James Lindsay: Evidence or Ad Hominem

James Lindsay: Evidence or Ad Hominem

Those of you who have been watching James Lindsay with me recently will find the interaction here to be most fascinating.

By all means, please do laugh at me for my part in it.

64 thoughts on “James Lindsay: Evidence or Ad Hominem

  1. Where’s his evidence for this alleged traumatization of children through the teaching of hell? Oh, apparently he knows lots of Christians traumatized as children through learning about hell. What a pathetically weak basis on which to launch accusations of abuse against millions of parents.

    I’m guessing he doesn’t have children, and has no idea how parents communicate difficult truths to children in age-appropriate ways.

  2. What is truly appalling about Dr. Lindsay’s position is it’s utter dishonesty. Child abuse is a widely and thoroughly studied social dysfunction that has numerous quantifiable markers that are well studied and documented. If teaching children about hell was really “child abuse” it would have been identified by those quantifiable markers and proven to be such. But there is no study by anyone that shows this to be true. In fact, quite the opposite has been show to be true of children raised in orthodox church environments. Dr. Lindsay should be ashamed to promulgate such a lie but undoubtedly and sadly he won’t be.

  3. Tom,

    Peter Boghossian gives us Christians the Street Epistemologists and now James Lindsay gives us the Parenting Police. What next?

    As a parent, now a grandparent, and a teacher as well as a Christian, I can tell right away where Dr. Lindsay goes wrong in his arguments about hell and “child abuse.” I am reminded of the old adage that brings a chuckle frequently in academic research circles: The plural of anecdote is not evidence. Dr. Lindsay’s conversations with adults reflecting on their upbringing who remember being traumatized upon learning about hell as children do not constitute a valid research methodology that leads to data to justify this self-righteous finger-wagging at Christian parents.

    First, there is probably no way to determine that these people did not learn about hell from a schoolmate or a teacher or a medieval painting s/he saw in a book, and the parents were forced to try to correct the misinformation or simple lack of information about the meaning of hell in Christian theology. There is no way for parents to control what a child will learn outside the home, so to attempt to make parents responsible for shielding their offspring from exposure to images and comments about hell is simply ridiculous.

    Second, there are discernible and predictable stages of moral/social development. See the work of Lawrence Kohlberg, for example. It is responsible parenting to talk to children about hell in a way that is appropriate and comprehensible to them according to their stage of development. To set an arbitrary age where children can “handle” such concepts is pointless. Parents should be equipped with the tools they need to frame concepts in ways that their child can comprehend and absorb. They should also have the kind of relationship and interaction with their children that allow these difficult issues and abstract concepts to be discussed in ways that both enlighten and comfort the child as they develop more and more complex and sophisticated paradigms for moral reasoning based on the family’s Christian faith.

    Dragging the concept of “child abuse” into this conversation is what is called in argumentation an “intensifier.” Its purpose is to insult and inflame as a distraction from the core (and the fallacies) in/of the argument. Atheists use this argumentative strategy frequently, I notice. Its much like Boghossian’s image of religious faith as a “slippery pig” or his image of the “faith virus”: all designed to create negative associations between elements of Christian teachings and something distasteful or abhorrent.

    As for teachings about hell, here is one of my favorites:

    C.S. Lewis in his book, “The Great Divorce”:

    There are only two kinds of people in the end:
    those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’
    And those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’
    All that are in Hell, choose it.”

    Thanks for the enlightening conversation. JB

  4. I particularly enjoyed the portion where Mr. Lindsay suggested that you (Tom) were trying to make him look like an “ass”. I thought he was doing quite well on his own and didn’t need your help at all!

    I cannot recall at what age I learned about Hell, I also can’t ever remember being told as a child that I was going to Hell. Christianity taught by the church or parents taught me about right and wrong, about telling the truth, not stealing, respecting others, having good behavior, honoring parents, obeying the law, loving others, sharing, reconciliation and forgiveness, etc., I wonder if Mr. Lindsay believes this is child abuse as well?

    Concerning those claiming to be traumatized, especially those in therapy, I wonder what it is that they have done in their life to be concerned about going to Hell? It is not living a good life that would cause fear and trauma of hell. Maybe its the realization of their behavior and the damage that its caused in their or others lives that is the source of the trauma?

    The clear teaching of Christianity is that mankind innately knows right and wrong, objective morality is wired within the psyche of us all. A clear conscious does not instill trauma. Perhaps the trauma is a proper response, one that should motivate one to seek answers to alleviate their fears and clear their conscious? It seems to me that Mr. Lindsay’s observation of all those who’ve been traumatized is validating the clear teachings of the Bible as it relates to the psychology of people?

    I can’t help but wonder what age Mr. Lindsay thinks children should be taught sex education?

  5. To paraphrase P. J. O’Rourke, Lindsay greatly testifies to the value of reason and honest inquiry by exhibiting no sign of them anywhere.

  6. Last I checked the irreligious:

    1. usually don’t live as long
    2. don’t heal as quickly after major surgery, illness etc.
    3. are more likely to have depression
    4. more likely to commit suicide
    5. more likely to end up in jail
    6. more likely to take drugs

    and more…

    Seems to me if you want to call religion child abuse you need to face those staggering facts and acknowledge the benefits of religion.

    I am beginning to wonder what kind of confirmation bias Mr Lindsay harbors.

  7. At least some of those claims are contestable. But even if they were all true it does nothing to address the charge that teaching children about the existence of hell is child abuse.

    I suppose it is very possible that somebody could use the doctrine of hell as a form of mental abuse. But then again so could many things. For example, an overly protective parent could instil hypochondriac behaviours and thought patterns into their child.

    If however the claim being made is that the teaching of the doctrine of hell is always (or nearly always) harmful then I think this is demonstrably false. Beside, all of this begs the question that hell (whatever your chosen doctrinal view is) is not a real place.

    I wont talk about James Lindsay’s motivations or what he does in his own time, but I get the impression that often those beating the “teaching the doctrine of hell = child abuse! drum make a lot less noise about incontestable instances of child abuse.

