Jerry Rivard responded to my criticism of the terrible advice Dawkins gave to his daughter by asking: “So what would your advice be to your daughter?”
Good question. Here’s an eminently practical response.
Just this morning we were driving along when my nine year old began “freaking out” in the back seat. “What is it?” I asked sternly.
“There’s a mosquito here!” she yelped back.
The first order of business was to get rid of the mosquito. That was easily enough done. Roll the window down and the thing blew away into the moist and warm spring air. Bon voyage blood sucker.
But now for the next order of business. After we’d stopped I turned back to her and asked: “Do you think your response to that mosquito was reasonable?”
“What do you mean?” she asked puzzled.
“Being reasonable means believing things when it is appropriate to believe and not believing when it is not appropriate to believe. Your reaction suggested that you believed that mosquito could cause you great harm. Do you think that was reasonable?”
She thought for a moment and then answered sheepishly. “No.”
“Okay,” I replied. “Well in the future you should try to be reasonable because that’s really important.”
Let’s rewind to my daughter’s question: “What do you mean?” I could have responded with Dawkinsean evidentialism by replying “Reasonable beliefs need evidence. Did your belief that the mosquito was dangerous have evidence?” But that first statement is false. Not all reasonable beliefs need evidence. I taught my daughter the importance of being reasonable without inculcating her in indefensible epistemic platitudes.
That’s one example of the kind of advice I give my daughter day by day to form her into a reasonable denizen of society rather than an indoctrinated “free thinker”.