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Guest Host Bill Moyers with philosopher Daniel Dennett - Comments

Riley's Avatar Comment 1 by Riley

Bill Moyers and Carl Sagan were the two most formidable and positive figures of my youth.

Bill Moyers' "World of Ideas" interviews was as influential to me as Cosmos. He is one of the truly great journalist in the world I think. He can interview people of integrity from a spectrum of ideas and give everyone of them a thoughtful platform and foil against which to express themselves.

His own recent thoughts On Democracy are speeches much worth listening to in their own right. He is a moving speaker. Listen to it here: http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/12/24/1731220

I enjoy and appreciate Daniel Dennetts' approach to atheism and the atheist movement as well. If the goal is truly to convert the convertable to atheism, it is his gentle yet strong approach that I think will work, not an approach that demeans.

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Mon, 22 Jan 2007 07:29:00 UTC | #16637

AkitaOnRails's Avatar Comment 2 by AkitaOnRails

And don't forget Bill Moyers with Joseph Campbell on myths. It was very very insightful. I can't remember a better journalist than Moyers.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 07:43:00 UTC | #16640

ICONIC FREEDOM's Avatar Comment 3 by ICONIC FREEDOM

"it is his gentle yet strong approach that I think will work, not an approach that demeans."

Certainly his method works for some, but Dawkins and Harris' approach speaks to others who need that "in your face" challenge, as well. Both approaches serve us greatly; you must meet those that you speak to at the level to which they can assimilate.

Talking to someone from Harlem in a highfalutin fashion would never work, but using his or her language will get the point across just as powerfully.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 08:05:00 UTC | #16646

Riley's Avatar Comment 4 by Riley

I think it is in all cases a deluded idea to think that the "bad cop" approach (e.g. demeaning someone personally, intentionally inciting anger, using pejoratives, etc) is a reasonable approach to persuading someone to be more rational. But I think that Dawkins and Harris try to avoid doing this (and usually succeed). Daniel Dennett is particularly good at not allowing his baser instincts to get the better of him, and deserves credit for it. By contrast, I find it a bit disturbing when I hear my fellow fans of Dawkins praise him for his occassional "bad cop" behavior. The talk in Lynchburg, VA is a prime example ... The crowd there seemed disturbingly eager to jump on even the smallest opportunity to laugh, cheer and geer at the expense of those pitiful Liberty University students; it struck me as cruel and sad.

What I find especially effective in Dennett's approach is that he does more than just tell the faithful why faith is a delusion, he builds the bridge to a positive alternative and he encourages the faithful to walk across without shame.




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Mon, 22 Jan 2007 09:13:00 UTC | #16654

goldmineguttd's Avatar Comment 5 by goldmineguttd

I like the "music/agriculture/language is older than religion" line.

I love this guy.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 09:18:00 UTC | #16655

Pantore's Avatar Comment 6 by Pantore

@3

Lol someone from Harlem?
Most likely a big part of USA...

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 09:28:00 UTC | #16659

magetoo's Avatar Comment 7 by magetoo

This is not a free (of charge) clip, is it?

Google Video doesn't really work 100% for me, but I can usually get around it by downloading, and then watching. That won't work here.

Too bad, it seems like it would be interesting.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 09:42:00 UTC | #16663

ICONIC FREEDOM's Avatar Comment 8 by ICONIC FREEDOM

" find it a bit disturbing when I hear my fellow fans of Dawkins praise him for his occassional "bad cop" behavior. The talk in Lynchburg, VA is a prime example ... The crowd there seemed disturbingly eager to jump on even the smallest opportunity to laug, cheer and geer at the expense of those pitiful Liberty University students; it struck me as cruel and sad."

The observation of that behavior is simply that the oppressed within that community that have had a religious point of view rammed down their throats are merely reacting to the behavior of others which becomes causational. I see no problem with it as it didn't incite violence but merely the democratic action of dissent towards those that have attempted to bully their way in our nation through religion.