  8. I don’t remember being told about heaven or hell. Then again, I don’t remember being told that things die. Does anyone? I mean, I remember seeing things die, and I remember being traumatized by it. (would hardly call that “abuse”, though.) But I knew before seeing death that all living things die.

    The entire argument is nonsensical. Worse, it twists the meaning of child abuse…

  9. Billy, RE: #8

    What you say is true that religion, along with almost every form of human behavior, can be used for purposes of abuse. But what I wonder about is the atheists’ approach to seek to abolish religion in order to avoid its misuse for purposes of abuse. Using this logic, shouldn’t we eradicate sex to prevent sexual abuse? Or do away with eating to prevent obesity and anorexia? And certainly, based on the atheists’ logic, they should all definitely be against the legalization of marijuana for “recreation” since making marijuana more available, including to children, will inevitably lead to more drug abuse. And perhaps many of them are throw-back supporters of Prohibition as a means of preventing alcohol abuse and alcoholism. We could go on and on with the implications of the eradication of religion approach extended into other areas of human moral decision-making and behaviors.

    I call this atheists’ campaign against the alleged abuses of the doctrine of sin and hell by another name: Manufactured Moral Outrage (MMO). It is a familiar tactic in atheists’ war against religion.

  10. Tom,

    I have been following the conversation on James Lindsay’s blog the charges of “child abuse” for allegedly premature teaching of the concepts of hell and sin to children from a Christian point of view and have some observations:

    1. I can’t help but notice how Dr. Lindsay justifies his concerns (if not moral outrage) at teaching children about hell on one book by an author, Dr. Marlene Winell, who has coined the term “Religious Trauma Syndrome.” Dr. Winell appears to have no published peer-review research articles in any field. This is as far as I can tell since my search through the university library’s search engine came up with nothing. Lindsay augments this single unpublished source problem with much anecdotal information and lots of speculation about what the research might find, if there were any, on Religious Trauma Syndrome.

    From an “evidence” perspective and most certainly from an academic and a research perspective, this one-liner bibliography as a knowledge base for a moral outrage campaign against religion is extremely weak. I take note of this most especially because Peter Boghossian, joined by James Lindsay, have launched their campaign to eradicate faith without examining the ample and highly credible body of research on the benefits of faith in personal well-being. Again, we see the lack of a knowledge base for Street Epistemology and the Parenting Police among evangelizing atheists.

    2. James Lindsay has still shown no evidence to suggest, much less support, the notion that the age at which a child learns about sin and hell has any impact whatsoever on his/her psycho-social development. He is attempting to isolate teachings about hell from children’s overall development of a sense of ethics and morality. As a teacher, I have had a very rich and deep conversation about the ethics and “social justice” portrayed in the book “The Little Red Hen” with kindergartners. Children have an amazing capacity to analyze and formulate arguments regarding moral/ethical conduct at their particular levels of moral development (again, I refer to Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages and research). What children learn about sin, heaven, hell, rewards and punishment, etc. is developmental and is part of their psycho-social growth and integration of new learning and more complex/abstract cognitive paradigms.

    It would be interesting to investigate how the official Sunday School curricula of different denominations frame the teaching of morality and ethics to children of different ages. But, according to Lindsay, parents must be charged with withholding information or discussions of such complex theological constructs until the “age of reason.”

    3. I envision the following conversation based on Lindsay’s approach on a trip along Highway 8 through the Imperial Valley in southern California in August:

    Father: “It’s hotter than hell here!”

    5-year old Billy: “Daddy, what is hell?

    Father: “Sorry, Billy. You’re too young. You’re going to have to wait until you’re twelve to get an answer from me to that question.”

    So much for the James Lindsay approach. Thanks for the enlightening conversation. JB

  11. Dr. Winell appears to have no published peer-review research articles in any field.

    You aren’t the first person to raise that question.

    If this is the best evidence they’ve got, they really should stop their proselytizing. They have no evidential basis for it.

  12. How do we indeed? And how do we distinguish between Buddhist Christianity and Hindu Christianity? Maybe we don’t need to, for to the extent that these are atheistic, agnostic, Buddhist, or Hindu rather than Christian they are (obviously) not Christianity.

  13. Tom and bigbird,

    Please note James Lindsay’s response on his website to our concerns about Dr. Winell’s lack of research publications. It can be summarized in two words: So what?

    I take this as yet another example of the pseudo-intellectualism that plagues the New Atheists.

  14. Tom,

    I just read the your latest exchange over there and am once again left wondering how many skeptics so readily psychologize theists but are completely blind to their own irrationalities. How difficult is it to understand that if there is one instance of Christianity that falls outside of James description then James description is not representative of all Christianity.

  15. I am fairly amazed at this myself, Jenna and Melissa. I’m not able to understand what’s so hard about it — except that (with respect to Dr. Winell) James has someone to support his anecdotal impressions, and he thinks there’s something there worth doing more research on. I’m fine with that, as long as he doesn’t represent her work as anything more than it is, and as long as the research can be accomplished in an ethically acceptable manner.

    It would be worthwhile for him to note, however, that there has been a considerable amount of correlational research done already, showing that higher spirituality is positively associated with better physical, mental, and relational health. I don’t see him giving that the slightest credence.

  16. I was traumatised by the notion of hell for a number of years of my childhood, although I don’t know whether I would call such an experience child abuse.

    I have a memory of an occasion when I was perhaps 9 or 10 years of age. The nun was teaching her class about heaven and hell and our possible eternal destinies, and a girl posed a question along the lines:

    ‘What if you are saved, but some or all of your loved ones are damned? Wouldn’t that spoil the perfect happiness that you are supposed to experience in heaven?’

    The nun’s blithe response was, no, your experience of happiness would be so complete that you would not care about the fate of your loved ones.

    This notion of hell and its attendant beliefs struck my childhood mind as alien and inhuman.

    I don’t know whether there’s a way to teach children about hell that is not potentially traumatising. I certainly would not want to visit my experience on my own children.

