Dear Dr. Dawkins,
I had the great privilege of attending your talk at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN on Monday the 12th. I am the co-founder and current President of the Society of Non-Theists, a student organization for atheists and agnostics at Purdue University (we forgive you for speaking at our rival). The God Delusion played a major part in encouraging me to be outspoken about my atheism, and I thank you for that. I was also incredibly excited to hear you speak about evolution, since I will be graduating this spring with degrees in Genetics and Evolutionary Biology and then starting my journey towards a PhD.
I am writing you because I was lucky enough to ask you a question in front of the audience, but you never answered. Here, to the best of my knowledge, is what I said:
“I had the misfortune of visiting the Creation Museum this summer. While there were many scary things there, the scariest was how it was full of children. When you see kids like this or those who are home schooled or going to religious school, they’re effectively being brainwashed. Is there anything we can do to teach them science, or are they a lost cause?”
You replied that the topic of brainwashed children put a bee in your bonnet, and talked for quite a while about how inappropriate it is to label kids as “Christian children” or “Muslim children.” You talked extensively about this topic in the God Delusion, and I agree completely. But because this is such an important topic, you seemingly got sidetracked and went on to the next question without answering mine. Some of my friends suggested that you sidestepped the question because you didn’t have a good answer, but I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and blame forgetfulness.
Usually I wouldn’t be so adamant about getting an answer, but as a freethinker and an evolutionary biologist, this question is particularly important to me. The cynic in me feels almost doomed when looking at these sheltered children. We all know how impressionable children are. A study by Randy Moore and Sehoya Cotner found that what students learned about evolution and creationism in high school was the most important factor in their future views on the subject. What young people are taught sticks, and it is very hard to undo such thorough brainwashing.
So what do we do?
We fight to keep creationism out of science classrooms in public schools, and we win our legal battles… but creationists just pull out their children. They sent them to private religious schools or homeschool them.
We promote evolution in museums across the country… but we can’t forcibly take children there. Instead, creationists build their own “museum” full of propaganda and lies for the sole purpose of indoctrination.
We make science oriented tv shows… but we can’t make them watch them. What would a creationist parent choose: Bill Nye (a personal favorite), or Veggietales? I know some religious families who don’t even own televisions at all, for the fear that their children are exposed to the evils of the outside world.
We can make pro-science video games like Math Blasters or Number Munchers… but we can’t make them play. The fact that I had such a hard time coming up with scientific video games isn’t a good sign either – where are we in that market? Theists have Charlie Church Mouse Bible Adventure, Left Behind… what do we have? Spore? That attempted to be able evolution, but was effectively Intelligent Design – and still had angry theists calling it evil anti-creationism propaganda.
We write books upon books… but will they ever reach these children? When I heard you were writing a skeptical children’s’ book, I was excited and then sad. Creationist parents aren’t going to buy that for their kids – its target audience is those who want to raise skeptical thinkers. Who knows if it would even be stocked in school libraries, or if a child would voluntarily choose it knowing his parent’s beliefs. Who knows if that child is even allowed to voluntarily choose a book, what with their parents’ constant surveillance. Look at Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, which actually included God and the supernatural, but was avidly boycotted because it spoke against dogmatism.
I guess I’m wondering if there’s any hope at this point. Do we write these kids off as a lost cause? Should we focus our efforts on the fence sitters, the liberal theists, the people who sort of maybe accept evolution but with God’s guidance or other types of woo? Or are we just missing some vital strategy, an approach we haven’t tried yet? Short of kidnapping or mind control (neither of which I support*), I’m not sure what we could do. That’s why I’m curious as to what you think – maybe with your experience, you’re more creative than I am.
In all honestly, I doubt I’ll get a response. Even if he wasn’t currently flying around on a book tour, Richard Dawkins is a busy man and probably receives far too many emails every day…but it was worth a shot. Feel free to comment and add your two cents. Do you think there’s a solution?
*I hate including such ridiculously obvious disclaimers, but creationists absolutely love quotemining sarcastic statements. Actually, they’ll probably do it anyway. Oh well.