Big Questions for Little Skeptics

I’d seen Kingfisher’s Really, Really Big Questions books around, but I hadn’t paid much attention to them until I saw that the newest one in the series, which came out in October 2011, took on God.  More specifically, Really, Really Big Questions about God, Faith, and Religion takes a skeptical look at God for kids (grades 3-6 or so).

The question and answer format doesn’t provide too many answers.  Much like, DK’s What do You Believe? (which I talked about in this post) the point seems to be to encourage more questions and critical thinking, which I love.  The book is definitely oriented to scientific answers over supernatural (as are the other two in the series about philosophy and space), but it also cautions readers to be respectful (“Respect involves accepting that no one knows for sure what the truth about God and religion is.” italics theirs) of people and their beliefs even when disagreeing (“The best criticism is not rude, but polite and helpful–the way your teacher might comment on your homework or a sports coach might assess his or her players.”).

I highly recommend this series to any family looking to open a skeptical discussion about religion.

Want to read more about skepticism? See my Secular Thursday page for all my posts in the Books for Secular Families series.

Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.

Magic, Miracles, and Skepticism

I’ll believe it when I see it.

It seems like the pinnacle of skepticism to set such a requirement, but what happens when we think we see something that we didn’t really see?  There are books about the neurology behind our tendency to believe what we see, but it’s rare to come across the idea in books accessible to young people.

I was delighted to discover a picture book that addressed it on a level I could share with my preschool-age daughter.  In Anton Can Do Magic by Ole Konnecke, we watch as Anton is inspired by a poster of “The Great Sorcar.”  He dons a hat–that is too big–and sets out to do some magic.  When Anton tries to make something disappear, his too-large hat slips over his eyes at just the right moment so that it seems his magic worked.  Readers know the truth, however, which lends kid-appeal to the story.  My four-year-old was able to discern what happened easily, and I think I’ll revisit the book in a couple of years to have a more substantive conversation about how we might need to dig deeper beyond simply what we see.  Read more about Anton Can Do Magic in this review at Kirkus or see some of the illusrations at 7 imp.

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder delves into belief vs. skepticism for teens (and adults who read teen fiction). In this story Cam–committed skeptic–is terminally ill.  When her doctor tells her there is nothing left he can do for her, Cam’s mother starts looking for a miracle to save her daughter.  Once they exhaust the possibilities offered by non-traditional medicine, they decide to take even more drastic measures.  Cam reluctantly agrees to relocate to a small town in Maine where mysterious things have been said to happen.  She is too busy crossing items off her version of a bucket list to spend much time analyzing the strange things that happen in Promise, Maine.  Readers can interpret everything that happens with the eyes of a believer or those of a skeptic, and I imagine both sides will ardently argue their view before giving in–hopefully realizing that it is the inability to convince each other of what we don’t want to see that is at the heart of the novel.  How ever you read the book, have tissues handy.

I have yet to read The Believing Brain, but it’s definitely been bumped up on my to-read list. :)

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.

Disclosure: Amazon Links are affiliate links.

What does proof look like?

I’ve been catching up on podcasts again, and that means This American Life. The episode on January 16, 2011–Kid Politics–was great. Act 2, in particular, looks at skepticism by putting a scientist/activist who is part of an organization developing curriculum to teach young people about climate change and a teen who is a climate change skeptic together. At the end of a look at the evidence for climate change the teen remains unconvinced, and Ira Glass asks her a very important question: What would proof look like? (I’m paraphrasing).

Then he asks the scientist: “Do you think it’s hopeless to reach someone once they are already skeptical?”

As a skeptic on many topics (though not climate change), I think these questions are interesting. Can I be reached? Am I too certain of what I know? I suppose I will be revisiting these questions many times in my life as I try to maintain the balance between certainty and skepticism.

Let’s all do what we can to promote science literacy. Start with this video:

Or perhaps read children’s science writer, Steve Jenkins’, musings on how to present science as an authority without undermining the ever-changing/improving nature of the field in this post on The I.N.K. blog.