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Re: [Santa-Cruz-Atheists] Message from Mara

From: Bob K.
Sent on: Friday, December 7, 2012 2:52 PM
Hi Howard & all,

Your proposal strikes a chord!  I'm on board with encouraging kids to question dogma.  It seems though that presenting atheism as an alternative to religion (as in a social studies class?) could backfire in a couple of ways.  First, might it cause a loud and public backlash from indignant parents?  Also, "a-theism" in the broad sense is just the absence of belief in a god.  For kids looking for answers, do we offer these kids any new understanding to replace the one we offer to take away?  A science-based view of nature is one such "religion replacement", but science is not a necessary part of atheism.

Richard Dawkins says teaching a child that "belief without evidence is a virtue" opens the door to all manner of opportunistic belief systems.  That one teaching is, in fact, the keystone of a bridge to lifelong superstition.  Teaching kids instead, that "insisting on evidence is a virtue", if taught early, can knock out the keystone and cause the "bridge of gullibility" to collapse.

I would be interested to see the SSA draft.  Last night I gave my astronomy program to 2nd-5th graders at San Jose's 3rd Street Community Center.  I consciously avoid talking about god or atheism, even when they ask me about it directly.  Instead I encourage them to think for themselves.

Here's a story I told about moths and following rules.

"Long ago, before people, there were 2 kinds of moths.  One kind followed a rule, 'fly in the daytime', and the other kind followed a different rule, 'only fly at night'.  The day flyers could easily see where they were going.  'La la-la la-la, swoosh gulp!'; a bird swooped down and ate the moth!  In fact all the daytime moths got eaten, because the birds could easily see them, and so the only ones left were the moths that followed the rule to fly only at night."  [I ignored other successful strategies, such as moths that eat plants that are poisonous to birds.]

"There were also 2 kinds of night flying moths.  One kind followed the rule, 'fly around in circles', and the other kind followed the rule, 'keep a bright light steady in your eye while flying'.  That last rule lets those moths fly for miles and miles in a straight line, by keeping the moon or a bright star in the same visual location.  After a while, the moths that could fly in a straight line for long distances spread far and wide.  Navigating by the stars helped them to find each other and have lots of baby moths. [again, avoiding complicated explanations!]  But the 'fly in circles' moths just stayed in one place, and eventually they died out.  So only the long distance flyers were left."

"Then people came along, and we invented campfires, and we invented lightbulbs.  And we put lightbulbs out on our porches.  Then moths began flying around and around the porch lights.  What are those moths doing?  They are just following the same old rule, 'keep a bright light steady in your eye while flying'.  But using that rule on a lightbulb does not help you fly in a straight line!  Instead you spiral in to the light and stay there!"

"Now we could say, 'stupid moth!  That's not the moon, it's a lightbulb!'  But really, the moth isn't stupid, he's just following a rule that his genes told him to follow.  Written into his DNA is a rule that always worked well for his parents and grandparents, and he can't do anything else."

After the moth story I made sure the kids understood that there are rules we must follow, like always looking both ways before crossing.  Not following THAT rule means getting hit by a car, and you don't get the chance to learn from your mistake!  Same goes for taking drugs when you don't know what it will do to your brain; no second chance!  But the moth story is also a good way to talk about blindly following rules without questioning them, and how to distinguish good rules from bad ones.  So I'm trying to create a fertile soil where the seeds of doubt over dogma can sprout.

I'm not opposed to introducing kids to atheism explicitly, but there's also value in helping kids to find good strategies for living, even though they are not part of the atheist philosophy per se.

Sorry for the long reply!  (you didn't actually have to read the whole thing y'know!)  Happy Solstice!
- Bob

On Dec 7, 2012, at 9:53 AM, Howard Burman wrote:

Proposal:  Atheist class presentation to K-12?  Anyone want to help with connecting with teachers (social studies or otherwise) to speak to classes in Santa Cruz County about atheism?  I have a presentation that was developed by one Secular Student Alliance that we could use as a draft to build on.   Please let me know if you know teachers I could contact or would be interested in working with me on this.  Contact Mara:  [address removed]

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