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An Open Letter to a Child on How to Think

The ThinkerI recently received a few comments on this blog from a 12 year old girl. They were in two of my entries on religion, Why I Am an Atheist and The Book of Job. I left her a reply in that second entry, but I think the reply is good enough that I don't want it to get lost in the comments section. So, I'm posting it here in an entry of its own.

Alice,

Thanks for visiting my site and taking the time to comment. From the first comment you left me, I take it that you're 12 years old. In real life, I'd be very hesitant to discuss issues such as this with someone of your age without knowing how your parents felt about it, since many parents have strong feelings over these issues. But, since you were precocious enough to leave me two comments, I think it's okay to discuss it a bit. However, I'm still not going to attempt to debate this with you, or to push any particular view on you. Rather, I'm going to comment on how to think about the world.

In your life, you're going to meet many people with many different views, from atheists like me to Christians like yourself, along with Christians from different sects with slightly different beliefs, and probably even people from completely different religions, like Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or Jews. We all have conflicting beliefs, so we can't all be right. And it's not just religion. There are all types of claims about the world that people make - whether coffee is good for you or not, whether or not global warming is happening and is a threat to our society, if a special carburetor can give your car 100 mpg, if vaccines can cause autism, or whether the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. You'll need to figure out for yourself which claims are true, which are false, and which ones you just might not be able to know for sure.

So, when thinking about claims about the world or the universe, it's always good to ask, 'How do you know?' It may be literally asking someone, or it may just be asking it in your mind. But the answer should always be better than simply because somebody said so. I tend to think science is the best way to answer questions, so I think the answers should be based on evidence.

And don't be afraid to point that question inwards and ask it of yourself. Once you examine your own beliefs, you'll probably find that much of what you thought you knew actually is true. Good. But you'll probably also find things you thought you knew that were wrong. All the better - because now you're not wrong anymore. Just never be afraid to admit when you're wrong, so that you can correct yourself.

If you're interested in reading more on this, I'm going to give you two links. The first is a letter written by a fairly famous scientist, Richard Dawkins, addressed to his daughter. It's been put it on the Internet, so that anybody can read it that wants to.

Good and Bad Reasons for Believing

This second one was a hypothetical letter written by another scientist, P.Z. Myers, to a girl who was quoted on the Internet (he never actually sent her the letter, since he only found out about her by reading about her on the Internet).

Dear Emma B.


So thank you for visiting my site and taking the time to comment, and thanks for being concerned about me. I'll take my chances on not believing in any gods, but I wish you the best of luck in learning about the world.

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