The behavior of the opposition at Columbia University in recent months about the Minutemen Project is abhorrent. In a land that endorses freedom of speech, these men were holding a meeting to discuss the issue and the opposition became violent. That is never acceptable. Clearly the opposition felt that they couldn't control or manipulate the Minutemen Project through debate so they resorted to violence.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 10:29:00 UTC | #16670

moudiwort's Avatar Comment 9 by moudiwort

Wonderful interview, which to some of course might appear as almost hurtfully balanced.
I was most impressed by Dennett's "sweettooth-tactics". I hope, he'll be recovering soon.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 11:11:00 UTC | #16673

Dogbreath's Avatar Comment 10 by Dogbreath

18661 by Riley "... it struck me as cruel and sad."

I think this stretches credulity. "Cruel?" Dawkins quite rightly pointed out why labelling dinosaur bones as 3000 years old "debauched" the "university" concept. That he did so following a painstaking explanation of the various steps that would need to be followed to more accurately date the rocks that surrounded these bones struck me as more than fair. His exortation to students and faculty of Liberty University to "leave and go to a proper university" revealed honesty in the face of about an hour of hostile, erroneous questioning.

"Sad?" The sad part is that it is necessary at this point in the 21st century to have to directly confront the manifestations of irrational belief when they stand as lies in the face of scientific fact.

It seems to me that the double standard of not being able to expose religious belief is very well entrenched. What exactly was "cruel" or "sad" about what Dawkins said?

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 11:23:00 UTC | #16674

Zappi's Avatar Comment 11 by Zappi

If Dawkins is excellent to take atheists out of the closet, Dennett works wonders to attract moderate religious to the rational side. Two different "market segments" but a single goal.

Excellent interview, it's the first time I got to see Dennett doing his magic, or, as he likes to say, "doing his tricks".

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 14:55:00 UTC | #16701

Riley's Avatar Comment 12 by Riley

10. Comment #18681 by Dogbreath: "What exactly was "cruel" or "sad" about what Dawkins said?"

There was nothing cruel about what Dawkins said. I support Dawkins and believe more people should point out that Liberty University teaches garbage 'science'. It was the crowd's eagerness to laugh at the Liberty students -who were not hostile- that I found cruel.

No doubt many of the laughing audience members have been victimized by having someone else's "religious point of view rammed down their throats" or been subjected to condescending and mocking comments from the religious right in that community, but tit-for-tat doesn't really justify anything.

At times I think the Lynchburgh VA audience resembled a mob that seemed to be drawing its energy in no small part from enjoyment at mocking that select group of human beings present in the room; and that's sad.

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Mon, 22 Jan 2007 15:07:00 UTC | #16705

LoathesomeStench's Avatar Comment 13 by LoathesomeStench

Dennett in passing, points out what I believe to be an oft forgotten yet very important fact. Sometimes the hurt caused by vocalising an opposition to the religion with which one was brought up can be unbearable, often leaving one with the feeling that it might be better for all to lie quiet in the shadows. I think religions (at least the big three) seem to some free thinkers to be so utterly ridiculous that they often fail to realise that people really do believe these things literally. Imagine holding the literal belief that your sibling was to spend an eternity in torment, or finding out that the beliefs you based your whole life around, of which you've constantly been assured, might be wrong. I've regularly had family members in tears simply by suggesting that they "might" be wrong, and it isn't pleasant. There's no solution I fear, but I can see why many would deem it not worth speaking out at all.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 16:59:00 UTC | #16722

dydx62's Avatar Comment 14 by dydx62

I must admit I was made a bit uncomfortable by the reaction of the audience, but I think Professor Dawkins responses were measured and appropriate. It's tempting to heap upon believers some of the ridicule that many so readily disseminate, but what kind of Darwinian moral fiber would that show?

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 17:39:00 UTC | #16732

k1mgy's Avatar Comment 15 by k1mgy

Dennett, although certainly not difficult to hear out, does not strike the same fire that Richard Dawkins lights.

He uses the term "deluded" and even evoked the same experience with young persons as does Dr. Dawkins: "they come up to me and thank me", Dennett says.

Is he riding in the furrows already scribed by the hard-charging RD? Perhaps so.