  17. Tom,

    As a researcher, I see a number of problems with any research on this invented “Religious Trauma Syndrome” which these atheists want to label as a syndrome caused by the “child abuse” of Christian “indoctrination” or the alleged premature and traumatizing teaching of the theology of sin and hell. First, as far as I know, both research and counseling academic communities do not consider therapies that are performed for the purpose (whether stated or implied) of de-conversion of people from their chosen faith to be neither ethical nor effective. A basic tenet of psychological counseling is the respect the clients’ cultural and spiritual values, which a diagnosis of pathology based on religious education does not. People who may be diagnosed as suffering from problems associated with religious beliefs and practices in their family of origin, IMO, are not in need of de-conversion. These families need spiritual and emotional healing and reconciliation, which Christianity offers, and not counseling that treats their religious education as “child abuse” or “indoctrination” that must be overcome or eradicated.

    Also, James Lindsay’s theory (or better said, musings) that a single teaching of Christianity such as hell, can be isolated as a variable in an adult’s psychological state or functioning is simply impossible from a research perspective. All such research must be based on a research subjects memories and reflection on past experiences. It is very difficult to verify from an empirical or methodological standpoint whether or not these memories represent what really happened, most especially in such a way as to identify “turning points” or trauma caused by parental teachings or interactions.

    A third area of concern about this proposed research on “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS) to discover “child abuse” is the definition of child abuse, both morally and legally. Child abuse is a continuous and discernible pattern of behavior on the part of a care-giver or adult that damages the child psychologically or emotionally. The research challenge here in the case of RTS is that it infers a pattern of psychological abuse rather than a one-time incidence of abuse. I don’t think that the academicians and researchers in the disciplines of psychology and child develop can or will make a judgment about religious education as representing a pattern of misconduct on the part of parents with the intent to harm their children or the inadvertent effect of harming their children, absent any clear patterns of psychological abuse. The question here is this: Can a variable called “religion” be isolated in a research study as a cause of any psychological or emotional effect through adult reflections on childhood experiences and family dynamics? If/since the answer is no, then researchers are unable to establish that there is such a thing as “religious trauma”, let alone a “syndrome” caused by religion.

    This campaign to defame Christian parents by accusing them of child abuse is yet another effort in the atheists’ propaganda blitz to turn religion into a pathology. There is no research (evidence) to support these notions, nor is there likely to be since the is no ethical or methodologically-sound or academically- sound way to research the “theory” of RTS. This is yet again, manufactured moral outrage designed to malign and discredit Christianity.

    Thanks for providing this forum. JB

  18. Dear all just popping by…

    Putting aside the obvious acrimony a lot of you have with this James Lindsay fellow, I must say your comments seem very disingenuous and misrepresentative of his article.

    He seems to me to have written a very gentle and well articulated article that boils down to “there would be a strong ethical imperative to wait until some sort of coming of age of to mention Hell for the first time” in order to avoid “unnecessary terror from a child”. A perfectly sound notion for discussion seemingly motivated to avoid suffering in a child.

    But instead of responding head on, there are howls of protest that he either accuses people of child abuse (he doesn’t) or doesn’t supply sufficient evidence to back his notion. Seriously, if someone suggests young children should not be exposed to disturbing notions to avoid the risk of unnecessary angst, do they really need to site statistics and peer reviewed articles before the essence of the notion can be addressed? The preponderance of evidence supports it. Movies have ratings to perform a similar effect.

    This site promised a Thinking Christian, but I detect foolish pride and bull-headedness. You need to be prepared to pay for that with a reduction in credibility.

  19. GrahamH,

    Actually, the acrimony goes back further than you think. Over the course of some 20,000 words of writing, he has been excoriating me for not supplying evidence he demands for Christian faith. (My point in response was that he was changing the subject, but that’s a technical matter that I don’t want to spend another several thousand words explaining on my end.) Now that we’re through that issue, I’m opening up a series on evidences for faith. I thought his lack of evidences in the post currently in question was very significant in light of that.

    In his this blog post James wrote,

    If (some) Christianity were true, and if we could count on Christians to be responsible stewards of the truth, then I conclude that Hell would be a topic for discussion on the adult side of some age of reason, and that these truth-bearing Christians would agree with Richard Dawkins’s assessment that to do otherwise constitutes a form of child abuse.

    And note that this isn’t typically what we see. Among those Christians who believe that Hell is a reality, there is a perceived ethical imperative in the other direction–to teach children about Hell before they can handle the idea. That suggests that the Christian ethic places a higher value on securing the belief than on the mental well-being of the child–something that would be unlikely to be the case if Christianity were true. This suggests something sinister and abusive about the practice of teaching Hell to children, even if abuse is not the intended effect of the ones doing the teaching.

    If that’s not an actual accusation of child abuse, it’s dancing terribly close to it, and he’s aiming it the entire Christian ethic.

    In the course of our discussion, he told me I was uninformed as to what “suggest” means, acting with doubtful honesty, not appearing genuine, bad at evidence, wasting your time, chasing down rabbit holes, embarrassing myself, making an ass out of myself, obfuscating, petty, foolish, playing bait-and-switch, and disingenuous, engaging in dishonest pedantry; and for emphasis, I simply just am an ass.

    So the recent history is not so gentle after all.

    To his credit he acknowledged later that his anger with me was the result of misunderstanding what I was asking of him throughout that exchange. Whether that justifies such name-calling is a matter for others to make their own judgment on.

    I cannot agree with you that I failed to respond to him head-on. More than once I agreed with him that research would be wise to conduct, that it’s wrong for parents to expose children to emotionally-charged topics (especially a fearful one like Hell) before they have the emotional wherewithal to handle it, and that there are Christians who make that mistake. You speak of the preponderance of the evidence, and you speak of something wherein I agreed with him immediately and consistently.

