Distinguishing fact from fiction
by: John Tyrrell
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Occasionally, I like to use this space to remind non-religious parents of the value of giving their children a foundation for the carrying on with a rejection of belief. With belief in a god of one form or another being the default position in our overall culture, innocculation against such beliefs are essential.
A new paper published in Cognitive Science gives added force to the idea that belief is not necessarily good for children. The abstract states:
In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion. Children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school, or both, judged the protagonist in religious stories to be a real person, whereas secular children with no such exposure to religion judged the protagonist in religious stories to be fictional. Children's upbringing was also related to their judgment about the protagonist in fantastical stories that included ordinarily impossible events whether brought about by magic (Study 1) or without reference to magic (Study 2). Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children's differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories. (emphasis added)
Note, these are 5 and 6 year olds, and and those with exposure to religion have already had their ability to distinguish fact from fiction damaged. This is in line with the traditional Jesuit maxim of "Give me the child for seven years, and I will give you the man."
It's never too early to start with your children and point out the emptiness of religious ideas.You want your child to have the ability to say confidently when exposed to religion by, perhaps a play mate - perhaps a grandparent, "that doesn't make sense." You want them to realize that psychic powers are illusion. And you want them to see the silliness of the claim that a god might single out one individual to save while allowing countless others to die.
Those recent items linked above are just possible starting points which might give you some ideas on how to approach the issue with your children. But once you get started, it's important to keep it up. With a little research, you'll find there's a growing body of material to help you.
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