Is it my imagination or are children way more sophisticated now than we were? (While adult theists are often less sophisticated than modern children.)

Questions. Endless questions. My son is with me for the week, and the questions never end. I was woken on Sunday morning by a barrage of questions. He’s only seven years old. I don’t remember asking so many questions when I was his age. I don‘t remember being as smart as he is, although I do remember being angry and frustrated when adults thought I couldn’t understand them. I remember promising myself I would never forget what it was to be a child. Well, maybe I have forgotten some of it, but I do remember the promise. (Maybe that’s why I am quite good with children?)

I’m not complaining. Some of the questions can be annoying, and when he asks about the intentions of characters in a movie, I do remind him that I know as much as he does. I also have to remind myself that at his age, complex implied motivations of characters and slow build-up of complex narratives as well as several simultaneous themes are lost on him, and there are some things he can’t yet understand. So I have to have patience. I also have to be careful and selective with my words… Any explanation that includes more words or references that he can’t understand will just lead to more questions. (It should be easy because I don’t have much of a vocabulary to begin with, right? Wrong – even though my vocab is not impressive, the difference between an adult and child’s vocabulary is vast.) And those extra questions are my own fault, because I wasn’t able to supply an answer simple and direct enough. Making complex things simple is a skill. I thought I was good at it, but my son challenges my competency at this skill every day.

But some of the questions are indicative of logic and reasoning in his thinking that I don’t remember having at the same age. Some of them seen more sophisticated than I’d expect to hear from a seven year old. For example, yesterday he asked me who made him… So I explained that mommy and daddy made him biologically. (Excluding the word “biologically” of course.)

He seemed to accept that, and processed it for a while; then he asked me who the first man was. That one was easy… It allowed me to duck the religious question and just answer that I don’t know. So he was careful to avoid the “God” word and asked if somebody made the people. It’s an interesting question in that he knows I don’t believe in god, and he doesn’t want to offend me by asking directly about god, but he is still thinking from the assumption that people were created.

The question requires two answers, at least in my mind:

  1. Firstly, it can’t be answered without a simplified explanation of evolution. (Which is scary. I didn’t hear about evolution until I was around 12 years old.)
  2. Secondly, the answer needs to point out that having a creator doesn’t answer the question. You’re still stuck with an incredibly complex being, capable of creating all of mankind and everything else, with no explanation of where this being came from. (Creating god to explain away everything that you can’t understand absolutely does not answer anything. It’s only once you are brainwashed into accepting this without question that you can assume your god is eternal, thereby not realizing that you don’t have an answer.)

So I gave him a really simplified answer about evolution. Even that probably went over his head. I had to readdress the earlier question, and explain that there was no single first man, and that we humans and apes have a common ancestor, so there must have been a group of first men, who looked nothing like us, and that people in future will probably not look anything like us either. (Then I had to explain what an ape is, because he didn’t know.) It was then easy to explain that having somebody who made us doesn’t answer the question of who made that somebody. (That part of the answer was readily understood.) Anyway, those answers seemed to satisfy him, for the time being.

And so at last I have a way of answering those awkward questions about god: with science. I don’t want to tell him that there is no god, because then I stand to be accused of imposing my view on him. (By people who have no problem imposing their view, with the mistaken belief that their view is right. Problem is, my view, based on logic and reason, is the minority view.) But I can stick to what is real and what is known. As long as I teach him about reality, I don’t even have to criticize the nonsense he is being taught elsewhere. He seems well on his way to having his own point of view, and that is my objective… to help him, guide him to rational, sceptical, critical thinking. (That’s what my father taught me to do. Unfortunately he was not happy when I explained my disbelief to him, which surprised me at the time since he was the one who taught me not to believe everything I read or heard – then expected me not to apply that logic to Catholicism.)

