Russell XIII: Indoctrination Envy

brainwashAfter (not) giving an argument against the idea that justice will prevail, Russell touches on a tangent about why people believe in God:

Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people. What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason.

This is the oft repeated argument from indoctrination. A favorite argument among the New Atheists has been the idea that people believe in God for no other reason than that they were told this in childhood.

At this point, I think it has become clear that this argument is so beloved of those that use it because it allows them to explain why clearly intelligent people disagree with their position without admitting to the fact that there are good arguments on the theist’s side.

My main trouble with this isn’t that it is almost entirely fictitious (though it is), nor that it completely overlooks the very large end to which these same people have been indoctrinated into their own beliefs (though it does), but that “you’re indoctrinated” has become a common excuse to avoid seriously engaging with theists’ questions.

In fact, Richard Dawkins seems to have abandoned arguing with adults altogether. He refuses to debate not only William Lane Craig, but presumably anyone else described by the long list of reasons he gave for not debating Craig. Instead, he’s written a book promoting materialism to children. The American Humanist Association, likewise, has launched a website designed to inculcate children in an atheistic worldview.

When these same people are recommending that we use ridicule, sarcasm, and other playground tactics to “promote reason”, this sounds less like disgust with the idea that children are being indoctrinated and more like outrage that they are not the ones doing the indoctrinating.

Looking at their behavior, it is hard not to conclude that “the champions of reason” are interested in any means of promoting their agenda – save logical engagement with the relevant questions.

6 responses to “Russell XIII: Indoctrination Envy

  • David King

    I was torn over the next-to-last paragraph. My fallen nature wanted to laugh out loud because you nailed ’em so well. At the same time, my better self was heartbroken because it is so sadly true.

    • Debilis

      I had a very similar reaction when I was reading over it.

      The most positive thing I could think to do was to take it as a reminder to watch my own life for hypocrisies.

  • Matt

    Great post – and unfortunately very true.

  • William E. Beers

    Bald assertions and ridicule are the staples of the New Atheists and has been increasingly used in the political realm as well. So clearly put, especially the 2nd to last paragraph.

  • makagutu

    I would like you to show where the statement made by Russell is false and how to tell a kid to doubt everything, to ask questions and to be able to say I don’t know is indoctrination.
    In one of my posts I argued that Dawkins can debate anyone he wants and decline whoever he chooses and no one should have a problem with that. He has his reasons, you may not agree nor like them but they are his and the best you can do is hope that someday he changes them.
    What relevant questions are these. List them, then we see whether Atheists are avoiding them or they have responded to them until then, this is a straw man. You have created an idea of Atheists that you can attack and win against because there is absolutely no room to respond!

    • Debilis

      Okay, here we go for the next round (I really enjoy the thoughts, by the way):

      I don’t think it makes sense to insist that Russell is correct unless I can show that he is false. Nor was my key point based on the idea that his claim was false.

      But I’d never claim that teaching a child to question and reason is indoctrination. What I claimed was that this is not remotely what Dawkins and the other New Atheists are encouraging.

      Rather, my point was that they are encouraging a materialist dogmatism and calling it doubt and open-mindedness.

      I don’t object to the idea that Dawkins is personally free to do as he likes. I’m not trying to force him to debate anyone. On the same token, however, I am free to point out that, in refusing to debate, he’s no longer opening himself up to public scrutiny.

      Personally, I’m not terribly interested in watching him debate Craig, but I do think it is worth mention that he won’t.

      I don’t think, however, that there is space in a single post to list all the questions relevant to the truth/falsehood of our respective positions.

      What can be said more quickly, however, is that Dawkins and most of his fans I’ve encountered aren’t nearly so interested in logical engagement than in rhetorical jabs. Dawkins is great at rhetoric, and gets in good zingers almost every time I’ve heard him speak. What he doesn’t do well is construct logically strong arguments with well-supported premises. He doesn’t even seem interested in doing so.

      The same tendency can be found in the New Atheists (but, again, not all atheists).

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