Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Dawkins and the Religion Petition

Update: at the insistence of several readers, please be advised that Dawkins has now repudiated his signature on that petition and asked that it be taken off. You can find that retraction in the comments below.

Update #2: Please read my open letter to Richard Dawkins, which I think brings the whole thing to an end. click here.

MikeGene responds to my post about his typology and offers some information I was completely unaware of. He points me to this petition, which Richard Dawkins has signed and is promoting on his website, as evidence that Dawkins does indeed favor coercion to stop religious belief:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.

In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians.


This I was completely unaware of, and I find it highly disturbing. And I agree with him, this is absolutely evidence that Dawkins does indeed favor coercion to try and stamp out religion. Let me make this clear: no government has the authority to decide what views they may teach to their children. Indeed, I would argue that the absolute last thing that any atheist wants to do is to encourage government to take such authority, because believe me, it’s a hell of a lot more likely that you’re gonna find it illegal to teach your beliefs than it is to make it illegal to teach someone else’s beliefs.

This proposal is every bit as noxious and totalitarian as a proposal from Christian reconstructionists that those who teach their children about witchcraft or atheism should be thrown in jail would be. Just imagine what you would have to do to actually enforce such a law. No one could take their children to church, which means you’d have to literally police the churches to make sure no children went in. Nor could they teach their children about religion at home, read the Bible with them, say prayers with them before they go to bed. The only way to enforce such a law would be to create a society that would make Orwell’s 1984 seem optimistic by comparison.

As far as I’m concerned, this pretty much removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people. The atheist dystopia he seems to favor is no less appalling than the Christian dystopia favored by people like RJ Rushdoony. Both seek to make government the enforcer of their ideological views, to punish those who believe differently or dare to advocate those views. I cannot abide totalitarians of any stripe.

Comments

  1. #1 Soldats
    December 29, 2006

    We should be fine if we just keep him away from Mr(s). Garrison.

  2. #2 Raging Bee
    December 29, 2006

    Atheists have been going on a lot lately about how horrible it is to teach kids about religion. It’s starting to remind me of an earlier era, when intolerant Christians forcibly took Native American kids away from their “Heathen savage” parents to ensure that they would not grow up in darkness, damned to Hell for not having heard the Word of God. They were, of course, thinking of nothing but the best interests of the children. It’s the same bigotry, the same simpleminded intolerance of differing views, and the same desire to completely liquidate any society or family that stands outside the “right” ideology.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    I agree completely, Raging Bee. And atheists, of all people, ought to know better. Give that power to a government that panders to the religious right and they sure as hell aren’t gonna like the outcome.

  4. #4 Ebonmuse
    December 29, 2006

    While I think it would be a terrible idea to try to prevent parents from teaching their kids about religion (and how would such a law be enforced, anyway?), I notice this petition doesn’t make any special exceptions for atheism. Would it affect your opinion, Ed, if Dawkins was of the belief that indoctrinating children in atheism would be just as bad as indoctrinating them in some religion?

  5. #5 Gretchen
    December 29, 2006

    Is there a way to confirm that Dawkins has actually signed this petition? I mean, I see his name there….but a) one would think somebody could easily sign it for him, and b) there is sure to be at least more than one Richard Dawkins living in England.

  6. #6 Will E.
    December 29, 2006

    As a fan of Dawkins’s newest work as well as of the newfound prominence of several public atheists like Sam Harris, this is indeed quite off-putting. Doesn’t Dawkins realize that exposure to religion is often capable of turning folks *into* atheists? Certainly worked for me. Don’t *not* teach kids religion, just teach it to them neutrally. Like Penn Jillette says, “Read the bible. Become an atheist.”

  7. #7 steve s
    December 29, 2006

    It would be a good thing if people didn’t indoctrinate their kids into religion. It would be a worse thing to try to have governments enforce this, however.

  8. #8 Chris F.
    December 29, 2006

    Raging Bee: Are atheists *really* going on a lot lately about how horrible it is to teach kids about religion? Indoctrination in is different from teaching about. Even Richard Dawkins has a relatively lengthy section in the God Delusion about the christian bible as a literary work and its value from that perspective. He even (IIRC) slightly bemoans the fact that hardly anyone knows what’s really in the bible. I wouldn’t take this as an endorsement of “how horrible it is to teach kids about religion.”

    As for Ed’s original point, I agree with him, though. As lame as I think it is that parents indoctrinate their kids, I can’t imagine the carnage that would occur if we asked government to step in to help us manage this.

  9. #9 GH
    December 29, 2006

    While I think the principle behind what the petition is saying is more than sound, I think this particular idea is just silly and stupid.

    I don’t agree with this though:

    The atheist dystopia he seems to favor is no less appalling than the Christian dystopia favored by people like RJ Rushdoony

    One seeks to indoctrinate into kids a particular brand of superstition the other seeks to let them choose when they are old enough to do so. I don’t see a parallel.

    They were, of course, thinking of nothing but the best interests of the children

    The difference again is that they where causing real world harm for a belief with no basis in reality. Just because you believe jibberish doesn’t mean your hearts in the right place when you see it causing harm.

    I don’t think any government should tell people what to teach their kids. Which is of course why this crap will be going on long after any of us exist.

  10. #10 Rich
    December 29, 2006

    Care to contextualize this with Popper’s concept of historicism, Ed?

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Ebonmuse wrote:

    Would it affect your opinion, Ed, if Dawkins was of the belief that indoctrinating children in atheism would be just as bad as indoctrinating them in some religion?

    Absolutely not. The government simply has no legitimate authority to make any such laws, period.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Gretchen wrote:

    Is there a way to confirm that Dawkins has actually signed this petition? I mean, I see his name there….but a) one would think somebody could easily sign it for him, and b) there is sure to be at least more than one Richard Dawkins living in England.

    The fact that he is promoting the petition on his webpage seems like a pretty good indicator that he did sign it and does support it.

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    GH wrote:

    One seeks to indoctrinate into kids a particular brand of superstition the other seeks to let them choose when they are old enough to do so. I don’t see a parallel.

    They were, of course, thinking of nothing but the best interests of the children

    You just nailed the parallel: both groups use the “protect the children” excuse to create a totalitarian society. It’s the society that would inevitably result that is the common dystopia, regardless of the pretense used to promote it.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Rich wrote:

    Care to contextualize this with Popper’s concept of historicism, Ed?

    If I had any idea what you were talking about, I suppose I might.

  15. #15 Gerard Harbison
    December 29, 2006

    I know you’re looking for a reason to rail at Dawkins, but it’s pretty clear from the wording that they’re talking about the teaching of religion at school, and the official designation of children as belonging to a religion. It would help if you had some understanding of the British school system, in which religious schools are state financed, and religious instruction is by law a compulsory element of the curriculum.

    It is sloppy wording, I admit. But on the other hand, there is no reason why petitioners in one country should write their petitions so people in an entirely different country should understand what they’re asking for.

    This will help:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_Act_1944

  16. #16 Andrea
    December 29, 2006

    Dawkins’s position on teaching religion is far more nuanced than that petition’s. It was still a shame he signed it, though.

    As for the libertarian argument that “the government simply has no legitimate authority to make any such laws”, it sure would, if religious indoctrination were considered child abuse as Dawkins argues. Parental rights do not extend to the right to physically or psychologically harm a child. That’s the crux (ahem) of the question.

  17. #17 Dave S.
    December 29, 2006

    I agree completely, Raging Bee. And atheists, of all people, ought to know better. Give that power to a government that panders to the religious right and they sure as hell aren’t gonna like the outcome.

    Be careful not to lump us all together. This atheist opposes to the last giving government such power to favour or limit religious expression. This is so even if the expression they want to favour accords completely with my own. Dawkins is flatly out to lunch on this one and the petition he is supporting complete rubbish.

    I wish I understood what it is with some atheists that makes them think bullying theists is any better than theists bullying them.

  18. #18 Raging Bee
    December 29, 2006

    If the petition did not accurately reflect Dawkins’ opinion about teaching kids religion, then Dawkins should not have signed it, nor should he have given it any other kind of support. It’s that simple.

    As for the argument that religious “indoctrination” “harms” children, that’s just the same excuse an earlier generation of Christians used to justify breaking up non-Christian families.

    Either prove a specific objectively harmful result from a specific act of “indoctrination,” or admit you have no case other than pure bigotry.

  19. #19 Raging Bee
    December 29, 2006

    I wish I understood what it is with some atheists that makes them think bullying theists is any better than theists bullying them.

    Abuse, and bullying, are learned behaviors. Think of the abused child who grows up to become an abusive parent.

  20. #20 Ebonmuse
    December 29, 2006

    Absolutely not. The government simply has no legitimate authority to make any such laws, period.

    I ask in reference to your comment that “…this is absolutely evidence that Dawkins does indeed favor coercion to try and stamp out religion.”

  21. #21 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Gerard Harbison wrote:

    I know you’re looking for a reason to rail at Dawkins, but it’s pretty clear from the wording that they’re talking about the teaching of religion at school, and the official designation of children as belonging to a religion. It would help if you had some understanding of the British school system, in which religious schools are state financed, and religious instruction is by law a compulsory element of the curriculum.

    I am well aware of the British school system and their established Anglican church. But this petition does not say that they should end that establishment and stop teaching religion in schools (something I would favor completely). It says that they want to “Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.” And in the “more details” section, it says, “In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians.” If all they intended to do is do away with government indoctrination, there’s no way it would be worded that way. The way it’s worded, it makes illegal all religious instruction, including that by parents and in churches. This isn’t sloppy wording, the meaning of it is quite clear.

  22. #22 writerdddd
    December 29, 2006

    The desire to forbid religous indoctrination has nothing to do with bigotry whatsoever.

    I’ve gotta agree with Dawkins on this one. As a person who was raised as a born-again Christian and who’s mother was involved with very weird borderline cult churches, I was inflicted with what I now consider mental and emotional child abuse. I also lost my chance to get a good education, because I was so indoctrinated that I believed that formal education was a waste of time, I quite highschool with the permission of my mother and went to Bible school instead of college. Before my indoctrination, I would have gone to college and become a scientist. By the time I was able to fully extract myself from the religious indoctrination that I’d been brainwashed with, I was almost 30 years old. I believe I had some of the best years of my life stolen from me and I lost opportunitites that will never be regained. And, yes, I completely blame my mother for this. We get along now and are friends, but I won’t forgive her for this and I don’t believe I should. Any there are many children who suffer much more from more severe indoctrination than I did. I consider my case to be somewhat mild.

    I do think the government should protect children from assinine actions of their parents. It is OK to forbid parents from physically abusing their children, but not from actions that stunt their mental and emotional growth?

  23. #23 Dave S.
    December 29, 2006

    I know you’re looking for a reason to rail at Dawkins, but it’s pretty clear from the wording that they’re talking about the teaching of religion at school, and the official designation of children as belonging to a religion.

    Its not at all clear to me that they are just talking about schools. In the Catholic religion confirmation happens before age 16, as does bar/bas mitzva in the Jewish faith. Are these the kind of things that define the child to a group and should be abolished according to the petition? Looks like it to me.

  24. #24 Gerard Harbison
    December 29, 2006

    I’m sure it does reflect Dawkins’ view on the teaching of religion. What is unclear is whether the petition intends the injunction on the regular teaching of religion to go beyond forbidding its teaching in state-financed schools. The 1984 style interpretation that Ed puts on this is not IMO supported by the evidence.

    And since you haven’t condemned the system of state-financed and -required religious instruction that prevails in the UK, I conclude you’re a raging theocrat. Wheeee, hyperbole is fun!

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Andrea wrote:

    As for the libertarian argument that “the government simply has no legitimate authority to make any such laws”, it sure would, if religious indoctrination were considered child abuse as Dawkins argues. Parental rights do not extend to the right to physically or psychologically harm a child. That’s the crux (ahem) of the question.

    We can make lots of variations of this.

    “If atheist indoctrination was considered child abuse….”

    “If Muslim indoctrination was considered child abuse….”

    “If liberal indoctrination was considered child abuse….”

    Government simply does not have the authority to make such decisions based on ideas. Based on actions, yes. But the moment the government decides that imparting ideas is tantamount to child abuse, we are in very deep trouble. And atheists – the single most hated and distrusted group in America, ahead of Muslims and everyone else according to numerous polls – should be the absolute last people to want government to have that authority.

  26. #26 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Ebnomuse wrote:

    I ask in reference to your comment that “…this is absolutely evidence that Dawkins does indeed favor coercion to try and stamp out religion.”

    And having written a few hundred thousand words about the dangers of theocracy, it hardly needs to be said that I am every bit as opposed to coercion to try and inculcate religion or stamp out atheism as well.

  27. #27 Raging Bee
    December 29, 2006

    I do think the government should protect children from assinine actions of their parents. It is OK to forbid parents from physically abusing their children, but not from actions that stunt their mental and emotional growth?

    Governments currently set minimum standards of education, which state what children should be required to learn. Parents who refuse to allow their kids to be taught what they are required by law to learn, can, and should, have their decisions countermanded. We don’t need to outlaw the teaching of any religion to accomplish this.

    …I was inflicted with what I now consider mental and emotional child abuse….And, yes, I completely blame my mother for this. We get along now and are friends, but I won’t forgive her for this and I don’t believe I should.

    You’re a grownup now — you can understand what you were deprived of, and can take corrective action on your own. Stop playing the victim, forgive your parents, and live your life without excuses.

  28. #28 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    writerddd wrote:

    It is OK to forbid parents from physically abusing their children, but not from actions that stunt their mental and emotional growth?

    Yep, for the obvious reason that there is no objective way of deciding which ideas “stunt their mental and emotional growth.” The same argument was used to justify taking Indians away from their parents in the 1800s. After all, not teaching them about Jesus means they’re gonna go to hell and that’s the ultimate form of child abuse (according to their logic). Again, do you really want the government deciding which views about religion are “child abuse” and which are not? Because I guarantee you that you are far, far more likely to find yourself the victim of those laws than the one writing them.

  29. #29 Savagemutt
    December 29, 2006

    I think there may be some confusion and that two separate petitions are being discussed. One (which is the only one I found being promoted on Dawkins’ site) involves religious schools.

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/faithschools/

    The other petition is the one Ed is referring to. And that one I could not find reference to on Dawkins’ site (admittedly, my search was not thorough).

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/freethinking/

  30. #30 Gerard Harbison
    December 29, 2006

    The way it’s worded, it makes illegal all religious instruction, including that by parents and in churches. This isn’t sloppy wording, the meaning of it is quite clear

    If we must do this legalistically, para. 1 proposes to make illegal the indoctrination or definition of children by religion. How you’d define ‘indoctrination’ in a legal document is left as an interesting exercise for the reader.

    Para. 2 makes a normative statement that children should not be subjected to regular religious teaching, or ‘allowed’ to be defined by religious labels. So it does not propose to make illegal all religious instruction. It doesn’t even refer to ‘all’ religious instruction, just that which is ‘regular’ (which, in the UK, does not mean ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’, as it does in the US; it means ‘periodic’. e.g. weekly). And it does not propose to make it illegal. It proposes to make indoctrination and labelling illegal.

    Dennett once observed that intellectual honesty requires that you give text the most generous possible reading before criticising it. You are, in fact, giving this text the most ungenerous possible interpretation.

  31. #31 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Gerard Harbison wrote:

    What is unclear is whether the petition intends the injunction on the regular teaching of religion to go beyond forbidding its teaching in state-financed schools. The 1984 style interpretation that Ed puts on this is not IMO supported by the evidence.

    The petition doesn’t even mention state-financed schools, nor does it mention the established Anglican church. It makes it illegal to indoctrinate religion, period. If they don’t intend that, then they need to scrap the petition and start over. The text very clearly goes way beyond what you want it to mean.

    And since you haven’t condemned the system of state-financed and -required religious instruction that prevails in the UK, I conclude you’re a raging theocrat. Wheeee, hyperbole is fun!

    For crying out loud, the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written condemning religious establishments is not enough?

  32. #32 Dave Carlson
    December 29, 2006

    Savagemutt –

    Actually, both petitions are linked to from Dawkins’ site.

  33. #33 Coin
    December 29, 2006

    I think there may be some confusion and that two separate petitions are being discussed. One (which is the only one I found being promoted on Dawkins’ site) involves religious schools.

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/faithschools/

    The other petition is the one Ed is referring to. And that one I could not find reference to on Dawkins’ site (admittedly, my search was not thorough).

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/freethinking/

    Ed, could you clarify on what’s happening here? This is a really crucial distinction. The former petition is everything you say it is, but the latter petition is (while not maybe the best-worded thing in the world) an entirely reasonable thing for Dawkins to be promoting.

  34. #34 Coin
    December 29, 2006

    Uh… my previous comment has a typo. “Latter” should be swapped with “former”. For clarity, please turn your monitor upside down before reading said comment.

  35. #35 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Savagemutt-

    I agree completely with the first petition. The second is absolutely appalling. I think the existence of the first petition also undermines the idea that the second one only applies to what is taught in schools. If you do away with faith schools and religion classes in schools, then if the second one applies only to school indoctrination it is superfluous. If Dawkins only wants to do away with government school religious indoctrination, then sign the first petition – that’s the solution to that problem. The second one must go far beyond that or it is pointless.

  36. #36 MJ Memphis
    December 29, 2006

    I did find the “freethinking” petition on the Dawkins site, but it was in a forum and not posted by an admin. The “faith schools” petition is also promoted on the forum by an admin. Do we have any evidence that Dawkins actually signed or endorsed the first one in any way?

  37. #37 melatonin
    December 29, 2006

    As stated above, I think this is aimed at the religious indoctrination that is inherent in the UK school system – daily prayers and worship, weekly religious education lessons, publically funded faith schools etc. It is very pervasive at primary school level with children verbally scolded for not singing hymns or closing eyes during prayers (as experienced with my own son).

    Can’t see why you have to take it out of context, considering so few even bother making it into a church in the UK, schools are the major source of religious indoctrination here.

    I think it also focuses on the religious labelling of children through state documentation. I can vividly remember having a document at about the age of 8 that needed completing with the question of religious affiliation. My parents never schooled me in any religion or had me baptised, but the school had all the normal practices, I believed I was a christian as it was drummed into me at school most certainly not at home, didn’t even know the difference between protestant and catholic (which was very important apparently) – I then became a self-proclaimed protestant, as my friend was.

    Hopefully, after a few more census collections, we in the UK can label children as ‘Jedi’ instead. A lightsabre and jedi cloak get they should :)

  38. #38 David Heddle
    December 29, 2006

    Savagemutt,

    You certainly didn’t look around too much. At the very top of Dawkins’s site (the third line under “Read the first chapter of The God Delusion” is a link to BOTH petitions.

    http://richarddawkins.net/home

  39. #39 Raging Bee
    December 29, 2006

    “In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be…allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians.”

    How do they define “define?” Do they want to make it illegal for parents to say “My kid is Pagan?” Do they want to prevent parents from encouraging their kids to interact with other kids of the same religious upbringing? This sounds like a blatant abrogation of free speech, freedom of religion, and the right of peaceful assembly. Do these nincompoops really think they can get anywhere by telling people how they may or may not identify their kids?

  40. #40 TWood
    December 29, 2006

    I would hope that Richard Dawkins would be among the first to acknowledge that any law that mirrors this petition would have no chance of passage or survival. It’s clear to me that Dawkins is on a grand publicity tour and that this petition’s controversial stance feeds into a larger effort to keep the discussion going in the media. Look at the other stuff next to it at the top of his website.

    Is the idea contained in the petition dumb? Yes. Does that completely discredit Dawkins’ work? I don’t think so. He’s been trying for some time to chip away at the idea that religion is exempt from criticism, and also banging the gong that religious indoctrination is a form of child abuse. It’s all part of the show and an effort to keep the media camera pointing back at him.

  41. #41 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Gerard Harbison wrote:

    Dennett once observed that intellectual honesty requires that you give text the most generous possible reading before criticising it. You are, in fact, giving this text the most ungenerous possible interpretation.

    I am giving it the interpretation most plausible based on several factors, all detailed above. I would only add that the fact that Dawkins has declared teaching one’s religion to one’s children to be child abuse also supports my reading. If he only wants to get rid of indoctrination in schools – which I am 100% in agreement with him about – then the solution is to get rid of government run religious schools, and he’s signed a petition to do that. If this petition doesn’t do more than that, it is completely pointless, which also supports my reading of it.

  42. #42 Gerard Harbison
    December 29, 2006

    Ed wrote:

    For crying out loud, the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written condemning religious establishments is not enough?

    The ‘theocrat’ remark was, in fact, directed at Raging Bee. Sorry; my fault for not so designating.

  43. #43 MJ Memphis
    December 29, 2006

    For that matter, if you search the complete list of signatories on the “freethinking” petition, you will find Dawkins supposedly signed twice, which seems a bit suspicious.

  44. #44 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    MJ Memphis wrote:

    I did find the “freethinking” petition on the Dawkins site, but it was in a forum and not posted by an admin. The “faith schools” petition is also promoted on the forum by an admin. Do we have any evidence that Dawkins actually signed or endorsed the first one in any way?

    It’s linked to right at the very top, in the middle, next to “Petitions”. Both petitions are linked to.

  45. #45 MJ Memphis
    December 29, 2006

    Ah… I somehow missed the petition link that David Heddle spotted. In that case, sad to say but Dawkins has made a blunder, IMO.

  46. #46 GH
    December 29, 2006

    If atheist indoctrination was considered child abuse….”

    How does one indoctrinate someone to not believe something for which they wouldn’t believe if you didn’t indoctrinate them in the first place?

    Really how would one indoctrinate something which has no doctrine or dogma?

  47. #47 Coin
    December 29, 2006

    As stated above, I think this is aimed at the religious indoctrination that is inherent in the UK school system – daily prayers and worship, weekly religious education lessons, publically funded faith schools etc.

    If this was the case, they should have simply changed:

    We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.

    to

    We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal for the government to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.

    But they didn’t.

  48. #48 David Heddle
    December 29, 2006

    Gerard,

    It seems to me you’re investing a great effort in the argument that Dawkins and/or the freethinking petition may not actually mean what most reasonable people believe he/it means. Dawkins, as far as I know, is not issuing clarifications even though all or virtually all the internet chatter assumes that what is meant is that parents cannot rear their children as, for example, a Roman Catholic. As for allowing some religious education, I think it is clear that what is meant is academic style education–such as Comparative World Religions.

  49. #49 Savagemutt
    December 29, 2006

    David Heddle:

    Oops, you’re right. I just did a search for “e-petition” in the archives, which brought up the religious school petition, but not the other. As I said, I didn’t search very thoroughly.

    I agree that the “stop indoctrination…” petition is disgusting, and as an atheist I’m disappointed at Dawkin’s apparent support for it.

  50. #50 David Heddle
    December 29, 2006

    GH,

    How does one indoctrinate someone to not believe something for which they wouldn’t believe if you didn’t indoctrinate them in the first place?

    Simple. What if a child announced that he believes in God. (Where he acquired the belief is irrelevant.) And his atheist parents tell him: you must not believe in superstition. That would clearly be indoctrination–and it should be allowed.

  51. #51 Gerard Harbison
    December 29, 2006

    If this was the case, they should have simply changed:
    We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.
    to
    We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal for the government to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.
    But they didn’t.

    The government doesn’t currently indoctrinate children. That’s left to schools, which are financed but largely not run by the government. The government, however, compels them to have religious worship and religious instruction in the school.

  52. #52 GH
    December 29, 2006

    Sorry for the double post I missed this:

    You’re a grownup now — you can understand what you were deprived of, and can take corrective action on your own. Stop playing the victim, forgive your parents, and live your life without excuses.

    I’m sorry but this callous reply is exactly why Dawkins thinks it’s child abuse. Here you have a person explaining the pain brought to them as a child because of superstition. Real pain. And another human, rather than accepting that superstition has in fact caused unnecessary pain, tells the victim to just get over it.

    Nice.

  53. #53 Raging Bee
    December 29, 2006

    GH: Please stop insulting our intelligence by pretending there’s some sort of important qualitative difference between atheist intolerance and theist intolerance. Both, as discussed here, involve the suppression of ideas deemed “wrong;” therefore both are equally hostile to freedom of speech and thought; therefore both are equally wrong, and no amount of word-games will justify one more than the other.

