Go ahead, give me your money.
Suppose a teacher from a university Philosophy 101 class told you that the logic in most philosophical arguments is sound, but the premises need to be questioned. This is a common modern-day attitude towards knowledge; doubt everything, even fundamental axioms. It sounds smart like Descartes.
But is it really?
To reason, you have to accept basic axioms and go from there, so questioning axioms that solid reasoning is already built upon is kind of like destroying the foundation of your house because you’ve started to doubt your house is really there — while your standing in the middle of it.
Now, I make no pretense, I am not a philosopher, but in studying theology I’ve studied enough of it to know that this doubt-the-foundation attitude is not something we should ever impose on children. Think about it.
Who’s going to begin a math class by explaining that the logic being taught is sound, but the meaning of the numbers and the symbols needs to be questioned? What’s the point of sitting there wondering if the numbers really mean what they mean? She could do that for the whole third grade year, and at the end of it will not have learned a darn thing.
And while people certainly do question fundamental axioms such as the existence of the human soul, I find that question to be about as sensible as the math class scenario I just described. It just seems obvious that our powers of intellect and free will are not relegated to colliding atoms. If our thoughts were no more mental than marbles banging into each other, then how could we even trust ourselves to know truth? It’s a self-defeating argument, materialism.
Perhaps that’s why so many other names have been invented for it — naturalism, physicalism, reductionism, behaviorism, and I’d even put functionalism and compatibilism in that category. Some of those may seem to explain free thought and free will, but they really all point back to matter as the source. That can be argued (has been argued, is still being argued) but that’s how I see it.
I could no more explain materialism (and its buddy-isms) to a five year old than I could sit her down and teach her to count by doubting what numbers mean. If any premise could be called into question it’s the premise of materialism, not the premise that the child has a body and soul. (Yes, I intentionally avoided an “ism” there.)
Consider how un-brilliant this approach would be with kids:
“Alright Susie, let me tell you what you are. You are matter. What’s matter, Susie? Well it’s the particles that make you up. And that’s all you are, so whenever you think or learn, decide or choose, do good or do bad, it’s all because those particles are colliding and making you do it. Got that, Susie? Now, open up your history book and let’s see what other people’s particles made them do. Oh, by the way, when you die, those particles that are you just decompose like rotting trees, and hey, when I die, same thing. Love ya, kid.”
That is insanity. How do you teach the child about morality and responsibility given that ridiculous premise? You cannot even justify punishment or consequence. How do you teach a child about music, sports, or that great thing called science? You cannot justify work and determination over a lazy hope that particles will someday just collide the right way. Sure you could tell the child she needs to train her particles to collide more efficiently, but that’s hardly convincing when there’s a television full of entertainment and a plate of Twinkies that could just as well probably do the same. Believe me, if you teach kids it’s good to doubt the obvious, they can get all philosophical on you in a hurry.
But here’s what really gets me, the kicker as I like to say: In science today, especially neuroscience, it is practically accepted that materialism is true. This is how those scientists (for the most part) study the “mind” which isn’t really considered a mind anymore, and is instead taken as something more like a soulless machine just waiting to be figured out. But who really believes you can cut open the brain and see the thoughts?
On the other hand there is the long accepted idea that a person is both body and soul, corporeal and incorporeal, material and immaterial, matter and spirit, however you want to say it. That goes through my mommy-philosopher filter much better.
I hold that a child needs to be taught that he or she has a body and a soul. She needs to be taught that she experiences the world through her senses of taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound. She has a brain that processes those experiences, and she also has a soul, a spirit that goes with her body, an aspect of herself that can take those sensed experiences and reason about the world with them. Her soul can choose to do good or do wrong. Her soul can lift her to think higher thoughts, to explore the world and see how it all fits together, to appreciate art and music beyond the striking of metal and wood and flow of air, to love her family and friends, to aspire to grow and mature. She needs to be taught that these things are important, and that in her private thoughts her mind has these powers of intellect and will, which comes with great responsibility, for people are ultimately held accountable for their choices.
If you think that’s too heavy, then also consider something simpler. Even a child knows that birthday cakes are more than atoms that interact with the brain. Birthday cakes are a celebration of birth and life. Materialism has no explanation for why a birthday cake would be any more meaningful than a tongue cell trigger. Further, a child knows that a home is more than a bunch of wood, concrete, and fabric. It is a place that has meaning, a place where the child belongs to a family, a place of privacy. A child knows that a mother and father are not just soulless robots too. Parents do not love the child merely because some particles collided and poof! unaffected, uninspired hugs resulted. What a devastating thing to teach a child.
Kids understand the reality of body and soul because it speaks to who they are. I’ll even go so far as to say that I suspect materialists want to teach materialism to kids not because they care about the kids, but because they are too afraid to admit the truth, and all it demands, to themselves, which sadly goes right along with the me-first, children-are-commodities culture an over-reliance on science to reveal all truth has brought us.
So what do I tell my children then? See above — body and soul, baby. And if they ever encounter someone who tries to impose the tenets of materialism and all its destructive conclusions on them, I give them my enthusiastic permission to demand the person hand over all his money to my child. After all, it’s just paper. Right?
About the Author
About the Author
: Mother of seven. Joyful convert to Catholicism. Ph.D. in Chemistry. M.A. in Dogmatic Theology. I write from my tiny office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge that overlooks a small spring-fed lake. More about me here
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