25 December, 2005

Two interesting questions from conversing with my son

My son likes to ask questions. I'm still new enough to this fatherhood business that sometimes it's irritating. On other occasions, however, very interesting questions arise from our conversations.

The first one came up in a conversation about computers. We were discussing how people make mistakes in mathematics, while computers don't, unless they're wired or coded badly. I asked, So that makes me wonder, why do people make mistakes?

I didn't know the answer. Alik had a nice idea, though; Maybe, he suggested, it's because people can think of new things, but computers cannot.

That's not an exact quote, but I think it captures the essence of what he said. I thought it was a very profound answer, especially from the mouth of a nine year-old: people, being creative, let their creativity get the best of them; confusing their ideas with the truth, they make mistakes.

(That may not be what he meant, actually. Either way, I intend to ask a psychology professor next chance I get.)

Another question came up after Alik said he could prove the existence of God. He and I discussed it, and I tried to take the point of view of a non-believer. I was doing rather well apparently, since Alik asked me quite seriously, Jack, do you believe in God?

Heh. I wonder. :-) Do I believe in God? My answer was that he must first tell me what the word "God" means. That shouldn't surprise anyone who has read what I wrote earlier on the subject; from my point of view, it's senseless to discuss the question unless we are first agreed on the terms. St. Anselm does so, defining God as "that greater than which nothing else can exist", whereas St. Thomas Aquinas says that we can't define God so much as draw analogies from our experience of him. Hence, the five ways.

I wonder why my son needed to ask. Perhaps that's another interesting question of psychology; after all, we regularly attend church; he sees me pray at home; I try to let Christ's teachings guide my life, and pass those teachings on to him.

Some people claim that Dostoevsky was not a Christian, when I had always understood that he was. I wonder if it isn't an error of our age to confuse faith and intellect. I can struggle with the idea of God's existence, without for a moment doubting that God exists. Indeed, my struggle with the question has only strengthened my faith, even while it weakens my intellect. It's not that I feel the two are opposed; rather, I sense that they are not at all the same. (I always felt intuitively that Dostoevsky must have been in the same situation.)

I have often wondered whether God exists; such occasions increase in frequency as I get older. It has been many years, however, since I genuinely doubted God's existence. My understanding of God changes; my awe and wonder grow; my conviction of the utter intimacy of God and the correctness of the Christian religion stand firmer than ever.

Yet I question constantly, and well enough apparently that my son asked me whether I believed in God. Perhaps my words betray a fundamental misunderstanding of faith and intellect; I can't say.

As I look this over before clicking the "Publish" button, it occurs to me that a better answer may exist to such a question. Am I believer? What do my actions suggest?

I have to think about this. Now, however, it is Christmas; it grows late, and my wife is lying in bed asleep. I don't want her to wake up and find me typing at the computer instead of lying next to her.


qkl said...

If your interpretation about your son answer is right, he is very bright and thinks out of the "box", develope his critical thinking and creativity then.

About your son question if you believe in God, ask him if he thinks Jesus is the son of God literaly or if he thinks Christ was more like a very smart philosopher of his time, therefore if you believe in Christ it does not mean you believe in God.

I think I was born an atheist. I did not believed in God like my parents, did not believe an fairy tales, myths or the existance of Santa Claus. I was very much a critical thinker and still am. In my teens I became an agnostic atheist realising that I could not know for sure there was no God. Now I am more an agnostic spiritualist, believing in an abstract "self-creation" of the univers.

jack perry said...

Thanks for the interesting thought!

We are indeed trying to develop our son's critical thinking. His math teacher offered her students an extra-credit packet; for every page of it that they did, they could replace their lowest grade. I replied with a note that agreed, so long as the packet wasn't a mechanics packet, but a bunch of problems that would challenge my son. After all, his average is in the 90s.

To my delight, she gave him a beautiful packet, different from the other students', with some wonderfully challenging problems that make him think. Words don't exist to express how delighted I am with this, and I plan to write a letter to the administration commending her.

I myself believe that Jesus was the Son of God; I affirm the whole shebang of Christianity. For me, following Christ's call, "Take up your cross and follow me" is pretty much the sum of of where I want to go. Of course, what constitutes "the whole shebang" is different for different people, but my postings and the weblogs I link to should give an idea of where my opinions lie.

I don't know whether my son has an opinion one way or the other; he has no formal religious education, and we've never talked much about it. I believe more in creating a culture of Christianity in the home, and building from there the doctrine. "Love one another"; "don't lie"; "don't covet your neighbor's goods"; "repent your sins"; "sacrifice for each other" would have more meaning if he could see it lived. So far he takes to religious belief quite naturally, so maybe we're succeeding somewhat.

When you discuss your own attitude to religion, do you mean "skepticism" instead of "critical thinker"?

qkl said...

You could say I am a scientific skeptic using critical thinking.