Questions vs. Answers
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2012
I recently wrote another guest post for the James Randi Educational Foundation over at the Swift blog, and I just wanted to share it here as well. I hope you find it thought-provoking…
Anyone who knows me knows that I have no children of my own, and in all honesty I try to avoid little kids when I can. However, there is one thing I find really endearing about kids, especially the younger ones: their unbridled curiosity and willingness to ask questions.
I think the reason why I like this curious nature in children is pretty simple: to them the world is so new and fresh, everything is wondrous and interesting. In addition, they come at things so much more openly and honestly than most adults, because they are ignorant in the truest sense of the word and have no embarrassment whatsoever about asking direct questions about pretty much anything. To them, no subject is off limits or taboo; they manifest the spirit of free inquiry in its most unblemished sense.
And this sense of free inquiry and curiosity usually comes out in the form of asking question after question on all manner of topics. I think it is most especially interesting when it is related to topics regarding mythology, religion, life, death, the afterlife, etc. And how many times have you been interrogated by a particularly precocious young child, only to be bombarded by more questions once you’ve provided what you thought were adequate answers? I have had this happen to me more times than I can count, both as an educator and an uncle.
Sadly, this wonderful behavior of kids doesn’t often last into their adult years. Somewhere between those wonder-filled years of curiosity and college age, a lot of kids are too often encouraged by the adults around them to specifically not ask questions, especially on certain topics (often on the most important topics). Why this is I’m not sure, but I have a few guesses…
I think part of the problem is that some adults are made quite uncomfortable by the questions that little children can ask, precisely because they tend to break those social taboos which have been conditioned into the adults. Another thing that happens is that some adults tend to discourage children from asking questions because the adults don’t have the answer to the question, or they’re just tired of the kid asking questions, so rather than admit ignorance (or frustration) they tell the child to stop asking questions. And while kids are innately curious, if they get exposed often enough to the adults in their life telling them not to ask such questions, then they’ll eventually start to believe that they shouldn’t be asking such questions. And that’s a sad thing to see.
For example, I witness something along these lines a couple of years ago as I was traveling to Utah with some of my family. One of my nieces, a little girl of six years of age, and I were looking out over the gorgeous scenery of Bryce Canyon, admiring all of the columns, stratigraphy, and erosion patterns within the canyon walls. And, in accordance with that curiosity of young children, my niece asked me where the canyon came from. I proceeded to explain to her about the idea of erosion due to rainfall and the flow of water, pointing out to her some very small rivulets in the dirt off to the side of the trail due to a recent rainstorm. I further explained that given enough time, these erosive processes can eventually produce wondrous geologic structures such as the canyon which stretched out before us.
I eagerly awaited her next question, when something very interesting happened. My little niece’s older sister (a teenager) came along and told her that “God did it, just like we learned in Sunday school and the Bible says in Genesis”. I wasn’t surprised by this reaction from my older niece, seeing as how the members of her immediate family tend to be young-earth creationists who believe the Earth was created in six literal days about 6000-10,000 years ago. But what did surprise me (and delight me greatly) was my younger niece’s response to her older sister’s “explanation”; she looked up at her older sister and, without skipping a beat, simply asked: “Yeah, but how did God do it?” …