  54. #54 Russell
    December 29, 2006

    As long as we are talking about government, I agree that children should not be “defined .. by religion.” I would go further, and say that governments should not define adults by their religious beliefs, or make this a matter of law or governmental policy, with innocuous exceptions such as allowing soldiers to specify what marking they want on their graves.

    I have to agree with Ed that there is no way to forbid parents from indoctrinating their children, and that it is dangerous to have the government decide the line of what counts as that.

  55. #55 Ross
    December 29, 2006

    Mr Brayton,

    “Absolutely not. The government simply has no legitimate authority to make any such laws, period.”

    So what’s the US legal position if the religious views of the parent or parents act to deprive a child of medical treatment? In the UK, the courts have already acted in cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses to confirm that a minor cannot be held to the religious views of the parent and have permitted the doctors to provide medical treatment agaisnt the will of the parents.

    So it would seem that courts over here have already accepted part of the petition’s position and I fail to see how the other part of the petition amounts “coercion” to stamp out religion. Unless anyone is effectively stating that without access to children’s minds, no-one would be religious at all, and this is clearly false given the number of people who either become religious or change religion later in life.

    Please note the addressee of the petition – the Prime Minister. This is a UK thing, reflecting our society and has been set out only to make a simple political point in a country where all schools are compelled by law to include ‘a daily act of worship of a broadly christian nature’ for all children and the state pays for “Faith Schools” (wouldn’t your religious right love that – all the control of home schooling but paid for by the state) and “City Academies” (some of which are run by YEC Evangelists without comment from Government). I am part of a society where around 15% are self-declared atheists (Census data) but while Moslems (circa 3%) are allowed their faith schools, the ‘Christian Worship’ law is still applied to the rest of children.

    There is no way that such a law could be created or enforced but the simple exisitence of this petition has resulted in increased discussion of religion on schools and especially the special status of the UK established christian faith.

    On a related note – UK laws are pretty potent when it comes to what I can and can’t do to my children in public or in my home. Aside from the protections with reagrds to clear abuse, there’s a load of minor controls that might result in them being taken into care including the fact that I can’t strike them. Not sure how this stacks up with the US but I’ll bet you consider our laws to be somewhere between ‘unnecessarily intrusive’ and ‘dangerously totalitarian’!

    Regards from the UK,

  56. #56 Raging Bee
    December 29, 2006

    Yes, because dealing with one’s pain as a responsible adult is better for all concerned than wallowing in it and blaming others for problems onee can start to resolve oneself. What alternative is there? Life goes on whether we want it to or not, so we might as well grow up and get on with it, the better to get the most out of it.

    MANY people have pain from their less-than-ideal childhoods, and since the past can’t be changed, the only option is to learn, forgive, and move on. I know plenty of people (mostly recovering addicts) who can confirm, from their own experience, that that’s really the only viable option.

  57. #57 Gerard Harbison
    December 29, 2006

    It seems to me you’re investing a great effort in the argument that Dawkins and/or the freethinking petition may not actually mean what most reasonable people believe he/it means.

    We haven’t done a survey of ‘most reasonable people’. I’m giving you my interpretation based on my knowledge of Dawkins, of whom I have actually read more than soundbites; the English educational system, in which I received most of my primary education and in which some of my nieces and nephews are currently enrolled; and my understanding of the culture and government of the United Kingdom, where intruding in what parents teach their kids at home would be unprecedented for the last 200 years.

    melatonin, posting above, seems to be of the same opinion. Oddly enough, he/she seems also to have some direct knowledge of the system.

  58. #58 writerdddd
    December 29, 2006

    “Governments currently set minimum standards of education, which state what children should be required to learn. Parents who refuse to allow their kids to be taught what they are required by law to learn, can, and should, have their decisions countermanded. We don’t need to outlaw the teaching of any religion to accomplish this.”

    How come the Amish don’t have to obey such minimum educational laws? My mother let my sister drop out of school after 7th grade and nobody did squat about it. Religions are, today, still preventing many children from getting minimal education. I think outlawing religion is extreme and probably counterproductive, as seen in the Soviet Union, but we need to stop allowing parents from citing religion as an excuse for not getting a proper education for their children, not getting proper medical care for their children, and so forth. Religion gets cut WAY too much slack, and it’s about time people start speaking up against that. If it takes some people with extreme views to get that notice, I’m all for it. Most Americans, including many of the people posting comments on this topic, have no idea what the fundamentalist subculture is like and how damaging it can be to children.

  59. #59 GH
    December 29, 2006

    Simple. What if a child announced that he believes in God. (Where he acquired the belief is irrelevant.) And his atheist parents tell him: you must not believe in superstition. That would clearly be indoctrination–and it should be allowed.

    Thats BS David and you know it, belaboring a discussion on it is pointless.

  60. #60 J-Dog
    December 29, 2006

    I hate to Post and Run, but will only be at the pc for another 30 minutes… Can an atheist play devils advocate? If so, let me suggest that people of “religious persuasion” have had it all their way since we walked out of Africa 100,000 years or so ago…

    How about we at least try a control group, and establish a “religion-free zone” (or God-free Zone?)and see what happens.

    I would like to start in maybe a small town, like a Crawford, TX, or maybe a more cosmopolitan site like Seattle, WA. There is some sort of self-proclaimed non-religious sciency Institute there that might be interested in financing it, since they have raised @ $4.0 million for experiments…

    Everyone have a safe and happy New Year, and please consider my Religion and/or God/god Free Zone.

  61. #61 Gretchen
    December 29, 2006

    What, GH, do you believe it’s impossible for atheists to indoctrinate their children against religion?

  62. #62 David Heddle
    December 29, 2006

    GH,

    Thats BS David and you know it, belaboring a discussion on it is pointless.

    No, I don’t know it. If it’s so obvious, then just write a small comment explaining how it is manifestly true that telling a kid to believe something he doesn’t believe in (God) is indoctrination while telling him to stop believing in God, if he does, isn’t.

  63. #63 GH
    December 29, 2006

    Please stop insulting our intelligence by pretending there’s some sort of important qualitative difference between atheist intolerance and theist intolerance.

    There isn’t where did I say there was?

    Both, as discussed here, involve the suppression of ideas deemed “wrong;” therefore both are equally hostile to freedom of speech and thought; therefore both are equally wrong, and no amount of word-games will justify one more than the other.

    I have been pretty clear I’m not for suppressing anything. What are you talking about? My only comment was I fail to see how an atheist can imbue any dogma to a child. There isn’t any to pass along. Big deal.

    because dealing with one’s pain as a responsible adult is better for all concerned than wallowing in it and blaming others for problems onee can start to resolve oneself. What alternative is there? Life goes on whether we want it to or not, so we might as well grow up and get on with it, the better to get the most out of it.

    Good grief do you even have any idea how you sound? He is hurting and told us why. Of course life goes on but you wanted evidence that someone was hurt by indoctrination. This individual stepped forward and presented a personal case of his private pain and rather than accepting that fact that what your currently defending did in fact cause his pain you tell him to get over it.

    Again, nice.

  64. #64 Gretchen
    December 29, 2006

    My only comment was I fail to see how an atheist can imbue any dogma to a child. There isn’t any to pass along. Big deal.

    I think you must lack imagination, then. I’m an atheist and I can certainly imagine it. Indoctrinating a child is simply attempting to inculcate in them an ideology for which no evidential support is provided, and questioning is discouraged. So an atheist could indoctrinate his/her child by telling them that theists are immoral, stupid people who are not to be trusted (just as theists, incidentally, can and often do indoctrinate their children about atheists).

  65. #65 Coin
    December 29, 2006

    The government doesn’t currently indoctrinate children. That’s left to schools, which are financed but largely not run by the government. The government, however, compels them to have religious worship and religious instruction in the school.

    Okay. So maybe the change needs to be longer than three words in order to indicate that the government may not participate (by funding, endorsement, etc) in the religious indocrination of children. (American government has some much simpler and easily applied rules, things along the lines of “the government may not advance or inhibhit religion or any particular religion in any way”, but Britain apparently wants something more complicated.)

    The point is, it’s not in there. There is absolutely nothing– not one word– to indicate or hint at any kind of limits on this prohibition against “subjecting” children to “regular religious teaching”. The wording is a pure blanket and nothing gives even the tiniest indication it applies any differently to government, parents, TV programs, people speaking in the street to passerby, whoever.

    Incidentally, I am quite confused by the presence of both a Gerald Harbison and a GH in this same discussion.

    Really how would one indoctrinate something which has no doctrine or dogma?

    Atheism by any reasonable definition has no doctrine or dogma. But Dawkins is now acting on emotion rather than reason, and so he does have dogma, and he does have doctrine, and he advances that dogma with a force and fervor that any third-rate American televangelist would be proud of. This is why ultimately, although his silly little anti-religion crusades will have no effect whatsoever on the power of the world’s religions and the corruption that power has wrought, the damage Dawkins is doing to us atheists and agnostics is practically incalculable. He’s building atheism into a religion.

  66. #66 GH
    December 29, 2006

    What, GH, do you believe it’s impossible for atheists to indoctrinate their children against religion?

    Upon some reflection perhaps not.Maybe I’m not being clear or presenting my ideas clearly. My stance is that if you take a child and sit him in an area minus religious discussion he will never concern himself with such ideas. In essence that every child is born without religious inclination. They are essentially atheists without thinking about it. It takes something beyond this natural state to even have this discussion we are having today.

    In the real world I change my mind, I guess it would be possible to make a kid hate religion, or the new York Giants. Although I’m not sure that would count as indoctrination as an atheist. I think religious indoctrination works due to the emotional component. I just don’t see that angle being very revelant with the atheists I know.

    And David its a rathole I just don’t want to travel down.

    true that telling a kid to believe something he doesn’t believe in (God) is indoctrination while telling him to stop believing in God, if he does, isn’t.

    No one can tell you not to believe in something. If you believe it you believe it. But people, as cult after cult has shown, are very easy to make believe virtually any superstitious claim. Counter cult therapists are essentially attempting to do what you are saying above and it is very difficult and sometimes impossible. The difference in terms of human pyschology is pronounced. As an amateur philosophy I may even agree with you, just not in reality.

  67. #67 GH
    December 29, 2006

    Indoctrinating a child is simply attempting to inculcate in them an ideology for which no evidential support is provided, and questioning is discouraged. So an atheist could indoctrinate his/her child by telling them that theists are immoral, stupid people who are not to be trusted (just as theists, incidentally, can and often do indoctrinate their children about atheists).

    Gretchen-

    Get ready–here it comes– Your right and I’m wrong!

    How many men told you that today:-)

  68. #68 CThomas
    December 29, 2006

    Maybe I’m missing something. Isn’t there a third option between “the petition must not mean what it says” and “the petition seeks 1984-style coercion with police in the churches and bedrooms”? I’m thinking something along the lines of: “The petition is meant is a precatory statement rather than something to be enforced at gunpoint.”

  69. #69 Gerard Harbison
    December 29, 2006

    Okay. So maybe the change needs to be longer than three words in order to indicate that the government may not participate (by funding, endorsement, etc) in the religious indocrination of children. (American government has some much simpler and easily applied rules, things along the lines of “the government may not advance or inhibhit religion or any particular religion in any way”, but Britain apparently wants something more complicated.

    Oh, I agree. I’m not defending the wording of this petition, which is sloppy. I’m trying to get people to understand what it is likely to mean to the people who are signing it and to whom it is directed, and arguing that Dawkins is not an ogre because he put his name to something which, read in an American context, would mean something very different.

    The way society and government works in the UK really is quite dissimilar to America. Americans tend to be surprised at that, probably because we speak the same language (sort of); we tend to forget we totally reconstructed government from the ground up, 200 years ago. Schools in the UK are run the way they are for reasons of history, not because it’s a terribly intelligent way to run a school system. We, in contrast, had the luxury of being able to construct a public school system from scratch, and if we’re lucky, we can hold on to it.

  70. #70 DuWayne
    December 29, 2006

    Ross -

    Actually, trying to restrict a child from recieving medical care is a crime here too. But that is also clearly an issue of physical harm. There is a vast difference between that and what is being discussed here. This is nothing short of a push for government restrictions on religious expression.

  71. #71 melatonin
    December 29, 2006

    I agree, Coin, it is pretty much an ambiguous petition. It’s also pretty useless document and nothing will come of it (all these petitions are, Blair couldn’t care less what the we plebs think).

    As far as Dawkins’ position, I guess he would play the “well we don’t define children by political affiliation, so why do this for religious affiliation?” line of argument. He’s attacking the special status it has acquired, which is fair enough but as far as restricting behaviour outside of school, quite unrealistic.

    I’m pretty much against the indoctrination, but as someone mentioned above (I think), it’s better to let children be exposed to the varieties of theistic belief and then reject it of their own volition, than to make it a forbidden fruit. I think multi-cultural RE lessons are sufficient for educational purposes.

    Also, the indoctrination is also in non-faith schools, not as strong of course, but still present. My son’s in a non-faith high school now, no hymns, still prayers at assembly amd weekly RE lessons (generally quite multicultural compared to my own school days but still a christian bias). But as I said, primary school indocrination is very pervasive in most schools across the UK, with children made to feel uncomfortable for not conforming.

  72. #72 Coin
    December 29, 2006

    My stance is that if you take a child and sit him in an area minus religious discussion he will never concern himself with such ideas.

    “An area minus religious discussion”? You mean the moon?

    What about accidental exposure to religion or religious ideas through television televangelists, history books or newspaper articles discussing any of the world’s religions, bibles found in hotel rooms, bookstores, libraries or dumpsters, any novel written by C.S. Lewis or Mercedes Lackey, fantasy novels in general, horror movies that imply the existence of ghosts, vampires, spirits, or demons, stealth scientologist front groups, or the kid next door who whispers that fairies are real and he saw one once really he swears?

    So much as a single chance encounter with any of these would be enough to burst the bubble and touch off a process that would potentially hook them on superstition of one kind or another. You don’t need “regular indocrination” or even a working understanding of a religion to become a fanatic; some of the most effective fundamentalists are the ones who understand virtually nothing about the faith they’ve latched onto. People truly raised in the absence of “religious discussion” might even turn out to be more susceptible to religious temptation, even, since when they inevitably run across someone trying to convert them they will be too ignorant of the religion being pitched to be aware of its flaws.

    Meanwhile, whatever on earth gave you the idea that children don’t invent religions? Children, even if you place them in a complete intellectual vacuum, invent private mythologies with more skill and frequency than almost any other demographic on earth.

  73. #73 Matthew
    December 29, 2006

    I find this as disturbingly Orwellian and anti-freedom as anyone else, but let’s call it for what it is. And what it is, is not coercion against religious belief.

  74. #74 DuWayne
    December 29, 2006

    Coin –
    Meanwhile, whatever on earth gave you the idea that children don’t invent religions? Children, even if you place them in a complete intellectual vacuum, invent private mythologies with more skill and frequency than almost any other demographic on earth.

    My son has come up with some very interesting theories about the origins of the planet earth and life on said planet. And he has through that developed a couple of “mythos,” such as a four year old can. Kids are very adept at coming up with their own answers if reality is not explained – soemtimes even if it is. At least he interjects his limited understanding of evolution into his mythologies.

    One remarkable thing about them (there are three), they all make absolute sense, given the absence of understanding evolution, both planetary and organic.

    Great point, thanks for mentioning it.

  75. #75 kehrsam
    December 29, 2006

    GH said:

    My stance is that if you take a child and sit him in an area minus religious discussion he will never concern himself with such ideas. In essence that every child is born without religious inclination. They are essentially atheists without thinking about it. It takes something beyond this natural state to even have this discussion we are having today.

    There most certainly is atheist indoctrination. In my home growing up, no reference to religious ever passed without an accompanying remark about how foolish, stupid, or equally Dawkinsesque such beliefs were. So where did my belief come from?

    Most assuredly not from the Bible Belt culture that surrounded us, as I regarded that as an unwelcome intrusion into my personal life. It is still unwelcome if it is some heavy-handed conversion attempt, although I am happy to calmly discuss religious ideas ad nauseum.

    It took me years to tell my family that I was Christian. I don’t imagine it was anywhere near as difficult as what a gay person faces, but with the attitude taken by my sisters, it was not pleasant. And they still act condescendingly when I have to go to something at church while they are in town visiting.

    So yes, parents and family can indoctrinate children into most anything. Take the poor little Prussian Blue girls. Please. And teach them how to sing while you’re at it.

  76. #76 daenku32
    December 29, 2006

    Considering the American school system where indoctrination is forbidden, but teaching children religion, is not. It’s called education in comparative religion. So I suppose the word “indoctrinate” would need clarification. Can we keep our children from information like they did in The Truman Show or Village?

  77. #77 GH
    December 29, 2006

    In my home growing up, no reference to religious ever passed without an accompanying remark about how foolish, stupid, or equally Dawkinsesque such beliefs were. So where did my belief come from?

    While I agree with Gretchen I’m not sure I do here. If what you say above is what was said by your family it seems they commented on the beliefs themselves. Was it a fair minded view? Perhaps not but it seems to me people can have an opinion without it being a systematic approach that is generally found with indoctrination. But perhaps I quibble unnecessarily.

    And the Prussian girls comment was pretty funny. My dad tried to indoctrinate me with Nascar but it didn’t take. I preferred the Steelers. Have a great day.

  78. #78 Ross
    December 29, 2006

    DuWayne,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond within the chaos running through this thread!

    I’m not sure I agree that the petition, even if given the force of law, could be called “Government restriction on religious expression” as anyone would be free to express whatever religion they liked as long as they do so to other adults.

    As I said, this petition is a stalking horse for future UK law changes that may well move us to a similar church:state separation as the US. Can’t yet see how this might be formed but I’d put it at 50 years away (after Charlie pops his clogs) however, the debate on religion in the UK needs to start now and this petition is as good a means as any.

    For the record – my parent were atheist but big bro and I went to the daily school worship and were sent to “crusaders” at the local protestant youth group as they thought that exposure to the dominant culture of the UK was essential. Both my brother and I turned out atheists (but are happily married to church-active christians) and we’ve folowing the same process with our kids*. I suppose that makes me a hypocritical petition signer but I’m in it for the long run!

    Regards,

    * No idea how Bro’s kids have worked out but my two teenage sons are atheists (apparently on the grounds that ‘God’ is a ridiculous concept) and my daughter is a weekly church attendee with Mother.

  79. #79 PennyBright
    December 29, 2006

    Ross asked “So what’s the US legal position if the religious views of the parent or parents act to deprive a child of medical treatment?”

    DuWayne replied, largely incorrectly, “Actually, trying to restrict a child from recieving medical care is a crime here too.”

    Ross – this actually varies on a state to state basis. Approximately 40 states currently have religious exemptions, which follow the wording of the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974, which states, in part “a parent or guardian who does not provide medical treatment to a child because of the parent’s religious beliefs is not considered, for that reason alone, to be a negligent parent or guardian.”

    While the federal legislation has since been changed to permit medical neglect for religious reasons to be prosecuted, state jurisdiction rules in most cases, and it is very rare for such cases to be prosecuted, and rarer for them to be prosecuted successfully.

    When convictions are obtained, it is common for the offenders to be sentenced very lightly given the relative seriousness of the crime (600 hours of community service for the death of a child by h-flu meningitis, for example ). Further, such sentences are often overturned on appeal specifically because they have been prosecuted in violation of religious exemption laws.

    For further information:

    http://www.masskids.org/dbre/dbre_1.html
    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/101/4/625
    http://www.childrenshealthcare.org/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Science (

  80. #80 Russell
    December 29, 2006

    kehrsam asks:

    So where did my belief come from?

    Seems to me you’re in the best position to answer that.

  81. #81 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Ross wrote:

    So what’s the US legal position if the religious views of the parent or parents act to deprive a child of medical treatment? In the UK, the courts have already acted in cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses to confirm that a minor cannot be held to the religious views of the parent and have permitted the doctors to provide medical treatment agaisnt the will of the parents.

    The US courts have done the same thing, but I’ve already spelled out the rather obvious difference. Damages to one’s physical health are objectively determined; whether one likes or dislikes a given religion, a broken leg is a broken leg and a death from lack of a blood transfusion is still death. But in trying to decide whether learning about a religion is psychologically damaging, there are no objective and agreed upon criteria to apply, thus making it an almost entirely subjective opinion prone to the biases and prejudices of the person making the determination. A fundamentalist Christian thinks that not teaching a child about religion is child abuse. After all, what happens if the child dies and is not born again? They’re going to go to hell. A hardcore atheist, on the other hand, thinks like Dawkins does, that teaching about religion inculcates irrationality and is thus child abuse. The government has no business deciding what all parents must teach their child, especially in the area of religion. And if you want to give them that power, it is far more likely that you will find your own views outlawed than those you oppose.

    Please note the addressee of the petition – the Prime Minister. This is a UK thing, reflecting our society and has been set out only to make a simple political point in a country where all schools are compelled by law to include ‘a daily act of worship of a broadly christian nature’ for all children and the state pays for “Faith Schools” (wouldn’t your religious right love that – all the control of home schooling but paid for by the state) and “City Academies” (some of which are run by YEC Evangelists without comment from Government). I am part of a society where around 15% are self-declared atheists (Census data) but while Moslems (circa 3%) are allowed their faith schools, the ‘Christian Worship’ law is still applied to the rest of children.

    And if the petition was limited to eliminating such requirements from government-financed schools, I’d be all for it, in any country. But that’s not what the petition says.

    On a related note – UK laws are pretty potent when it comes to what I can and can’t do to my children in public or in my home. Aside from the protections with reagrds to clear abuse, there’s a load of minor controls that might result in them being taken into care including the fact that I can’t strike them. Not sure how this stacks up with the US but I’ll bet you consider our laws to be somewhere between ‘unnecessarily intrusive’ and ‘dangerously totalitarian’!

    Indeed I do, but that has nothing to do with whether I’m right about this particular issue.

  82. #82 DuWayne
    December 29, 2006

    Ross -

    I consider it a restriction on religious expression if the government tries to tell me not to express it to my child. Granted, my child’s exposure to religion is far from that which even the signers of that petition would disagree with, but the principle is sound. It is not simply that it is a restriction of religion, it is the government interfering with a parents right to raise their children as they believe right.

    I understand that parents indoctrinate their children in seriously screwy ways. I find it unfortunate – kerhsam’s comment about the Prussian blue girls is a perfect example. The question is, where do the restrictions begin and end? Why stop with religion? There is also racism to consider, or any number of “dangerous” ideas that should be restricted.

    Personally, I would love to see kids learning about all sorts of great things – their parents opinions be damned. Just as their parents would probably love to see my child learning things contrary to my beliefs and would love to see me restricted from contradicting it. This is just an ugly can of worms to try to open.

    I sympathize with your country’s historic connection to religion. I support your fight to change it and would happily sign a petition to have religion removed from your public schools, if I were there. But pushing this notion of restricting parents from teaching their children their beliefs goes way beyond the pale. It is also likely to be quite counter-intuitive. I don’t know about England, but such a cause would be fought tooth and nail here. And not just by the religious.

    Most Americans seriously balk at any restriction on personal freedom, especially when it comes to raising our kids. Religious or not, most Americans would seriously freak if this was suggested here. Considering the nature of religious intersection with politics in this country, a petition being passed like the one described here, could have seriously adverse effects our ongoing war to separate religion and the state.

  83. #83 daenku32
    December 29, 2006

    I suppose I could say that I’m indoctrinating my children to be open minded and adopt non-partisan and non-sectarian viewpoints. I’m indoctrinating them to consider balances of right and wrong on grounds of empathy and reason. I’m also going to indoctrinate them to stay away from clear harm and to trust their instincts when a clear cut reasoning doesn’t give a definite answer or when it requires more time than is available.

    Now I would feel threatened by Dawkins’ petition to ban indoctrination, that is, if indoctrination actually included any of these things.

    If you consider indoctrination ban to limit your parenting, can I go ahead and say that you indoctrinate your children?

    Btw, here is the Oxford definition for indoctrinate:

    http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/indoctrinate?view=uk
    indoctrinate

    /indoktrinayt/

    • verb cause to accept a set of beliefs uncritically through repeated instruction.

  84. #84 Russell
    December 29, 2006

    Ed Brayton writes:

    The government has no business deciding what all parents must teach their child.

