Neil Carter, who blogs at the Patheos Atheist Portal at Godless in Dixie , has an excellent response to recent statements by Lawrence Krause about the teaching of creationism by parents, appropriately entitled “Stop Saying that Teaching Creationism is Child Abuse”. A tip of the hat to FtB’s Ed Brayton for bringing it to our attention. Why don’t y’all go read the whole thing while I gather some pull quotes and some pithy reactions of my own. Go on now…
Lawrence Krauss recently defended his assertion that teaching children creationism is child abuse, making two or three logical errors in the process which I’d like to point out.
First Krauss misjudges the circumstances of parents who teach their children creationism by assuming the parents are withholding information from them which they have but don’t want to share.
It’s like not allowing your children to have medicine, not allowing you children to be vaccinated, for example, is child abuse, because you are doing them harm.
In some sense, if you withhold information from your children because you would rather them not know what reality is really like, for fear that it is going to affect their beliefs, then you are doing them harm.
These are very poor analogies. In each of those parallel scenarios a parent possesses what the child needs (or at least knowingly has access to it) but chooses to withhold it from them for whatever reasons. That isn’t the case with teaching creationism because the parents who do that aren’t really aware that alternative explanations of the origins of the universe are legitimate. Surely Dr. Krauss knows these parents aren’t merely pretending to believe the stuff they’re teaching their kids. They really believe this stuff, as illogical as it sounds. So it’s inaccurate to argue that they are withholding something from their children which they know their child needs. That’s not the case at all.
Being an Atheist in Dixie as Mr. Carter is, he’s well positioned to report on the realities that these families face. There’s a complicated web of Christian privilege, societal neglect, historical disadvantage and out right chicanery to navigate if we wish to tackle the spread of creationism on the family level. Pretending as Krauss does that creationist teachings are some sort of malfeasance on the part of parents is certainly a way to get attention, but it’s hard to believe that he himself equates teaching “Jesus riding a Velociraptor” with anything that would actually generate a report to Child Protective Services.
Which it turns out is exactly true…
Which leads me to my third problem with what Dr. Krauss said. He admits he put it that way because it will grab people’s attention:
“That’s a fairly brutal way of putting it,” [Pickering] noted.
“Yeah, exactly, but it got some attention,” Krauss replied, “cus if I hadn’t [used that description] you wouldn’t have read the line.”
Ah, I see. So it’s justified because it got you in the headlines. Or your message, which has now changed into something less accurate because you found that stating it less accurately played the crowd better and got repeated in a way that it wouldn’t have if you hadn’t exaggerated your claim. So who’s knowingly withholding information now?
So what the eminent physicist and cosmologist was doing was the internet age equivalent of this Smothers Brothers sketch.
“Why did you yell fire when you fell into the chocolate?”
“Because noone would save me if I yelled CHOCOLATE!” The very first example of click bait.
Carter goes on to explain why this kind of attention grabbing rhetoric is a poor method of science communication (which you would know by now if you had read the whole piece like I told you to.) But I’d like to go a step in a different direction. What Krauss is doing here is something that Important Atheist Men (it’s almost always men) do all the time. Step out of their areas of expertise to use children and parents as props in their Important Atheist Men’s crusade against organized religion. Most likely he’s echoing the sentiment Richard Dawkins expressed in The God Delusion, comparing the teaching of the doctrine of Hell or other forms of eternal damnation to children as a form of child abuse. Dawkins is probably on steadier ground there, but he’s still talking out of his ass. He’s still using children as a prop to further his own agenda and doing so without a shred of expertise in early childhood development or child psychology to back his argument. That is treating children like objects rather than people, dehumanizing them in service to your rhetoric.
Is teaching creationism bad for children? Maybe so, it certainly can leave them woefully unprepared for biology class later in life. But that doesn’t qualify as abuse. And calling it abuse not only doesn’t help these kids, it distracts from the actual abuse that a lot of children raised in creationist circles are prey to. Compared to the dangerous parenting practices espoused by Michael and Debi Pearl for instance, abuse that puts actual children’s lives at risk, I’ll take a few incorrect ideas about dinosaurs and gardens.
So stop saying shit like this Atheists. You are making us look and sound arrogant and ignorant. Be smarter than that.
Featured Image Credit: Lucas Cobb from Flickr
I find only Carter’s second argument at all compelling – the argument that calling miseducation “abuse” waters down the word and diminishes the significance of other harms parents can do to children. His first argument is baffling: surely he doesn’t think that parents who deny their children vaccines or medicines are doing so any more maliciously than parents who deny their children access to science education! The common denominator in all these cases is that the parent has a set of incorrect but strongly held beliefs, and these beliefs are leading them to do things which harm their children. You wouldn’t say that parenting in the Pearls’s style ceases to be abuse if the parents _really_ believe it’s the right way to parent, would you?
I get the point of the third argument, but come on. Of course he phrased it in an attention grabbing way. And while I am sympathetic to the idea that calling the teaching of creationism “abuse” minimizes the harms of physical abuse, I do think that it qualifies as mental abuse in the same way that teaching a child that being gay is sinful or that other races are inferior qualifies as a kind of abuse. It warps a child’s understanding of the world, erodes their own self-confidence, alienates them from people who do not share their delusions, and generally makes their life worse than it would have been, all in service to a falsehood.
(And yes, of course teaching a child to believe in hell is abusive. The only way that convincing a child they will be tortured forever if they do anything bad could be other abusive is if hell actually existed, and I’m not totally sure it wouldn’t be abusive then. I don’t think you need to be a child psychologist to see that.)
Thanks for the comment!
“Of course he phrased it in an attention grabbing way.”
Why? It’s not like he’s a lone internet crank with a blog and a grudge. He’s Lawrence Krauss for Zod’s sake. He was the 2015 Humanist of the year. He’s a bestselling author. He probably has Barack Obama’s phone number. There’s no reason for him to use clickbait to get attention other than the fact that it gets chuckles from the Atheist peanut gallery.
Of course I disapprove of teaching the doctrine of hell. I think the doctrine itself is incredibly abusive and bad for children, I can speak as an ex catholic on this, because we Catholics take it up a notch. We invented “mortal sins”, crap you can do that gets you a one way ticket to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid. But conflating that to the crime of child abuse actually makes it harder to combat in my opinion, because it stretches the term “abuse” beyond credibility. We have a hard enough time convincing people that spanking is counterproductive and abusive. Hyperbolic rhetoric like Krauss uses is simply bad tactics, it interferes with the job of public education by shutting down lines of communication, by closing minds.