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Dennett: Teach Children All the Facts about their Religion

Featurette

Kendrick Frazier

Volume 32.2, March / April 2008

Philosopher Daniel Dennett used his summary talk on the final morning of the China conference to call for an end to the indoctrination of children into the religious beliefs of their parents. Yet he doesn’t urge censorship—just the opposite. The Tufts University philosopher, known for his passionate atheism as well as his defenses of Darwinian evolution (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Breaking the Spell), called for teaching children all about religion.

“Even more important than educating the young about science is to educate them about religion,” he said. He proposed educating all children about all religions, including origins, history, myths, and contradictions.

“Toxic religions depend on enforced ignorance of the young,” he said. “I propose we teach them about the facts of their own religion their elders don’t want them to know.” The goal: “So they will not be victimized by their parents’ religion. I think we should open the floodgates. Teach children about the world’s religions.”

Paul Kurtz, in his own closing comments, referred to and reinforced Dennett’s remarks. The CFI founder and chairman said among the rights of children is the right not to be indoctrinated into their parents’ religion. Instead, they should be exposed to the growing knowledge of the world. “Parents do not ‘own’ children,” said Kurtz. “We should teach children creative thinking and moral understanding and moral principles. That is the best way to bring us all into the twenty-first century.”

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Kendrick Frazier is editor of the Skeptical Inquirer and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is editor of several anthologies, including Science Under Siege: Defending Science, Exposing Pseudoscience.