    In Texas, and I suspect most other states, education is compulsory. Parents in this state are required to teach their children a variety of subjects, such as English, math, and civics, and if they do not want or are incapable of doing so, are required to send their children to public schools that will do so. It’s relevant to this debate that there are a variety of religious sects that do find various objections to compulsory education, from teaching biology and history that conflicts with their religion’s creation myths, to American civics that conflicts with their religion’s political views. Yes, there are sects that disallow voting or serving on jury duty.

    It’s one thing to say that the state must not prevent parents from indoctrinating their children. It’s something else to say that the state must not compel certain kinds of education. At least in the US, the first amendment prohibits the first. It pretty clearly does not prohibit the second, or at least, has not been so interpreted.

  85. #85 Lettuce
    December 29, 2006

    I agree with Ed completely as far as saying that no government should have the right to forbid the teaching of religion to one’s child.

    On the other hand, I also believe, as a personal belief, that to do so (to indoctrinate a child) is a form of child abuse; and I believe that applies to my “spiritual” beliefs as well. I am an atheist. My son is 13.

    When he has expressed an interest in going to church we’ve taken him to church. When he expressed an interest in reading Letter to a Christian Nation, we bought him a copy. When he asks questions we answer them to the best of our ability.

    Many of our closest friends are Christians, many are Jewish. He knows we value them and what they stand for, and he knows that’s part of what makes them our friends.

    But, he will find his own way. What we will do is provide him the tools to make his own choices and decisions. That means the best education we can provide.

  86. #86 DuWayne
    December 29, 2006

    daenku32 -

    If you consider indoctrination ban to limit your parenting, can I go ahead and say that you indoctrinate your children?

    Certainly you can, if you wish. Though I think I was clear that the way I raise my child is not such that it would probably be fine with the signatories of that petition. In fact it isn’t any different than the way you say you raise your own.

    The point is not that I think that the government would be interfering with the way I raise my child. They wouldn’t, even if the notions expressed in this petition were made law. It is that I do not believe that the government should interfere at all, with anyone’s right to raise their child as they see fit. That is what personal liberty is about.

    Would you like to see the government telling parents that they cannot teach their children that their is anything wrong with what they are learning in school? (such as the notion that Chris Columbus wasn’t the nifty fellow they read about in history class) Would you like the government to tell parents that they cannot tell their kids that global warming is an immenent threat? How about the reverse? Would you like the government to force parents to teach their children that homosexuality is an evil abomination?

    There are a lot of restrictions that could be justified, depending on who is deciding the restrictions. Do you really think it’s a good idea for the government to decide what parents are allowed to tell their kids? I don’t.

  87. #87 gregonomic
    December 29, 2006

    Ed,

    You clearly think that governments have no place dictating what parents can teach their children. But do you think it is good that parents do indoctrinate their children with all kinds of beliefs, not all of which are harmless?

  88. #88 Gretchen
    December 29, 2006

    But do you think it is good that parents do indoctrinate their children with all kinds of beliefs, not all of which are harmless?

    Do you know anyone who would answer “yes” to that question?

  89. #89 gregonomic
    December 29, 2006

    Do you know anyone who would answer “yes” to that question?

    Yes, don’t you?

  90. #90 Gretchen
    December 29, 2006

    Err, no. I don’t know anyone who would say “Yes, I think it’s great that parents indoctrinate their children with harmful beliefs.”

  91. #91 gregonomic
    December 29, 2006

    Gretchen,

    OK, if you want be pedantic, do you know anyone who would say “”Yes, I think it’s great that parents indoctrinate their children with beliefs that are deomonstrably false”?

  92. #92 gregonomic
    December 29, 2006

    Grrr, s/deomonstrably/demonstrably/

  93. #93 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Gretchen is correct; who would say that they think it’s great that a parent, for example, teaches kids that blacks are evil? And if they did think that was great, then they surely wouldn’t think it was great for other parents to teach their kids the opposite. There are lots of beliefs I consider vile and unhealthy, I just shudder to think what life would be like if we allow government to make those decisions for us.

  94. #94 Coin
    December 29, 2006

    OK, if you want be pedantic, do you know anyone who would say “”Yes, I think it’s great that parents indoctrinate their children with beliefs that are deomonstrably false”?

    Steve Fuller?

  95. #95 gregonomic
    December 29, 2006

    Err, my second post doesn’t say what I intended it to either, but I’m glad you got my point anyway, Ed.

    So my next question is, how, if not by government intervention, can we dissuade parents from teaching beliefs which are harmful to society?

  96. #96 DuWayne
    December 29, 2006

    gregonomic -
    OK, if you want be pedantic, do you know anyone who would say “”Yes, I think it’s great that parents indoctrinate their children with beliefs that are deomonstrably false”?

    Again no, being pedantic myself. Even people who indoctrinate their children into verious religions would likely say no to that, as they do not see their beliefs as demonstrably false.

    Regardless of the right or wrong of it, do you really think that the state should determine what we are allowed to teach our children? Looking back over the last six years, I would answer that with a resounding, Hell No! Just trying to deal with my son’s preschool about his behaviour issues, lends me to think that even if the lefties were the ones in charge (as they are in Portlan OR, where my son is in school) I would seriously balk. Right or wrong, I am raising my child to the best of my ability. Teaching him what I think is important to teach him. I cannot accept the government interfering with that, nor should I – or anyone else.

  97. #97 kehrsam
    December 29, 2006

    But do you think it is good that parents do indoctrinate their children with all kinds of beliefs, not all of which are harmless?

    Do you know anyone who would answer “yes” to that question?

    I assume my experience in a mid-size conservative Southern Baptist church is fairly representative. I have been working with 3rd-6th grade children for a decade in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and other capacities. Very few children have hard-wired beliefs at the age I encounter them (9-12). They trust what their parents have told them, but it is easy enough to cause them to believe something else, if I tried.

    Zealots are not such from birth, nor does indoctrination at a young age make much difference unless it is truly extreme. We lose 60% of our youth to the secular culture, although many come back after they are adults.

    Religion survives because it provide tangible social benefits to believers. If it did not do so, believers would be confined to those who care enough to argue about theology. I’ll be the first to admit that most Christians (of my acquaintance) do not really trouble themselves about God or sin or predestination, etc.

    That being the case, I have to conclude that weekly religious instruction in the manner discussed by Prof. Harbison is fairly benign. As is this petition, all things being equal. I think we’ve beat this one to death. Peace to all.

  98. #98 DuWayne
    December 29, 2006

    gregonomic -
    So my next question is, how, if not by government intervention, can we dissuade parents from teaching beliefs which are harmful to society?

    The same way we have managed to come as far as we have, education. It isn’t a very fast way to progress, but it is working. Don’t believe it, talk to any homosexual over the age of fourty – fourty five, whether they’ve seen a difference. Certainly there is a long way to go yet, but we are moving in the right direction, the last six years aside.

  99. #99 Andrea
    December 29, 2006

    “Government simply does not have the authority to make such decisions based on ideas. Based on actions, yes. But the moment the government decides that imparting ideas is tantamount to child abuse, we are in very deep trouble. And atheists – the single most hated and distrusted group in America, ahead of Muslims and everyone else according to numerous polls – should be the absolute last people to want government to have that authority.”

    Well, first of all the courts already recognize emotional/psychological child abuse, so it’s not just physical abuse that can be objectively evaluated.

    Basically, getting one’s panties in a bunch about this is useless. The petition Dawkins signed is objectively bad for a number of reasons (e.g. it’s ambiguous in its wording, unenforceable in most circumstances, a bad legal precedent etc), and it was dumb for him to sign it, even if just as a provocation. But the real issue will boil down to whether Dawkins & C can eventually make a convincing enough case to society that religious indoctrination (as opposed to open and pluralistic education about religion) is a form of child abuse. If it is, and people (through their elected representatives and the courts) agree, then it is perfectly logical and enforceable to ban it. (By the way, Dawkins explicitly said he would also ban equivalent atheist indoctrination, or defining a child of atheist parents as “atheist”. IOW, children of atheist parents would also have to go through some form of non-exclusive, non-denominational education about religion.)

  100. #100 AndyS
    December 29, 2006

    For me, this is a clear example of the Myers/Moran/Dawkins take on religion. They seemed to have defined all religions based on extremists, thus you end up with Dawkins saying it (all religion) is a form child abuse. This petition is a BIG set back for the notion of free thought.

  101. #101 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    gregonomic wrote:

    So my next question is, how, if not by government intervention, can we dissuade parents from teaching beliefs which are harmful to society?

    I’ll give the same answer I’d give if you asked me how we can prevent people from believing stupid things: we can’t. Welcome to reality. We can attempt to persuade, of course; that is what rational people do. Only authoritarians seek to make the government the enforcer of incorrect ideas, and their pursuit of an error-free utopia is a sure path to totalitarianism.

  102. #102 gregonomic
    December 29, 2006

    DuWayne.

    Yes, I realised the ridiculousness of my re-stated question shortly after I posted it.

    And no, I don’t think it’s a good idea to give government control over what parents teach their children at home. As others, including Ed, have noted, it’s hard to imagine how that could be enforced, except in a totalitarian society.

    But I do agree with the sentiment of the petition – that indoctrination of the young is the primary reason that organised religion persists, and that efforts should be made to limit it.

  103. #103 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Andrea wrote:

    Basically, getting one’s panties in a bunch about this is useless. The petition Dawkins signed is objectively bad for a number of reasons (e.g. it’s ambiguous in its wording, unenforceable in most circumstances, a bad legal precedent etc), and it was dumb for him to sign it, even if just as a provocation. But the real issue will boil down to whether Dawkins & C can eventually make a convincing enough case to society that religious indoctrination (as opposed to open and pluralistic education about religion) is a form of child abuse. If it is, and people (through their elected representatives and the courts) agree, then it is perfectly logical and enforceable to ban it.

    No, I absolutely disagree. I don’t care how convincing Dawkins or anyone else is in this regard. Indeed, the more convincing they are the worse off we will all be. It makes no difference whatsoever to me how such a policy is passed or how it is justified, such a policy is inherently totalitarian and unjust. And I simply don’t care how many people agree, any more than I would care if 99% of the population agrees that gays should be imprisoned. Unjust laws are unjust laws regardless of how many people agree with them.

  104. #104 gregonomic
    December 29, 2006

    kehrsam:

    Zealots are not such from birth, nor does indoctrination at a young age make much difference unless it is truly extreme.

    Really? I have always assumed that most religious people are the same religion as their parents because of indoctrination at a young age. In fact, I’ve regarded it as such a truism that I’ve never bothered to investigate it further. Does anyone have any stats?

  105. #105 kehrsam
    December 29, 2006

    gregonomic said:

    indoctrination of the young is the primary reason that organised religion persists, and that efforts should be made to limit it.

    This is simply wrong, and contradicted by the last 100+ years of sociology. Membership in a religous organization has clear social and economic benefits for the individual, especially if she is a member of the locally dominant group. In addition, there are considerable psychic benefits as well. If people did not feel religion to be valuable in their lives, social evolution would have left it behind millenia ago. You might as well argue against people continuing to make use of fire: It is culturally selected for the same reason, that it is beneficial.

    Membership in a religion is an extirely rational choice, whether belief in itself is rational or not. I’m not sure why I have to repeat this distinction every couple of weeks.

  106. #106 kehrsam
    December 29, 2006

    Before someone else jumps on the point: No, the fact that religion has been valuable in the past does not mean that it will continue to be so. Societies change, and a one-time rational belief (say, cow protection in India) does not always remain correct. In that case, the belief will be abandoned. Societies evolve, too, and like species they select those elements of culture which best adapt to the environment they inhabit.

  107. #107 DuWayne
    December 29, 2006

    gregonomic -

    Actually, I would argue that the reason organised religion persists, is the sense of security that it provides it’s followers. The way to defeat it is through education. People who are educated, learn that the same sense of security and community that their faith provides them is possible without the faith. In microcosm this is not so apparent, there are educated people who still have faith. But if you look at society at large, it is apparent that educating the population decreases the impact of religion. Even among people who claim some religious or spiritual belief, it has less impact, less import.

    Fighting to truly seperate the state and religion is also of critical importance. I would argue that the petition being discussed would go a long way to hamper that goal if it were introduced in the U.S. It would give absolute truth to the fear that right wingnuts have of those godless atheists, using the government to destroy religion. And they would be right. Problem is that the backlash could easily sweep up those who are not very religious, who certainly don’t object to seperating religion and the state – many of whom actively support science education and many other progressive ideals. It sets the battle line beyond the support of many people who are all about supporting ideas that will achieve the goals that most of us support.

    BTW, I am not an atheist. I am a Christian with distinctly deist leanings. I attend church and even work with the kids in my church – which is remarkable, as I have encouraged more than one kid there that if they are going to have sex, they should use condoms. But ultimately, I do not support the destruction of organized religion. I accept that it is a natural side effect of education, which I most definately do support, but I bear religion itself, no animosity.

  108. #108 kehrsam
    December 29, 2006

    gregonomic:

    In anser to your question, I think the reason that people stay in the same church or denomination as their parents is inertia more than anything else. The most important fact of continuity is purely social: This is the church your family and friends attend.

    I attend a formerly rural (now suburban) church and this aspect is especially clear. Several families have been attending for generations, and we are spread throughout the community in such a way that nearly everyone has a connection to us, be it through teachers and school principals, the local postmaster, the church daycare, or one of the various community-based recovery programs we sponsor (I lead the divorce recovery program). Literally everyone is aware of the church, even if they attend somewhere else.

    As I noted earlier, we lose the majority of our youth for at least a time. But when they marry and/or start having children, they come back for the benefits of child care, socializing with other couples in similar situations, etc. If all we did was have potluck suppers, we would still be the main organizing force in the community. The ideology of a shared belief system is just an extra organizing tool for most people.

  109. #109 island
    December 29, 2006

    Wow, Ed… good call.

    I have a lot more respect for Richard Dawkins than the more-reaching rationale that has become increasingly more necessary to his most extreme position ever. I think that this is higly indicitive of what happens to the clarity of rational thought, (as distortion is affected by degrees of extremism), when one becomes entirely confident they their side of the culture war is **totally** correct.

    Sam Clemens called it, “insanity”.

  110. #110 gregonomic
    December 29, 2006

    kehrsam:

    Membership in a religous organization has clear social and economic benefits for the individual, especially if she is a member of the locally dominant group.

    You are probably correct on this point. As I said, I’ve never investigated it to a great extent.

    But I’m not sure I agree with you on this:

    Membership in a religion is an extirely rational choice, whether belief in itself is rational or not.

    And finally:

    I’m not sure why I have to repeat this distinction every couple of weeks.

    Um, because some of us don’t read every single comment on every single blog post on ScienceBlogs?

  111. #111 Roman Werpachowski
    December 29, 2006

    Did it occur to Dawkins that teaching kids the “scientific method” could also be seen as a form of indoctrination?

  112. #112 Joshua
    December 29, 2006

    This petard Dawkins has supposedly hoist himself upon is a complete dud. I struggle to think of any possible gesture with less relevance or meaning than a signature on an online petition.

  113. #113 Roman Werpachowski
    December 29, 2006

    “I struggle to think of any possible gesture with less relevance or meaning than a signature on an online petition.”

    I guess it depends on how much value on sees in his own name and signature.

  114. #114 kehrsam
    December 29, 2006

    “I struggle to think of any possible gesture with less relevance or meaning than a signature on an online petition.”

    Offhand, I can think of one. And precisely why are you commenting on this online blog?

  115. #115 Roman Werpachowski
    December 29, 2006

    I consider ADL to be a somewhat hypocritical organization, but for a different reason. Namely, they celebrate the First Amendment in the USA ( http://www.adl.org/civil_rights/ ), but expect from Poland ( http://www.adl.org/main_International_Affairs/poland_challenge_of_extremism.htm ) to implement laws which would violate the First Amendment if they were implemented in the USA:

    The provisions of the Polish Constitution and Penal Code which deal with racism and anti-Semitism should be fully implemented. Radio Maryja, which has consistently violated these provisions by broadcasting hate speech, should be held to account in a court of law. The station should not receive funds from individuals whose racist and anti-Semitic activities are in breach of Polish law.

  116. #116 Roman Werpachowski
    December 29, 2006

    Ooops, wrong window. Ed, could you delete this and the above post?

  117. #117 Parson Jim
    December 29, 2006

    And the godless and bereft walked among the Believers;
    Shorn of their wisdom and mind,
    As they bring pollution and ignorance to the people.
    And the faithful shall seek out the godless,
    filling their souls with the richness
    of wonderment and praise for their God.
    Touched by His Noodly Appendage,
    the unwashed shall be clean, the crippled shall walk and
    the unbelievers shall bear witness to the true faith….

  118. #118 Parson Jim
    December 29, 2006

    And the godless and bereft walked among the Believers;
    Shorn of their wisdom and mind,
    As they bring pollution and ignorance to the people.
    And the faithful shall seek out the godless,
    filling their souls with the richness
    of wonderment and praise for their God.
    Touched by His Noodly Appendage,
    the unwashed shall be clean, the crippled shall walk and
    the unbelievers shall bear witness to the true faith….

  119. #119 kehrsam
    December 29, 2006

    But I’m not sure I agree with you on this:

    Membership in a religion is an extirely rational choice, whether belief in itself is rational or not.

    Consider this: Given my church’s annual budget, the average adult member gives about $400 per year in support of its activities. Can you honestly claim that there is no return on this investment? If that were true, I submit that after a generation or two — at most — church membership would be nonexistent.

    It is the same as with NASCAR. I can’t explain why people spend serious money to watch a bunch of good ol’ boys turn left, but I have to assume that enough people are being sufficiently entertained to make it viable. Religion continues to attract both people and their resources; my conclusion is that they are receiving benefits at least equal to their contribution. I’m an economist, a lawyer, and a fan of Judge Posner’s arguments, so I may be biased here. But I think it is hard to wave away the reality of the situation.

  120. #120 Gretchen
    December 29, 2006

    Consider this: Given my church’s annual budget, the average adult member gives about $400 per year in support of its activities.

    Wow. Think how much that could actually make a difference if otherwise spent. It could, for example, “give a classroom of children playground equipment and clean water for drinking and handwashing.”

  121. #121 Brian
    December 29, 2006

    Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but just a few thoughts:

    1) I can’t say that I disagree entirely with the spirit of the petition (i.e., that religious indoctrination and definition can and often are harmful);
    but
    2) As others have mentioned, not only is this petition impractical and unactionable, but government in a free and secular society has no business muddling about with such things;
    however
    3) I don’t think Dawkins is so daft as to miss that fact;
    and therefore
    4) I wonder whether the point of the petition is not so much to prompt action, but rather discourse and/or awareness.

    I just find it very difficult to believe that Dawkins is actually pushing for this, and furthermore that he believes it is, in any way, shape, or form, a realistic and rational goal. Therefore, my money’s on this being an exaggerated solution for the sake of sparking discussion about a real but generally unaddressed issue.

  122. #122 Parson Jim
    December 29, 2006

    Ramen.

  123. #123 GMH
    December 29, 2006

    As has been pointed out, the verb ‘indoctrinate’ has a very specific meaning; one that – most notably, to my mind – includes the qualifier ‘uncritically’. This is very different from ‘instruct’ or ‘teach’, or even ‘encourage’.

    I see ‘teaching’ or ‘instruction’as a fine thing. I think Dawkins would agree. Teach the scientific method, Darwinism, Psalms, Matthew 5-7, the Koran. Heck, do a survey course on devotional art, architecture and music throughout the ages. But… Teach. It. Critically.

    If, on the other hand, you feel it is your inalienable right as an adult or a parent to use your child’s lack of experience and critical faculties as a TOOL to better bend them to your will? Well, I don’t have to respect that.

    If you don’t see or understand the difference, or why an athiest of the Dawkins, Dennet stripe simply CAN NOT employ indoctrination as a tool in the effective teaching of their ‘beliefs’ because that worldview absolutely relies on critical thinking as a pre-requisite. (Are there atheists who would/do choose to indoctrinate? You bet. Also and equally a problem).

    The labelling thing is also an area I can see being subject to limitations. It’s one thing as an adult to proclaim oneself as ‘atheist’, ‘catholic’, ‘pagan’, ‘Keynesian’, ‘Marxist’, ‘Republican’, ‘Nazi’ etc. It is COMPLETELY another for a child below the age of informed consent to so be labeled – by anyone, even their own parents. Even themselves. At best it’s kind of cute; it can also be really sinister (5 year old voice: “I’m a Xtian. My mom says you’re going to hell!” How sweet.)

    To those who don’t think that indoctrination in religious hogwash can be considered ‘abusive’, or feel it their place to belittle the experiences of others (you know who you are): You probably never stayed awake all night sobbing because you finally grasped that your granpa (who wasn’t quite ‘saved’), or your Jewish playmate from down the block, or you estranged (gay) brother, or (if you’re not on the straight and narrow every moment) quite possibly yourself, was doomed to Hell. (You know: Torture and fire and smoke and pain. Forever). What kind of Monster makes a little kid experience that fear and horror? I’ll tell you: A Monster who really believes it to be true. And yes, I think it would be a good thing if society could offer little kids a modicum of protection gainst those Monsters. Call me crazy.

    All that said, I think the government would prove a poor tool at enforcing this sort of thing. I’d be perfectly satisfied if all governments simply divorced itself from operating, endorsing, or funding ANY religious schools whatsoever and taught only (in that context) comparative religion (it would be absolutely required for any understanding of history, current events, art history etc…).

    Private schools could still be operated, but I would like to see that they were required (under pain of closure) to teach that comparative religion course (and of course the usual subjects)in addition to whatever claptrap they wished to promulgate.

  124. #124 kehrsam
    December 29, 2006

    Brian: So Dawkins is doing his Dennis Kucinich impression?

    Gretchen: It is less than many people spend on cable TV. My point is, when people spend money, this is usually an indication of what they think is valuable. I don’t make a lot of money, which makes a statement of where I stand on the issue. If people in the US thought it valuable to spend money on poverty around the world, then they would do so. The US budget pretty well answers that, now doesn’t it?

    FWIW, several years back I had a chance to interview Edmund Muskie. When I asked what he thought his greatest mistake had been, he answered that in his first campaign for the Senate he ran on a platform of increasing US awareness in the world and ending poverty. He won anyway.

  125. #125 gregonomic
    December 29, 2006

    kehrsam:

    Given my church’s annual budget, the average adult member gives about $400 per year in support of its activities. Can you honestly claim that there is no return on this investment?

    No. But I can doubt that the entire $400 is given for the lovely family atmosphere your church provides. How much of that – $100? $200? All of it? – is donated so that maybe, just maybe, St Peter might look favourably upon the donor?

  126. #126 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Brian wrote:

    4) I wonder whether the point of the petition is not so much to prompt action, but rather discourse and/or awareness.

    I just find it very difficult to believe that Dawkins is actually pushing for this, and furthermore that he believes it is, in any way, shape, or form, a realistic and rational goal. Therefore, my money’s on this being an exaggerated solution for the sake of sparking discussion about a real but generally unaddressed issue.

    If that is the case, it is without a doubt the single dumbest idea he’s ever had. If you’re going to go around the world talking about how atheists are mistreated and misunderstood and the only truly rational people, you could scarcely come up with a worse idea than signing a petition telling people that you support the government punishing them for teaching their children their religion. It reinforces every possible negative stereotype you are trying to counter and makes you look not only like an ignoramus, but a Stalinist as well. Is that worth “sparking discussion” over? Anyone who would think so needs a serious reality check.

  127. #127 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    GMH wrote:

    If, on the other hand, you feel it is your inalienable right as an adult or a parent to use your child’s lack of experience and critical faculties as a TOOL to better bend them to your will? Well, I don’t have to respect that.

    And I doubt anyone cares what you respect or don’t respect, or what Dawkins respects or doesn’t respect (or for that matter, what religious parents respect or don’t respect). You are absolutely free to think that parents who raise their children to be religious is a horrible, diabolical thing; what you can’t do is use the power of government to punish those who disagree with you.

  128. #128 Brian
    December 29, 2006

    Whoah, whoah, whoah…

    All due respect, Ed, but I think you can agree there is a difference, subtle though it may seem, between “teaching” and “indoctrinating”. The petition didn’t say, as you imply, that the government should punish folks for “teaching their children their religion”. It pretty clearly referred to the indoctrination of children into, and definition of children by, their religion, which is a different beast.

