Dr. Thomas Hooven, a neonatologist and microbiologist, grew up as a Bible-believing Christian. But like many people who begin to think critically about their faith, he shed his religion after college, and he’s raising his children without any mythology.
That may upset his religious mother, but he writes in the New York Times that the lack of religion doesn’t mean his kids are growing up without a sense of awe and wonder about the world.
In fact, they get that every week. It just doesn’t come via a pastor sharing stories that involve the supernatural. It comes through science.
We established our own Sunday custom that checked all the boxes: science experiments instead of church.
Rather than kneeling in prayer, we might swab a petri dish with environmental samples from our living room floor. The appearance of bacterial and fungal growth over the next week astonishes my kids the way a rod turning into a snake in the Book of Exodus once astonished me. Their communion bread and wine are replaced by baking soda and vinegar, which when combined generate a satisfying volcanic eruption and the opportunity to talk about the ethereal realm of atoms. Sprouts in our windowsill herb garden offer a chance to introduce the concept of DNA. When I tell my son that the granular basil seed holds millions of chromosomes, the look on his face can only be described as revelatory.
If the goal is to inspire and astonish, then science is a fantastic replacement for religious myths. Hooven doesn’t explain, however, how he deals with the fact that science doesn’t automatically provide comfort or hope as religion does. One of the reasons people who doubt God’s existence still attend church is because pastors tell them everything will be okay if just accept what the church teaches. It’s false hope, but it’s still hope. Science is honest, but it’s not going to feed you lies to make you feel better, and I’m really curious how Hooven handles that loss.
That said, he’s not indoctrinating his kids with atheism, as some critics may allege. There are religious people who accept science, and if his kids want to explore faith, he’s not going to stop them. His goal is to teach his kids how to understand the world around them, how to ask the right questions, how to tell fact from fiction. And if they find a way to reconcile that with some version of faith down the line, so be it.
If only more parents would take this approach.
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