    He was saying something rather more specific than what that evidence addresses. The evidence he supplies is purely anecdotal and non-scholarly, and he ignores scholarly evidence indicating that a spiritual upbringing has a very strong tendency to enhance emotional, physical, and relational health. He and his fellow commenter Cal excoriated me for a rational error I was not making, and they never saw their error for what it was.

    Nevertheless he has grounds for a call for research, and I agreed with that.

    If I am guilty of pride and bullheadedness I hope to be well corrected on that. I don’t think I made the mistakes of which you accuse me, however. It seems rather more as if you didn’t read the prior article, and you didn’t read the entire exchange following this one.

  20. GrahamH, what would you think of a movie critic who wrote a review of a film after watching only the trailer?

    Not much?

    This site promised a Thinking Christian, but I detect foolish pride and bull-headedness.

    I suggest you recalibrate your equipment and perform a more thorough test.

    You need to be prepared to pay for that with a reduction in credibility.

    With whom?

  21. I have three questions for GrahamH, actually, or maybe four:

    1. Do you believe in evidence-based decision making? (I find that most skeptics and atheists consider that one of their stronger values.)
    2. Did you have all the evidence you thought you needed about this site (the word “Christian” in the title) before you even opened the page?
    3. Or did you gather a sufficiently large and representative sampling of the actual information here to use as evidence for the judgment you pronounced?
    4. Do you believe in stereotyping?

  22. GrahamH, in case you might miss it, I just realized I left an important piece of information out of my comment #21. It’s there in the first paragraph now.

  23. That’s if you’re interested in making your own decisions based on adequate and complete information, that is. If not, then I revert to questions 2 and 4 in my prior comment.

  24. He seems to me to have written a very gentle and well articulated article

    Entitling a post “Hell, child abuse, and if Christianity were true” is not gentle. It is directly linking a heinous crime with the teaching of a Christian doctrine by parents.

    Seriously, if someone suggests young children should not be exposed to disturbing notions to avoid the risk of unnecessary angst, do they really need to site statistics and peer reviewed articles before the essence of the notion can be addressed? The preponderance of evidence supports it. Movies have ratings to perform a similar effect.

    It is fine to discuss when and how children should be exposed to disturbing notions. All parents have this problem, don’t they? Whether it be death, hell, divorce or something else. I welcome a discussion on this topic.

    What is not fine is the sweeping suggestion (tediously repeated by Dawkins and others, without any evidence) that teaching children these notions is child abuse.

    That’s just pathetically insulting, and trivializes the horror that child abuse really is.

    So let’s discuss the issue. But let’s not drag child abuse into the discussion – it’s pointless, provocative and rude.

  25. bigbird: ‘It is fine to discuss when and how children should be exposed to disturbing notions … Whether it be death, hell, divorce or something else.’

    Except that one of those things is not like the others. Death and divorce are realities of this life, while hell is an hypothesised fate within an hypothesised afterlife.

    The notion of hell involves a belief that an omnipotent being who controls every aspect of the universe, and who has power of life and death over his creatures, can choose to consign his human creations to an eternity of suffering and desolation.

    This notion of human beings as pawns in a wider scheme is a heavy-duty belief to impose on anyone, much less children, who in addition to the standard human sensibilities also have very active imaginations but little control over their circumstances.

    The issue is why one would want to burden a child with such a belief, since it doesn’t seem to serve any worthwhile purpose.

  26. Mr B, RE: #27

    There are a few important points to keep in mind about teaching children about Christian doctrines and beliefs. First, IMO, there is no such thing as a child being “burdened by a belief” since children, as they develop and mature psychologically, morally, and emotionally, are capable of expanding and deepening their understanding of difficult ideas and concepts. Christian education entails teaching and learning that takes place in the home and outside the home in a community of faith in order for children to be and become full participants in their parents’ cultural and religious communities.

    We need to keep in mind that Christian education in the home is taking place within the wider context of the Christian family’s faith community and the wider culture and society in which they live. There are definitely cultural “takes” or understandings, interpretations, etc. on different Christian teachings such as damnation, hell, sin, and so forth. No child is learning about these ideas or concepts only within the family. For example, children living within a community that can be characterized as having a “hell fire and brimstone” approach to hell and damnation will be exposed to all sorts of imagery and ideas that parents have no control over. In some Christian communities, hell is discussed infrequently, while in others it may be a “big deal” that is central to the community’s moral teachings. This makes what children are learning about and how parents interact and talk with their children about things they are curious or confused about in the home from their parents all the more important.

    No one outside the family and the family’s faith community is really in a position to say that teaching and learning about articles of faith of the family’s chosen religion “don’t serve any worthwhile purpose.” I don’t happen to believe that the constant harping on what Christian children are or are not learning in the home is motivated by any genuine concern for these children. Rather, is is a tactic for furthering an ideological agenda, an agenda which is much more sinister and damaging than any aspect of Christian education in the home or community.

    Thanks Mr. B for your contribution to the discussion. JB

  27. Jenna Black: ‘First, IMO, there is no such thing as a child being “burdened by a belief” since children, as they develop and mature psychologically, morally, and emotionally, are capable of expanding and deepening their understanding of difficult ideas and concepts.’

    You are arguing a non-sequitur. Just because children may gain a deeper understanding of a belief does not counter the claim that a child may find that belief burdensome.

    In fact, gaining a deeper understanding may well increase the burden. The notion that the complete happiness of the saved overwhelms earthly compassion is arguably just such a deeper understanding, since it serves to show that the Christian afterlife is in important respects different to the life we experience on earth.

    And moving towards an even deeper understanding, consideration of the stronger claim – that knowing the torments of the damned would increase the rejoicing of the saved – would surely exacerbate the burden further.

    ‘No one outside the family and the family’s faith community is really in a position to say that teaching and learning about articles of faith of the family’s chosen religion “don’t serve any worthwhile purpose.”’

    In effect, you are saying that outsiders cannot make a judgement about the beliefs and practices of another group of people. And yet in your very next sentence you make a judgement about the motivations of your opponents.

