There’s something cute about the title of this recent NPR story, “Camp Offers Training Ground Fo Little Skeptics”. I wish I’d gone to this camp.
The article is about a camp for secular humanist kids put on by the Center for Inquiry, a superb organization which I am fond of.
Chloe and a dozen other campers begin discussing God, the planets and humanity’s place in the universe. But at Camp Inquiry, which has a secular humanist focus, God takes a back seat to reason. Of course, the camp schedules familiar camp activities like hiking, swimming, and arts and crafts for kids ages 7 to 16; but the thrust of the camp is to teach children to think skeptically about everything, including religion and the supernatural
“How many of you are out as skeptics?” Grothe asks. He looks around. “I see all but two or three hands raised. When you’ve come out as a skeptic, have people just flipped out hearing that you don’t believe what everyone else believes?”
Camper Sam LaBarge speaks up. His immediate family isn’t religious, he says, but he has several relatives who are Catholic.
“I don’t think I’m an atheist,” he says. “I just don’t have beliefs, but I tell my family that and they think I’m the devil because I don’t believe in God.”
D.J. Grothe is an excellent choice to help teach kids how to think critically. He is host of the podcast Point of Inquiry, an important resource for any thinker for it is a way to easily get exposed to new ideas all the time, even opposing viewpoints. It certainly helped me with deciding not only what I believe but how I decide to believe something.
Seriously. Go listen to some. Now.
D.J. is also a great influence on kids and sets a good example of how one should maintain a proper work ethic during board meetings.
Erm… A good influence even when he’s on Facebook during board meetings.
Ahem, back on topic.
What is an atheist if not a person who doesn’t believe in a god? “Thea” means god and “a” means without. Atheist simply means without god.
Of course, I can kind of understand why a skeptic wouldn’t wish to call themselves an Atheist. On top of the dirty looks it gives you in American society, the dictionary definitions often say that it means that you have faith in there not being a god and skeptics must always be open-minded to the existence of a god and open-minded to paranormal phenomena (as well as questioning the existence of a god or gods and questioning of paranormal phenomena). Just semantics, really.
But in the news story we still see some of the best examples of skeptical thinking I have seen from young minds in a long time.
Most of these children do not attend church, and most come from families that are agnostic or atheist. They have a high view of science, and like 14-year-old Bria Sutherland, they have little patience with biblical accounts of the origin of life.
“People are like, ‘Oh, fossils are planted and they aren’t really real,” she says, laughing. “Well, if the whole theory of evolution is just like a ruse or a prank, we’ve done a really good job. We’re really good at pranking people.”
But what about faith, one counselor asks? Shouldn’t you take some arguments about God on faith?
“As soon as someone mentions faith in an argument, the argument is over,” says 15-year-old Ryan Lee, who skipped high school and is entering his junior year of college in Arizona. “Faith and the scientific method can’t be combined in the same argument.”
Troy Cilone, 15, is hoping Camp Inquiry will help him answer some fundamental questions he’s been struggling with. His grandparents have strong Christian beliefs, and he considers himself a believer as well.
But he’s also a scientific skeptic.
“How can I just look up and talk to God, if I don’t know that this person is up there listening to me? How can I pray? How can I believe in Him?” he says to the other campers.
I have friends just like Troy who consider themselves Christian but still want to question their beliefs as rigorously as possible. After all, the point of critical thinking is not what to think but how to think about anything and everything.
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” — Thomas Jefferson
Maybe I’ll go to Camp Inquiry next year.