as I will teach mathematics, physics, chemistry - and so on. As simple fact. And I do not consider this indoctrination.

I'm still working through the implications of this. It's true that I'm setting myself up in a double standard - the religious consider the existence of god to be a fact in this exact same way, and I still think of that as indoctrination. The rising tide of atheism belies this point of view, however. Their certainty is based on myth and faith. Ours is based on science, evidence, and logic. It is, in short, a defensible position, where theirs is not, and it shows in the reams of people abandoning the church.

This is not to say that, should my child ultimately reject this point of view and become some kind of religious fundamentalist, I would abandon them. They are, as ever, free to choose, and I do intend to present all points of view. But I intend to also teach that one point of view is fact, and the rest are myth. Should my child turn his/her back on science and embrace religious fundamentalism, it would undoubtedly cause strain on the relationship, but I would not turn my back. I do, however, consider this outcome highly unlikely, for the reasons listed above. A mind trained to accept reality as it is, and to evaluate facts and claims based on evidence, is unlikely to start to accept fairy tales on faith.

I'm eager for feedback on this. Am I committing a fallacy? Would I be doing my child a disservice? Or would I merely be teaching the ability to see reality as it actually is, without unneeded religious filters? I think it's the best way to go, but outside perspective on my ideas is something that, as a free-thinking individual, I crave. Anyone?


  1. I don't have children, and so someone will likely consider me naive or whatever, but I feel like the best way is to be honest about your personal beliefs, don't hide them, but also ask questions, and teach about the history of ALL religions, discuss them, laugh at them, look at the things about them that make sense and may speak to a child, and just *immerse* them in culture and history. Science and art and music and world history will create a balance of knowledge. That's not indoctrination, that's education. And if some day, one of those religions speaks to the child, they will at least have the backdrop of knowing that there are many answers out there for many people, and it will be a personal choice. They will understand that their "way" is not the only way. Some people NEED to believe in something like a god or a personal spirit. If your child is one of them, you can't change that. But odds are, the more they know, the more they will realize the purpose and origins of man-made religion, and they won't need it, because they will have so much more. Understanding.

  2. Scary thot, friend, for once you go under and bot-the-dust (past tense of BITE), you'll find our indelible soul lives fo'eva. Whoops. Nadda lotta prob. Here's why --- Because you’re ignorant on how to rise above the whorizontal and one-outta-one shall croak sometime, somewhere soon, God has set-up this magnificent feature on the Way either Upstairs or downtown: the Warning. Everyone, me, too, living on this planet will see and feel the Warning lasting about 20ish minutes, showing U.S. a gorgeous picture of Heaven, Purgatory (depending whether our sins demand a greater punishment before being allowed into the Great Beyond), and dagnasty Hell. Remember, God doesn’t condemn; we condemn ourselves by our sinful lifestyles of unbelief. The Warning’s just a wake-up call. Don’t believe me? Guhroovy. You will soon. God bless you with discernment.

  3. I don't find it scary at all, for the simple reason that I can't see why I should believe it's true. There is, simply put, no evidence for your claims. All the evidence points in the other direction - that consciousness is merely a product of the complexity of our brains. No brain, no consciousness, and therefore no afterlife.

    People make claims all the time, on all kinds of things. I choose which claims to believe, or disregard, based on the strength of evidence behind them. This is how we sort fact from fiction; the word for people who do not use this process is 'gullible'. The difference between you and I is that I have applied my skepticism to the area of religion - and you have not. You take it on 'faith', when there are likely so very many areas in your life when faith simply isn't enough in order to believe a claim.

    As far as I'm concerned, every religious story - including those of Christianity - are merely man-made fiction. You post comes off, to me, as something that someone simply made up one day and is claiming without any evidence to back it up - and therefore, not something worth believing.

    Thank you for the comment, though. I do hope you come back, I'd love to start a discussion with you.