Atheist scientists’ approach to child-rearing

A recent study has found that many atheist scientists (the population interviewed for the study) occasionally attend church for social, cultural, or family-related reasons.  I can relate to that: I’m an atheist scientist who occasionally attends my mother-in-law’s church to sing in her choir when she needs an extra tenor.

But what I really like about the study is some atheist scientists’ approach to teaching their kids about religion, which I think is spot on. A quote from the above article explains it best:

One study participant raised in a strongly Catholic home said he later came to believe that science and religion were not compatible. But rather than passing that belief onto his daughter, he said, he wanted to pass on the ability to make her own decisions in a thoughtful way. So he exposes his daughter to a variety of religious choices, including Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.

“I … don’t indoctrinate her that she should believe in God,” the study participant said. “I don’t indoctrinate her into not believing in God.”

One of the strengths of a good education is exposure to a range of alternatives without prejudice. In the U.S., for instance, it is permissible for teachers to advocate facts (there is strong evidence for evolution, for instance, so it should be favored in the science classroom), but it is not permissible for teachers to advocate personal beliefs (Christianity is the one true religion, for instance). When it comes to religious traditions, which are belief systems not founded principally on evidence, teachers are permitted to teach about them, but not advocate for them.

The same, I believe, should be true for parents. We do our children a disservice by pigeonholing them, from a very young age, into a belief system that cannot be shown with any sort of critical rigor to be more or less true than another. Instead, we should educate our children about all the major belief systems – and not only so they can make up their own minds, but also so they can understand human culture better.

There is no virtue in enforced ignorance, indoctrination, or the suppression of questions.

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