    That said: Ed & kersham, is it misguided? You bet. I’d even go so far as to label it a Bad Idea. But I maintain that it is not intended as a call to action, which I suppose is my way of saying I personally don’t think he’s a complete Buffoon for what he did there (only a partial one).. If he really meant it, now that would be buffoonery.

  129. #129 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Brian wrote:

    All due respect, Ed, but I think you can agree there is a difference, subtle though it may seem, between “teaching” and “indoctrinating”. The petition didn’t say, as you imply, that the government should punish folks for “teaching their children their religion”. It pretty clearly referred to the indoctrination of children into, and definition of children by, their religion, which is a different beast.

    Sorry, I think this is nonsense. You give me a coherent distinction between the two. How do you distinguish between parents taking their kids to church, teaching them that their beliefs are true, leading them in prayers and Bible reading – you know, all the routine stuff that a serious Christian parent would do (and a serious Jew, Muslim, or Hindu would do with their respective articles of faith) – and “indoctrination”? Tell me, in particular, how the government is going to draw the line and how they’re going to know who is crossing that line. The only possible way it could be enforced is with tactics that would make Orwell himself blanch. If you want to take the position that he doesn’t really mean it, then frankly he just isn’t as bright as everyone, me included, has always thought. You don’t make yourself sound, literally, like a Stalinist in order to “spark discussion”, especially when a major part of your life’s work is trying to convince people that atheism is rational and not a threat to liberty.

  130. #130 Andrea
    December 29, 2006

    “No, I absolutely disagree. I don’t care how convincing Dawkins or anyone else is in this regard. Indeed, the more convincing they are the worse off we will all be. It makes no difference whatsoever to me how such a policy is passed or how it is justified, such a policy is inherently totalitarian and unjust. And I simply don’t care how many people agree, any more than I would care if 99% of the population agrees that gays should be imprisoned. Unjust laws are unjust laws regardless of how many people agree with them.”

    It is unjust only if you put the right of the parents (to educate their children in their own preferred way) above the right of the children (not to be brainwashed/abused/indoctrinated). This is not a numerical, majority-decides issue, it is an issue of recognizing a form of rights that currently are not recognized (or not always recognized), which is of course the prerogative of any free society.

    In the case of gays, the violation of their rights is obvious to anyone who’s not blinded by prejudice – they are adults, do not harm anyone by their freely-chosen behavior, and therefore society has no business limiting their freedom. On the other hand, we as a society agree that it is a crime for an adult to have sex with a minor under the age of consent, even if that minor agrees to have sex and/or appears not to be traumatized by the experience. We do so because we grant minors the right to a freely chosen sexuality, a right they can better fulfill after they are able to make such a free choice, i.e. after they reach the age of consent, and certainly not when they are influenced by someone in a clear position of power over them, such as an adult. (Whether this generally sensible principle is always implemented correctly is of course a different story.)

    As I see it, the logic to any limit to religious indoctrination would work very much the same way. We would recognize to every child the right to pursue their own set of beliefs as soon as they are capable of doing so, and therefore would prevent any belief system (religious or a-religious) to be effectively forced onto them, whether they agree or not, before they can freely pursue their own choices.

    I am not necessarily arguing that this would be the right thing to do, or advisable or practical even if it were right, just that it is not the crazy violation of unalienable rights you (and some folks at TT) seem to think it is.

  131. #131 Ed Brayton
    December 29, 2006

    Andrea-

    Then just answer one question: how do you detect it and enforce it? It is not possible without the most intrusive police state imaginable. Do you really think the government has the authority, under any circumstances, to order parents not to tell their children that their beliefs are true? I just can’t believe anyone in their right mind would even consider this.

  132. #132 Dave S.
    December 29, 2006

    All due respect, Ed, but I think you can agree there is a difference, subtle though it may seem, between “teaching” and “indoctrinating”.

    Very subtle indeed. How exactly can parents teach their religion to their kids without indoctrinating them in it? I mean, given that ‘to instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology; to teach or inculcate; to imbue with learning.’ is in the the definition indoctrinate, sounds like it might be tricky.

    The petition didn’t say, as you imply, that the government should punish folks for “teaching their children their religion”. It pretty clearly referred to the indoctrination of children into, and definition of children by, their religion, which is a different beast.

    “In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians.”

    I see the word “teaching” in there.

    But I maintain that it is not intended as a call to action …

    “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.”

    If that’s not a call to action, what is?

    Aside: I notice Richard Dawkins is on the list twice. This ain’t Chicago people!

  133. #133 DuWayne
    December 29, 2006

    Andrea -

    The problem is that the only way to enforce what you suggest is to just take kids away from their parents to be raised by the state. I don’t disagree that serious indoctrination of children is bad for the kid. I am a direct result of such indoctrination and still have issues because of that.

    The other problem is where do we stop? If we are to stop the expression of religion to children, can we allow them to grow up thinking people that wear a different colour skin are inherently evil? Can we allow them to be told that gay people are just sick? Can we allow them to be told that environmentalists are a bunch of whack-jobs?

    Or conversly, if power shifts again (not that it seems securely lefty), can we allow them to be told about evolution? Can we allow them to be told that God belief is a bunch of non-sense? Can we allow them to be told the earth is billions of years old?

    The solution is education. Period.

  134. #134 Mumon
    December 29, 2006

    It does sort of beg the question: what is abusive, and what is instructive to teach children about religion?

    We on the liberal/libertarian/left side of things are all to eager to cede ground that is readily occupied by fundamentalist Christians claiming infringement of their “rights” or a “war” on “their beliefs,” but it is plain as the nose on anyone’s face that this line is a line, and it is crossed.

    And it is altogether not a bad thing to find a way to let fundamentalisms and literalisms atrophy and die.

  135. #135 Andrea
    December 29, 2006

    Then just answer one question: how do you detect it and enforce it? It is not possible without the most intrusive police state imaginable.
    This is a separate issue, but I feel it is not very relevant. One could also say we cannot reasonably enforce a ban on all consensual sex between adult and minors (which I am sure is far more prevalent that the few well-publicized prosecutions show). We can only pursue the matter in the extremely rare cases in which it is discovered somehow and can be reasonably proven, or people confess to it. The point remains that the ban exists, it’s widely supported, is reasonable and we don’t particularly have to sacrifice our civil liberties for it.
    Do you really think the government has the authority, under any circumstances, to order parents not to tell their children that their beliefs are true? I just can’t believe anyone in their right mind would even consider this.
    I don’t think this is the case. You can think you are right about something, and openly state so to your children, while still giving them an open-minded and pluralistic education on the subject. Indeed, I think many, perhaps even most religious parents already fall in this category, or close to it. (Disclaimer: I lived all my life in Europe, and the Northeastern US. ;-) )

  136. #136 Christopher Heard
    December 29, 2006

    Ed -

    I largely agree with your sentiments as expressed in the post and the comments. However, to be fair, the two petitions were apparently submitted by different people (according to the PM’s web site). In that light, “spinning” the “anti-indoctrination” petition as focused chiefly on UK government-funded or government-run schools is not necessarily invalidated by the existence of the “anti-faith schools” petition.

    If you ask me (okay, you didn’t, but I’ll tell you anyway), both petitions are poorly worded. There’s been plenty of talk about the “anti-indoctrination” petition here, but consider also the wording of the “anti-faith schools” petition:

    We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Abolish all faith schools and prohibit the teaching of creationism and other religious mythology in all UK schools.

    If we take this petition “literally” (and I think that petitions with legislative intent should be held to very rigorous “quality control” standards), the humanities would be greatly impoverished should anything like this become law anywhere. Yes, keeping creationism out of schools is a good thing. (Keeping it out of churches would be good, too–and I say this as a biblical scholar whose specialty is the literary-aesthetic qualities and social impact of the book of Genesis.) But what does it mean to “teach” religious mythology? Literature and history teachers “teach (about)” religious theology all the time. Strictly speaking, this petition would not just get rid of creationism, but also of the Odyssey, the Aenead, the Bible as a cultural artifact of the ancient Near East, the Book of the Dead (Tibetan or Egyptian), etc. You couldn’t even teach about the deification of Augustus Caesar by the Roman Senate. The “anti-faith schools” petition is very poorly composed.

  137. #137 Miguelito
    December 29, 2006

    I find it absolutely terrifying that people would so gladly hand over this kind of responsibility to the government in how they parent their children. As an atheist, and as such I’m in a minority that is highly disrespected by the highly religious, any such law would easily be manipulated to attack and prohibit my beliefs. What the hell is Dawkins thinking? Does he have no sense of irony?

    Frankly, I’ll be interested to see what PZ Myers’ view is on this issue.

  138. #138 Sobex
    December 29, 2006

    “If you want to take the position that he doesn’t really mean it, then frankly he just isn’t as bright as everyone, me included, has always thought. You don’t make yourself sound, literally, like a Stalinist in order to “spark discussion”, especially when a major part of your life’s work is trying to convince people that atheism is rational and not a threat to liberty.”

    If the choice is between accepting that RD made an unintelligent choice in approving the petition, or assuming he fully accepts the totalitarian ramifications of said petition, I’d go with the former, given the various books I’ve read from him and the oral/video interviews I’ve heard/seen of him. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s capable of being dumb once in awhile like the rest of us.

  139. #139 jo
    December 29, 2006

    “no government has the authority to decide what views they may teach to their children”

    Who do you mean by they? The parents? Cause if you meant gov’mnt, you’d be wrong. Gov’mnt dictates what children are taught everyday.
    I happen to agree with Dawkins. Religion should be a choice that springs from personal inspiration. I believe that is something only an adult can do. Despite how passionate children can be, they don’t have the experience to make balanced decisions about their own spirituality. And if the church folks feel that indoctrinating children before they can decide for themselves is the only method that will work for them then I feel sorry that they have so little faith in the power of what they preach.

  140. #140 Rich
    December 30, 2006

    Ed Wrote:

    “If I had any idea what you were talking about, I suppose I might”

    GrrRRrr. That’s it, you’re getting “the open society and its enemies” for your Birthday. Date?

  141. #141 Ira Fuse
    December 30, 2006

    Raging Bee wrote:

    As for the argument that religious “indoctrination” “harms” children, that’s just the same excuse an earlier generation of Christians used to justify breaking up non-Christian families.

    Christians claimed that religious indoctrination harms children? If only they believed as much.

  142. #142 GH
    December 30, 2006

    Sorry, I think this is nonsense. You give me a coherent distinction between the two. How do you distinguish between parents taking their kids to church, teaching them that their beliefs are true, leading them in prayers and Bible reading – you know, all the routine stuff that a serious Christian parent would do (and a serious Jew, Muslim, or Hindu would do with their respective articles of faith) – and “indoctrination

    Interesting convesation. I do think there is a difference between indoctrination and education. If one sits in a comparative religion class one is being educated. When a child is forced from a young age to go to all the events you listed for a particualr denomination while having reinforced by that same community the veracity of the ‘belief’ as opposed to others in an ongoing process that lasts years I think it is no longer educational.

    I think the education part can be done pretty quickly and the vast majority of services are simply reinforcement of these beliefs pounded in to youngsters.

    I appreciated Lettuces comments above.

    We lose 60% of our youth to the secular culture,

    what does that mean exactly? You mean they don’t toe the party line and think for themselves? I would think the church would applaud this if not for the fact of dare i say it ‘indoctrination’?

    A little leg pulling kersham. I suspect your a closeted Nascar fan.:-)

  143. #143 Shmuel
    December 30, 2006

    Atheists have been going on a lot lately about how horrible it is to teach kids about religion. It’s starting to remind me of an earlier era, when intolerant Christians forcibly took Native American kids away from their “Heathen savage” parents…

    Then it should come as no surprise that the new “Evangelical Athiests” primarily come from Christian backgrounds. You can take the god of out Christianity, but not the prosletyzing it seems. Secular Jews today don’t feel the need to make more athiests in the same way that athiests with Christmans trees seem to.

  144. #144 Roman Werpachowski
    December 30, 2006

    Ed:

    Then just answer one question: how do you detect it and enforce it? It is not possible without the most intrusive police state imaginable.

    You’re wrong in this regard. The answer is very simple: prosecute religious indoctrination of a minor only when the minor complains to the police about it. Not that I disagree with you about this petition, but your idea that such law would inherently lead to an Orwellian police state seems a bit over the top.

  145. #145 GMH
    December 30, 2006

    Ed: I get from your tone that my post angered you. Sorry about that. I am forced to take exception, however at your interpretation of my content.

    “…You are absolutely free to think that parents who raise their children to be religious is a horrible, diabolical thing;”

    I am so free, thank you. It is NOT quite what I wrote, however. Parsing actual content seems to be an ongoing challenge around here.

    In my post I drew a line between ‘indoctrination’ (as a pedagogical technique, if you will) and actual learning (teaching – even raising etc.). Clearly condemning the one without the other. Others have made the point that the distinction is potentially too subtle to be useful (I don’t quite agree, but it is an area of reasonable dispute). You ignored the distinction altogether and caricaturized my position in a distinctly straw-mannish way.

    You THEN ascribe to me a remedy I expressly did not endorse (although the original Petition did): “what you can’t do is use the power of government to punish those who disagree with you.”

    I took the position that gov’t should get the heck out of the religion business altogether (I am a product of state funded religious schools and am entitled to this opinion).

    To be clear though: IS (some, at least) religious indoctrination ‘diabolical’, horrible and abusive? Why yes, it is. I have felt and seen that abuse and its effects. Others have testified to this here and were belittled for their efforts. Feel free to so belittle me if it reinforces your self identification with your ‘in-group’. Countless millions suffer physically and psychologically from this abuse and its aftereffects, flip dismissals from the bleachers notwithstanding.

    So, would it be NICE if society could, you know, step in and prevent/ameliorate this abuse? Damn right. I am dubious that will occur anytime soon, as the prevailing view is that children are extensions or ‘property’ of parents rather than imbued with natural rights of their own.

    The key aspect of indoctrination that offends ME is the idea that those indoctrinated are in effect coerced intp accepting the doctrines in question uncritically. This is typically because the doctrines are presented very early, very consistently, very strenuously, and typically exclusively. A number of exceedingly effective psychological techniques are used in this enterprise as well.

    I maintain that this is generally speaking a BAD THING for the child and for society. However, I concede the point that utilizing government to police this would be deeply problematical if not disastrous. Others have made the point that the line between a workable definition of ‘indoctrination’ and plain ordinary ‘teaching’ is too subtle, which compounds the challenges involved.

    Hence the other item I actually advocated: educational innoculation against indoctrination by providing/mandating comprehensive instruction in comparative religion and the associated histories, arts, and philosophies et al.

    Is there some well founded objection to that idea?

  146. #146 Lettuce
    December 30, 2006

    Can we start taxing chuches now?

    I understand the fear of giving government the power to tell parents what they can and can’t “teach” their children.

    I guess I’m just not asimpressed with the power of the government to coerce to the exclusion of other entities to coerce, for good or for ill.

    The religion industry is very powerful, and the field is quite lucrative (although the stock in AiG seems to have taken something of a hit in the last year). The religion industry is darn near omnipresent.

    I live less than two miles from the largest mall in southeastern Wisconsin, to get there I need to drive past four churches. Does it bother me they exist, not really. I read the sign board out front of the most prominent one almost every day and I chuckle, gernerally at the amazing gullibility and ignorance on display (IF evolution is true, why are there still monkeys? Or the invitation to the latest spiritual healing “crusade”, etc…)

    But, then, sometimes I drive past and there are children going in for Bible study, or Saturday/Sunday servies are starting and families are walking in… I’m not so impressed by the coercive power of the state to the exclusion of all else at those times.

    I hpe the kids are strong, and I “pray” they’re getting a decent education that lets them see through and past the nuttier stuff they’e been indocrtinated with; because eventually I’m going to have to deal with them as adults, as they elect the coercive government.

    To me? That’s frightening.

    In large part, I leave them alone. If only they would leave me alone, but they just can’t. They HAVE to have their cross on my city’s street signs, and when “outside agitators” take that away (because apparently I can’t exist in this community, they are ALWAYS outside agitators who speak for nobody) they just stick “In God We Trust” on the signs and, it seems to me, there’s nothing they like more than jamming their beliefs into every available crevice, and they don’t mine making me pay for it.

    So, can we tax churches at least.

    (FWIW: The town in question is Wauwatosa, Wiscosnsin)

  147. #147 Grady
    December 30, 2006

    Lettuce, you say that “in large part, I leave them alone.”

    We are talking about kids here. What do you mean “in large part”?

    As far as the law is concerned, YOU leave them COMPLETELY alone.

  148. #148 Grady
    December 30, 2006

    By the way Ed, your post was great.

    It is clear that Dawkins own arrogance is leading him to self destruct.

    Of course, many have attempted to destroy religion, from the French Revolution, through the Soviet experiments, to modern day China.

    All have failed.

    Dawkins will fail.

    Even faster than I anticipated.

  149. #149 JS
    December 30, 2006

    I, as others before me, call BS on the notion that you cannot tell apart religious teaching and indoctrination. Cult awareness and recovery groups identify the scars of indoctrination on a very regular basis, and attempt to aid cult defectors in dealing with them. If there is not a rigourous, medical defintion of brainwashing or social engineering, it is certainly not for lack of raw data to consider.

    But even without such a definition, we could certainly make headway compared to the current situation if we could all agree that it was illegal to inflict treatment upon you children that leads to depression, post-traumatic stress, reduced cognition, reduced concentration and learning capacity and/or other mental injuries normally associated with torture.

    These trauma can be fairly readily diagnosed and to some extend even treated, and are already today the basis for many a warcrimes trial – surely a standard rigourous enough to condemn a man to life in prison without parole should be sufficient to condemn a parent for neglect or abuse?

    Returning to the petition in question, an absolute ban on religious indoctrination would have to be handled in much the same fashion as the (to my knowledge) absolute bans on striking children, providing children under the age of 16 with alcoholic bewerages stronger than cider, with tobacco, or with lewd and/or violent media content:

    Yes, it is technically illegal, and yes you can technically be fined for doing it, but I will wager that not one person on this thread can say with a straight face that (s)he has not experienced any of those things in his/her childhood or that such transgressions were punished to the letter of the law.

    Why is this the case? Because, as some people here appearently need reminding, prohibiting something does not expand the rights of the government to investigate on a hunch. Probable cause is still required and, in some parts of the worlds at least, warrentless search and seizure is still illegal.

    In point of fact, and since others have already started playing the historical parallel game, may I remind the honoured readership here that virtually the same visions of Orwellian dystopia were conjured by critics of the laws that made wife-beating and later child-beating punishable offences:

    Surely such laws would unduely interfere with the legitimate privacy of family life. Clearly what goes on behind the doors of the home is no-one’s business but the home-owner’s. Surely such laws would make the government park black helicopters outside people’s front doors and watch them come and go. And you cannot in a sober state of mind mean to tell an adult parent how he can or cannot raise his child, can you?

    As we all know, of course, history’s answer to those objections were, respectively, ‘nope, only to an extend, didn’t happen and indeed we can.’

    Now, there are many and more things to be said for not making laws that you know in advance will only be sloppily enforced and obeyed, if at all. There is also, however, a case to be made that laws to protect children from abuse (physical or mental), as well as from addictive substances, are in order, even if such laws will naturally tend to be overly broad.

    You would not want, for instance, a law prohibiting only ‘harmful’ beating of children, although in practice that is the way laws against beating children are enforced. Similarily, you would not make a law that prohibited only a fraction of all tobacco sales to children. Yet we accept that only a vanishingly small and almost completely random fraction of vendors are ever fined for providing children with tobacco, even though surveys plainly show that this small number cannot account for the consumption in those age groups.

    There are certainly cases where religious training falls into both the ‘abuse’ and the ‘addictive substances’ cathegories. And if you would quarrel with that statement, I only ask that you first consult a couple of defectors from the Moonies or Scientology.

    And as a final note: Considering the scathing criticism that this very blog often directs towards unwarrented hyperbole, I think it would be most fitting and appropriate if everyone put away the flamethrowers. Thank you for your attention.

    - JS

  150. #150 Kristjan Wager
    December 30, 2006

    I, for one, have a great problem with Ed’s behaviour in this comment thread.

    He reads the petition, and criticizes it – which is fine insofar he has understod it correctly. However, when people who have a better grounding in UK culture explains that there are other issues at play, he completely brushes these objections aside, and demands that the partition should have been written more clearly, so it couldn’t be misunderstod.

    Well, you know what, it is not aimed at you – it’s aimed at people inside the UK, who actually carries the same cultural baggage as the writers of the petition. Maybe it’s not written clearly enough, but it’s not for you to say, as you don’t have the cultural baggage to understand it. Had the petition been aimed towards the US, then it would be another story, but it’s not.

  151. #151 Kristjan Wager
    December 30, 2006

    It would be like a Danish petition demanding that certain politicians be prosecuted for racist speech – that would be utterly alien in the US, but quite possible in Denmark.

  152. #152 Russell Blackford
    December 30, 2006

    As we used to say when I worked in labour relations, “That looks like a claim with a bit of ambit in it.”

  153. #153 Shmuel
    December 30, 2006

    Well, you know what, it is not aimed at you – it’s aimed at people inside the UK

    From what I’ve heard, athiests in the UK (like Dawkins) won’t give up their Christmas Trees. To rationalize putting a dead tree in their living rooms, they argue that it’s merely part of an astronomically motivated “winter festival” with utilitarian and communitarian value. Because, they argue, such behavior isn’t motivated by “supernatural beliefs” it’s not “religous” afterall and we can presume it wouldn’t be made illegal to exchange gifts on the solstices.

    Now, what if I put on teffilin but I don’t believe in God? What if I teach my son to put on teffilin but leave the question of god’s existence open? (Judaism actually allows for such doubt. It is by definition non-dogmatic. There are no essential or mandatory beliefs.) Is my behavior illegal or legal? The answer depends on what I’m *thinking* not doing.

    Evangelical atheists think all religion is like Christianity. It’s offensive and just the latest mutation of Christian proselytization. It’s no doubt that this new “mandatory” universalism wreaks of totalitariansim.

  154. #154 Richard Dawkins
    December 30, 2006

    I did sign the petition, but I hadn’t thought it through when I did so, and I now regret it. I have asked the organizer to remove my name. Unfortunately, it seems that the list has already gone off to Downing Street but the organizer, Jamie Wallis, has kindly asked their web manager to remove my name. I suspect that he himself may be having second thoughts about the wording, and I respect him for that. It isn’t always easy to get the exact wording right.

    I signed it having read only the main petition: “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.” I regret to say that I did not notice the supporting statement with the heading, “More details from petition creator”: “In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians.” If I had read that, I certainly would not have signed the petition, because, as explained in The God Delusion, I am in favour of teaching the Bible as literature, and I am in favour of teaching comparative religion. In any case, like any decent liberal, I am opposed to the element of government coercion in the wording. Furthermore, the Prime Minister, thank goodness, does not have the power to ‘make’ anything ‘illegal’. Only parliament has the power to do that.

    I signed the main petition, because I really am passionately opposed to DEFINING children by the religion of their parents (while ‘indoctrination’ is such a loaded word, nobody could be in favour of it). I was so delighted to hear of somebody else who cared about the defining or labelling of children by the religion of their parents (how would you react if you heard a child described as a ‘seclular humanist child’ or a ‘neo-conservative child’?) that I signed it without reading on and without thinking. Mea culpa.

  155. #155 Shmuel
    December 30, 2006

    how would you react if you heard a child described as a ‘seclular humanist child’ or a ‘neo-conservative child’?

    A “Jewish child” need not accept any dogmatic supernatural belief to be classified as Jewish. Again, Dawkins conflates all religion with the dogmatic ones, like Christianity and Islam. It’s offensive.

  156. #156 kehrsam
    December 30, 2006

    Dr. Dawkins: Thank you for your gracious reply and explanation. We should be guided by the things which bind us together, rather than make issues of relative trifles. All the best.

  157. #157 decrepitoldfool
    December 30, 2006

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Dawkins’ assertion that teaching religion to children is child abuse. Let’s try to define “child abuse”.

