Having a coherent answer to Life, the Universe and Everything (other than 42) to reply to your children’s questions is a burden that falls particularly hard on the parent that has a naturalistic world-view. Life would be so easy and simple if I could say that Allah, or God, or Zeus or the FSM just did it.
I can’t though. I don’t have that magic get-out-of-the-hard-questions-for-free trump card. I could say that “I Don’t Know…” but I don’t like saying that – I want to get to the root cause of everything even if that cause was a stochastic process.
When the child looks around and asks the ‘where did all this come from ?’ question you first have to explain geology, chemistry, biology and evolution. Now those are reasonably easy. Then you must look at stellar and planetary formation. That’s getting harder because it is hard to show examples that are around us though programs such as Celestia help a lot to show the vast extent. Then there is stellar nuclear synthesis. Well now we are into fundamental science because it is not easy to test this out – though nuclear fusion is one application and the spectacular CERN offers a vision of what is reality here. We are now at the post big Big Bang when there was no matter that was anything like the world we are on. There was no hydrogen, no oxygen so there was no water, there was no carbon so there was nothing that uses carbon, there was no nitrogen so as there was also no oxygen then there was no air and there was no electrons so no chemical reactions and there were no…. I even think that at some time past then there wasn’t even time making the concept of what happened “before” irrelevant. We have to explain no time at all.
The creationist simply needs to elaborate on the emperor’s clothes and describe his dress in fine detail. This can certainly be hard and many sweat with their efforts, working long hours over their masterpieces of illusion. It has all the verisimilitude of any fictional work though – it may be an entertaining theatre but it does not reflect the dance of reality.
If the child becomes the critic to science then you welcome their scepticism with open arms for you can rest assured that they have learnt one of the most useful lessons in life. You can protect a child but once with your own life but if you teach them to be sceptical then you protect them for all their life. Science demands that you question its every conclusion: where is the data ?, can I reproduce this ?, can we trust this measurement ? can we trust the experimenter ? who’s paying for this research ?
In contrast the child that becomes a critic to the holy theatre is abhorred and risks death for blasphemy. If the child questions the wisdom of these director-priests then the priest will punish the child in an ever-imaginative and painful ways. A student named Thomas Aikenhead was 20 when he was hanged in Scotland in 1697 for blasphemy: the last child in the United Kingdom to have paid the most extreme price to have the temerity to question the priests’ absolute certainty of what is. Fortunately the blasphemy laws have been abolished in much of the western world (in the UK blasphemy laws were abolished in 2008). The theologian’s whip-hand has been stayed by the reason of humanity. Unfortunately not so in Muslim countries today whereby the theatre of Islamic debate takes place in prison, with the arguments for Islam held together by the hangman’s noose and the music is a gunshot and the patter of stones against flesh. A compelling argument indeed that stays the critic’s tongue.
But in the free world we can teach our children a much more intellectually honest view of reality and we won’t kill them if they think it is wrong. The price of freedom from religion is life itself. A worthy exchange indeed.
The support for the Big Bang is vast, the most compelling evidence of which was found by accident with the Cosmic Background Microwave Radiation. This is a wash of radiation that is all around space and not unexpectedly it has uneven parts or anisotropies, to it as you would expect any “explosion”. Some modern believers in god have found refuge in the Big Bang as they see their god as the causal trigger for the Big Bang. They ignore that the events after the Big Bang have been driven by random nature so arguably the Big Bang itself was stochastic in origin. These religious “scientists” are like a gambler who reads the lottery draw results and then fills out a lottery ticket with those drawn numbers and shows everyone their “winning” ticket.
I imagine that western world parents that are inclined towards thinking it’s all done by magic have an equally hard time explaining that it was done by *this* magic person and not *that* magic person; after all you teach your children your religion so they can learn about your enemies, so you have to get them thinking it’s all been done by the right magic person else your enemies might end up as their friends. That would never do.
Essential to easing the burden of either parent is a formal education system. We have very little time to explain the universe so this is outsourced to others. The classroom has remained the balancing point in this war on reason. On one side is the incoherent, but entertaining, selected plays from the pantheons of theology and on the other side is the coherent, and to me, more exciting, observations of Nature. The balance has tipped towards nature. It has no reason to tip back. Even when humanity exists for another 100,000 years we will not be describing natural events in terms of the supernatural but we will be only using references to nature in a consistent explanation that doesn’t need demons to poke into gaps.
That’s not to say that we do not stay vigilant. Every new generation is flesh and mind that is untouched by the purveyors of faith. With mandatory daily worship, oaths or pledges they taint these new human spirits, obscuring the sense of what humanity has found is real.
So learn about nature so you too can explain to your children what is nature when they ask ‘where did all this come from ?’ because there is no time like now to explain.