Monday, October 13, 2008

God and the builders

'Did God get the world started and the builders finished it?'  

And so we have frequently, in recent months, come to debate the Big Fella's role in furnishing us with what there is. I am pretty convinced about evolution by natural selection, although I did spend much of my Cambridge interview trying to convince the indulgent don opposite that the universe had not been around long enough for us to have inched towards perfection by such careful degrees. So I find it hard to tell Isaac that anyone made anything, in the sense of setting out with an intention (that most human of mental quantities) and then assiduously seeing it through. I'm one of the group of people for whom Richard Dawkins reserves some of the largest doses of his prodigious contempt: those who would claim that religious belief gives human beings a rewarding, affirming narrative that helps them to make sense of their lives. (Read RD's preface to the revised edition of The God Delusion to see why he believes that this 'patronising' attitude won't do.) I can cope with the wrath of Dawkins, but not the disappointment of my own child. Isaac wants answers, and I'm the one who's supposed to be giving them. 

How creationist should we be with our kids? Some recent research suggests that, by coming over all Dawkins with our little ones, we might be wasting our time. In his wonderful Descartes' Baby, Paul Bloom reviews some findings that children's belief in creation stems from a natural tendency to attribute intention where in fact there is none. As part of the process of acquiring a theory of mind, children's mind-reading sometimes hits the wrong targets, and sees, for example, a mountain range as having been put there on purpose, by some higher, invisible miglior fabbro

Here's how I summarise Bloom's arguments in The Baby in the Mirror
It’s easy to see why people believe in a Creator. So much is mysterious: why the sun rises, how gases fuse to make water, how blind natural selection could have launched birds into the air. Through the centuries, children have wanted answers to these questions, and adults have had to try to find ways of explaining them. If Bloom is right, those adults needn’t have bothered. The explanations were already at hand. Until children’s thinking is sufficiently developed to cope with the hard science, the belief that God or some other supernatural being is responsible for all these miracles comes to youngsters as naturally as language does.
So I have to manage Isaac's perfectly natural creationist leanings while still being honest to my own truth. It has the makings of a classic fudge. God made the world possible, I tell him, and then Nature did the rest. I'm starting to sound like the Archbishop of Canterbury:

1 comment:

  1. "I am pretty convinced about evolution by natural selection..."
    very generous of you Charles!

    I did find this blog intriguing though. Like you, I am also experimenting on my kids. For me however, it is a question of trying to create an atheist super-race. I am failing to do so because I cannot keep them within a sufficiently sterile environment. By which I mean that they get to hear about the god "explanation" whilst I am not there to provide a more suitable evidence-based one, and once it's in there it is notoriously difficult to shift.

    I would be interested to know how kids explain things if they manage to grow up without hearing about god. I can't imagine where in the world they would have to live for that to be possible, even Denmark might not fit the bill. One day maybe...