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Atheist fallacies (innocent babes)

Updated: Feb 6

Have you ever noticed how atheists speak at length about how religion “poisons the minds of young children”? “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will show you the man”, so goes the old Jesuit saying. Indeed, they learnt it from the pagans—St. Augustine observes, with envious eyes, that the pagans inculcate their children when young with “superstitions” (here Augustine plays the part of the “atheist” vexed at poisoned infant minds).

However, this argument isn’t an argument at all—it’s based on a fallacy. All the argument really says is “young people are inculcated with views, it is incorrect to inculcate children with views”. Note that the atheist position does not actually relate to any particular view—their objection is “children are inculcated with views, and this is incorrect”. The corollary is that it is incorrect because a child cannot understand or consent to those views.

The argument, note well, is not about any particular view—it applies as well to liberalism and Marxism, if not atheism, as to Christianity and Islam. So the argument itself does not refute religion, anymore than it refutes Marxism or liberalism. But it’s always presented nested among other arguments against religion so as to make it look as though it demonstrates religion to be false.

Further, to say “it’s incorrect to impose beliefs on children, because children cannot consent and don’t understand what they are told” is fallacious because if you grant it then parents cannot make any decisions for their children whatsoever.

For example, I could say “parents feed their children milk, but the child doesn’t know the milk may make them sleepy—see how evil it is to let the parents feed children milk and how they have total control over the body of the infant”.

Put that way, it seems absurd—parents have dominion over their children, at least until they are 12 in the old common law, because children cannot exercise full autonomy for obvious reasons; if you say parents can’t make those decisions for their children then you have decided to negate parental authority and the family altogether—and who, then, will step in (the state, probably; education, probably—the other atheist favourite, the acceptable form of brainwash)?

So, in the first place, the argument demonstrates nothing about religion either way—it doesn’t show the beliefs so inculcated to be true or false. It just nests the point among other criticisms of religion to make it seem like a fait accompli. What the argument really relies on is the sensitive issue of the child—the very young child, practically a toddler (under 7), combined with emotive language like “poisoned”, “brainwashed”, and, in the last three decades, the mandatory “abuse” (“to teach children religion is child abuse”—Christopher Hitchens probably said it).

The fact remains that children have to be fed and clothed and can’t do that for themselves (some of us are still struggling with the latter, and, like St. Augustine, refer to our mothers in that regard). Just as children have to be fed and clothed, they have to be told something about the world—some crude metaphysics and ethics, because humans need some precepts, even some very basic ones, to navigate said world.

You see the fallacy more clearly now: you can no more tell parents not to inculcate values into a young child than not to spoon baby food into them in the high chair (like an aeroplane neee-awww). The child can’t consent to anything—it has to be done, like a bowel movement and a nappy change, and the only practical way to stop “the mind poison” (which may be liberalism or Marxism for all we know) is to actually remove the child from its family, just as the only way to improve (regularise, anyway) the diet of every child would be to remove it to a state crèche after birth.

I suspect, in fact, that this communist dream—not a million miles from the old USSR, where children were stuck in nurseries as soon as possible (to “liberate” the mothers)—lurks behind this atheist argument, if only in an implicit way.

The bottomline is that just because you say it’s “poison”, it’s “malicious”, it’s “mind-rot” doesn’t change the fact that young children are dependent on their parents for everything, from spinach to religious views, and so all you’ve said is “young people depend on their parents, and this is evil” which is an obvious nonsense, and also raises the question as to why you think what you think or, perhaps, what you would feed them (if even figuratively) would be any better.


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