It would be interesting to pair Dennett up with another Haggardist type and see who leaves the fray at the top of the heap.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 18:36:00 UTC | #16740

Dogbreath's Avatar Comment 16 by Dogbreath

Comment #18713 by Riley "It was the crowd's eagerness to laugh at the Liberty students -who were not hostile- that I found cruel."

I understand your point, I just disagree. Imagine, in our wildest dreams, that this "debate" took place AT Liberty University. Or, better still, watch the clip of the Root of All Evil where Ted Haggard throws Richard and camera crew out of his church.

I'm not excusing bad behavior, I just didn't see any at Lynchburg. I saw students at Randolph-Macon expressing huge relief and awe at Richards brilliance, in a community dominated and devalued by what Falwell represents - having listened patiently to an orchestrated stream of Liberty students dominate the questions and attempt to steal the show. Context is everything.

I'm sure on questions of principle we would agree, but in terms of method, I saw absolutely nothing at all wrong with the Lynchburg audience response. I applaud them.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 18:48:00 UTC | #16745

Zaphod's Avatar Comment 17 by Zaphod

Daniel Dennett aswell as being insightful, intelligent and very informative has to be one of the nicest people I have ever seen. He seems honestly a really really nice person. I challenge anyone to dislike him lol. He is very tolerent and seems to want the complete best for society.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 21:30:00 UTC | #16755

roach's Avatar Comment 18 by roach

Dennett is the man.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 22:45:00 UTC | #16762

Zappi's Avatar Comment 19 by Zappi

Comment #by k1mgy

He uses the term "deluded" and even evoked the same experience with young persons as does Dr. Dawkins: "they come up to me and thank me", Dennett says.

Is he riding in the furrows already scribed by the hard-charging RD? Perhaps so.

Quite the opposite. This interview was made well before The God Delusion. The date of the google video is March 4, 2006 and Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" was released much earlier (February 2, 2006) than TGD.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 23:34:00 UTC | #16765

Dutch_labrat's Avatar Comment 20 by Dutch_labrat

Zappi is on the target here, it was in fact reading Breaking the Spell that made me read The God Delusion.

Now Dennet and Dawkins have the same goal and are going at it basically the same way. I understand they are even friends. There is a very great difference in style though that means they can target different audiences.

Dennet is a painstakingly thorough thinker who will rarely say anything in a book without attacking and defending it from any possible side. As an upside this makes him very hard to dismiss .

As a downside I suspect his morning note to the milkman runs into four pages at times :)

Dawkins on the other hand talks in a no nonsense, in your face way that may offend some people sometimes. This may drive some people off but Dennet can round them up later. For the masses I think Dawkins is more approachable and easier to understand

This can be easily understood if you remember where they come from, Dawkins is a biologist, raised in hard science. Dennet is a philosopher, a very non-conformist at that, who survived by making thoroughly grounded statements.

Tue, 23 Jan 2007 02:06:00 UTC | #16776

Sancus's Avatar Comment 21 by Sancus

Dennett is great. None of us hear need to be persuaded that the world is a better place with him in it. He is human, though, and is capable of abandoning reason for the things he cares about most. This occurs just around the 37th minute.

Dennett: ... We should have a national curriculum on world religions that is compulsory for all school children, from grade school to high school for the public school, for private school, for the home schools...

Moyers: Why?

Dennett: Because, if we taught the young people of a country this, then you could teach them whatever else you wanted, and I wouldn't worry about religions... I think any religion that could flourish under those conditions would be a benign, a valuable wonderful religion. I think, if you look at the toxic religions [becoming emphatic] they are all the religions that survive by the enforced ignorance of their young. And all we have to do, I think...


... Is enforce non-ignorance? Dennett pauses and collects himself here to avoid saying just that. If he uses anything resembling the word "enforce" for his plan, it will make his idea sound just as toxic.

Dennett continues with a lighter tone, starting with "we can tell people..."

Dennett: ... we can tell people, you can home school your kids, you can give them 30 hours a week of religious instruction, but you also got to teach them what the people that are not of your faith believe and you have to teach them about the history of all the faiths in question including your own.

Moyers: That's asking a lot of people who take religion so seriously that they do not want their children, or their own minds, to be competitive with their own religions.