  28. Mr. B., in what respect do you value evidence?l

    That’s becoming my new theme: atheists and skeptics say they value evidence, and then they spout the weirdest theories, disconnected from all reality, ignorant of history, ignorant of who gives, who volunteers, who really cares, who led the way in caring for the sick during the early plagues, who stopped infanticide, who brought food to widows and orphans, who started the first hospitals, who were the first to consider compassion a public virtue, who were the first to consider it their duty to show compassion to people different than themselves—I could go on, but I’m still stunned at this:

    The notion that the complete happiness of the saved overwhelms earthly compassion is arguably just such a deeper understanding,

    Rubbish. There is no such notion.

    Meanwhile, borrowing some of your words, they hypothesis that there is no omnipotent being who controls every aspect of the universe, who is the judge of the good and the bad, who holds each person morally accountable, could be extremely damaging forever and forever if you taught it to your children, and if you were wrong. Which, by the way, I need to warn you, you are. Christianity is no mere hypothesis, and you yourself are in danger forever if you do not see Jesus Christ for who he is, if you do not recognize your need for rescue, and if you do not go to him and ask for him to pull you out of your imminent danger.

  29. Mr. B RE: #29

    Where is your evidence that children are “burdened by beliefs”? This is the problem in this discussion, Mr. B. Neither Richard Dawkins nor James Lindsay has presented a shred of clear and convincing peer-reviewed research published in respected journals in any academic discipline to support this notion or to convince the academic community (the first ones they are responsible to) that teaching any religious doctrine or construct/concept to children is “child abuse.” They have lots of theories and loads of speculation and a few anecdotal “cases”, including their own musings about their religious upbringing, but nothing that anyone calls evidence. And these are scientists!

    To make a broad and sweeping condemnation of practices within the homes of a certain group within our society without any evidence to support the moral, ethical claims, is not protecting children. The New Atheists don’t keep their agenda secret such that we have to guess what their motives are. Have you read Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” or Peter Boghossian’s “A Manual for Creating Atheists? Do you come away from reading these books with only a vague understanding of these NA’s ideological agenda? Who do the NA really think they are to tell Christians how to raise our children in our homes and in our communities of faith?

  30. Tom Gilson: ‘Mr. B., in what respect do you value evidence?’

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘in what respect’. I value evidence. The evidence I offered was a recounting of my experience as a child subject to religious teaching. And that, of course, is anecdotal and qualitative, but evidence nevertheless.

    I do not undervalue the good things that Christians have done. People are complex creatures.

    ‘Rubbish. There is no such notion.’

    Again, my evidence is anecdotal. My memory may be faulty, but I suspect not, in that the non-compassionate notion was probably a softening of the more hardline notion of the saved rejoicing at the sufferings of the damned.

  31. Jenna Black: ‘Where is your evidence that children are “burdened by beliefs”?’

    As above, my own evidence is anecdotal.

    ‘Who do the NA really think they are to tell Christians how to raise our children in our homes and in our communities of faith?’

    As in my original anecdote, I speak from my experience, I don’t speak for new atheists. That said, in a society based on free speech, people, including Christians, can and do critique the raising of children by others.

    For example, above Tom gives me this warning: ‘… could be extremely damaging forever and forever if you taught it to your children, and if you were wrong’.

  32. In other words, Mr. B., you’re expressing your freedom to share what you believe to be true in an open forum where others can critique it.

    Is that correct?

  33. Dear All, popping by again:

    I find the most potent arguments for anything are devoid of too much pride and stubbornness. Happy to shout that from the roof tops if it helps either Christian Apologetics or sceptics.

    @ Tom: Re your 4 questions. Yes to 1-3 and not really to 4 on stereotyping (although I am smiling politely at your comments in brackets in Q1). If I don’t meet your criteria for joining in any discussions here, please tell me and I will bother you no further.

    Regards, Graham

  34. Therefore, Graham:

    1. You believe in evidence-based decision making.

    Excellent. So do we.

    2. You had all the evidence you thought you needed about this site (the word “Christian” in the title) before you even opened the page.

    That seems rather contradictory. Shall I conclude that you decided there was “foolish pride and bull-headedness” here before you opened the page?If not, then what did you think you had sufficient evidence for before you opened the page? I’m asking for clarification because I don’t want to jump to conclusions myself.

    3. You gathered a sufficiently large and representative sampling of the actual information here to use as evidence for the judgment you pronounced?

    This seems a bit contradictory to #2. Why gather evidence when you had all you needed beforehand (other than, say, to avoid stereotyping)?

    Anyway, I don’t think there’s any question what judgment is in view here. Just how large and representative a sampling did you actually gather before reaching that conclusion? Further on that, now that you’ve had a chance to review what I wrote about my previous conversations with James Lindsay, and you have had opportunity to view additional evidence pertaining to your conclusion, what effect has that had on your conclusion?

    4. You don’t really believe in stereotyping, you say. Now would be an opportune time to demonstrate it.

  35. Hi Tom

    I only read this blog page, your link to James’ and your discussion policy before making a post. Comment 21 explained how some acrimonious history and cryptic technical issues ancillary to Jame’s core argument may have explained why your point of agreement with him was so heavily concealed. If you tell me sincerely there is no foolish pride or bull-headness in play I will happily believe you.

    Regards, Graham

  36. Tom Gilson: ‘In other words, Mr. B., you’re expressing your freedom to share what you believe to be true in an open forum where others can critique it.’

    Freedom of expression is a political concept, involving negotiation and agreement among various groups about the limits of speech among themselves.

    On internet blogs, the more usual practice is for the owner to set and apply his/her own rules of speech. Allowing posters to express themselves under these conditions doesn’t fulfil a major condition of free speech, ie negotiation and agreement.

    If you’re asking whether my posts have appeared as written, the answer is yes. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute.

    As for whether the forum is ‘open’, I don’t have enough experience and knowledge of this forum to date to make an informed judgement. I would probably need to engage in some evidence-based analysis.

  37. I guess I worded the question wrong for you , Mr. B. What I meant to say was with respect to this, especially the part I’ve italicized.

