The Values of Science: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1997

By Wes Williams | Go to book overview
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I would want for my daughter (now two years old) because I think it is what she, given the chance, would one day want for herself. But it is also what I would want for her because I am too well aware of what might otherwise befall her. Bad ideas continue to swill through our culture, some old, some new, looking for receptive minds to capture. If this girl, because she were to lack the defences of critical reasoning, were ever to fall prey to some kind of political or spiritual irrationalism, then I and you--and our society--would have failed her.

Words? Children are made of the words they hear. It matters what we tell them. They can be hurt by words. They may go on to hurt themselves still further and in turn become the kind of people that hurt others. But they can be given life by words as well.

"I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing, "--these are the words of Deuteronomy--"therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."23 I think there should be no limit to our duty to help children to choose life.


Amnesty Lecture, Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 21st February 1997. I am indebted for several of the ideas here to James Dwyer, whose critique of the idea of parents' rights stands as a model of philosophical and legal reasoning.

Christopher Cherniak, "The Riddle of the Universe and Its Solution," in Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, eds., The Mind's I ( New York: Basic Books, 1981), pp. 269-276.
Vladimir Mayakovsky, "I," in Mayakovsky and His Poetry, trans. George Reavey ( 1912; reprint, Bombay: Current Book House, 1955).
Statistics from sources quoted in Nicholas Humphrey, Soul Searching: Human Nature and Supernatural Belief ( London: Chatto and Windus, 1995).
National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators--1996 ( Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996).
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), chap. 11.
Jesuit divine (apocryphal).
Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), p. 119.
"Home Schools: How Do They Affect Children?" APA Monitor ( December 1996).
Court ruling Iowa, 1985, cited by James G. Dwyer, "Parents' Religion and Children's Welfare: Debunking the Doctrine of Parents' Rights," California Law Review 82 ( 1994), pp. 1371-1447.
John F. Schumaker, Wings of Illusion ( London: Polity Press, 1990), p. 33.
See, for example, the review by Jerome Kagan, "Three Pleasing Ideas," American Psychologist 51 ( 1996), pp. 901-908.
Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture, p. 218.


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