Dennett: [pausing to shake his head] How very un-American of them to think that. I mean this is the land of democracy and an informed choice. What are they afraid of?


Aside from equivocating on the merits of using force in education, Dennett is contradicting himself. Dennett says that a "benign, valuable, and wonderful" religion can flourish in competition and that "toxic" religions survive with the use of force. At the same time, he says that toxic religions survive in the competitive environment of education, and that we can fix this by using the forced intervention of the state.

Apparently competition serves Dennett's purposes when he can use the state to force people to entertain competing religions, but it does not serve his purposes when the state leaves education alone and allows schools to compete with each other. Religious people often use science to support their claims, and dismiss science when it does not support their claims. Dennett does the same thing with freedom of thought.

The fact is that Dennett's plan is not even necessary. Children are naturally curious and we do not need to force them to use their own curiosity. On the contrary, using force dulls their curiosity. Instead of substituting force with force, we should be working on ways to protect children from those who use force against them through education.

Dawkins once said that he does not believe that parents should be prevented from influencing their children. I do not believe this either. We all influence one another. We all exist in and share a common environment. However, parents do not have any more of a right to influence their children as any other people do. Children must be allowed basic human rights.

The state can help support this autonomy, but not by the use of force. Perhaps it could build dormitories for those individuals who choose not to live with their parents, but have no where else to go. For prolonged stays, basic guidance on how to live on one's own can be provided without all the religious baggage of their parents. By allowing children independence, we can help foster mature and healthy relationships with their parents. Some parents would have time to rethink how they raise their children and invite them back home under more healthy circumstances. Instead of building schools as we know them today, the state could build learning centers, safe places with learning materials where children can go to expand their knowledge. Schools today are not safe because they use force against children, and the children naturally respond by rebelling.

It's very simple, very benign human nature to protect one's self from the coercion of others. When you abandon this respect for children, you abandon both reason and science, and only obscure the challenges they face.

Tue, 23 Jan 2007 06:20:00 UTC | #16830

drcowboybc's Avatar Comment 22 by drcowboybc

I think that both the "good cop" and "bad cop" strategies (or however you want to label them) have their merits.

Here is another "good cop" approach from a recent Austin (TX) American-Statesman religion section:
http://www.statesman.com/life/content/life/stories/faith/01/06/6words.html

Tue, 23 Jan 2007 06:27:00 UTC | #16832

Riley's Avatar Comment 23 by Riley

Comment #18840 by drcowboybc: I think that both the "good cop" and "bad cop" strategies (or however you want to label them) have their merits

I would love to hear someone who sees merit in the "bad cop" technique, explain how engaging in behavior intended to shame, intimidate and/or belittle a segment of people can work as an effective means of persuading such people (or anyone else observing or participating) to be more rational. Or is there some other goal involved?

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16. Comment #18753 by Dogbreath "Imagine, in our wildest dreams, that this "debate" took place AT Liberty University."

If the situation and behaviors were reversed, I think members on this site would be praising the brave Randolph-Macon students for organizing themselves, showing-up at Liberty, and posing tough questions to the speaker, and at the same time no doubt members of this site would be demonizing the classless crowd at Liberty for being caught-up in self-congratulatory behavior and discourteous treatment of the Randolph-Macon students; in fact, we'd probably use the event to illustrate how bad the situation is that atheists must endure - and rightfully so.

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16. Comment #18753 by Dogbreath "I'm not excusing bad behavior, I just didn't see any at Lynchburg. [...] I saw absolutely nothing at all wrong with the Lynchburg audience response. I applaud them.

best example of bad behavior at Lynchburgh: In response to a question from a Liberty studen, Richard explained that it is more difficult for the Theory of Evolution to account for the amount of uncritical thinking that exists in the world than to account for the existance of critical thinking. It's a point that made me stop and think: very interesting. In contrast, why did the audience laugh at this point? It appeared to be an emotionally-fed need on their part to intimidate and mock the other members of that audience who were in earshot. Would the members that laughed, have laughed so aggressively (or at all) had the audience not contained the Liberty students? I don't think so.

If you don't see this as base-instinct-driven bad behavior (or at least in-kind to the behavior we criticize christian funamentalist for engaging in) then I guess unfortunately we must agree to disagree.