    Again, my evidence is anecdotal. My memory may be faulty, but I suspect not, in that the non-compassionate notion was probably a softening of the more hardline notion of the saved rejoicing at the sufferings of the damned.

    As in my original anecdote, I speak from my experience, I don’t speak for new atheists. That said, in a society based on free speech, people, including Christians, can and do critique the raising of children by others.

    For example, above Tom gives me this warning: ‘… could be extremely damaging forever and forever if you taught it to your children, and if you were wrong’.

    I understand that italicized part this way: you were pointing out that we have opinions and we critique one another, even where we do not have hard evidence. We can speak freely with our opinions, even if not authoritatively.

    This was on top of your clear statements of opinion, of course.

    I asked that question in order to try to see if I was understanding you correctly.

  38. Graham @#37: The presence or absence of foolish pride and bullheadedness is a matter of degree. I have often been guilty of both. For me to baldly say there was none of that in evidence here would be foolishly proud.

    You drew your original conclusion based on a serious paucity of evidence. I directed you to more information. You’re welcome to draw your own conclusions. I only wanted you to know more of the story before you did so.

    What you decide matters more to you than it does to me in this case, since I detect in you not only a rush to judgment but also an axe to grind. By your own admission, after all, you had gathered all the evidence you needed before you even opened the page.

  39. Tom Gilson: ‘I understand that italicized part this way: you were pointing out that we have opinions and we critique one another, even where we do not have hard evidence. We can speak freely with our opinions, even if not authoritatively.’

    My comment was in response to this comment from Jenna: ‘Who do the NA really think they are to tell Christians how to raise our children in our homes and in our communities of faith?’

    Jenna’s comment was in the context of criticism by one group in society about another. I was pointing out that in a democratic society, such criticism is permissible and is common practice, and not only by atheists.

  40. Mr. B, RE: #33 & 41

    No one questions the New Atheists’ (NA) rights to offer their opinion about how Christian parents are raising our children or that their critique is not “permissible.” Of course they are free to do so. We question their authority to do so, or IOW, their evidence for their critique of Christian child-rearing practices. James Lindsay has admitted that there is no peer-reviewed scholarly research to support the notion of the “Religious Trauma Syndrome” or the supposition that teaching children about hell can be classified as “child abuse.” So what is the evidence basis for his critique? Apparently, a collection of anecdotes, which have not been studied systematically using any research methodology or protocol recognized by researchers with a knowledge base and expertise in children’s psycho-social, emotional and moral development.

    Since Richard Dawkins and James Lindsay can’t offer any publicly available evidence that has been “vetted” and verified by researchers and academics, we can and must conclude that they are merely offering their uninformed opinion on child-rearing based on their own prejudices and stereotypes. Their critique of Christian parents is worse than just worthless. It is propaganda, done with the clear and declared intent to defame and denigrate people of faith, simply because they disapprove of faith and seek to eradicate it, calling it the “faith virus.”

    My hope is that you will recognize the New Atheists’ hubris and self-righteousness that constitute the attitude behind their accusations of an entire group or category of people (Christians) for allegedly doing things that are immoral, illegal and reprehensible based on no credible evidence available in the public domain. This is a form of cultural and social imperialism that is itself reprehensible. Propaganda of this sort against any group in society is divisive and dangerous.

  41. Jenna Black –

    My hope is that you will recognize the New Atheists’ hubris and self-righteousness that constitute the attitude behind their accusations of an entire group or category of people (Christians)

    Is that an accusation against the ‘entire group or category’ of “New Atheists”?

    I do think that trauma about the teaching of hell is much rarer than, say, Dawkins presents it. That doesn’t mean all – or even most – “New Atheists” make the same claims.

  42. Ray,

    Though it’s obvious Jenna needs little help defending herself I’d say two things about your comment. First, she identified the specific subjects of her critique by name. However, at the same time Dawkins , as the most well know and outspoken NA, represents and speaks in some regard for NA as a whole. His “child abuse” comments were widely applauded within the NA community.

    Second, while questioning the breadth of Jenna comments, you seemingly betray yourself when you say “I do think that trauma about the teaching of hell is much rarer than, say, Dawkins presents it.” Truth is the “trauma about the teaching of hell” is, given the NA’s usual call for scientific standards to apply, a complete fiction. So, you complain that “…doesn’t mean all – or even most – “New Atheists” make the same claims.” Then you sign on to that same fictional belief you complained about her associating you (I presume) and others with.

  43. @ Mr B

    Except that one of those things is not like the others. Death and divorce are realities of this life, while hell is an hypothesised fate within an hypothesised afterlife.

    Ah, you don’t think hell is a reality, that’s all. It’s fine to teach children about realities you are happy to concede exist, but not about those you do not.

    Anyway, what does it matter to you if something being taught to children is true or not? Do you campaign against parents telling children about Santa? What about Grimm’s fairy tales? They can get pretty nasty!

    This hell and child abuse accusation is really just a feeble attempt from atheists to attack Christianity from a different angle. I’ve seen no evidence that they really care about child abuse in this context.

    The issue is why one would want to burden a child with such a belief, since it doesn’t seem to serve any worthwhile purpose.

    Others have questioned the use of “burden”, particularly from an evidential viewpoint. The notion of hell doesn’t burden my children, as I know how to teach concepts in an age-appropriate way.

    Have you ever considered that teaching children that death is the end and there is nothing afterwards might be damaging to children? That too is a “hypothesised fate”.

  44. I’ve seen no evidence that they really care about child abuse in this context.

    Or, more importantly, that it is “child abuse.”

    Have you ever considered that teaching children that death is the end and there is nothing afterwards might be damaging to children?

    They don’t call it existentialist angst for nothing!

  45. BillT –

    First, she identified the specific subjects of her critique by name.

    And had she gone on to say ‘those New Atheists’ I wouldn’t have remarked on it.

    Truth is the “trauma about the teaching of hell” is, given the NA’s usual call for scientific standards to apply, a complete fiction.

