Monday, June 29, 2009

Some Interesting Stuff over the Weekend

If you haven't already, take a look at Tim O'Neill's detailed review of Charles Freeman's Closing of the Western Mind over at Armarium Magnum. Tim largely agrees with my own assessment of a couple of years ago which also gave rise to some correspondence with Charles Freeman himself. Freeman has a book out from Yale in September called A New History of Early Christianity which they have kindly promised to send me a review copy of. Perhaps this book will plug some of the gaps that Tim identifies in Closing of the Western Mind.

Some of the papers are noting that Richard Dawkins is subsidising a summer camp for atheists' kids. That's fine by me and I hope they have a good time. My only query is, why is it OK for Dawkins to give money to this while attacking the Templeton Foundation for using its resources to spread its own message? Can you imagine the fuss if Templeton started running camps for kids instead of journalists? As always, a foolish religious person was on hand to criticise Dawkins but I can't imagine many people will have any objections.

Finally, I am pleased to announce that God's Philosophers has gone to print. The team at Icon have been working extremely hard and the resulting book looks great. I only hope that the writing lives up to the quality of the production. Publication is on schedule for early August.

13 comments:

Jamie said...

Actually, I thought the C of E comment in the linked Telegraph article was fair enough. I just wish that Christian camps would actually do something similar and teach a bit of apologetics or philosophy, rather than just singing slightly cheesy blues songs about Jesus.

Tim O'Neill said...

The C of E comment was based on the idea that the camp was somehow "teaching atheism". In fact, it's a British Humanist adoption of an American humanist camp that is designed to give kids an introduction to critical analysis, thinking skills and to have them approach all quesitions with open-minded but discerning scepticism. The "Camp Quest" concept steers away from telling the kids *what* they should think and concentrates on giving them some conceptual tools to help them think criticially, logically and analytically.

I fail to see how that could be a bad thing. And I see Dawkins' financial support of it rather different to the Templeton Foundation paying journalists to attend their events.

TJW said...

I don't really have a problem with people running a camp that they claim teaches their kids to be critical thinkers, it's just that it comes across more as a way to teach them naturalism, which is also fine, but it's hardly the only "rational" and "critical" way to think about the world.

If the camp were really about teaching them to "think for themselves," wouldn't it include a whole bunch of advocates of various worldviews being given equal time to instruct them in their worldview and then letting the children chose the one they find most convincing? Or is it something more like "here's metaphysical naturalism, it's the most objective and rational way to think about the world, please uncritically accept it because that's why your parents brought you here?"

(I'm assuming that that news article is correct and if it's not then my comment probably won't mean much.)

Tim O'Neill said...

I can only go on what I've read on the Camp Quest website and what they have said in the past. The impression I get is that they don't "teach" metaphysical naturalism at all and that they are pretty sensitive to accusations of "hypocricy" re indoctrinating children.

And no, I don't see "instructing" the kids in "various world views" as being better at all. If they are sticking to their mission statement they are teaching *no* "world views", nor are they judging or condemning any either.

Most of the camp is spent doing summer camp stuff - canoeing, climbing, hiking etc. It's just that instead of the religious instruction or "God and the Queen" stuff that religious summer camps and the Scouts push, they are pushing critical thinking and rational analysis.

Sounds fine to me.

Turoldus said...

From the Wikipedia (yes I know...) article on Camp Quest:

"The camp's programs and activities introduce campers to the history and ideas of freethought. Campers also learn about science, the scientific method, critical thinking, world religions and church-state separation. Biblical stories and metaphors are discussed in the context of cultural literacy. Campers are taught that ethical behavior is not dependent on religious belief and doctrines, that religious belief and doctrines are sometimes a hindrance to ethical and moral behavior, and that irreligious persons are also good and fully capable of living a happy and meaningful life.

The camp's programs and activities also include what is usual for summer camps: campfires, canoeing, crafts, drama, games, nature hikes, singing, and swimming. Sometimes, however, a spin may be used, such as the telling of an ancient mythical tale around the campfire or the debunking of creationism on part of a nature hike or fossil hunt. Both competitive and cooperative sports are used. Past activities have included how to make a crop circle and visiting old cemeteries to use tombstones as clues to the mores of the past.

The centerpiece of the camp's approach is encouragement of critical thinking and an introduction to logical fallacies by retelling the story of two invisible unicorns that inhabit Camp Quest. Campers are told that two invisible unicorns inhabit the camp, that cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, that they cannot hurt you, that they do not eat and leave no mark. An ancient book handed down for countless generations offers proof that the unicorns exist, though no one is allowed to see this book. Any camper who can prove that the unicorns do not exist will win a godless one-hundred dollar bill (printed before 1957, when the U.S. Congress mandated that "In God We Trust" be printed on American fiat currency.) Since offering this challenge in August 1996, the prize remains unclaimed."

TJW said...

Perhaps I was being extra harsh on them because Richard Dawkins seems so enthusiastic. But I will reconsider my view on the grounds that I may have too willingly accepted the "spin" put on it by the journalist responsible for the hyperlinked report.

I'm just glad I was never sent to an atheist or theist camp as a child.

Anonymous said...

Why do I have a feeling that those kids are not going to "learn how to think, not what to think" but merely what their parents, camp counselors, and camp sponsors think? Oh well, nothing to be done about it.

Mike Flynn said...

Freethinking. You get what you pay for.

Matthew said...

The "most helpful" review on Amazon comes from ... Charles Freeman!

That totally made my day.

Knowing Thomas said...

I was okay with it until this part:

"The centerpiece of the camp's approach is encouragement of critical thinking and an introduction to logical fallacies by retelling the story of two invisible unicorns that inhabit Camp Quest. Campers are told that two invisible unicorns inhabit the camp, that cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, that they cannot hurt you, that they do not eat and leave no mark. An ancient book handed down for countless generations offers proof that the unicorns exist, though no one is allowed to see this book. Any camper who can prove that the unicorns do not exist will win a godless one-hundred dollar bill"

Ensuring a second generation of "Hurr you worship a flying spaghetti monster, stupid theist!11"

That's just great.

Bernard said...

At face value, I'm all for more thinking, critical or otherwise, from our detractors.
Maybe they can teach the kids what a self contradictory assertion is. I swear, someone actually told me "there's no such thing as objective truth" and kept a straight face!

Karl said...

While I am all for getting kids to practice more critical thinking, God knows they don't do it nearly enough, I don't think this is going to help. In fact, I have to agree with Knowing Thomas. All its going to do is produce a new generation of condescending know-it-alls who would be hard pressed to find their rear-end in a darkened room with both hands and a flashlight.

Salamander said...
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