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Tue, 23 Jan 2007 07:57:00 UTC | #16841

HappyPrimate's Avatar Comment 24 by HappyPrimate

I very much enjoyed the interview. I loved the Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell interviews and have purchased the DVDs of the Power of Myth. They were first broadcast on PBS (around 1985)when I was beginning my search for truth and reality based thought. Those interviews may be credited for opening my mind to search further. I recently read Dennett's book Breaking the Spell. I did not enjoy it as much as RD's books because his books are so philosophical based rather than fact based. There is certainly a place for philosophy I'm sure but my brain prefers facts. Still I am glad I read it. I am now reading his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea. So far so good.

Tue, 23 Jan 2007 20:46:00 UTC | #16931

Old Coppernose's Avatar Comment 25 by Old Coppernose

21 Sancus writes:

"Apparently competition serves Dennett's purposes when he can use the state to force people to entertain competing religions, but it does not serve his purposes when the state leaves education alone and allows schools to compete with each other."

There is no contradiction in his position. Without State schools and a predominance of religious ones, parents will simply send their children to the school that pushes their own religion and there will be no competition of ideas.

Only by a compulsory curriculum of Comparative Religion and philosophy will the memes have true capability to compete. I must say however he is naive if he thinks home-schooling will ever be reasonable in this regard.

I disliked Dennett on reading his "Consciousness Explained" and found him much more likeable and reasonable in the interview.

I wonder however he can be so sure that music preceded religion? Before a culture developed literature, how can we know what their beliefs were?

Dennett and perhaps Dawkins seem naive as to the future of freethinking imo. If Dennett seruiously thinks there is a forseeable end to religion and war then he sounds like a fundie expecting Jesus back in 50 years.

Wed, 24 Jan 2007 07:26:00 UTC | #16980

Sancus's Avatar Comment 26 by Sancus

Old Coppernose, you seem to be one of those unbelievers who forgets that all children are born unbelievers. Since they already have this open disposition, there is no need to force them to learn about some groups of people with crazy ideas. On the contrary, what is necessary is to protect them from being forced to learn these ideas. The best way to protect them is to nurture their natural unbelieving predisposition and empower them with independence, which the religious take away from them through deception and force.

Dennett thinks he can solve this problem with the state acting as a force majeure, or overwhelming force. It is patently clear that that is an impractical, unreasonable, and remarkably religious position.

It also happens to be immoral.

Wed, 24 Jan 2007 08:45:00 UTC | #16991

MouthAlmighty's Avatar Comment 27 by MouthAlmighty

Aside from equivocating on the merits of using force in education, Dennett is contradicting himself. Dennett says that a "benign, valuable, and wonderful" religion can flourish in competition and that "toxic" religions survive with the use of force. At the same time, he says that toxic religions survive in the competitive environment of education, and that we can fix this by using the forced intervention of the state.

Apparently competition serves Dennett's purposes when he can use the state to force people to entertain competing religions, but it does not serve his purposes when the state leaves education alone and allows schools to compete with each other. Religious people often use science to support their claims, and dismiss science when it does not support their claims. Dennett does the same thing with freedom of thought.


I don't think that Dennett is suggesting that anyone should be educated in anything by force. He's certainly not advocating placing limits on "freedom of thought" - quite the opposite in fact.

If he's suggesting anything should be forced it's a policy which gives rise to a level playing field designed to cripple the aspects of religious teachings that dissuade the student from asking questions about its doctrines and investigating the truth claims of other traditions. If teachers were obliged to give genuine comparative religious education; to teach children about Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc in an objective manner, giving accurate historical/philosophical accounts of each, then in Dennett's opinion, any particular religion able to survive such an unbiased, objective, critical treatment would indeed be benign. Of course the more likely result would be that none would survive with sufficient strength to warrant devotion and belief to the exclusion of the others.

Personally I think it's a bit idealistic and I'd be surprised if he didn't also. I don't think it would be hard for a teacher with an agenda to pay lip service to the comparative approach and still present their chosen beliefs in a biased manner. However, for anyone unconcerned about any particular religious world view being pushed in state education, Dennett's suggestion should at least oblige them to question the 'truth-protecting' tactics deployed by the religions that do get taught.