    Can you find a ‘New Atheist’ who says that only “scientific standards” apply for anything? Anecdotes don’t establish a rate, certainly, but when people report their own feelings and experiences, that’s a pretty good existence claim for their thoughts and feelings. What would you take as evidence for trauma besides people reporting their experiences?

    I think it’s reasonably well established that “trauma about the teaching of hell” can happen. But I don’t think it’s at all common, and I suspect that there are other factors involved when it happens.

  46. And had she gone on to say ‘those New Atheists’ I wouldn’t have remarked on it.

    But you didn’t bother to remark on the facts that the comments by one of those she mentioned “…were widely applauded within the NA community.” as I mentioned but you ignored.

    Can you find a ‘New Atheist’ who says that only “scientific standards” apply for anything?

    Actually, from my interactions around here I can say yes in many if not most instances. They certainly try to inappropriately apply them to religion over and over and over.

    …but when people report their own feelings and experiences, that’s a pretty good existence claim for their thoughts and feelings. …as evidence for trauma…

    And when “…people report their own feelings and experiences…” about their fear and trauma over the number 13 or black cats or stepping on cracks on the sidewalk are you equally concerned about “their thoughts and feelings as evidence for their trauma” or is it just fictional religious trauma that concerns you.

  47. Jenna Black: ‘We question their authority to do so, or IOW, their evidence for their critique of Christian child-rearing practices.

    Well that’s a different matter. You gave the impression earlier that criticism was off limits.

    I don’t have any great knowledge of Christian child-rearing practices apart from my own, and they were far from optimal, to the point of despair. (I should add that the sources of trauma were church and school rather than my parents.)

    That said, I do question why people would want to teach children beliefs that not only must cause them some anxiety, but which they cannot easily dispute, given the dogmatic nature of such beliefs.

    But as agreed, we are free to express our opinions, and we must teach our children as we see best.

  48. bigbird: ‘Ah, you don’t think hell is a reality, that’s all. It’s fine to teach children about realities you are happy to concede exist, but not about those you do not.’

    Trivially, any claim we make is about what we think. But my claim was that the purported existence of hell is not on a par with the existence of divorce and death. No special evidence or arguments are required to establish the latter.

    ‘Anyway, what does it matter to you if something being taught to children is true or not? Do you campaign against parents telling children about Santa? What about Grimm’s fairy tales? They can get pretty nasty!’

    I’m not campaigning. Merely stating my view. And of course, Santa and fairy tales are just that. Nobody is being compelled to believe that these fictions are real and will have real consequences, as they are with the doctrine of hell and its threat of eternal punishment, with no second chances and no time off for good behaviour.

    That’s a heavy burden to place on a child when there is no get-out clause that, ‘it’s just a fairy tale’.

    ‘Have you ever considered that teaching children that death is the end and there is nothing afterwards might be damaging to children?’

    Not as damaging as the threat of eternal punishment. But you don’t have to tell children that death is the end. Children want reassurance, and will accept a story about a happy afterlife.

  49. Tom @40. I note you have not used any opportunity in your responses to repudiate foolish pride and bullheadedness, regardless of whatever value-based opinions I have.

  50. But my claim was that the purported existence of hell is not on a par with the existence of divorce and death. No special evidence or arguments are required to establish the latter.

    So? What has your criteria of “special evidence or arguments” got to do with what I teach my children? Just because you have difficulty believing in something that I believe is part of reality, I shouldn’t teach it??

    That’s a heavy burden to place on a child when there is no get-out clause that, ‘it’s just a fairy tale’.

    As parents, most people quickly learn what is age-appropriate and what is not.

    Have you ever considered that teaching children that death is the end and there is nothing afterwards might be damaging to children?

    Not as damaging as the threat of eternal punishment.

    What do you base this judgement on? A survey?

    But you don’t have to tell children that death is the end. Children want reassurance, and will accept a story about a happy afterlife.

    I don’t lie to my children. I think it can damage their trust in their parents. I tell them what I think is the truth in age-appropriate ways.

  51. Thanks for clearing that up, Tom. I thought it was touch and go whether you repudiate such vices or not. It just wasn’t clear from your previous posts.

    However, I must object to the fact that you also have not specifically repudiated tax avoidance, people choosing not to put their dogs on leads in public places and those refusing to cover their mouth when sneezing.

    For shame!

  52. BillT –

    But you didn’t bother to remark on the facts that the comments by one of those she mentioned “…were widely applauded within the NA community.” as I mentioned but you ignored.

    Because my experience has been just the opposite.

    And when “…people report their own feelings and experiences…” about their fear and trauma over the number 13 or black cats or stepping on cracks on the sidewalk are you equally concerned about “their thoughts and feelings as evidence for their trauma” or is it just fictional religious trauma that concerns you.

    I’m equally concerned. As in, “not very”. As in, I don’t think a policy or any intervention is needed except in extreme cases. (Same with religiously-motivated medical neglect.)

    I think hell and unlucky black cats and unlucky numbers are all equally real. I think it’s profoundly stupid that the building I work at ‘has no 13th floor’. The feelings they inspire in some are real, and in extreme cases can be cause for concern and treatment, but the objects of the fear or trauma don’t seem to actually exist.

    I’ve been saying this all along, but it seems like people here really really want me to have been saying something else.

  53. Bigbird: ‘What has your criteria of “special evidence or arguments” got to do with what I teach my children?’

    I’m not telling you what to teach your children. Your original argument listed three items as comparable, as it they were similar facts of life. But of course they are not.

    Deny divorce and death and people might question your hold on reality; deny hell and you get an argument. People treat the beliefs differently because they are different.

    ‘What do you base this judgement on? A survey?’

    No, it’s my opinion. It’s not a difficult issue. Simply ask yourself what you would prefer: an eternity of remorse and suffering without respite, or cessation of consciousness.

    ‘I tell them what I think is the truth in age-appropriate ways.’

    Santa is not real. But then in a way he is, if Santa is about happy family times. Presumably, you tailor what you tell your children according to what they are able to absorb with understanding and without trauma.