    My definition: if you deliberately do something to a child that impairs its ability to have a happy life, that is child abuse. Admittedly a non-technical definition.

    Yet I know many, many religious people who were raised in religious homes, who are happy adults and who receive considerable benefit from their religion.

    Writerddd above was harmed, not so much by religion, as by ignorance, by extremism. Yet Dawkins lumps them in together, a very un-nuanced approach.

  158. #158 Kristjan Wager
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins never said that teaching religion to children is child abuse. He said:

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” The adage is true as long as you don’t really believe the words. But if your whole upbringing, and everything you have ever been told by parents, teachers and priests, has led you to believe, really believe, utterly and completely, that sinners burn in hell (or some other obnoxious article of doctrine such as that a woman is the property of her husband), it is entirely plausible that words could have a more long-lasting and damaging effect than deeds. I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration to use when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell.

    -The God Delusion, p. 318

    (quotation c&p from this comment).

  159. #159 Richard Dawkins
    December 30, 2006

    According to decrepitoldfool, I assert that ‘teaching religion to children is child abuse’. That is false. I have never asserted anything of the kind. I have said that LABELLING children with the religion of their parents is child abuse. That is very different from teaching religion to children. As I said in The God Delusion, and as I repeated in my post above, I am IN FAVOUR of teaching comparative religion, and teaching the Bible as literature. What I am against is labelling a child a Catholic child, Muslim child etc. I am, of course, equally opposed to labelling a child an ‘atheist child’.

  160. #160 Shmuel
    December 30, 2006

    “What I am against is labelling a child a Catholic child, Muslim child etc.”

    Etc?!!

    Oh come on…answer the question. Are you against labeling a child a “Jewish child”?

    What about a “British child”? I.e. Before they’ve read the magna carta and/or sworn their allegiance to the Queen.

    Or are some controversies do be avoided Mr. Dawkins?

  161. #161 David Heddle
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins (if that was Dawkins) wrote a bunch of mush. As I parse it, he is merely stating that he agrees that a religious upbringing should be illegal but he wouldn’t have signed merely because of a loophole: he believes that taking undergoing an academic study of religion is fine. There is no concession on the main point of discussion, whatsoever. Now his feathers are ruffled by the element of government coercion–but what the hell does he think it means to make it illegal? And he thanks “goodness” that the Prime Minister doesn’t have the power to enact what he supports! (Clearly he should run for senator in Massachusetts.)

    It seems to me that his emphasis on defining (or labelling) children as this or that (he makes it all caps, so I know he finds it important) is more weaseling. Are we to believe that if, for example, I give my son a strict Catholic upbringing then that’s acceptable (at least not illegal) as long as I don’t introduce him as my Catholic son, or tell him that he’s a Catholic?

  162. #162 island
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins (if that was Dawkins)wrote a bunch of mush.

    Oh, it’s him, alright.

    Okay, so maybe Richard signed the petition without thinking it through, and now he’s trying to salvage something from it, when he should simply cut his losses and admit that he was wrong. That’s only human nature, and none of us aren’t guilty of this.

    Give the man a break, Heddle.

  163. #163 David Heddle
    December 30, 2006

    Island,

    I’d give anyone a break–I have signed things I later regretted. I just think it is important to note that the reason he now regrets signing it is not that he has backed away from his religious-rearing-is-child-abuse stand, but because he claims it (the petition) if enacted would prohibit even an academic type of study of religion.

  164. #164 CThomas
    December 30, 2006

    I’m confused. What in the petition does Professor Dawkins think would prohibit teaching the Bible as literature?

  165. #165 Kristjan Wager
    December 30, 2006

    David Heddle, how hard can it be to understand the simple fact that Dawkins never said that relgious rearing is child abuse?

    Dawkins never said that, and bever will say that. What he has said is that certain aspects of religious rearing, and religious labeling, can be considered child abuse. There is a very big difference between those two things.

  166. #166 CThomas
    December 30, 2006

    I doubt that was the real Professor Dawkins. The real Dawkins said that the “child abuse” associated with religion stemmed from the doctrines of eternal damnation, not merely from defining kids as being part of a particular religion, as this apparrent impostore insists was Dawkins’s only ground. The real Dawkins did oppose defining kids as adhering to a religiion, but that certainly was not his original basis for the “child abuse” charge.

  167. #167 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    CThomas -
    I’m confused. What in the petition does Professor Dawkins think would prohibit teaching the Bible as literature?

    In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.

  168. #168 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    Even before a child has sworn allegiance to the Queen, the child is subject to British law, and presumably the UK state has some obligation to protect a British child in ways it might not an American child. The Catholic Church would like to impose a similar relationship on Catholic children, and practices baptism, with godparents standing by, to do just that. The question is whether that latter relationship should have any legal consequence, and whether the law should categorize children as Jewish, Catholic, humanist, etc. I cannot speak for Richard Dawkins, but my view is it should not.

    Shmuel writes:

    A “Jewish child” need not accept any dogmatic supernatural belief to be classified as Jewish. Again, Dawkins conflates all religion with the dogmatic ones, like Christianity and Islam.

    The Church baptizes infants, long before they are capable of supernatural belief. Rabbis from the different branches of Judaism may argue which children are properly Jewish, until the cows come home. No one is proposing to stop that. The question is whether such labeling should have any importance in law, in public policy, on the organization of state-funded schools, or how other public institutions deal with individuals. My own view is: absolutely not. And especially for children, who do not even understand the religious divides their parents would make for them. Let the Rabbis argue, but let it stay a religious matter without any legal consequence.

    The Mormon church will baptize people after their death, giving them one last chance at Mormonism. This has upset a variety of other religions, including some Jewish groups, who don’t like to see their dead baptized into another religion. It’s funny what mystical power people give to labels, even when the label has no consequential effect. I’m more concerned with how the law labels someone, because consequences do flow from legal divides.

  169. #169 David Heddle
    December 30, 2006

    Kristjan,

    So which aspects? Clearly he intends to go beyond say, parents denying medical treatment for their children or forced female circumcision. Declaring those as child abuse are mainstream views that won’t get you on Larry King. If he includes, as an aspect, teaching that there exists a place called hell where unbelievers suffer forever, then he is stating that teaching the full catechism of the Catholic Church, the great confessions of Protestantism, or the unwritten doctrines of Protestant fundamentalism are a form of child abuse. I agree that it’s not quite the same as saying a religious upbringing is a form of child abuse, but, in the west, it’s pretty close.

    Is there a list of which aspects he views as child abuse?

  170. #170 JS
    December 30, 2006

    Heddle, the claim that Dawkins does not in his post concede the main point of the discussion is completely wrong. He writes quite explicitly that he wishes to distance himself from the latter half of the petition – whether you wish to believe that this concession is bona fide or a political bailout is not for me to decide, but you cannot deny that it is a concession of the main point of the debate.

    The entire thread has been centred on the latter of the two paragraphs. The former – that children should not be identified by their parents’ religion – has never been controversial. Nor, I would echo Dawkins’ hope, is it controversial that ‘indoctrination’ (using any meaningful definition of the term) is abusive and coercive and should not be allowed.

    Shmuel, while I can’t speak for Dawkins, I would hold that there is a difference between being identified as belonging to a group that you belong to by law or definition (to take your examples, it is proper to classify a child as British once the child has permanent residence or citizenship, or as a Jew – in the non-dogmatic sense – when it fulfills whatever criteria apply) vs. a group that can only be entered by concious choice (such as Jewish in the dogmatic sense, or Christian, or Marxist, or Atheist, for that matter).

    Since we generally don’t accept that minors have full concious choice, it seems reasonable to argue that religion – as in the acceptance of dogma – is just as inapplicable to children as political affiliations.

    And I’m sorry to inform you, but Dawkins is not the one excluding the non-dogmatic version of Jewish from the religion department; that’s the dictionary you need to blame.[1] If you think the English language is discriminatory in this regard, you’re welcome to take it up with the Brits. It is hardly the fault of a single academic, however.

    [1] In my case the dictionary is the BBC English Dictionary from (AFAIK) ’92, which states that “Religion is belief in a god or gods and the activities connected with this belief.” It has one example, but no alternative definitions.

    - JS

  171. #171 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Oh come on…answer the question. Are you against labeling a child a “Jewish child”?

    Yes, of course. From the God Delusion:

    Our society, including the non-religious sector, has accepted the preposterous idea that it is normal and right to indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them — ‘Catholic child’, ‘Protestant child’, ‘Jewish child’, ‘Muslim child’, etc. — although no other comparable labels: no conservative children, no liberal children, no Republican children, no Democrat children. Please, please raise your consciousness about this, and raise the roof whenever you hear it happening. A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents.

    The book is very plainly written, without a lot of hidden meanings. It would help if the critics would actually read it rather than tearing off in a howl of anguish because their religious sympathies have been offended by its existence.

  172. #172 ERV
    December 30, 2006

    PZ: The book is very plainly written, without a lot of hidden meanings. It would help if the critics would actually read it rather than tearing off in a howl of anguish because their religious sympathies have been offended by its existence.

    Or even watched ‘The Root of All Evil’. That only takes an hour and a half or so.

    Or read Wiki. That only takes 30 seconds.

    *sigh* Too much drama for adults. Relax.

  173. #173 David Heddle
    December 30, 2006

    JS,

    No you are wrong–it may be half of the petition in word count, but not in substance, at least as far as what launched this thread, which was not whether teaching comparative religion would be illegal, but whether a religious upbringing should be. Dawkins (or he who claims to be Dawkins) wrote:

    I signed it having read only the main petition: “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.”

    This is what the brouhaha is all about, and he still supports this position. So no, he hasn’t conceded anything of consequence.

  174. #174 Richard Dawkins
    December 30, 2006

    I am the Richard Dawkins who wrote The God Delusion (although I don’t see how I can prove it). I really do regret signing the petition, and I don’t see why that is not regarded as admitting that I was wrong. I regret signing it, and I admit that I was wrong to do so. OK?

    I also regret the confusion resulting from the fact that, in my past writings, I have used the word abuse in two different contexts. Both are important. One is the labelling of children with the religion of their parents. The other is terrifying children by threatening them with violence, whether that violence is physical (as in whipping them) or mental (as in telling them they will roast in hell). Both labelling and the threat of hell are potentially abusive. Neither is a necessary part of religious education. I have never said that religious education per se is abusive, nor have I opposed religious education per se.

  175. #175 decrepitoldfool
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins: “According to decrepitoldfool, I assert that ‘teaching religion to children is child abuse’. That is false. I have never asserted anything of the kind. I have said that LABELLING children with the religion of their parents is child abuse. That is very different from teaching religion to children.”

    Professor Dawkins, can you not see it is a distinction without a difference? For instance, children brought up to believe in Catholic dogma are not only nominally (which you decry) “Catholic children” but also Catholic children in fact, for they truly believe what their parents tell them. Since I cannot believe you are saying it is all right to indoctrinate children in Catholic dogma as long as we don’t call them “Catholic”, it seems you are saying, indeed, that the indoctrination of children is itself, child abuse. The latter follows the former.

    Of course as you say there is a difference between indoctrination and the teaching of religion as culture and history. Fine. But in your many examples of indoctrinated children you are saying just what you apparently would like not to say.

  176. #176 island
    December 30, 2006

    I am the Richard Dawkins who wrote The God Delusion (although I don’t see how I can prove it.)

    I believe!!!… uh, amen, heheh

  177. #177 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    I can independently verify that I have been personally communicating with Richard Dawkins on this subject, and he has both expressed the same sentiments and notified me that he’d be posting the disavowal here.

  178. #178 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    Richard Dawkins writes:

    I have never said that religious education per se is abusive, nor have I opposed religious education per se.

    At least in the west, a religious education might include reading the sermons of Jonathan Edwards, who was not slow to discuss the threat of hellfire. I’m not sure how one can walk the line between allowing parents to teach traditional Christianity, and forbidding them from “threatening them with violence.. as in telling them they will roast in hell.” The nature of traditional Christianity simply leaves no room between the two.

    At least to me, your last post has muddied the waters. Religious education is all about stories of the fantastic, some of which include the horrific. The preacher’s job is to make this seem real. I’m not sure to a child that the fires of hell are any more or less real than stories of mummies or the hook left in the car door. (I don’t know if they do that one in England.) Perhaps so, when their parents and preachers say that the one is real, and the other just a story.

  179. #179 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Isn’t it rather obvious that the strategy endorsed in The God Delusion and in his comment on the petition article at his website is to teach more comparative religion? If they are to get the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” speech, let them also hear the words of the Buddha.

  180. #180 doctorgoo
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins said:

    I have never said that religious education per se is abusive, nor have I opposed religious education per se.

    So do you mean that it’s okay if a church or parents teaches children the principles of only their religion, then it isn’t necessarily abusive?

    As for the retraction of your signature, I look forward to seeing you not only remove the link from the front page of your website, but also that you replace it with an explanation of why you believe you (and others) were wrong to sign it in the first place. It is important for the readers of your blog to understand this.

  181. #181 decrepitoldfool
    December 30, 2006

    Professor Dawkins posted while I was typing:

    “The other is terrifying children by threatening them with violence, whether that violence is physical (as in whipping them) or mental (as in telling them they will roast in hell). Both labelling and the threat of hell are potentially abusive.”

    Again, that’s what I’m talking about. You ARE saying, here in plain words, that religious indoctrination is abusive. It is not even necessary to extract logical consequences from the words.

    If you want to say that, fine; but please don’t pretend not to be saying it. It has rather more to do with the definition of child abuse, and what the definition means for raising children.

    By the way an atheist can equally terrify his children by telling them the truth about religion’s bloody past and the likelihood they will be sucked into some religiously-inspired war or persecution someday. The useful result is that they can keep an eye on the political climate as they grow up and it would be a terrible disservice – perhaps “abusive” – not to let them know about this danger.

    As another example, Native Americans living on the North Shore of lake Superior terrified their children with the legend of a malevolent spirit that would snatch them off the shore and out to their deaths, with the useful result that the children kept an eye on the water when standing on the shore (the lake is prone to occasional freak waves which do precisely that).

    Hard to raise children truthfully and not ever terrify them.

  182. #182 JS
    December 30, 2006

    Heddle, it would save me both patience and time if you would actually read my (or Dawkins’) post before responding. There is nothing in the first half of the petition about religious upbringing.

    There is something in there about religious labeling and religious indoctrination. Now, you may quarrel with Dawkins’ stand on religious labeling all you like, but refraining from labeling your child a ‘Christian child’ does not interfere with your ability to give said child a sound or Christian upbringing any more than my refraining from labeling my children – should I have such – as ‘physicist children’ or ‘socialist children’ will prevent me from including arithmetics or common decency, respectively, in their upbringing.

    So, essentially, you are left to argue that prohibiting ‘indoctrination’ equates to prohibiting ‘a religious upbringing,’ which is nonsense.

    There are two common uses of the word ‘indoctrination.’ It can be used either to denote (forcible) training in some dogma, with the aim of robbing the victim of the will and ability to question said dogma (this is the meaningful definition), or it can be used as a general-purpose slur meaning ‘teaching about anything we don’t like.’

    Now, I for one think that words should have meanings – particularly on (semi)official papers, and that leads me to conclude that the petition uses the word in the former sense. Would you say that robbing a child of the will and ability to think for itself is a central part of a religious upbringing? Because that’s what you seem to be arguing right now.

    On the other hand, let’s say that it’s used simply as a slur. In that case it has lost all meaning, other than as a banal insult, and can be removed without loss of generality.

    And now I will stop typing – the letters are starting to crawl across the screen in different directions. My apologies if I ramble, it’s been a long day (actually a short day with a long schedule).

    - JS

  183. #183 Richard Dawkins
    December 30, 2006

    Russell wrote: “Religious education is all about stories of the fantastic, some of which include the horrific.”

    To the extent that religious education is as you say, then to that extent it is abusive and I am against it. To the extent that religious education is about comparative religion and biblical literature, then to that extent it is not abusive and I am for it. Maybe there is a grey area in between, but it doesn’t seem to me very hard to sort it out. Consider the following four statements that might be made in a religious education class:-

    1. If you are bad you will go to hell (abusive and wrong)
    2. Some Christians believe that people who are bad will go to hell (informative about a real fact of anthropology, not abusive, not wrong).
    3. You are a Christian child, Ahmed is a Muslim child (abusive and wrong)
    4. When you are a bit older and have learned more about the various religions on offer, you will be in a position to decide whether to join one of them (not abusive, not wrong)

    I find it quite hard to think of grey area cases where it is hard to decide. Surely it is simple enough to distinguish between teaching ABOUT religion, and telling a child what religion she belongs to.

  184. #184 decrepitoldfool
    December 30, 2006

    Please forgive me for multiple-posting; I meant to say one other thing.

    PZ: “Isn’t it rather obvious that the strategy endorsed in The God Delusion and in his comment on the petition article at his website is to teach more comparative religion? If they are to get the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” speech, let them also hear the words of the Buddha.”

    Yes, I agree completely. Schools should do that, as an antidote to the parents’ indoctrination, because parents are unlikely to be so even-handed. But unfortunately few school administrators would care to walk through that mine-field. Any school admin or teacher who does take those risks deserves our strongest support.

  185. #185 doctorgoo
    December 30, 2006

    PZ said:

    Isn’t it rather obvious that the strategy endorsed in The God Delusion and in his comment on the petition article at his website is to teach more comparative religion?

    If Dawkins is only referring education in comparative religion as being okay, but doesn’t address the question of one-sided religious teachings from a church or parents, then I believe he is trying to avoid the point of Mr. Brayton’s post:

    this is absolutely evidence that Dawkins does indeed favor coercion to try and stamp out religion.

  186. #186 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    P Z Myers:

    Isn’t it rather obvious that the strategy endorsed in The God Delusion and in his comment on the petition article at his website is to teach more comparative religion? If they are to get the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” speech, let them also hear the words of the Buddha.

    The issue isn’t what religious education Dawkins endorses, but what he thinks parents should be allowed to do, and what slides over into child abuse where the law may intervene. I guarantee you that most Christian churches do not go the comparative religion route, except in a very stilted fashion to show how other religious are “false.” There are plenty of churches still, and doctrinaire parents, who teach their children that except they are true Christians, they will roast in the fires of hell. The question Dawkins has raised is whether he thinks parents should be allowed to do that.

    I see how he somewhat innocently stepped into that wicket. We liberals on the one hand are quite attuned to how horrifying religious indoctrination is, and on the other, insist it is important civil liberty that parents are allowed to do this. It is a bit of tension. I cry when I see what some parents to do their children, but I am not willing to have the law intervene.

  187. #187 doctorgoo
    December 30, 2006

    Dawkins said (in response to Russell):

    To the extent that religious education is as you say, then to that extent it is abusive and I am against it. To the extent that religious education is about comparative religion and biblical literature, then to that extent it is not abusive and I am for it.

    Okay, so now do you still believe that the government has a responsibility to stop the common religious teachings that Russell listed? If so, then Brayton is absolutely correct when he said that you “favor coercion to try and stamp out religion”.

    As an aside, I’d just like to point out that many Christians would claim that NOT teaching children these things is child abuse. And since at the current time, Christians greatly outnumber atheists, I think you should be very careful in wanting to give the government these extra powers.

  188. #188 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    I would like to thank Richard Dawkins for his comments here, and yes, I have confirmed that he is the one who has left them (the IP addresses link to a VPN account at Oxford and PZ Myers has confirmed that Dawkins has told him directly that they are from him). I think it’s laudable for him to recognize that signing that second petition was wrong. And while I still have some disagreements with him on what is and isn’t abuse, I think it’s best to leave it at that for now. We should always allow someone to admit an error, as he has done here, and move on.

  189. #189 Richard Dawkins
    December 30, 2006

    Thanks to P Z Myers for authenticating my identity.

    Russell wrote: “I cry when I see what some parents to do their children, but I am not willing to have the law intervene.”

    There are extremes where everybody agrees the law has the right to intervene (no parent has the right to torture their children). But the law sometimes intervenes in less clear cut cases. It’s not about children, but Austria jailed the historian David Irving for Holocaust-denial: an infringement which, in other countries, would be defended as a matter of academic freedom. A case could be made that children should be protected by law against verbal abuse (such as hell-fire scaring) as well as physical abuse. I agree with Russell that the disadvantages of such an interfering law outweigh the advantages.

    But the campaign I have been running against labelling children has never been about legal coercion, anyway. It has been about CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING, a phrase that we have learned from feminists. No feminist (or none that I would wish to know) ever advocated a legal ban on masculine pronouns. Instead, the feminists raised our consciousness. They made us aware, made us feel uncomfortable when we used a phrase like “One man one vote”. In the same way, I want us to feel uncomfortable when we hear somebody speak of a Catholic child or a Protestant child. But I do not want any kind of legal coercion or sanctions against the use of such language. I am not in favour of legal coercion in such matters. I am strongly in favour of consciousness raising.

  190. #190 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    I find myself in the curious position of having to argue that even if something is child abuse, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be illegal. Anything which instill s in a person an irrational sense of fear, anxiety, or depression could be called abuse, but that doesn’t necessarily justify hauling the abuser off to jail or taking his or her kids away. Is there not any room here where we can call something immoral and wrong, take every measure to condemn it socially, and yet still not try to use legislation as a weapon against it? Personally, I would almost always prefer to err on the side of freedom of speech and expression, especially in a realm such as this where people’s views of what can constitute abuse can be so radically different. As Ed noted, this is something of which an atheist of all people should be only too aware. If there is any belief which governments around the world would put on a list of indoctrinated abuse, “There is no God” would surely be near the top.

  191. #191 Coin
    December 30, 2006

    I did sign the petition, but I hadn’t thought it through when I did so, and I now regret it. I have asked the organizer to remove my name. Unfortunately, it seems that the list has already gone off to Downing Street but the organizer, Jamie Wallis, has kindly asked their web manager to remove my name.

    Alright, well kudos for being willing to admit fault where appropriate, and thanks for clarifying your viewpoint re “abuse”.

  192. #192 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    Sorry, let me add one more thing here. Whether Dawkins does or does not support “religious education” – meaning courses in comparative religion in schools – has absolutely nothing to do with my argument against the petition. If the petition was specific to what could and could not be taught in government-fun and financed schools, I would absolutely be in favor of it. But the text never mentions schools or government indoctrination, it says that the government would make it illegal to “indoctrinate” any child, which would include their parents advocating and teaching their own religion as well. That is my objection to it. If it only dealt with what schools could teach, I would be all for it.

  193. #193 Richard Dawkins
    December 30, 2006

    Thanks to Ed Brayton, whose letter crossed with mine or I would have mentioned it.

  194. #194 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    Richard Dawkins -

    I am curious. If religious teaching, outside comparative religion is abusive, could it not easily be argued that teaching a child bigotry of any sort is also abusive? Such as teaching a child that homosexuality is an unnatural abomination, or that people who’s skin is a different colour are lesser beings? If the state should be involved in restricting the teaching of religion to children, should it not also stop the teaching of such gross bigotry?

    That logicly follows with, where do we stop? And, who decides what is abusive and what is not? I recommend that you read Mr. Orwell’s 1984. It describes well, a society that made many laws, similar to what you propose.

    I would argue that your goals would be better reached through education. It is a slow proccess, but it works. If you do not believe it, I suggest you talk to anyone who has been a homosexual for twenty years or more. I am not certain that it is the same in Britain, as here, but there is a world of difference between being openly gay now and having been just twenty, short years ago. Education works far better than state coercion ever can.

    That said, I do applaud your efforts to remove religious instruction from the schools. I was horrified to discover that your country actually allows and apparently encourages such.

  195. #195 Shmuel
    December 30, 2006

    I suppose Dawkins would also object to labeling a child a Cherokee, an Aymara or a Maori, since each of those group categories contains a cosmological or religious component.

    Evangelical Athiests are just the new Christian colonialists. But this time, the secular humanists are leveling the field (for our own good of course).

  196. #196 Uranius Pelican
    December 30, 2006

    Dr. Dawkins, I find your explanation less than complete.

    You say, “I signed the main petition, because I really am passionately opposed to DEFINING children by the religion of their parents (while ‘indoctrination’ is such a loaded word, nobody could be in favour of it).”

