How do I convince my kids that God is real and science is wrong?
Don’t start trolling the comments section yet! This is not a question I am asking, It’s a question I’ve answered.
Allow me to explain… A few weeks ago, I saw that someone had posted this question on Quora: How do I convince my kids that God is real and science is wrong?; and it really upset me. Not just because it’s a stupid question (it is a stupid question, and many of the other answers explain why the question is flawed), but because it was a real, and immediate example of the insidious way of thinking which I believe is behind many of the problems Humanity creates for itself: Authoritarianism.
Authoritarianism [Noun]; — The tendency for individuals to give undue trust to authorities, and allow others to control how they act, speak, and think, in place of using our own internal reasoning faculties.
Edging into my 30th year on this planet, I’m becoming increasingly aware of just how much in the world is driven by this phenomenon of authoritarianism—How the will of a few determined people is carried out by massive herds of followers who neglect to think critically for themselves.
Religion is the most obvious example, but politics, social issues, and even science are now all being driven at some level by the most authoritarian and vocal members of society, harming all of us.
What authority seeks, more than anything, is conformity within its ranks and across the board. They want everyone to see the world the same way they do, and they rely on their highly authoritarian followers to help make sure that this happens.
So when a person asks “How do I convince someone that …”, they are really saying “This person won’t get in line with the rest of us, how do I fix that?”.
It’s a tragedy when a person’s capacity for thinking is limited and shrunk down by those around them for the sake of conformity. Not only for that person, who must now experience the world through blinkers; but also for the rest of us, because it robs us of the chance to have benefited from another person’s unique perspective.
What authority fears, more than anything, is diversity of opinion. And “If you don’t think like us, then you’re not one of us” is often the theme of their rhetoric. Authoritarians seek to avoid this sort of diversity through control: control of information, control of behaviour, or control of speech.
If you agree that authoritarianism, as defined above, is harmful then the best thing you can do is avoid being authoritarian yourself. Seek alternative opinions, and allow others to express theirs. Promote and encourage freedom of speech and freedom of expression on all issues, not just the ones that make you feel most comfortable. Encourage others, especially children, to form their own views about the world, and to seek answers to questions on their own.
I’ve touched on the topic of authoritarianism on the Thinker’s Playground website and plan to do a lot more soon.
My answer (written below) has been relatively popular on Quora, and I still get 2 or 3 upvotes a day from people who have stumbled upon the question.
“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
If something is true, someone shouldn’t have to be coerced into believing it.
It sounds like what you’re really hoping to do, is teach your kids to neglect their own judgment and internal reasoning, and instead, trust authority figures on the hope that they are always right (they’re not).
There’s a wonderful book by Bob Altemeyer called the The Authoritarians. Altemeyer has spent most of his life studying the phenomenon of authoritarianism, and the personality type classified as “Authoritarian followers” or “Right-wing Authoritarians ” — people who tend to believe whatever their group and authority figures tell them to, instead of trusting their own internal faculties.
Here’s a relevant excerpt:
7. Dogmatism: The Authoritarian’s Last Ditch Defense
But the leaders don’t have to worry, because their followers are also quite dogmatic. By dogmatism I mean relatively unchangeable, unjustified certainty. And I’m certain that is right, beyond a doubt. So that establishes how dogmatic I am. If you want a hint as to how dogmatic you are, simply answer the items below — completely ignoring the fact that if you strongly agree with them it means you are a rigid, dogmatic, and totally bad, bad, bad person — and you get no dessert.
The things I believe in are so completely true, I could never doubt them.
My opinions and beliefs fit together perfectly to make a crystal-clear “picture” of things.
There are no discoveries or facts that could possibly make me change my mind about the things that matter most in life.
I am absolutely certain that my ideas about the fundamental issues in life are correct.
These statements are from a survey I call the DOG scale, and as usual there are some items that you’ll have to strongly disagree with to look awful. Such as:
There are so many things we have not discovered yet, nobody should be absolutely certain his beliefs are right.
It is best to be open to all possibilities, and ready to re-evaluate all your beliefs.
Flexibility is a real virtue in thinking, since you may well be wrong.
I am a long way from reaching final conclusions about the central issues in life.
Guess who tend to strongly agree with the first set of items, and stronglydisagree with the second set. Yep, high RWAs[Right-wing Authoritarians]. Which, all kidding aside, suggests they have a dogmatic streak in them a mile wide and a hundred denials deep.
It’s easy to see why authoritarian followers would be dogmatic, isn’t it? When you haven’t figured out your beliefs, but instead absorbed them from other people, you’re really in no position to defend them from attack. Simply put, you don’t know why the things you believe are true. Somebody else decided they were, and you’re taking their word for it. So what do you do when challenged?
Well first of all you avoid challenges by sticking with your own kind as much as possible, because they’re hardly likely to ask pointed questions about your beliefs. But if you meet someone who does, you’ll probably defend your ideas as best you can, parrying thrusts with whatever answers your authorities have pre-loaded into your head. If these defenses crumble, you may go back to the trusted sources. They probably don’t have to give you a convincing refutation of the anxiety-producing argument that breached your defenses, just the assurance that you nonetheless are right. But if the arguments against you become overwhelming and persistent, you either concede the point — which may put the whole lot at risk — or you simply insist you are right and walk away, clutching your beliefs more tightly than ever.
That’s what authoritarian followers tend to do. And let’s face it, it’s an awfully easy stand to take. You have to know a lot nowadays to stake out an intelligent, defendable position on many issues. But you don’t have to know anything to insist you’re right, no matter what. Dogmatism is by far the best fall-back defense, the most impregnable castle, that ignorance can find. It’s also a dead give-away that the person doesn’t know why he believes what he believes.
The book is available online, free (legally), here: The Authoritarians
That last sentence is particular relevant to someone who asks “How can I convince x of y”, because they clearly don’t have a valid rationale for their own beliefs and are looking for someone else to provide them with a template.
Aside from it being a bit of an obnoxious personality trait, wanting to convince others to see the world your way can be psychologically damaging to them, especially in kids.
Researchers at the Fels Institute studied parents and their children and noticed some startling trends. Children of parents classified as “accepting democratic” had “accelerated intelligence”, including a higher IQ, greater creativity, originality, and assertiveness compared to the rest of the children studied. Children from parents classified as “actively rejectant” were found to have decelerated intellectual development.
Other studies show that children with authoritarian parents do poorer academically (https://ttu-ir.tdl.org/ttu-ir/bitstream/handle/2346/16699/31295013058994.pdf?sequence=1) which isn’t really surprising, since they’ve been trained to abandon their own reasoning faculties.
Personally, I’d want to have kids who were well-rounded, intelligent, thoughtful, and curious about the world around them — someone who I can learn from. I’d much prefer that over kids who are ignorant, and academically poor parrots of my own (probably inaccurate) worldview.
I didn’t receive a response from the author of the question, and to be honest, I didn’t really expect to. But I’m grateful for platforms like Medium and Quora that allow people to have a diverse range of discussions, and be challenged on their views. Thank god for the Internet!