    So we agree that children should not be exposed to the full monty of adult human ideas. We’re just arguing the details.

  54. Ok Ray. Fair enough. Just a thought based on this you wrote “The feelings they inspire in some are real, and in extreme cases can be cause for concern and treatment…” Exactly. Couldn’t agree more. People with these kinds of problems should get treatment if needed. However, contrast that to the suggestions here regarding the teaching of hell. In that case, it wasn’t suggested that the person should get treatment it was the church that was accused of being the bad actor and the church who had the responsibility to modify it’s teaching. I see that kind of double standard (and I don’t mean from you) in these kind of discussions. All kinds of problems out there with all kinds of reasons and solutions but if it’s the church, they must be at fault and must change their ways. Fair?

  55. Your original argument listed three items as comparable, as it they were similar facts of life. But of course they are not.

    You are trying to drag epistemological warrant into this, which is irrelevant. What does it matter? People teach their children all sorts of things based on their beliefs.

    The point is, hell, divorce and death are comparable in that they are all topics which if taught to children have to be done so in age-appropriate ways.

    No, it’s my opinion. It’s not a difficult issue. Simply ask yourself what you would prefer: an eternity of remorse and suffering without respite, or cessation of consciousness.

    I’m not a child, so I can’t tell you what a child would “prefer”. I can recall as a child that the latter concept scared me a lot, and I don’t remember being scared by the former (but not being brought up in a Christian family, perhaps I didn’t encounter it until later).

    I haven’t taught my children from an early age that hell is “an eternity of remorse and suffering without respite”‘. Age-appropriateness, remember? And besides, I’m not even certain of that description myself.

    Santa is not real. But then in a way he is, if Santa is about happy family times. Presumably, you tailor what you tell your children according to what they are able to absorb with understanding and without trauma.

    Santa is not real, in any way, which is why my children never thought he was. I don’t lie to my children, but I do teach them in age-appropriate ways. There is a difference.

    So we agree that children should not be exposed to the full monty of adult human ideas. We’re just arguing the details.

    It’s not just “arguing the details” when someone is accused of child abuse because of what they teach their children. That is only done by someone trying to stir up bigotry.

  56. BillT –

    In that case, it wasn’t suggested that the person should get treatment it was the church that was accused of being the bad actor and the church who had the responsibility to modify it’s teaching.

    If teaching kids about hell regularly caused trauma, and if hell didn’t exist (both things accepted by the people you’re referring to) then yes, churches – to the extent that they taught hell to kids – would be bad actors.

    Humans love to find evidence that fits with their worldview, and they will unconsciously relax their standards to find such evidence. The problem is the first proposition (“teaching kids about hell regularly causes trauma”) and the solution is… point out that evidence is lacking.

    Atheism doesn’t demand human perfection any more than Christianity does. I try not to judge Christianity by its least winsome representatives, I hope y’all can do the same with atheism.

  57. bigbird: ‘The point is, hell, divorce and death are comparable in that they are all topics which if taught to children have to be done so in age-appropriate ways.’

    We’re arguing categories. Yours is of difficult subjects to teach to children, mine is earthbound versus otherworldly notions.

    ‘I haven’t taught my children from an early age that hell is “an eternity of remorse and suffering without respite”‘. Age-appropriateness, remember? And besides, I’m not even certain of that description myself.’

    If your conception of hell doesn’t consist of an eternity of remorse and suffering, then we’re talking about different things.

    If you have a different conception of hell, that’s fine, but it implies that the ‘truth’ about the reality and meaning of hell is somewhat elastic.

  58. We’re arguing categories. Yours is of difficult subjects to teach to children, mine is earthbound versus otherworldly notions.

    The whole point of this thread is about difficult subjects that might cause trauma when taught to children.

    I’m not sure how “earthbound versus otherworldly notions” relates to the thread at all. You yourself seem happy for children to be taught otherworldly notions such as Santa.

    If your conception of hell doesn’t consist of an eternity of remorse and suffering, then we’re talking about different things.

    If you have a different conception of hell, that’s fine, but it implies that the ‘truth’ about the reality and meaning of hell is somewhat elastic.

    The truth about the reality and meaning of hell isn’t elastic at all – it is what it is – but our understanding is necessarily incomplete, that’s all.

    For example, this isn’t the traditional Christian doctrine on hell, but there are theologians who believe that eternal punishment may mean that after judgement, the wicked are punished by annihilation, and that this punishment lasts for eternity.

  59. bigbird: ‘You yourself seem happy for children to be taught otherworldly notions such as Santa.’

    Santa is more ‘caught’ than taught, and as a cultural item is hardly ‘otherworldly’. After all, he lives at the North Pole.

    More to the point, children are free to discard belief in Santa (and we assume they will do so after a certain age), whereas in the case of religion there is a much greater pressure to accept the doctrine on pain of dire consequences.

    On a personal note, as a child, I found it mildly bizarre that one’s eternal fate could rest upon acquiescing to the ‘right’ set of beliefs (although in the Catholic tradition, good works without belief might get you through the Pearly Gates). It all seemed a rather unreliable system for doling out rewards and punishments.

    One of my earliest memories of religious rebellion occurred on the teaching of the Fall of Adam and Eve. I remember thinking, ‘so what does this have to do with me?’

    The Christian drama of Fall and Redemption seemed highly determined at the macro level, while capricious at the micro level.

    As an adult, I haven’t found any argument to dissuade me that that my inchoate, childish feelings on this matter were not far off the mark.

  60. Mr B,

    On a personal note, as a child, I found it mildly bizarre that one’s eternal fate could rest upon acquiescing to the ‘right’ set of beliefs (although in the Catholic tradition, good works without belief might get you through the Pearly Gates). It all seemed a rather unreliable system for doling out rewards and punishments.

    If that’s what you understand about Christianity then no wonder you reject it. In general wouldn’t you agree that aligning your beliefs and practice with the way the world really is, is the best way to live. Plus it is not a “system for doling out rewards and punishments”.

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