Of course, disbelieving in the story of Adam and Eve does not indicate an atheistic point of view… Many theists no doubt realize that the creation story is nonsense. But it is a step in the right direction. For example, if one realizes that god supposedly created Adam from dust, then Eve in two contradictory stories both from dust and Adam’s rib, one might ask why Jesus couldn’t have been created the same way… Also if one realizes that the way some people have rationalized the two creation stories of Eve into two different women – Lilith and Eve, one might realize that the whole of Genesis, and everything else in the bible, is pure fiction.

Ultimately I will support whatever my son decides he believes or doesn’t believe one day. It’s not my job to impose any ideology or lack therof on him, and I can’t think for him. I will however, strive to empower him to think critically, to guide him in a way that I never was. If I, at seven years old, had asked where people came from, no doubt I would have been told that god created us. The fact that he questions things that have been taught to him by others, makes me very happy. He is still young enough to form his own informed opinions rather than be trapped in an indoctrinated belief, as so many adults I’ve debated are. I’d love it if, one day, he argues with me about some of these things. As long as he argues rationally, I welcome it. There is much I can learn from him. (If I live long enough. I wonder if that’s even probable. My father died when he was 57. I’ll be 44 later this month. If I don’t live longer than my father, I might die when Josh is only 20.)

And that brings me to the second (but short) part of this post…

I have read many arguments by theists in forums and groups where they debate atheists, and their logic always comes down to non sequiturs that reveal an underlying assumption that man was created, along with a refusal to acknowledge the vast mountains of evidence that say otherwise. They ask things like, “If man evolved from apes, why are there still apes?”. My current retort is “If domestic cats evolved from tigers, why are there still tigers?” (It’s a great answer, in my arrogant opinion. It makes the same flawed assumption about evolution, but in a way intended to deride the creationist meme. Nobody says that domestic cats evolved from tigers; likewise nobody says that man evolved from apes except the idiots arguing against evolution. So the answer creates a straw cat to mock their straw man. Meow!) They choose to deliberately misunderstand what evolution actually entails, just because they assume that man was created, assume it with such conviction that they can’t see reality for what it is. In short, they ask questions like seven-year-olds… The only difference is, most of them have little potential for understanding the answers to those questions, unlike children.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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5 Responses to Is it my imagination or are children way more sophisticated now than we were? (While adult theists are often less sophisticated than modern children.)

  1. Nice one Jerome. Committed theists are always in denial of anything that threatens to invade their comfort zone. We should be more sympathetic of course, because most theists can’t help themselves. They are either the product of the most insidious form of brain washing ever invented, or products of minute changes occurring in their temporal lobes. Science can now readily explain away those “born again” experiences, but try telling them that. I usually leave them to their own delusions, unless of cause they are bigoted enough to try imposing their beliefs and to start criticizing my world view.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dfxc says:

    I don’t know if this was always the case (and was just underreported) or if it’s support for the notion of a kind of ‘sophistication’ among the younger generations but here it is:
    I teach/guide an “Intro to Philosophy” class for a group of arts-oriented, “homeschool” teens [that is, they aren’t non-traditionally educated because of some parental political or religious commitment but rather because they are mostly involved in acting, music, or other professional artistic activities, the schedules of which preclude the 8-3/M-F model.] Anyway, the course is run on a rather explicitly Socratic model: I raise a topic as a question (e.g., “How is acting not lying?” or “What makes art ‘art’?”), have the students offer answers, I poke holes, repeat, end in aporia. [It’s a fun little meeting.]
    The point related to your post, finally, is this: Over a couple dozen 12-17yr olds, I’ve yet to have a moral realist and the overwhelming trend overall is towards a default position that broadly corresponds to French existentialism. In short, all the expected ‘scripts’ for these sorts of conversations fly right out the window as these kids skip right by the usual avenues and, though occasionally hesitant to embrace their conclusions, are mostly OK with the results.
    Don’t know what it says in relation to your observation but it seemed like information you might want to add into your thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      I think maybe it has something to do with them not having predispositions to which they are attached. Maybe we adults spend more effort in defending our biased positions, so much so that we deny the evidence that contradicts it; while children, when faced with evidence, see it for what it is.

      Like

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