The Big Bird Atheist

It’s kind of like like an atheism remix of Sesame Street, though it’s not nearly as well-funded, creatively produced, or entertaining. But it is aimed at children. Whose kids? Your kids.

I spent some time this morning perusing after reading an article about it in Salvo magazine. The site kind of reminds me of a low budget children’s ministry web page offering clunky resources for those working with preschoolers. But this url provides a very different kind of religious training, the godless type produced by the American Humanist Association.

The site claims to be dedicated to the “millions of young people around the world who have embraced science, rejected superstition, and are dedicated to being Good Without A God.” For a site devoted to such a scientific endeavor, I’m curious as to the statistical evidence for this claim. Not that I can readily provide the percentage of children who have self-identified as atheists, I just think I’m not alone. Perhaps we can chalk this up to marketing zeal and hyperbole.

But can we at least agree to be a little more honest with children than trying to entice them in with ungrounded marketing hype? I’m all for children being taught to be critical thinkers at a young age. But I’m also for a more authentic approach. For example, the site connects embracing science with being good without God, thus forcing a choice between science or God. The only problem with this is that it is a false dilemma. But, then again, why should we care about proper argumentation? I mean, if we want little ones to be critical thinkers, we should lure them in with overstated advertising claims, straw men arguments, and logical fallacies—all for the sake of free thinking and skepticism, of course.

On their site your kiddo will meet Darwin the dog. So much for subtlety. And your little ones can read about Darwin’s seven promises to: Be nice, care for the world, think for oneself, think about how other people feel, tell the truth, help others, and take good care of oneself.” These are all good and noble promises that I want my four children to pursue. But I certainly don’t want them to learn these principles from a website dripping in a naturalistic bias and framed in poor logic. There’s a better way.

As my kids learn about science and scientists, I want them to understand the roots of science (a Christian worldview) and the importance of one’s philosophy of science (the non scientific commitments one brings to the discipline). I agree with the atheist philosopher Daniel Dennet who said, “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” I want my kids to be able to critically examine the way scientists approach their discipline.

I want them to learn of great scientists like Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler, both committed Christians. And to engage with influential thinkers like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, neither of whom identified with Christian faith. I want them to know that there are scientists on both sides of the God equation who have done great things, and that so much of the debate is grounded in presuppositions.

I don’t think turning a blind eye to anyone who holds a different worldview is prudent or beneficial. For little kids interested in science, doesn’t it make sense to paint a more realistic and diverse picture of the scientific landscape than pitting science against faith in God? I guess this might work if in addition to reading their website, kids refuse to read the daily newspaper. They might discover Francis Collins who holds what many consider the most prestigious scientific position in America. And as the Director of the National Institutes of Health, a position to which he was appointed by President Barack Obama, he is in no way shy about his Christian faith. Why lead kids to believe that devout faith and scientific accomplishment are mutually exclusive?  Perhaps there is a bigger agenda at play.

I believe in intellectual diversity. I just don’t think that is diverse enough. I want my kids to learn and love science. But I think there’s a better way to do that than relying on gimmicks and poor logic. And as a Christian, I believe the whole scientific endeavor hinges on an assumption that the universe is orderly and that our minds are reliable. Without these foundational truths science falls apart. And these assumptions flow naturally out of my theistic worldview, so I have no plan to teach my children science without God. Why would I want them to build a house without a foundation?