Children’s Books of Science
Today I decided to send the following email. Usually, when I do such things it doesn’t make any difference. But it still never hurts to try. We’ll see what becomes of my efforts this time.
Dear PZ Myers and richarddawkins.net,
I wanted the following to go personally to Richard Dawkins, but could not find his personal email through websearching (likely with very good reason). I’m uncertain wether he has the opportunity to read every mail sent to richarddawkins.net; So I humbly ask you to forward this (at your own discretion) to the Eminent Professor of Public Understanding of Science. Oh and feel welcome to post this communication publicly, in part or in full. (Comment feedback from either or both of Pharyngula and richarddawkins.net readers would likely be rather informative)
Dear Darwin’s Rottweiler,
On several occasions I’ve heard you mention that you’d like to, or were considering writing a children’s book. I think that this is an astounding idea. I share your views that the uncritical acceptance of religion, and the assumed authority it has over moral issues poisons our culture, and threatens our social progress. I currently think that the primary reason for the perniciousness of religious belief is that it is crammed into the skulls of children before they’ve developed the capacity for critical thinking or other tools of intellectual defense. Children’s books that promulgate the values of the Enlightenment could very well be the best weaponry against religion that we have at our disposal. And it doesn’t even have to appear as an attack!
I would like very much to see a series of children’s books that propagate some of the allegorical tales in science. The stories could cover Newton’s Apple, Galileo and the Tower of Pisa, Friedrich Kekule and the Benzene Ouroboros, Eratosthenes and the Round Earth, Copernicus and Geo-Centrism, Archimedes and the Bathtub, Watson and Crick and their puzzle pieces, Einstein and the light-train, Alexander Fleming and his dirty dishes. Science is replete with heroes that should be celebrated for their hard and tireless brain-work; heroes that used their mind and reason to solve real-world problems; heroes that stood up against dogmatic authority. These stories should celebrate such individual efforts, acknowledge their personal sacrifices, and encourage children to become active participants in growing our collective knowledge. (We should also celebrate supporting roles, not exclusively heroes; since, realistically, that’s where most of us are positioned.)
In my mind many of these stories would be ideal for bedtime. I think it is more important to instill in children the values of science rather than its teachings. If society were to completely lose its scientific knowledge, a social structure that encourages well-thought-out dissent, evidence-based critique, and the importance of experimental repeatability, logic, reason, precision in communication, would be vitally important to regaining that knowledge. The methods of science are more important than the results of science; and children’s stories should draw upon this phenomenon, instilling values rather than dry facts. The very notion that by reason alone we can come to know more about the world and our position in it, is, to me, much more inspiring than anything religion has to offer. And I feel it is a moral obligation to communicate this innately human desire to our children, such that they might learn our methods early and be ably equipped to build upon our work as early as possible. To demonstrate through stories that the best, prooven and reliable method for getting ahead in life, is to use your mind for understanding what you observe around you.
There are so many children’s story books that focus on tales from the bible, that it’s time we created some competition. Most of these books tend to have an overtly moral tone to them; please make every effort to avoid that. Even children can tell when they are being preached to, and they grow to resent such condescension.
I’ve also noticed a wild cry among the populace that science education is faltering in America. I have personal experience that tells me technically minded parents are quite concerned about the current state of affairs, and already make efforts outside of the curriculum to inspire their children in the ways of science and math. Help give these families some tools to teach their children what the education system ignores. I eagerly look forward to any effort you make in this direction, and I’m sure that geek parents everywhere will rejoice in the marketplace once such materials appear.
Inspire them while they’re young!
PS. Thank you (both) for speaking your opinions about issues of religion, and raising our collective consciousness about its uncritical acceptance in our society.