    “Indoctrination” is simply “teaching” – though a more emotional term for it. You signed a petition advocating laws against parents or others teaching certain things to children. While it may be justified to prevent some parents from teaching their children to hate or commit crimes, teaching religious belief hardly qualifies for that level of restriction.

    Also, it is one thing to be “opposed to DEFINING children by the religion of their parents” and quite another to advocate laws against a parent characterizing their children’s religiosity to the children or others.

    No matter how abhorrent some teachings (i.e. ideas) may be – we either honor freedom of expression (even when we disagree) or we don’t.

    Short of a clear repudiation of your statement and actions regarding this petition – it seems that you prefer that we don’t.

  197. #197 RBH
    December 30, 2006

    PZ wrote

    Isn’t it rather obvious that the strategy endorsed in The God Delusion and in his comment on the petition article at his website is to teach more comparative religion? If they are to get the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” speech, let them also hear the words of the Buddha.

    If I were feeling really snarky, I’d ask how that differs from the repeated claims of the Disco Institute that they really want more evolution taught (including the criticisms of evolution). But I’m not feeling snarky.

    Dawkins, to my mind, has real tactical problems. While I fully agree with his goals (yes, I own and have read The God Delusion and found it well argued), his tactics sometimes suck bigtime. When I’ve talked to local and state boards of education about the creationist push in Ohio, I’ve never found it useful to open my remarks by telling the theists on the board that they’re loons for believing in a sky fairy and that if they were rational humans they’d discard all that religious nonsense. In a thread on Moran’s blog I asked PZ if that’s what he did, but got no answer. (To be fair, that thread dropped off the first page about that time.) I have used the phrases “trash science”, “a caricature of genuine science”, and “a creationist snow job”, among others, in my public comments to boards to describe the ID creationist crap.

    Tactics, of course, depend on the particular circumstances, and what’s tactically sound in one circumstance may be ineffective in another, and it’s not always clear what tactics are approriate for which circumstance. A case in point: Behe will be speaking at Case Western in a month or two at the invitation of a Christian medical student group. What tactics should one use to counter his nonsense? Holler that he’s a loon for being a theist? I suspect that’d be wholly ineffective. Show how his arguments are science stoppers and hence inimical to good medical practice? That has more promise.

  198. #198 Nick (Matzke)
    December 30, 2006

    I can independently verify that I have been personally communicating with Richard Dawkins on this subject, and he has both expressed the same sentiments and notified me that he’d be posting the disavowal here.

    Heh heh heh. Many leaders of cults have claimed personal communication with their deities over the years. Why should we believe you, acolyte of darkness?

    [Note: the above was a joke.]

    Seriously:

    I think what may be motivating the esteemed Dr. Dawkins in taking the position (even with the above correction) that seems so puzzling to many of us in the U.S. are two points:

    1. Religious education in the government schools in the UK, which probably requires parents to put down their children’s religion on forms at various points so that they get sent off to the right classes and schools. E.g., I gather that Muslim students are not obligated to sit through Church of England theology lessons, but instead might have their own religion class taught by a Muslim instructor. This sort of thing could legitimately irk an atheist or various minority religions (actually I think Christian fundamentalists in the UK have a similar problem) who probably does not get such a choice and might not even desire it if offered. Removing this official governmental labeling would not be tantamount to governmental control of parent-child religious instruction; rather it would simply move the UK closer to the US position of separation of church and state.

    2. Dawkins has a general moral objection to labeling children as being this or that religion. By itself this is an arguable position that reasonable people could disagree over.

    However, putting forward this moral position is much different than saying that that particular moral position should be enforced by law. It is this latter position that sets off alarm bells in all of us who, like Ed Brayton, watch civil liberties issues closely. Passing and enforcing such a law would entail a massive governmental intrusion on freedom of religion.

    I submit that Dr. Dawkins may have inadvertently mixed the moral and educational issues with the illegality issue, and that he was probably thinking of the moral and educational issues rather than actually thinking it was a good idea to make it illegal for parents to take their children to church on Sunday. Us Americans may be more sensitive to this distinction since we are such a litigious culture and are hypersensitive about constitutional rights.

    I hope I’m right about Dawkins’s position. If I’m wrong, well then, Dr. Dawkins has gone batty on this one.

  199. #199 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    Shmuel writes:

    I suppose Dawkins would also object to labeling a child a Cherokee, an Aymara or a Maori, since each of those group categories contains a cosmological or religious component.

    In one sense, those labels simply describe descent, and do not carry any cosmological or religious component. In other senses, they might. The fact that various people historically have stitched their ethnic identity or heritage to particular religious notions doesn’t mean those stitches can’t be severed, once the concepts are distinguished. One person simultaneously can be Jewish, purely by virtue of descent from Jewish parents, opposed to Judaism, as a bunch of religious nonsense, and proud of his Jewish identity, as a cultural heritage rather than in affirmation of the religion. Those are largely independent, and many other combinations are equally possible. The fact that some people confound those various notions into one speaks only to their conceptual poverty. Here, I agree fully with Dawkins, that we need consciousness raising. Children should be told that many peoples had tribal religions, and that they do not need to subscribe to some religious nonsense in order to maintain a cultural connection to their ancestors.

  200. #200 Ginger Yellow
    December 30, 2006

    Shmuel, I don’t understand your point at all. Richard Dawkins said that labelling a child with any sort of ideology, religious or secular, is abusive because of the informed consent issue. I presume he is not against labelling on ethnic grounds where necessary/appropriate, because that isn’t something you can consent to anyway. So if you were to call somebody a Maori child, signifying their ethnicity, that would be fine, but to call them a Maori child, signifying their religion, that would not. It’s not a very difficult distinction – after all, you know what you intend when you apply the label.

    Ed had a similar confusion earlier on:

    We can make lots of variations of this.

    “If atheist indoctrination was considered child abuse….”

    “If Muslim indoctrination was considered child abuse….”

    “If liberal indoctrination was considered child abuse….”

    With the substitution of labelling for indoctrination, those are precisely the things Dawkins wants people to consider child abuse. In fact I remember him writing a Guardian comment piece a few years back in which he said something to the effect that people would rightly be horrified if somebody said of their six year old children: “Emily’s a liberal child, but Charles is a conservative”.

  201. #201 MartinDH
    December 30, 2006

    Shmuel:

    If you wish to label yourself with a tribal designation then you should use your tribe’s name (Benjamin, Judah or Levi) or the agglomerative name “Israelite”.

    When you label yourself “Jew” then you’re talking about your religion, which contrary to your opinion, can be coercive (c.f. women refusing back seat in bus).

  202. #202 CThomas
    December 30, 2006

    Well, I’m certainly satisfied now that it’s the real Professor Dawkins. I’m still at a loss, I’m afraid, how the petition as written could even arguably prohibit teaching the Bible as literature. That just isn’t “indoctrination,” and it isn’t even “religious teaching” for purposes of the accompanying description in its obvious context. I certainly appreciate why Professor Dawkins may have reconsidered the wisdom of signing based on the coercion-type arguments Ed raised, but I don’t think that an unintended prohibition on teaching comparative literature or Bible-as-literature is anything to worry about under the plan language of the petition as currently written.

  203. #203 Ed Darrell
    December 30, 2006

    P.Z. Myers has a post up saying that Dawkins didn’t read the full petition, that it conflicts some with his views, and that Dawkins has asked his name be removed. Here: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/never_let_the_facts_get_in_the.php

    A gentle reminder that our friends are our friends because they usually get it right, and when they appear to get it wrong, it may be a false appearance . . . I hope.

  204. #204 plunge
    December 30, 2006

    Ed, given how easily this case could be (and no doubt will be) misrepresented, any chance of an update/new post about the subject now that Dawkins has clarified his stance?

    I have little doubt that trolls like Bill Dembski will try to flog this issue and will continue to mention that Richard Dawkins wants the government to take your kids away from you if you send them to Sunday School at church for the rest of his career and that, of course, since Dawkins is king of all non-believers, we all hate religion or something. But in the face of that inevitability, let’s at least make sure the real facts of the issue are out there as soon and as clearly and as loudly as possible.

  205. #205 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    Even our enemies can make simple mistakes, and should be able to retract what they didn’t mean to say.

  206. #206 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    As far as I’m concerned, it is done. Unfortunately, PZ, in his usual childish and inaccurate manner, has decided now to attack me privately. Ah well, more of the same old crap from him.

  207. #207 ThomasHobbes
    December 30, 2006

    I don’t think that an unintended prohibition on teaching comparative literature or Bible-as-literature is anything to worry about under the plan language of the petition as currently written

    First, did you perhaps mean comparative religion instead of comparative literature?

    Second, your statement above is a naive reading of the language of the petition. Just look at what the petition actually says: “children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching”; language like that in a law would probably be a direct basis for striking it down. Why? It’s much too broad to mean anything; anyone can read into that law what they want when it comes to restricting religious teachings. You would be able to use it to argue that no child should be forced to recite prayers in school (a just decision, in my opinion), while I could use such language to argue that any comparative religion course should be banned, as well as any discussion of the Bible as literature or any other religious text (completely inappropriate, in my opinion). That’s the problem–endorsing such language allows either case to be possible.

    It’s not always (or even usually) the reasonable people who use laws in the wrong way–it’s the extremists, and when we call for legal remedies to our problems, we had better be damn sure that the law as written provides no quarter to those who would pervert it for their own unconscionable goals. Hence, if you would like to pass a law that bans school-led sectarian exercises in public schools but allows for comparative religious study, go ahead and formulate a petition that calls for that (I’d sign it). Don’t assume, however, that if you sign a petition like the one that Dawkins has repudiated that your view and the view of the person enforcing the law will be in sync.

  208. #208 doctorgoo
    December 30, 2006

    Nick Matzke said:

    I hope I’m right about Dawkins’s position. If I’m wrong, well then, Dr. Dawkins has gone batty on this one.

    I think it’s safe to say that Dr. Dawkins hasn’t gone batty. I think he just signed the petition (and promoted it on his website) too quickly. I hope we can get this behind us now that he has clarified his position when he said:

    But the campaign I have been running against labelling children has never been about legal coercion

    Also, I agree with DuWayne when he said that education is the best way to get end abusive religious practices. And in this regard, Dr. Dawkins, Dr. Myers and Mr. Brayton are all effective in informing the public on this issue.

    And Russell, I hope you weren’t trying to imply that anyone here considers Dr. Dawkins to be an enemy. There can be misunderstandings and/or disagreements among friends.

  209. #209 KC
    December 30, 2006

    Now that Richard Dawkins has clarified his position and admitted he goofed, we can enter the afterglow phase of bloggers making as much mileage out of it as they possibly can without embarrassing themselves. Oh my. That was a brief phase.

  210. #210 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    That cannot be allowed to stand. Brayton has continued the attacks in email, and further, is still arguing that Dawkins supports “coercion to stop religious belief” — he apparently still does not recognize the rather straightforward denial he has been offered. To then misrepresent that as me being “childish and inaccurate”…well, that’s the kind of thing I’ve come to expect from Brayton.

  211. #211 CThomas
    December 30, 2006

    Dear Hobbes, thanks for catching the typo in your “first” point. On the rest, I still respectfully disagree. The only legally operative part if the thing were ever adopted (not that anyone’s holding his breath) is the “indoctrinate or define” prohibition. (The word “define” does seem hopelessly vague in this context, but that actually is the part with which Professor Dawkins seems to remain most enamored.) I still don’t think there is much of an ambiguity in the accompanying description, but even if you’re right that it were ambiguous, that would not carry the risks you discuss, because it would not carry the force of law.

    Regards, CThomas.

  212. #212 plunge
    December 30, 2006

    “As far as I’m concerned, it is done.”

    Ok, but how about an update for those who don’t read hundreds of comments in?

    I mean, currently, per your post, Dawkins is still at the status of “remove(d) … from any discussion among reasonable people.” Obviously that doesn’t seem to be your opinion anymore, and meanwhile, Telic Thoughts is already well enough along the road of still implying that Dawkins maybe is being coy, and really still supports the National Guard being called in to stop religious homeschooling after all.

  213. #213 J. J. Ramsey
    December 30, 2006

    Ed Brayton: “As far as I’m concerned, it is done.”

    It would be more done if your blog post were updated with Dawkins’ retraction.

  214. #214 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    Any such update by Brayton would be dishonest, since he’s still defending his accusations privately.

  215. #215 David Heddle
    December 30, 2006

    PZ are you on ludes? (Don’t answer) He did not give a straightforward denial. He still affirms the statement:

    “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.”

    Since we know that he wrote that a conventional Catholic upbringing might be worse than sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, it is not unreasonable to conclude that a conventional Catholic upbringing falls under the category of indoctrination (and so should be illegal, by what he still affirms.)

    I repeat my opinion, stated elsewhere that, while Dawkins no doubt cares about children, that’s not his primary concern. He is simply an anti-religion bigot. The child abuse ploy is his wedge document.

  216. #216 Shmuel
    December 30, 2006

    The fact that some people confound those various notions [tribal, cultural, religous affiliation] into one [Jew, Cherokee or Maori] speaks only to their conceptual poverty. Here, I agree fully with Dawkins, that we need consciousness raising.

    Here is the confusion. These so-called confounded notions actually produce emergent cultural categories that are more complex than the Evangelical Athiests seem to understand. Dawkins is not raising consciousness, he dumbing things down considerably by creating a monolithic concept he calls “Religion” and in seeking to erase “It” is causing a lot of collateral damage. If it’s abuse to call a Jewish child a Jew, then it’s abuse to refer to a Cherokee boy as a Cherokee. That’s sick.

    Evangelical Atheists please take a look at each other. You’re *all* Christians.

  217. #217 ThomasHobbes
    December 30, 2006

    CThomas–

    You’re quite right, the only direct call for a legal intervention in the petition is the “indoctrinate or define” section. A good point.

    I would argue, however, that the “more details” section could still be used by someone with less-than-pure motives to derive support for a position that opposes religious teaching in schools of any kind–it just isn’t called for in the petition. You see, the statement “children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group” is compatible both with ideas like those of Richard Dawkins (parents should not religiously indoctrinate their children because it is wrong) and a more authoritarian position (the government should stop parents from religiously indoctrinating their children because it is wrong). Poor wording allows both of these interpretations to flourish.

  218. #218 Ed Brayton
    December 30, 2006

    PZ, you really are just about the biggest asshole I have ever known, and you are lying through your teeth. What I have defended in private, and will do so in public is well, is that my post was correct given the information I had. Dawkins did, in fact, sign a petition that clearly endorses a coercive, totalitarian policy to stamp out religious belief. He has now repudiated his signature on that petition and admitted that he made a mistake, but that fact supports my post – I said it was wrong to support that petition and he now agree. And you are simply lying when you claim that I am still arguing that Dawkins supports “coercion to stop religious belief”; I am not arguing that at all. I accept his retraction that he does not support that. But his signature on that petition did support that kind of coercion and I am happy that he has now thought better of it. But the very fact that he has thought better of it shows that my criticism of that petition was right, not wrong.

    To make things worse, you had the astonishing gall (and dishonesty) to claim that I am “hesitant to call out creationists” – something I have been doing for 20 years, for crying out loud. You’re a liar, PZ, and a first class, double-barrelled, fully automatic asshole.

  219. #219 ThomasHobbes
    December 30, 2006

    Mr. Brayton–

    I know that you consider the matter finished, but Dr. Myers has continued to charge that you “attack” him in email and make further incorrect claims about Dawkins’ position. I certainly don’t call on you to reveal private email, but as a long-time reader, I’ve come to sense that you’re an honest person, and these charges seem unlikely and/or exaggerated. Perhaps a further clarification by you would help settle this point.

  220. #220 Ian H Spedding
    December 30, 2006

    To describe children as Maori or Cherokee or American or British is not the same as descibing them as Catholic or Muslim. I could choose to be Christian or, as I have actually chosen, to be agnostic. I am also British by birth but I cannot choose to be anything else. One is a question of belief, the other is a question of fact.

    As a Briton, my own memories of religion in schools are of morning assemblies – where a hymn or two were sung and and a passage from the Bible read and which were almost universally regarded as a boring necessity – and Religious Education classes. My only clear memory of the RE class was that it was unusually well-behaved because it was taught by such a sweet old lady that even the hardest of hard-cases hadn’t the heart to do anything to upset her.

    In effect, my experience of religious education in the United Kingdom was that it was largely irrelevant and was certainly not taken seriously by the vast majority of pupils. In fact, my impression was most Britons looked askance at the excesses of American evangelists and regarded them as outlandish freaks rather than icons of faith.

    I agree with Richard Dawkins that while educating children about the various religions of the world is a Good Thing, indoctrinating them in one religion – which means inculcating in them the belief that one faith is true above all others – is wrong, even if well-intentioned.

  221. #221 Kristjan Wager
    December 30, 2006

    While I hesitate to tell people in their own blog that they should behave like adults, I think I will do so. And that goes for both Ed and PZ. Grow Up! How hard can it be to ignore each other, or at least keep from personal attacks? (and don’t go “he started” on me).

  222. #222 kehrsam
    December 30, 2006

    Ed: You know it is wrong to repress your feelings like that, just come out and say what you really mean.

  223. #223 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    I think Mr Brayton has successfully further clarified his point, and I rest my case.

  224. #224 Shmuel
    December 30, 2006

    “To describe children as Maori or Cherokee or American or British is not the same as descibing them as Catholic or Muslim.”

    Just add Jewish and you’ve got it.

  225. #225 Ian H Spedding
    December 30, 2006

    Shmuel wrote:

    Evangelical Atheists please take a look at each other. You’re *all* Christians.

    I was Christian. I am now agnostic. That was my choice. I am British by birth and there is absolutely nothing I can do to change that. Your argument is absurd.

  226. #226 doctorgoo
    December 30, 2006

    PZ said:

    I think Mr Brayton has successfully further clarified his point, and I rest my case.

    PZ, were you in Bizzaroland when you read this? Brayton simply said that at the time he wrote this article, all the information he had indicated that Dawkins believed that government coersion is appropriate.

    Now that Dawkins clarified his position, Brayton HAS backed off on his accusations.

  227. #227 MarkU
    December 30, 2006

    OT: Guys, how can this little tussle be of any importance when there’s a breaking story of woman ripping off a mans genitals with her bare hands?
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-12-30-woman-malicious-castration_x.htm

  228. #228 Dave Carlson
    December 30, 2006

    Jesus H. Christ!

    Ed and PZ, if you really feel the need to continue to have immature spats, could you please spare the rest of us and keep it to email? Quite frankly, as someone who respects you both, I find the fact that you two keep having public flare-ups with each other to be very, very embarrassing.

  229. #229 PZ Myers
    December 30, 2006

    I have specifically pointed out the very specific accusations made directly against Dawkins in this post: Brayton has not backed off on them. When I have brought these to his attention, he has merely reiterated his claim that he was absolutely correct. His “retraction” is simply an assertion that his criticisms of the petition were correct, not an admission that the motives he assigned to Dawkins were wrong.

    Perhaps you were swayed by the persuasive argument that I am a “first class, double-barrelled, fully automatic asshole”? Man, it convinced me that I have to vote for Dawkins as World Tyrant.

  230. #230 David Heddle
    December 30, 2006

    Richard H Dawkins! This spat is not even amusing for those of us who might see some tactical advantage to a civil war among PT contributors. It’s just–unseemly.

  231. #231 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    PZ said:

    I have specifically pointed out the very specific accusations made directly against Dawkins in this post: Brayton has not backed off on them.

    He’s acknowledged Dawkins’ apology and retraction. I don’t know what more you want.

    When I have brought these to his attention, he has merely reiterated his claim that he was absolutely correct.

    Since this was apparently done in email, we have no way of knowing whether you are telling the truth and so I’m not sure why you’re bothering to claim it. And frankly, it doesn’t sound like Ed.

    Now, could we please raise the maturity level of this discussion back up to something resembling adult, or else just stop it altogether?

  232. #232 Greg Laden
    December 30, 2006

    Ah, very interesting discussion! I started to write a comment and it turned into a three page blog I ended up posting on my own site.

    Briefly, I think this argument is a little like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    The question would be so much more clear if all religions were very overt in their form of indoctrination, or in particular, very uneven in their mode of indoctrination. If all religions dictated that young girls and young boys should have differential access (by sex) to learning, we would be having a very different conversation.

    Moreover, if all religions routinely dictated that their observers reject all science and math, we would be having a very different conversation.

    Ironically, the relative tolerance we see in many modern Western religions protects all religions from clear logical scrutiny.

    Religious indoctrination is a from of abuse, but there are worse problems. But that does not mean that it is not a problem.

  233. #233 kehrsam
    December 30, 2006

    Guys, how can this little tussle be of any importance when there’s a breaking story of woman ripping off a mans genitals with her bare hands?

    Gee, couldn’t she just served the poor guy some tofu?

    Seriously, this debate has gone way past the point of usefullness. Let’s just have everybody declare victory and go home.

  234. #234 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Ed Brayton,

    I’m glad to see that you have retracted your accusation following Dawkins’ admission of his error. But what’s so troubling is the fact that you were so quick to make it in the first place. This was, after all, a single incident, and anyone who is familiar with Dawkins’ writings elsewhere on the issue of children and religious education/indoctrination would have realized that this petition does not sound like the real Dawkins. You don’t seem to have given serious consideration to the possibilities that the report was wrong, or that Dawkins simply made a mistake, or that the petition was for some other reason a misrepresentation of his views. Statements like “As far as I’m concerned, this pretty much removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people,” throwing around inflammatory words like “totalitarian” and the whole tone of your post suggest that you really harbor deep animosity towards Dawkins and are just waiting for an excuse to jump on the man. Why are you so angry at him?

  235. #235 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    Shmuel quotes me: “The fact that some people confound those various notions [tribal, cultural, religous affiliation] into one [Jew, Cherokee or Maori] speaks only to their conceptual poverty. Here, I agree fully with Dawkins, that we need consciousness raising.”

    Then responds:

    Here is the confusion. These so-called confounded notions actually produce emergent cultural categories that are more complex than the Evangelical Athiests seem to understand. Dawkins is not raising consciousness, he dumbing things down considerably by creating a monolithic concept he calls “Religion” and in seeking to erase “It” is causing a lot of collateral damage.

    I cannot speak for Dawkins, and suffer the lapse of not having read his book on the topic. But it’s not hard to define the kind of religion that rational atheists criticize: faith-based belief in the supernatural or the mythical. It is not monolithic, but it is common. And yes, it can be separated from the other cultural categories or social practices with which it is sometimes conflated, such as ancestry, ethical prescriptions, meditative exercise, and other aspects of cultural heritage. If you have other emergent categories, it can be separated from those, also. English is rich and my conceptual scalpels are sharp. The only thing that can keep me from drawing such lines is if you are incapable of adequately explaining just what the categories are that you have in mind. That doesn’t dumb things down, but rather, gets to the bottom of them.

    If it’s abuse to call a Jewish child a Jew, then it’s abuse to refer to a Cherokee boy as a Cherokee.

    This has already be clarified. You need only keep the distinction in mind. There is no abuse in calling a child either, if it is ancestry that is described. That is just a matter of fact. It is wrong in either case to label a child as carrying religious beliefs to which they are not yet old enough to assent. Jew and Cherokee the same. The issue isn’t which word is used, but in both cases, just how the label is intended. It is as wrong to tell a child that they must believe some Indian myth, because they are Cherokee, as it is to tell them that they must believe the Yahweh myth, because they are Jewish.

    Is there other “collateral damage” that you have in mind?

  236. #236 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Jason, I’m not sure why you’re blaming Ed for Dawkins’ error. He signed the petition, therefore one can presumably conclude that he endorses it. A reasonable person would conclude that Dawkins is a careful, rational person, and therefore would take the time to actually read a petition before affixing his (highly weighty and prestigious) name to it. A reasonable person (such as Ed) would, in this case, be mistaken.

    I should also note that it is not obvious, even (or perhaps especially) to a person who has read The God Delusion, that Dawkins would not support a measure to legally prevent indoctrination of children. This is, after all, a person who has quoted approvingly Nick Humphrey’s statement that “we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out.” (pg. 326 of the book)

  237. #237 Russell
    December 30, 2006

    doctorgoo writes:

    And Russell, I hope you weren’t trying to imply that anyone here considers Dr. Dawkins to be an enemy.

