Monday, June 18, 2007

A Letter to a Daughter

In his interview, Dawkins said about child-indoctrination and why he considers it as a child-abuse. He also mentioned that a true education of children should include teaching of all kinds of religion, including atheism. Also, they should be encouraged to have a critical view on religion, if they wish to. However, he did not actually mention how that kind of education will look like. In his letter to his 10 year old daughter Juliet, I can see a glimpse of that scientific education.

Dawkins classified belief into 'good' and 'bad' categories. He tries to answer the critical question on why anybody should 'believe' in science. He explains what is evidence and how carefully science gather it. He then cited three other popular reasons for belief - "tradition," "authority," and "revelation." He presented examples for all these and explained how they might drift one away from truth. He didn't only talk about religion, but also about language and other traditions. In the end he separates out the knowledge of "revelation", "tradition" and "authority" from the knowledge out of evidences and guided her to choose knowledge-resources carefully.

I cannot but quote a few lines from his letter. A wonderful similarity between detectives and the scientists are the way the find out evidences. Dawkins says :

"Often, evidence isn't just an observation on its own, but observation always lies at the back of it. If there's been a murder, often nobody (except the murderer and the victim!) actually observed it. But detectives can gather together lots or other observations which may all point toward a particular suspect. If a person's fingerprints match those found on a dagger, this is evidence that he touched it. It doesn't prove that he did the murder, but it can help when it's joined up with lots of other evidence. Sometimes a detective can think about a whole lot of observations and suddenly realise that they fall into place and make sense if so-and-so did the murder."

He even classified 'love' based on evidence and without evidence. He said :

"There are people with a strong inside feeling that a famous film star loves them, when really the film star hasn't even met them. People like that are ill in their minds. Inside feelings must be backed up by evidence, otherwise you just can't trust them."

And of course on child-indoctrination :

"It's a pity, but it can't help being the case, that because children have to be suckers for traditional information, they are likely to believe anything the grown-ups tell them, whether true or false, right or wrong. ... Millions of other people believe quite different things, because they were told different things when they were children. Muslim children are told different things from Christian children, and both grow up utterly convinced that they are right and the others are wrong."

Of course his most valuable guidance to her daughter comes with :

"And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: "What kind of evidence is there for that?" And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say."

I am trying to translate it in Bengali. In case I am done, I will update this blog to have that link too. Till then read the finest English letter from Richard Dawkins - the smartest intellectual.

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