Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Lawrence Krauss, Creationism and Child Abuse

Back from extended vacation.

Controversy has been swirling around physicist Lawrence Krauss, who was quoted as saying that teaching creationism to children is tantamount to child abuse.  Here is what he actually said:
“If you think about that, somehow saying that, well, anything goes, we shouldn’t offend religious beliefs by requiring kids to know – to understand reality; that’s child abuse,” he said. “And if you think about it, teaching kids – or allowing the notion that the earth is 6,000 years old to be promulgated in schools is like teaching kids that the distance across the United States is 17 feet. That’s how big an error it is.”
That was back in 2013. He has now defended that position, again.  Here is what he is saying today:
“Yeah, exactly, but it got some attention,” Krauss replied, “cus if I hadn’t [used that description] you wouldn’t have read the line.”

“But it’s true. I mean, there are different levels of child abuse,” Krauss added. “It’s like not allowing your children to have medicine, not allowing you children to be vaccinated, for example, is child abuse, because you are doing them harm.”

“In some sense, if you withhold information from your children because you would rather them not know what reality is really like, for fear that it is going to affect their beliefs, then you are doing them harm.”

The interview with Pickering ended with Krauss warning viewers that the universe was often counterintuitive.

“What science has taught us is that things that make sense to us may not be right. The universe doesn’t care what makes sense to you. That’s what’s wonderful. In fact, it causes us to open our eyes and change what we think is sensible.”
I don't think for a minute that teaching children creationism is child abuse, as much as simply misguided for two reasons. First, it does, in fact, teach them a false picture of the universe that is not backed up by any scientific knowledge that we have and, second, it leaves them woefully unprepared scientifically and spiritually for later in life when it is pointed out to them that they have been taught a cardboard version of the universe and of scripture.

More than one person has told me that they felt betrayed when they discovered that there was no support for what they had been taught.  The now-agnostic daughter of one of my friends pointedly told her mother, “I wish you had told me more about evolution.” The example of Glenn Morton should also be kept in mind.

But beyond this, Krauss' comments are irresponsible.  Neil Carter of Patheos points out why:
These are very poor analogies. In each of those parallel scenarios a parent possesses what the child needs (or at least knowingly has access to it) but chooses to withhold it from them for whatever reasons. That isn’t the case with teaching creationism because the parents who do that aren’t really aware that alternative explanations of the origins of the universe are legitimate. Surely Dr. Krauss knows these parents aren’t merely pretending to believe the stuff they’re teaching their kids. They really believe this stuff, as illogical as it sounds...Second, Krauss butchers the word “abuse” by diluting its meaning and applying it to situations which are nowhere near as traumatic or extreme as that word denotes. When a parent beats a child, giving her cuts and bruises, that’s physical abuse. When a parent screams at her child, calling her names and tearing her down psychologically, that’s emotional abuse. When parents withhold material provisions their children need like food, water, or shelter, or they put them in physical danger, that’s child abuse.
This is similar to the arguments made by Richard Dawkins that got him in hot water a few years back. Krauss is fueled by his hatred for creationism and what he does not seem to understand is that the effect  he will have on people who do accept creationism is that they will think him to (rightly) be judgmental and condescending and they will simply dig in their heels. After all, that is how I react when I hear people say that Christianity is a fairy tale believed by idiots.

Krauss has not done the scientific world any favors.

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