    No, of course not. I was merely suggesting that in honest and simple mistakes, we should be charitable also in reading our enemies. If Behe were to sign a membership application for the KKK after a night of wild revelry with Ann Coulter, we would not use that as criticism of the ID movement, and would take at face value his subsequent disavowal of the KKK.

    We all are subject to human foible. I think I’ll bring a tape recorder, and check that either are armed, if I get a chance to go out drinking with Ed and PZ. ;-)

  238. #238 Chris Ho-Stuart
    December 30, 2006

    I’ve been reading a bit of Dawkins lately, and my opinion has been rising. I loved “Ancestors Tail”. I got “God Delusion” as a Christmas present to myself, and will be reading it soon. I’m in the middle of “Unweaving the Rainbow”. I’ve read a few others as well.

    I’m not quite in the same place as Dawkins with respect to religion. I don’t have the same crusading concern to make it a major issue. But I don’t mean that as a criticism; just as a matter of what I get energized about.

    One thing I do appreciate about Dawkins is that he’s so personally gracious. I think both Ed and Paul could learn a lot from that.

    Cheers — Chris Ho-Stuart

  239. #239 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    I’m not “blaming Ed for Dawkins’ error,” and trying to spin my words to say that suggests you have an anti-Dawkins agenda of your own. I’m blaming Brayton for overreacting and jumping to conclusions. What I think this whole thing really illustrates is how angry Brayton is at Dawkins, and how eager he is to jump at any opportunity to try and discredit Dawkins.

    You seem to be confused yourself about what Dawkins believes. You write:

    I should also note that it is not obvious, even (or perhaps especially) to a person who has read The God Delusion, that Dawkins would not support a measure to legally prevent indoctrination of children.

    I don’t know why you think this claim is relevant. Dawkins may well support a measure to legally prevent the religious indoctrination of children in British schools. Do you think he would be wrong to do so?

  240. #240 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Jason says:

    What I think this whole thing really illustrates is how angry Brayton is at Dawkins, and how eager he is to jump at any opportunity to try and discredit Dawkins.

    What baffles me is why you think that it was some kind of indication of irrational anger or jumping to conclusions on Ed’s part to believe that Dawkins supported a petition which he signed.

    I don’t know why you think this claim is relevant.

    It’s relevant because it’s not like Dawkins hasn’t spoken against indoctrination in such strong terms as to wonder if he would support making it illegal even without the petition. In other words, him having signed the petition is not exactly entirely out of left field (though I did find it surprising and disturbing, as Ed apparently did as well).

    Dawkins may well support a measure to legally prevent the religious indoctrination of children in British schools. Do you think he would be wrong to do so?

    No, and I don’t see how that’s at all relevant. Preventing something from being taught in government-funded schools is not anywhere close to preventing parents from teaching it to their children.

  241. #241 GuLi
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    I should also note that it is not obvious, even (or perhaps especially) to a person who has read The God Delusion, that Dawkins would not support a measure to legally prevent indoctrination of children.

    Well, he made it quite clear in this very thread that he would, as “…’indoctrination’ is such a loaded word, nobody could be in favour of it”. Perhaps you just don’t share his understanding of the word?

    This is, after all, a person who has quoted approvingly Nick Humphrey’s statement that “we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out.”

    Great quote. Do you mean those parents don’t harm their children, and damage our society? Where do you draw the line, then? On second thoughts, maybe you do share Dawkins’ understanding of “indoctrination”.

  242. #242 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    GuLi says:

    Well, he made it quite clear in this very thread that he would, as “…’indoctrination’ is such a loaded word, nobody could be in favour of it”. Perhaps you just don’t share his understanding of the word?

    You will, I hope, comprehend that Dawkins posted in this thread after Ed complained about the petition?

    Great quote. Do you mean those parents don’t harm their children, and damage our society? Where do you draw the line, then? On second thoughts, maybe you do share Dawkins’ understanding of “indoctrination”.

    I don’t think that parents who teach their children to be Bible literalists are on the same moral level as parents who knock their childrens’ teeth out, no. As to where the line should be drawn….I honestly don’t know (where will it end? Prosecuting parents for teaching their children any kind of bigotry, as mentioned above?). But I do think that the above equivocation is absurd.

  243. #243 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    What baffles me is why you think that it was some kind of indication of irrational anger or jumping to conclusions on Ed’s part to believe that Dawkins supported a petition which he signed.

    I already told you. It was a single incident and the position described on the petition is not really consistent with Dawkins’ own writings elsewhere. Yet the obvious possibility that Dawkins simply made a mistake in signing the petition, that he signed it hastily without reading it carefully enough, never seems to have occurred to Brayton. Instead, he takes the petition as conclusive evidence that Dawkins is a “totalitarian” and that “this pretty much removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people.” That is not the response of a fair-minded individual who is seriously interested in understanding Dawkins’ beliefs.

    It’s relevant because it’s not like Dawkins hasn’t spoken against indoctrination in such strong terms as to wonder if he would support making it illegal even without the petition.

    Again, so what? Yes, Dawkins has indicated that he might support measures to make religious indoctrination of children illegal in British schools. That obviously doesn’t mean he would support measures to make it illegal in all other contexts. I don’t know if Dawkins had made any really clear and unambiguous statement on the issue in his writings, but a fair-minded person would not respond to that uncertainty by jumping to the conclusion that Brayton did.

  244. #244 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    GuLi -

    Great quote. Do you mean those parents don’t harm their children, and damage our society? Where do you draw the line, then? On second thoughts, maybe you do share Dawkins’ understanding of “indoctrination”.

    Many parents screw up their children, even outside the sphere of religion, but without physical abuse. Do any of us like it? No. But do we allow the government to come in and keep parents from doing it? No. The reason being that any attempt to prevent it would inherently include draconian measures to prevent it. I could argue that parents who raise their children to be uber conservatives are causing damage to their children and society, in fact I think that is true. Similarly, people could claim that my raising my son to believe that the government should subsidise healthcare, housing and sustenance for everyone who needs them, is harmfull to my son and society as a whole.

  245. #245 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    I don’t think that parents who teach their children to be Bible literalists are on the same moral level as parents who knock their childrens’ teeth out, no.

    That’s not what he asked you. He asked you if you think that parents who teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible don’t harm their children, and damage our society.

    But I do think that the above equivocation is absurd.

    What “equivocation?” Do you mean “equivalence?” It’s hard to figure out what you’re referring to here.

  246. #246 A Reasonable Kansan
    December 30, 2006

    When I spoke to Dawkins at KU in Lawrence, Kansas on Oct.16, 2006, he made it quite clear that he thought religious education of children was intellectual child abuse.

    Now he is blowing smoke because he realizes what a backlash he is going to get.

    Too late.

    The cat is out of the bag.

  247. #247 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Jason says:

    It was a single incident and the position described on the petition is not really consistent with Dawkins’ own writings elsewhere.

    I disagree, as I have already said. If one can be sympathetic to the view that teaching Biblical literalism is equivalent to punching someone’s teeth out (something which is acknowledged to be child abuse) then it’s not a huge stretch that they could hold indoctrination itself to be abusive, and therefore worthy of being outlawed. You seem to think that it’s an irrational leap to believe that Dawkins might support such a measure, but keep in mind– he did sign the petition. He might have done so hastily and carelessly, but presumably he did give it at least a cursory reading before signing.

    That’s not what he asked you. He asked you if you think that parents who teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible don’t harm their children, and damage our society.

    Yes I do, just as I think parents who teach their children to hate gays, blacks, or theists are harming their children and damaging society. But harm and abuse are not synonymous, and I don’t think that teaching children things which are false or bigotted should be against the law.

    Do you mean “equivalence?”

    Yes.

  248. #248 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    Jason -

    I already told you. It was a single incident and the position described on the petition is not really consistent with Dawkins’ own writings elsewhere. Yet the obvious possibility that Dawkins simply made a mistake in signing the petition, that he signed it hastily without reading it carefully enough, never seems to have occurred to Brayton.

    The man has said on more than one occasion that reffering to a child as a member of any religion is child abuse. He has also said the same of religious indoctrination. Personaly, I am all about making child abuse illegal, it is no great leap to believe that he would in fact support laws against it.

    I also make the assumption that someone of Dawkins stature would read a petition thoroughly before signing it, and having done so, supports what it says.

  249. #249 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    DuWayne,

    The man has said on more than one occasion that reffering to a child as a member of any religion is child abuse.

    No he hasn’t.

    He has also said the same of religious indoctrination. Personaly, I am all about making child abuse illegal, it is no great leap to believe that he would in fact support laws against it.

    Well, perhaps you’d better describe clearly the difference between “child abuse,” as you are using that term, and “screwing up” a child, since you believe the former but not the latter should be illegal. It’s hard to know exactly what the difference is supposed to be. This highlights the vagueness of these terms, and illustrates why you should not jump to the conclusion that Dawkins would seek to make religious indoctrination illegal just because he refers to it as “abuse” rather than “screwing up.” In fact, I suspect many people would consider many ways in which parents treat their children to be abusive without necessarily believing that such treatment should be illegal. If you would make more of an effort to try and understand what Dawkins’ position actually is and stop trying to discredit him through tendentious interpretations of particular words and phrases and out-of-context spin, you might actually find you largely agree with him.

  250. #250 GuLi
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    But I do think that the above [equivalence] is absurd

    That quote by Humphrey doesn’t establish any moral equivalence; it merely says that both parental behaviours should be put beyond the line limiting what we as a society tolerate.

    DuWayne,

    Many parents screw up their children [...] without physical abuseDo any of us like it? No. But do we allow the government to come in and keep parents from doing it? No.

    Hm, at least here in France, the answer is to the last question is y^H “oui”, in several cases – cult churches indoctrination comes to mind, handily :).

    Actually, a judge may be requested to state « Si la santé,la sécurité ou la moralité d’un mineur non émancipé sont en danger, ou si les conditions de son éducation sont gravement compromises ».
    Pardon my French –
    “If an unemancipated youth’s health, safety or morality are endangered, or if his education conditions are severely threatened”

  251. #251 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    I disagree, as I have already said.

    You haven’t provided any evidence whatsoever that Dawkins has ever said anywhere that he thinks it should be illegal for parents to teach their children religious doctrines. Even your Humphrey quote is taken out of context, and if you read the actual lecture from which it is taken, What Shall We Teach The Children?, you will find that he does not advocate making it a crime for parents to teach their children that the Bible is literally true. He’s talking about social policy and education, not criminal law.

    If one can be sympathetic to the view that teaching Biblical literalism is equivalent to punching someone’s teeth out

    Neither Humphrey nor Dawkins said or implied that he believes they are “equivalent.” That is just your absurd spin. What Humphrey wrote is that neither should be “allowed,” and his policy proposals for that purpose relate to education, not criminal law. Even if he had meant “not allowed” in the sense of “illegal,” that still wouldn’t justify your ridiculous claim of equivalence, any more than someone who claims that neither jaywalking nor murder should be allowed is implying that those two acts are morally equivalent.

    You seem to think that it’s an irrational leap to believe that Dawkins might support such a measure,

    No, I’m saying that it’s an irrational and unjustified leap to take a report that Dawkins signed the petition as conclusive evidence that he is a “totalitarian” and that it “pretty much removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people” despite the obvious possibility, that Dawkins himself has now confirmed to be the case, that he signed it mistakenly without having read it carefully enough and despite the absence of support for the position described in the petition in any of Dawkins’ own writings.

    Yes I do [think that parents who teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible don't harm their children, and damage our society.]

    Good. Then we agree on that, at least.

    But harm and abuse are not synonymous,

    On the contrary, “harm” is most definitely a synonym of “abuse:”

    Abuse: to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way.

    Like Brayton, rather than trying to understand what Dawkins is actually saying, you’re just trying to spin his statements in the harshest possible light to try and discredit him.

  252. #252 alienward
    December 30, 2006

    Ed brayton wrote:

    PZ, you really are just about the biggest asshole I have ever known, and you are lying through your teeth. …But the very fact that he has thought better of it shows that my criticism of that petition was right, not wrong.

    If Ed had a clue about Dawkins in the first place he would have suspected something wrong with Dawkins signing the petition. Ed is the one lying. He wasn’t just criticizing the petition, like he pretends he was, he was using the petition to attack Dawkins.

  253. #253 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Make that: Gretchen and I agree that parents who teach their children to believe in the literal truth of the Bible DO harm their children, and damage our society.

  254. #254 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    Jason says:

    You haven’t provided any evidence whatsoever that Dawkins has ever said anywhere that he thinks it should be illegal for parents to teach their children religious doctrines.

    You mean aside from the fact that he signed a petition to that effect?

    Anyway, I didn’t claim to have. I merely pointed out that it’s not grossly inconsistent with his prior writings, such as you appear to believe.

    On the contrary, “harm” is most definitely a synonym of “abuse”

    I’m talking about abuse as a crime that parents perform upon children. I am able and willing to distinguish between a parent teaching a child things which are wrong and potentially harmful, and a parent abusing his or her child. The former does not necessarily entail the latter.

  255. #255 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    Jason -

    No he hasn’t.

    Forgive me, he said it is like child abuse.

    Well, perhaps you’d better describe clearly the difference between “child abuse,” as you are using that term, and “screwing up” a child, since you believe the former but not the latter should be illegal.

    Child abuse is quantifiable damage to a child. That can include non-physical abuse, which while harder to prove, has been in court. Child abuse is also, nearly always, malicious. This can be anything from outright beating a child, denying them needed medical care, or hammering them mercilously with brutal, verbal abuse. The last being the hardest to take to court.

    Screwing up a child is making honest mistakes while raising a child, that result in emotional and mental damage. This can be manifested with mothers who had a child of the opposite sex they wanted, and raising them to be more like the opposite sex. This can be manifested by parents putting brutal pressure on their child to follow a carrer/life path that they don’t actually want. This can also manifest by raising them to believe that if they don’t make God happy they will go to hell.

    Regardless of how you and I feel about it, to many religious people, it would be horrible not to teach their child that. To do so would be to condemn that child to the same, aforementioned hell. The way to combat this and it’s impact on a child is to educate the the child. To remove religion from the tax-funded sphere entirely. To teach comparative religion, including in that the beliefs of atheists and agnostics. Consider how much education has already done, in a relatively short time in the U.S. It’s easy to look at polls and see that 90% of society is at least a little religious, that most people don’t trust atheists. Try to imagine what those polls would have produced 130 years ago, when the last states adopted mass public education. Imagine what polls about gay rights would have been. Imagine them just 30 years ago, my lifetime, compared to now. That’s education.

  256. #256 TWood
    December 30, 2006

    OT: Guys, how can this little tussle be of any importance when there’s a breaking story of woman ripping off a mans genitals with her bare hands?

    Maybe he can plead that Deuteronomy 25:11 now be enforced.

  257. #257 Russell Blackford
    December 30, 2006

    As I said earlier, this was a petition with a lot of ambit in it – as is often the case with petitions. It’s also true that, as the British posters said, its wording could be charitably “read down” in its context as applying only to educational issues, not to the criminalisation of actions by parents. Even then, it would seem very broad.

    Richard Dawkins has now explained that he made a mistake in signing a petition that was worded more broadly than he really supported. It happens all the time, and I fail to see why he was attacked so savagely for what always looked like either a mistake or a difference of interpretation. At the very worst, it looked like giving support to someone else’s ambit position that could be moderated/clarified later on during the ensuing debate. That might have been naive, but not despicable.

    As a lawyer, among other things, I am very wary about signing petitions because they are always in someone else’s words, are open to interpretation, and are unlikely to reflect the nuances of my own position on the topic. This is not the first time that a famous person has signed something in agreement with its sentiments, without thinking about it like a lawyer – and later been burned by it.

    Bottom line: Dawkins did not think about this like a lawyer – perhaps because he isn’t one. That may have been a mistake – doubtless it was – and he may well suffer a price for it. This whole controversy may have reached the point where he does now have to take more of a defensive, lawyer’s-eye view of his actions (though this would be unfortunate). But I feel more like supporting him than kicking him over it, especially when he has responded to criticism so swiftly, reasonably, and graciously.

  258. #258 Emanuel Goldstein
    December 30, 2006

    I love the smell of atheists bashing each other in the morning.

  259. #259 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    I love the smell of atheists bashing each other in the morning.

    So much so, that you feel compelled to express as much on more than one thread. How you know which of us are atheists, or that atheism is really anything but a side issue here, remains a mystery. Anyway, don’t be smug. Next time you find yourself in an argument, just imagine someone saying “I love the smell of (insert whatever you are) bashing each other in the morning.” And then reflect on how stupid that person sounds.

  260. #260 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    DuWayne,

    Forgive me, he said it is like child abuse.

    No, you are not forgiven. He didn’t say that either.

    Child abuse is quantifiable damage to a child. That can include non-physical abuse, which while harder to prove, has been in court. Child abuse is also, nearly always, malicious.

    None of the technical definitions of child abuse I have seen stipulate that it necessarily involves “quantifiable damage” or claim that it is “nearly always malicious.” None of them stipulate that child abuse necessarily involves mistreatment of a degree or kind that constitutes a crime. That may be what you mean when you say “child abuse,” but it is not how child welfare authorities define the term, and there is no reason to believe it’s what Dawkins’ meant when he used the term either. That’s what makes your entire criticism of him so ridiculous. You don’t get to substitute your personal idiosyncratic definition of child abuse for the meaning Dawkins had in mind when he used the term in his own statements, a meaning that appears to be quite consistent with current official definitions. You can find the definition used the World Health Organization (to pick one example) here.

  261. #261 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen,

    You mean aside from the fact that he signed a petition to that effect?

    Yes, I meant aside from the petition. The petition is obviously not evidence that Dawkins thinks it should be illegal for parents to teach their children religious doctrines because he has now admitted that he signed it mistakenly and does not agree with it.

    Anyway, I didn’t claim to have.

    Then on what basis do you disagree with the statement that the position described on the petition is not really consistent with Dawkins’ own writings elsewhere? You apparently can’t find even a single instance of a statement by Dawkins stating or implying that he thinks it should be illegal for parents to teach their children religious doctrines. And yet you relentlessly defend Ed Brayton for taking the position that the petition constitutes conclusive evidence that Dawkins is a “totalitarian” and is beyond reasonable debate.

    I’m talking about abuse as a crime that parents perform upon children.

    Once again, it’s not what you’re talking about that matters, it’s what Dawkins was talking about, and there is no evidence that in calling the religious indoctrination of children “child abuse” he meant to imply that he seeks to make it illegal.

  262. #262 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    Jason -
    That may be what you mean when you say “child abuse,” but it is not how child welfare authorities define the term, and there is no reason to believe it’s what Dawkins’ meant when he used the term either.

    Actually this is the definition in U.S. Federal statute. I am unable to find the child abuse laws in Britain, but the definition in federal statute is not dissimilar to mine. Child harm, screwing up kids – neither has any legal connotations, child abuse, most certainly does, at least to Americans.

    I can’t find the Dawkins quote right now, and really don’t care to search for it further. Honestly, it is pointless anyways. Anyone with limited familiarity towards a person that signs a petition like the one he Dawkins has now repudiated, would have every reason to assume that the signatories believe in what it says. I’m a simple guy with limited education and I make damn sure about anything I put my name to. I would assume someone with the prestige that Dawkins has would damn well read anything he is going to put his name to, carefully. I accept that he didn’t, and has admitted such – I’m glad, because the little science popularizing I have read of his, I really like and respect. But it is also easy to see how one would think he did believe what the damned petition says, before he recanted, because he signed it.

  263. #263 DuWayne
    December 30, 2006

    And Jason, Dawkins said;
    I also regret the confusion resulting from the fact that, in my past writings, I have used the word abuse in two different contexts. Both are important. One is the labelling of children with the religion of their parents. The other is terrifying children by threatening them with violence, whether that violence is physical (as in whipping them) or mental (as in telling them they will roast in hell). Both labelling and the threat of hell are potentially abusive.

    That was just up this thread. While I can’t find the specific quotes I am refering to, this is not dissimilar.

  264. #264 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    You apparently can’t find even a single instance of a statement by Dawkins stating or implying that he thinks it should be illegal for parents to teach their children religious doctrines.

    And I never claimed to, as I have said from the beginning.

    And yet you relentlessly defend Ed Brayton for taking the position that the petition constitutes conclusive evidence that Dawkins is a “totalitarian” and is beyond reasonable debate.

    That would be because Dawkins himself signed a document to that effect, and nothing in his writing has said he would oppose such a measure. I think it’s pretty clear cut. I have no further interest in this conversation.

  265. #265 gregonomic
    December 30, 2006

    Jason:

    And yet you relentlessly defend Ed Brayton for taking the position that the petition constitutes conclusive evidence that Dawkins is a “totalitarian” and is beyond reasonable debate.

    Gretchen:

    That would be because Dawkins himself signed a document to that effect, and nothing in his writing has said he would oppose such a measure. I think it’s pretty clear cut.

    Utter nonsense! As has been pointed out to you several times, the “totalitarian” spin was entirely of Ed’s creation. You bought it, others did not.

  266. #266 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    If you don’t think that endorsing the law to step in and determine what parents may teach their children regarding religion is “totalitarianism,” then I submit that your concept of freedom is what is out of order…

  267. #267 gregonomic
    December 30, 2006

    And if you think that considering laws which might benefit society is “totalitarianism”, then I think we need to change the dictionary definition of that word.

    Look, I’m not trying to perpetuate any animosity here. I just think that it was impetuous of Ed to label Dawkins as some kind of idiot tyrrant, when he is quite clearly a decent and intelligent human being.

  268. #268 Gretchen
    December 30, 2006

    I just think that it was impetuous of Ed to label Dawkins as some kind of idiot tyrrant, when he is quite clearly a decent and intelligent human being.

    I certainly don’t think Ed has ever portrayed Dawkins as an idiot, though he most likely thought he (Dawkins) was off his rocker for supporting this petition– for good reason. It might seem ironic, but apparently religion is not the only thing that makes good people do bad things. A genuine concern for the damage that religious indoctrination can do may well lead someone like Dawkins to support legislation which would be, in practice, totalitarian and antithetical to freedom (which he later realized, with the statement “like any decent liberal, I am opposed to the element of government coercion in the wording”). Perhaps Ed should have acknowledged that possibility in his post on the matter. Perhaps he was simply too shocked by the petition itself to do so. Perhaps I’m giving him too much credit. I’ll stop attempting to read peoples’ minds now.

  269. #269 Shmuel
    December 30, 2006

    I was Christian. I am now agnostic. That was my choice. I am British by birth and there is absolutely nothing I can do to change that. Your argument is absurd.

    And yet for some strange reason you and other Evangelical Athiests are still prosletyzing. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you all “were” Christian. Could it be that religon actually contains an inherent cultural component and one’s upbringing actualy imparts an influence on one’s psychology or morality? If my argument is absurd, then show me all the secular Jews in your coalition of prosletyzing athiests. For some reason, I doubt they’re as disporportionately represented as they are at the Nobel Prize ceromonies. Or how about non-white men? And tell me, since you are British by birth, is a “Maori” born in New Zealand *not* Maori by birth? Should we ban teaching “Maori children” (abuse!) creation myths? I’m going to update my argument…it’s no surprise that Evangelical Athiest are primarily Christian *and* British. Fucking. Post. Colonialists.

    Go ahead. Keep your Christmas Trees while cooly and calmly erasing non-prosletyzing, non-dogmatic minority groups while you’re at it. Nice little enterprise you got there.

  270. #270 gregonomic
    December 30, 2006

    Gretchen:

    I certainly don’t think Ed has ever portrayed Dawkins as an idiot

    Yeah, sorry, my bad. Ed said:

    …this pretty much removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people…

    Which is still a bit extreme, when based on a signature on a poorly worded petition.

    I guess I’ll just have to agree to disagree with you on the matter of whether the petition (but not Dawkins himself, as you note) aims to promote an “atheist dystopia … no less appalling than the Christian dystopia favored by people like RJ Rushdoony” or just another law.

  271. #271 gregonomic
    December 30, 2006

    Shmuel,

    Next time, take a smaller hit off that crack pipe.

  272. #272 Jason
    December 30, 2006

    DuWayne,

    Actually this is the definition in U.S. Federal statute. I am unable to find the child abuse laws in Britain, but the definition in federal statute is not dissimilar to mine.

