Learning to Think in a Society Ruled by Absurd Religion and Other Dogma


The following is an excerpt from Parenting Without God by Dan Arel.

One important thing to teach our children is how to think critically. It is easy to tell them they should, but it is not as easy to teach them how, mainly because we may not be that great at it ourselves.

How many atheists do you know who are anti-GMO or anti-vaccination? We know these can be smart people who took on a position that is full of emotion, misinformation or bad research methods.

Think back to earlier discussions about vaccinations when those opposed were flooding you with links, not links to scientific studies, but to blogs or “information” sites by doctors who seemed to be selling a cure-all at the same time they were telling you to avoid modern medicine.

This is a failure in critical thinking, and it's usually the result of confirmation bias. If you start off with the notion that vaccines are dangerous you will be drawn to articles that confirm your position. Instead, a position should be started from a clean slate. This is not easy to do but it is crucial.

Ask the question, “Are vaccines safe?” Then look for information from trustworthy sources and see what they say. What do medical peer review journals have to say? What do medical organizations say? What do opponents think and what are their sources? Are their sources reliable?

This same method applies to religion. Who is making the claim, and does the claim defy the laws of nature that we understand? Is there a simpler explanation for what happened? Is it possible this claim ever happened at all?

Look at Noah’s flood, with two of every single animal on the planet and a handful of human beings on a single boat. First look at the logistics. How big would the boat need to be and how much food would be required? What about the carnivorous animals? If you only brought two of each, what did the lions eat for an entire trip?

This alone makes the story seem implausible, but then look at the scientific evidence. Have we found a boat that could have done this? Surely a boat of this size must have some rather impressive remains somewhere in the world. How about the placement of animals; did Noah go around and drop each animal off at its particular continent after the flood subsided? How did he do this?

Then we can look at the archeological evidence. Fossils form best in wet conditions. So just imagine the archeological goldmine left behind from this massive flood that would have drowned billions of creatures. What have we found? To date we have found nothing suggesting a flood of this magnitude. It seems fairly reasonable to conclude there was no flood. No mass killings of people and animals. This is nothing but a myth, and can be treated as such.

Thinking critically about such an issue is rather simple to find a logical conclusion. This can be used for every tale in the Bible. From talking snakes to virgin births, we can look at these stories and apply the same critical thinking skills to them.

Our children should be using this method every day in all matters of life. With claims from friends, family, parents, and teachers, they should be well prepared to question everyone and everything. Doing this also allows them to become their own person and not simply a carbon copy of what people are telling them to be.

Many of us, especially those who grew up in religion, had it engrained that the questioning of claims is frowned upon and God has an exact plan for who we should be. Many never break out of that cycle and allow those they consider authorities to dictate how their lives should be led. The generation we want to raise would be a generation that questions everything, from religion to government and even science.

We often imagine we cannot question science, but the core of scientific research is questioning. That is what peer-review is all about. Theists, especially creationists, often claim we all have faith in science, or call science a religion because we simply accept what scientists say. This could not be further from the truth. However, this is something important we should be teaching our children. The method in which we apply critical thinking to science, the scientific method and the rigorous testing scientific ideas are put through ensures that only sound ideas come out the other end as scientifically valid. All the others are discarded as nonsense or failures.

Pseudoscience exists because some people lack the ability to discard disproven or untestable ideas. From homeopathy to astrology, science discards claims, yet people insist on continuing to believe these claims. People who hold onto these ideas and continue to believe them lack critical thinking skills.

Pseudoscience is a strong example of the dangers of not applying critical thinking skills to real life. Many people lose the battle with treatable cancer because they believe nonsense claims by alternative medicine practitioners who have a "cure" that has never been tested, or if it has, failed.

The Burzynski Clinic in Texas offers such a service, despite FDA warning that its treatments are not only unproven, but its advertising and claims are deemed to be unlawful. It has been sued for misleading patients, insurance fraud and not being up to state medical standards. Yet it remains open for business, offering a cure that is too good to be true, while people who are not using critical thinking skills continue to throw all their money at this fraud, no matter the results.

How many TV evangelists have we seen in our lifetime who can heal those who cannot walk or see, or help someone overcome addiction, by placing their hands on someone’s head, yelling prayers or speaking in incoherent tongues? Then boom, the people are healed, up walking and dancing, while the audience goes crazy and throws money at the pastor and church to continue this miraculous healing.

This is all a fraud: everyone involved is in on the secret. Faith healers know that people want to believe in miracles; they want to believe so badly they will suspend reality to do so. We are eager to believe in things outside the laws of nature, like the paranormal, even though we know that no evidence ever supports such claims.

It may be crazy, but think about it. How many people do you know who do not believe in God, yet seem to think ghosts are possible Maybe even you. But think about it: you don’t believe in a soul or an afterlife, yet you believe we somehow stay alive after death, or some or our energy sticks around. Even skeptical thinkers can fall victim to thoughts like this. We seemed to be evolutionarily primed for it.

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