Wed, 24 Jan 2007 11:19:00 UTC | #17003

MouthAlmighty's Avatar Comment 28 by MouthAlmighty

There's another Dennett video here wherein he gives a good presentation of his 'policy' suggestions (about 5 mins in)...

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4987372252730586158

To paraphrase in short he suggests that: children should be given education on all world religions, their history, texts, creeds, symbolisms, prohibitions and requirements - presented in a fair, objective and factual manner - no spin. It is characteristic of most religions that they are motivated to protect their own faith not only by teaching it to their children but by keeping their children ignorant of other faiths in the process.

Wed, 24 Jan 2007 11:39:00 UTC | #17007

mikes's Avatar Comment 29 by mikes

A Moyer quote I like and figured I would share..

"Religion is politics by other means." -Bill Moyer

Wed, 24 Jan 2007 21:34:00 UTC | #17086

Old Coppernose's Avatar Comment 30 by Old Coppernose

26. Comment #19001 by Sancus on January 24, 2007 at 8:45 am writes

"Old Coppernose, you seem to be one of those unbelievers who forgets that all children are born unbelievers."

Of course I'm not. Are there any? On the contrary I'm just very much aware that they are tabula rasa, with the result their religious families and subcultures can scrawl any old cr4p on them.


" Since they already have this open disposition, there is no need to force them to learn about some groups of people with crazy ideas."

Nonsense. Many of them are going to be forcibly exposed to the crazy ideas of their religious parents, and their "open disposition" welded shut by it.

" On the contrary, what is necessary is to protect them from being forced to learn these ideas."

Again impossible, unless you advocate the forcible removal of children from religious parents.

" The best way to protect them is to nurture their natural unbelieving predisposition and empower them with independence, which the religious take away from them through deception and force."

Precisely - but without specifically advocating atheism, the only way to do this is to expose them to the full panoply of religion and make them realize how silly and arbitrary their house-religion is. Also to a large extent this is how one *does* advocate atheism, in practice. Also even atheists need to learn about the religious views of ppl and their history, to better undersrtand the world and the ppl in it.

"Dennett thinks he can solve this problem with the state acting as a force majeure, or overwhelming force. It is patently clear that that is an impractical, unreasonable, and remarkably religious position.
It also happens to be immoral."

You are using the religionist tactic of "Tue Qoque". There is nothing religious in this proposition. It may well be impractical, but not necessarily unreasonable or immoral. And to talk about it as if he were advocating a fascist dictatorship is ridiculous.Dasically the idea is no disimilar than simply requiring children are given sex education - a very similar issue in some ways.

I note you give no practical method as to how you would "nurture their natural unbelieving predisposition and empower them with independence". I challenge you to propose something more practical and moral than what Dennett proposes. The "force Majeure" sounds suitably intellectual and threatening a term, but we are talking about nothing more here than society insisting that parents allow their children to be educated.

It is in fact education that delivers exactly what you advocate. All Western societies have decided that a general edcation is a human right that no parents can deny their children. Home schooling is permissible but must be genuine home schooling in key areas. IIRC Dennett actually accepted his ideas being incorporated in home schooling - merely ensuring that this is done. If his idea is impractical the most impractical part is ensuring the homeschoolers will oblige, it's hard enough to get them to teach their kids to read and write sometimes, let alone ensure they have access to the resources of a well-funded school.

It has been reasonably suggested that religious indoctrination is a kind of (fairly) mild child abuse, and society intervenes when child abuse happens. School is about the only place where we can be certain that the wider society even gets to find out how well ppl are treating their children - even regarding severe child abuse.

We do not allow parents to keep their children ignorant of literacy and numeracy and (in
theory) other key areas needed to function in society. Dennett is merely advocating that those subjects it is considered a requirement for a child's education is a non-advocating knowledge of Comparative Religion and its history. The only ppl who will object to that will be the religionists and those with a similarly paranoid obsession about bogeyman "Govermint".

OC

Wed, 24 Jan 2007 22:07:00 UTC | #17087