    The definitions of child abuse in both the federal statute and state statutes are broader than yours, contain no requirement for malicious intent on the part of the abuser, and no requirement that the abuse be “quantifiable.” The description of emotional abuse includes conditions that could clearly be caused by religious indoctrination, especially indoctrination in teachings that are likely to instill grave fear or guilt or shame in a child, such as teachings against homosexuality, masturbation and other sexual practises, or teachings about eternal punishment in hell. But the real harm, in my view, is not the content of the teachings themselves, but the nature of childhood indoctrination, which is essentially a form of brain-washing. Religions, of course, know this full well, which is why they attach such importance to the indoctrination of young children in the faith. If they were confident they could compete fairly in the marketplace of ideas, that they could win adherents from the merits of their teachings and other features, they wouldn’t be so concerned about getting the children. As the Jesuit saying goes, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

  273. #273 Shmuel
    December 31, 2006

    It is wrong in either case to label a child as carrying religious beliefs to which they are not yet old enough to assent. Jew and Cherokee the same. The issue isn’t which word is used, but in both cases, just how the label is intended.

    So let me get this straight. Dawkins would argue that calling a Jewish child a “Jewish child” is abuse if the speaker intends to import particular religous beliefs onto that child, but if the speaker refers to a “Jewish child” with the intention of giving an ethnic or cultural label (importing particular genetic traits or cultural beliefs) to a child then it is moral. (And we are talking about morality as well as recommended legality right?)

    Either way, this sort of game seems rather absurd. While he might be able to make a case for dogmatic religions, where, say a young child is not yet competant to “accept Jesus or Mohammad” or whatever, I don’t see why a child should be absolutley shielded from any label that could potentially have a religous connotation for someone else, whether that label is Cherokee, Italian, Saudi Arabian or Jewish. By reducing complex concepts (Jew) to one of its component parts (reigous beliefs) and applying general rules governing moral behavior in the context of these very distinct but meaningful linguistic and cultural categories, Dawkins-style athiests do great harm. Even religous beliefs for Jews means something quite different. I can perform a religous ritual (putting on teffilin) and not believe in anything “supernatural” i.e. god. Dawkins doesn’t seem to get this.

  274. #274 gregonomic
    December 31, 2006

    Dude, the word is atheist. a-t-h-e-i-s-t.

    We are “not theists”. Not “the most athi”.

  275. #275 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    Gretchen,

    If you don’t think that endorsing the law to step in and determine what parents may teach their children regarding religion is “totalitarianism,” then I submit that your concept of freedom is what is out of order…

    And I submit that yours is pretty much nonsensical. We obviously already limit what parents may teach their children regarding religion, most obviously by exposing children to other teachings in schools, many of which may directly contradict what the parents teach while others undermine the parents’ teachings in more subtle ways. You don’t seem to be able to let go of this silly notion that any further intervention by the state in the education and raising of children, including their exposure to religious teachings, constitutes some kind of nightmarish Orwellian totalitarianism.

    Furthermore, any serious “concept of freedom” must consider the freedom of the child as well as the parent. And as I suggested in my last post, religious indoctrination may constitute a serious violation of the child’s freedom of thought as a form of brain-washing. If people are to be truly free to make religious choices, they cannot do so if they have been massively conditioned from birth to favor one religion over another, or to favor religion over alternative philosophies and belief systems.

  276. #276 DuWayne
    December 31, 2006

    Jason -

    Good grief, did you read what I wrote? I clearly said that Child abuse is also, nearly always, malicious. and it damn well is. Take that out and the rest of my definition stands – nor does taking it out detract from the point. Non child abuse harm to a child can also be malicious, though I don’t think it usualy is.

    The description of emotional abuse includes conditions that could clearly be caused by religious indoctrination, especially indoctrination in teachings that are likely to instill grave fear or guilt or shame in a child, such as teachings against homosexuality, masturbation and other sexual practises, or teachings about eternal punishment in hell.

    And parents do quite similar damage by inflicting their children with non-religious beliefs – with the best of intentions for their child in mind. Inflicting them with our irrational fears and phobias. Is that child abuse?

    But the real harm, in my view, is not the content of the teachings themselves, but the nature of childhood indoctrination, which is essentially a form of brain-washing. Religions, of course, know this full well, which is why they attach such importance to the indoctrination of young children in the faith. If they were confident they could compete fairly in the marketplace of ideas, that they could win adherents from the merits of their teachings and other features, they wouldn’t be so concerned about getting the children. As the Jesuit saying goes, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

    I was raised fundy. I was also educated in public schools and self educated since. I have my religious issues, but I also devour new discoveries in science. I am having a wonderful time teaching my four year old son about the history of our species, our planet and our universe. I learn more every day just teaching him and I love it. I also take great joy in trying to explore religion. I am becoming more and more of a deist, but I get joy out of exploring the notion of God or god or gods.

    Ultimately, having an atheist for a father might have made a difference, but I know I spent most of my childhood praying desperately that he would accept my faith. See, I was terrified that he was going to hell. I love my dad, did then too, and I knew that if he didn’t find Jesus, he would be tortured mercilously, throughout eternity. Try that on for fucked up. And you know what, I have my minor, chemical imabalances. But I turned out reasonably well in spite of it all.

    And my son is growing up without the notion of eternal damnation, so he has that up on me. He is also growing up knowing about a lot of religious beliefs and the lack thereof. And he is also growing up, having inherited his parent’s love of learning. He was delighted to discover, for example, that the planet changes, just like he is as he grows.

    I am, by the way, far from unique in this regard.

  277. #277 Ira Fuse
    December 31, 2006

    “I’d just like to point out that many Christians would claim that NOT teaching children these things is child abuse.”

    And the fact that adults deluded to this extent double as parents is precisely why Christian indoctrination should, in fact, be regarded as abusive. Legal issues aside, any practice that leads to people honestly believing they need to teach kids about helfires and other faery tales is an unqualified pimple on the ass of society.

  278. #278 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    DuWayne,

    Anyone with limited familiarity towards a person that signs a petition like the one he Dawkins has now repudiated, would have every reason to assume that the signatories believe in what it says.

    Anyone who was familiar with what Dawkins has written elsewhere on children and religion and civil liberties in general, and who was not blinded by anger, would have known that the full statement in the petition is not consistent with Dawkins’ writings elsewhere, realized that there was a good chance that Dawkins had signed the petition mistakenly, and would have withheld judgment or sought clarification. Instead, Ed Brayton came out guns blazing, triumphantly declaring that the petition constituted conclusive evidence that Dawkins is an evil totalitarian beyond reasonable engagement. Brayton isn’t driven by a serious desire to learn and understand what Dawkins really believes, he’s driven by a pent-up anger and frustration at the man for being a forceful critic of all religion and a vocal opponent of the notion that there is no real conflict between evolution and religion. That’s what this is really all about, and I think most people who are familiar with Brayton’s writings know it full well.

  279. #279 Shmuel
    December 31, 2006

    Brayton isn’t driven by a serious desire to learn and understand what Dawkins really believes, he’s driven by a pent-up anger and frustration

    I am consistently amazed at the manner in which Dawkins acolytes defend their hip priest. He’s something of a Timothy Leary for the 21st century, no?

  280. #280 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    DuWayne,

    Good grief, did you read what I wrote? I clearly said that Child abuse is also, nearly always, malicious. and it damn well is.

    You haven’t offered a scintilla of evidence to support this claim. I assure you that saying it over and over again, more and more emphatically time, does nothing to substantiate it.

    Take that out and the rest of my definition stands

    As I said, the definitions of child abuse taken from both federal and state statutes, as well as from other sources such as the World Health Organization, are broader than yours and clearly encompass conditions that could be, and in many cases are likely to be, caused by religious indoctrination.

    And parents do quite similar damage by inflicting their children with non-religious beliefs – with the best of intentions for their child in mind. Inflicting them with our irrational fears and phobias. Is that child abuse?

    In some cases, it probably is. The fact that there are non-religious forms of emotional and psychological child abuse obviously does not mean that religious indoctrination is not also a form of child abuse. I haven’t seen any evidence that the indoctrination of children with irrational secular fears and phobias is a serious problem, but the indoctrination of children with religious nonsense is rampant.

    I’m not sure what your point is in relating your personal history of religious indoctrination. That history seems to support my position, not yours.

  281. #281 DuWayne
    December 31, 2006

    Jason –

    I’m sorry, this is just going in circles now. I have seen Dawkins equate teaching children about religion with child abuse. He has been more specific in this thread and I appreciate that. But given what I have read of his views on religious indoctrination of children, coupled with this, it is easy for me to assume that he signed the petition becuase he agreed with it. I know few people who would sign a petition without reading it carefully. And I don’t have many friends with nearly the prominence of Proffesor Dawkins.

    If you are going to ignore the bulk of my responses to you and run around in circles, I am done with this discussion.

  282. #282 Alexey Merz
    December 31, 2006

    Ed and PZ. This is an old-style usenet flame war, and you are not doing anyone ANY service by continuing it. I like and respect both of you, and what you are doing is both foolish and destructive. Both. Of. You. Stop it. Now.

  283. #283 DuWayne
    December 31, 2006

    Jason -

    You haven’t offered a scintilla of evidence to support this claim. I assure you that saying it over and over again, more and more emphatically time, does nothing to substantiate it.

    Your right, I’m sorry, most parents who beat the living piss out of their kids, don’t really mean anything bad by it. Most parents who leave their infant in a fouled diaper, for hours on end, do it because they care.

    As I said, the definitions of child abuse taken from both federal and state statutes, as well as from other sources such as the World Health Organization, are broader than yours and clearly encompass conditions that could be, and in many cases are likely to be, caused by religious indoctrination.

    This is the definition of Child Abuse, in federal statute.

    * Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or

    * An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

    That is far less encompassing than my definition. It is such as the fed leaves it to the states to go any further. So here is the relevant statutory definition for the state I grew up in, MI.

    Child abuse means harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment.

    Low, and it does include mental abuse. So did mine, I also said that it was harder to prove. If it is not quantifiable, it cannot stand in court. Mental damage, can be quantified – it is not as exact a science as most, but psychologists can bear witness to extreme mental abuse.

    That abuse can also be done through religious brainwashing is also true. The extent some parents will go to can cross the line to abuse. As it can with irrational phobias, which happens a lot on a less abusive level. Children often pick up minor fears and phobias of their parents. The same is true of the religious. A small percentage of people with religious inclinations are as extreme as to be considered abusive.

    The obvious, simple difference between abuse and causing harm, is degree. There is not a parent alive, or dead, that never did anything to harm their child, whether it be physical or emotional. That is the nature of parenting. If it is taken to an extreme, intentionaly, maliciously, or otherwise, it is abuse – which in most American culture, implies legal consiquences.

    Glad you chose to answer the rest.

  284. #284 Chris
    December 31, 2006

    Ed, sorry I’m getting to this late. There’s not much I can say about the meat of the post, but I will say this. If you’re just now realizing that Dawkins has no place in “discussions among reasonable people,” you haven’t been paying attention to Dawkins for a while.

  285. #285 GH
    December 31, 2006

    I don’t know about all this mess but one thing is clear david heddle is clueless.

    Dawkins (if that was Dawkins) wrote a bunch of mush

    Considering what he spreads around the web daily it really smacks of a lack of self reflection.

    I repeat my opinion, stated elsewhere that, while Dawkins no doubt cares about children, that’s not his primary concern. He is simply an anti-religion bigot. The child abuse ploy is his wedge document.

    No one cares if youn repeat it or say it 1000 times, your such an irrational person it mutes most of any value you have to offer. He is not an anti-religion bigot but you do have serious issues you need to confront. He sincerely believes what he says and puts it before the public and frankly he is most likely correct. I can’t believe grown adults think it ok to put thoughts of pain and suffering of a supernatural place(of which there are multitudes) into the smallest among us while ignoring the other avenues of damnation that exist as well.

    It’s so clearly cultural it makes Dawkins take even stronger.

    Regardless of how you and I feel about it, to many religious people, it would be horrible not to teach their child that. To do so would be to condemn that child to the same, aforementioned hell.

    I keep reading comment slike this as if they have some validity. 1. Their ‘belief’ is just that it’s not reality. 2. The child is reality and so is their pain and fear. Any parent that can’t tell the difference between reality and superstition with no evidence really doens’t have a case unless they want to pray to all the other Gods who will be sending them to hell for not doing so.

    Chris-

    you haven’t been paying attention to Dawkins for a while.

    puh-leez.

  286. #286 Ted
    December 31, 2006

    PZ and Ed are the only two ‘scienceblogs’ blogs I read on a daily basis, and both need to shut the hell up and go back to blogging about their pet interests. You’re both great bloggers and advocates, and you’re almost completely on the same side on these issues. Folks should lay off Dawkins as well, since he’s already repudiated the attachment of his signature to the statement (a stupid misstep, but who hasn’t made one?). Truth be told, when I saw his Root of All Evil interview with Ted Haggard, I ended up sympathizing with Haggard somewhat. Dawkins had perfectly sound points, but I wish it could have been delivered with a little more ‘grace’. Alas, Carl Sagan couldn’t live forever. (Nevertheless, if you’re still checking this thread, Professor Dawkins, I quite appreciate your work.)

    If you’re just now realizing that Dawkins has no place in “discussions among reasonable people,” you haven’t been paying attention to Dawkins for a while.

    Please. With an army of religious fundamentalists in this country and others declaring the global threat and menace of atheists, I think we could use at least a few guys willing to be aggressive in publicly pointing out the dangers of religious dogma, harsh as his statements may be at times.

    My own view, for all of its zero value, is that Dawkins is correct; religious indoctrination of children *is* child abuse. But so are many other forms of childhood psychological treatment, the vast majority of which we don’t trust the government to arbitrate. Government power is a blunt instrument, and it’s too imprecise to be applied to this issue. Education is the only cure available.

  287. #287 Leni
    December 31, 2006

    DuWayne wrote:

    Your right, I’m sorry, most parents who beat the living piss out of their kids, don’t really mean anything bad by it. Most parents who leave their infant in a fouled diaper, for hours on end, do it because they care.

    Actually, many parents do just that out of a misguided attempt to correct an undesired behavior.

    Spare the rod, spoil the child.

    In any case, human behavior is very complicated. A lot more complicated than “malicious” covers. I thought about posting a long story about a friend of mine and her mother, and about the abuse my friend suffered, but let me just say this instead:

    No More Wire hangers!

    It’s not really funny. I shouldn’t joke. The fact that people can love us and still hurt us so deeply is what makes some relationships so complicated and messy. And sometimes punishable in a court of law.

  288. #288 Inoculated Mind
    December 31, 2006

    Guys! We should unite against our common enemy!
    The Judian People’s Front?

  289. #289 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    DuWayne,

    I’m sorry, this is just going in circles now. I have seen Dawkins equate teaching children about religion with child abuse.

    There seems to be no end your lies and smears. Where has Dawkins EVER equated teaching children ABOUT religion with child abuse? Dawkins has repeatedly said that he thinks children should be taught ABOUT religion, in comparative religion classes and elsewhere. What he objects to, as do I, is the indoctrination of children with religious beliefs.

  290. #290 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    DuWayne,

    Look, you don’t get to substitute your own personal made-up definition of child abuse for the definitions used by medical and child welfare authorities. Since you seem to consider the definitions used by U.S. authorities, I will quote the relevant text from the federal Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect:

    “Emotional Abuse
    All States and territories except Georgia and Washington include emotional maltreatment as part of their definitions of abuse or neglect. Approximately1 22 States, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico provide specific definitions of emotional abuse or mental injury to a child. Typical language used in these definitions is “injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition,” or as evidenced by “anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior.”"

    Note: There is NO REQUIREMENT of an intent by the abuser to harm the child for the mistreatment to qualify as abuse. There is NO REQUIREMENT that the harm caused by the abuse must be “quantifiable” for the mistreatment to qualify as abuse. You have simply invented those conditions out of thin air in order to try and justify your position that religious indoctrination is not child abuse.

    It is not difficult to see how numerous religious doctrines routinely taught to American children, doctrines likely to provoke serious fear, shame, guilt, and other strong emotional responses, could easily result in the kinds harm described in the definitions of child abuse. And that’s just emotional harm. Religious indoctrination can also obviously lead to many kinds of physical harm, from the suicides of gay kids who have been indoctrinated with anti-gay teachings to the death and disease spread by the “no condoms” doctrine of the Catholic Church.

  291. #291 DuWayne
    December 31, 2006

    Jason -

    Where has Dawkins EVER equated teaching children ABOUT religion with child abuse? Dawkins has repeatedly said that he thinks children should be taught ABOUT religion, in comparative religion classes and elsewhere. What he objects to, as do I, is the indoctrination of children with religious beliefs.

    I am not talking about teaching comparative religion, I am talking about parents teaching their children about the parents religion. With most kids, that in itself is relgious indoctrination. Kids will believe what their parents do, the younger those children are and identify themselves the ways their parents do. Dawkins has in fact equated that with child abuse.

    I have been clear that I do not like parents doing that either, but it is not child abuse. It can be, just as many other things that parents do to their kids can be. I consider it harmful to kids – it caused me a lot of suffering as a child. But labeling it abuse, causes me, like most raised in my culture, to think about whether it is an imprisonable offence, which it clearly is not.

    Ultimately, I come down in nearly entire agreement with him on this issue. His statement at PT was quite enlightening adn cleared up confusion with his comments in the past. I realized that their are some semantic differences between Brits and Americans, that I was quite unaware of.

    My objections are to anyone who advocates using state coercion to stop people from indoctrinating their children into their religion. While I agree that this is a bad thing, it is not the place of the state to criminalise it. Certainly, when it falls into the realm of actionable abuse, I don’t give a damn that it is religiously motivated. The state has a compelling interest in protecting every child who is being so abused. But most religious indoctrination doesn’t even come close.

    There seems to be no end your lies and smears.

    Stated simply, go screw asshole. I have little in the way of monetary wealth. I have few oppertunities to join (offline) “polite” society, as it were. What I do have is my integrity. I strive, to have the integrity of my dad. I do my best to always deal in honesty and do not lie. I make mistakes, though I have not, IMO, made one here. When I do, I apologise, and do my best to rectify it.

    I also avoid calling anyone a liar, about the worse thing you can accuse anyone of, outside of being a sexual predator – unless I absolutely know that they are, in fact lying.

    We dissagree on our respective takes about Dawkins past statements. I have ammended mine due to likely cultural differences, though I still don’t entirely agree with him. But as Dawkins himself confirmed upthread, he has made statements about religious identification and indoctrination, being akin to child abuse – and regrets the confusion caused by them. That he meant something less than I read into that is aside, a lot of other very intelligent people (many of whom have read far more of him than I) read it as I did.

    Calling me a liar was disgusting and unconscionable. And I find it ironic that in the same sentence that smears me in nearly the worse way possible, you accuse me of smear. I honestly feel sorry for you.

  292. #292 Chris
    December 31, 2006

    I don’t think that Dawkins should be excluded from discussions among reasonable people because he’s virulently anti-religion, or because he’s hard on the religious. I believe he should be excluded from discussions among reasonable people because he generally isn’t reasonable. He’s generally clueless when it comes to religion and philosophy, history, or even the science of religion (as Scott Atran makes pretty clear, in the Beyond Belief talks, by the way).

  293. #293 DuWayne
    December 31, 2006

    Jason -

    And you call my words smear.

    Note: There is NO REQUIREMENT of an intent by the abuser to harm the child for the mistreatment to qualify as abuse.

    I never said there was. Not once did I even imply there is. All I said is that abuse is generaly malicious, as par with my definition of child abuse. You asked for my damned definition – I gave it and you attack me because it is not precisely worded the way various authorities do.

    There is NO REQUIREMENT that the harm caused by the abuse must be “quantifiable” for the mistreatment to qualify as abuse

    Yes there damn well is. From your post -
    Typical language used in these definitions is “injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition,” or as evidenced by “anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior.”"
    Do you not see that as quantifiable?

    It is not difficult to see how numerous religious doctrines routinely taught to American children, doctrines likely to provoke serious fear, shame, guilt, and other strong emotional responses, could easily result in the kinds harm described in the definitions of child abuse. And that’s just emotional harm. Religious indoctrination can also obviously lead to many kinds of physical harm, from the suicides of gay kids who have been indoctrinated with anti-gay teachings to the death and disease spread by the “no condoms” doctrine of the Catholic Church.

    I haven’t once said that it cannot be abuse. In fact I have repeatedly said that it can be, just as many other, usually relatively benign, non-physical things parents do to their kids can be.

    You seem to take the fact that I consider non-physical abuse to be rare, or more accurately, rarely taken to court, to mean that I don’t believe in it at all. I have never said that I do not believe in it. I was quite clear and careful not to, because it’s not true. Funny that you accuse me of smear, when you don’t really read what I have said before responding. I mean what I say, exactly what I say – not anything more or less, certainly not what you are reading into it.

  294. #294 Jason
    December 31, 2006

    DuWayne,

    But labeling it abuse, causes me, like most raised in my culture, to think about whether it is an imprisonable offence, which it clearly is not.

    Well, sorry, but if you and “most raised in your culture” don’t understand what the term “child abuse” means, as defined by medical and child welfare authorities, that’s your problem. As I have explained at length, as defined by medical authorities the term does not imply “an imprisonable offense,” or malicious intent, or “quantfiable” harm. It’s a broad term that covers a wide range of harmful mistreatment of children, much of which clearly would not be a criminal offense under current law. Richard Dawkins’ use of the term in his writings is perfectly consistent with this definition and if you falsely jumped to the conclusion that he meant to say that parents should be “imprisoned” for teaching their children religious doctrines, the failure is yours, not Dawkins’.

    I never said there was.

    Then why do you keep referring to malicious intent? It’s irrelevant. There need be no malicious intent for the mistreatment to qualify as abuse, and the fact, if it is a fact, that religious indoctrination usually does not involve malicious intent is therefore irrelevant to the question of whether it qualifies as abuse.

    I am not talking about teaching comparative religion, I am talking about parents teaching their children about the parents religion.

    For the umpteenth time, Dawkins’ has no objection to parents teaching their children ABOUT religion, either the parents’ own religion or a different religion. In fact, he has repeatedly said that he favors teaching children ABOUT religion. What he is adamantly opposed to, as am I, is the indoctrination of children with religious beliefs. Try to understand the difference between teaching a child “Christians believe such-and-such, Muslims believe so-and-so” (i.e., teaching children ABOUT religion) and teaching a child “You are a Christian and you should believe such-and-such” (i.e., labelling and indoctrinating a child with religious beliefs).

  295. #295 DuWayne
    December 31, 2006

    Jason -

    As I have explained at length, as defined by medical authorities the term does not imply “an imprisonable offense,” or malicious intent, or “quantfiable” harm. It’s a broad term that covers a wide range of harmful mistreatment of children, much of which clearly would not be a criminal offense under current law.

    I am not a medical authority and that phrase has very specific meanings in a legal context, which is the primary context it is used in, in this country. And my definition fits just fine with every statutory definition you have shown and I have seen.

    Richard Dawkins’ use of the term in his writings is perfectly consistent with this definition and if you falsely jumped to the conclusion that he meant to say that parents should be “imprisoned” for teaching their children religious doctrines, the failure is yours, not Dawkins’.

    I have admitted that my charecterisation was mistaken, due to cultural mis-understanding. What do you want, to see it in blood?

    I am not talking about teaching comparative religion, I am talking about parents teaching their children about the parents religion.

    It is pointless to go any further with you. I was clear when I qualified that with: With most kids, that in itself is relgious indoctrination. Kids will believe what their parents do, the younger those children are and identify themselves the ways their parents do. That you ignore the context, shows you are either obtuse or intellectualy dishonest.

    I have also been clear that I agree that this is a bad thing. I have also been clear that, by degree, it can fit under legal definitions of child abuse, but rarely goes that far, though it still causes damage to the child. And I have repeatedly given my solution for it and the overlying problem of religious impact on secular society, education. If you disagree with me on this, then what do you propose to do to change it?

  296. #296 hoody
    January 1, 2007

    Just a reminder for all, as it sums up the core of future posts regarding Mr. Myers:

    You’re a liar, PZ, and a first class, double-barrelled, fully automatic asshole.

    Yep. Perfect. Wish I had siad it myself.