We Play “Prove It” to Practice Critical Thinking

A few days ago, I introduced my 4 1/2 year old son to his first actual god concept.  Yes, I accurately laid out the invisible magic man in the sky belief, including hell and killing nonbelievers, but he was readily skeptical.  Why?  For over a year I’ve been introducing him to examples of logic, deductive reasoning, skepticism and of course logical fallacies.  We had developed a game called “Prove It“.   Its all about taking turns making up funny things (or loosely defined real things) and trying to get the other person to believe it, while they try to disprove it.  It was not entirely due to religious influence, but rather to show him how to reason, think critically and to know when to be skeptical.

About 10 days ago, I made up Our invisible pet dog for him to debunk.  Now keep in mind my son is amazing at pretending there is a dog, but not nearly as good at demonstrating how it’s ‘pretend’.  So I clued him in to ask me what it is about a dog that lets us know there IS one around.  He got the idea and asked “Why can’t I hear him bark?”  I responded “Well, I can hear him.  I even wake up sometimes, because I hear him at night… don’t you?” He took a moment, but then he confidently debunked with “That’s just a neighbor dog barking!”  I reluctantly agreed that it might be another dog, but intending to be stubborn “I still believe in our dog, because… Who chases our cats from one room to another?”  This broadsided him, introducing an alternate (and basic gap filling) explanation of reality.  He looked at me like I was speaking Greek and shook his head “Daddy… that’s because they’re crazy cats!”  I couldn’t resist but to jokingly claim how closed minded he was about our unseen God er… I mean, Dog!

Despite my antics, he did have a good answer, but I was hoping he would recognize my burden of proof too.  Dodging and moving on, in standard theistic avoidance style… “But why does the cats’ water bowl get empty so quickly (2 big cats)?  Something else must be drinking!”  I helped him through some reasoning and encouraged him to ask questions about how I know things like that are even true… and that cats couldn’t drink that much, etc.

As you can see I am introducing him to logical fallacies, unjustified beliefs and stubborn believers, with flimsy reasoning.  This time however, I threw in confirmation bias validating a version of prayer, for an argument from ignorance. “Every night I ask the dog nicely to keep us safe and scare away dangerous stuff… and we’ve been safe, so he must be real!”  This stumped him.  I walked him through the fallacy with some (off the game record) help, “What confuses you about what I said?”  and his reply was encouraging “But…we aren’t in danger here!?” “Good thinking!”  I praised “So ask me about that.”  A Pause… then, very deliberately he challenged “Show me the dangerous stuff… Prove it Daddy!”  Brilliant!  He realized that the dubious claim of danger needed verification, for an improved safety to make sense!  Yay, Burden of proof! *Proud*  … We high fived and I declared him the winner!

This game is ideal for my peace of mind, because it can be anything I think he needs to practice and is often funny (like religion).  Further, it encourages skepticism with authority figures, including myself.  I’ve tried to show him that he doesn’t have to believe things just because Mommies and Daddies say its true.  In fact, I always try to demonstrate new ideas to him, since I’m not immune to burden of proof, as his Daddy… and neither is anybody else.

An important part the game not shown here; reverse rolls to show the child what things to doubt and the best skeptical questions to ask.  Have fun with it and certainly don’t always make it as intense as this session! HA!  Let me know what you think of “Prove It” as we play it and of course how you might play variations.

Thanks for Reading

~Artie  @FreeAtheism / @AtheisticEarth on Twitter

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