Posted by: Ticktock | August 21, 2008

A Skeptic Parent’s Guide to Imagination


As a theatre director, I know the importance of developing imagination and fantasy in the minds of our children.  I see teenagers at every rehearsal who are lost in the social tapestries of peer relationships and submission to authority.  Those teens who work the hardest to be accepted, appreciated, and admired, are also the one’s who fight the hardest against their own ability to imagine.  And without the fuel of imagination, the wonder and play that is required of actors will sputter and die in the presence of an audience.

As an amateur science-based skeptic, I draw the line between reality and imagination because I think humans deserve explanations that are explainable through the scientific method or logical reasoning.  I don’t look at my enthusiasm for skepticism as a cynical denial of imagination, but as a way to advocate truth filtered through the scientific process:  double-blind controlled studies that are able to be replicated.  If a phenomenon or claim can’t be scientifically tested, it must run the gauntlet of logic and reasoning.  If it can’t pass the test of logic and reasoning, it falls under the umbrella of speculation or extraordinary claim, which might as well be categorized as imagination until it can be proven.

As a parent, I know that my children deserve a nutritious diet of imagination.  My daughter runs around like a princess and a fairy, and I do everything I can to encourage her play.  She also deserves to know that fairies are not real if she ever asks.  My responsibility as a trusted parent is to be honest, but also to respect her childhood. 

If my daughters ever ask me if Santa is real, I will encourage them to answer the question themselves.  How could presents from Santa appear under the tree on Christmas morning?  When they’re old enough, they will solve the problem themselves.  In the meantime, they will enjoy the holidays.

While I do try to stoke the flames of imagination in my children, I also try to foster a curiousity about the natural world.  Even at age 3.5, my oldest daughter is learning about atoms and galaxies and everything inbetween.  I know that it’s not all sinking in, but even something as simple as gravity blossoms a budding imagination.  There will always be a place for dragons and ghosts in her imagination, but I’ll also encourage her to wonder and think about about dinosaurs, ghostly jellyfish, and other real creatures.  In so doing, I hope my girls will appreciate the world as it is, not as they wish it to be.



  1. Why do your continue to use false images (santa claus) with your children. Dawkins would call you a child abuser. All hail Richard Dawkins. He said it so it must be so.

  2. Actually, St. Nicholas was a real person. We even know where he was buried. I can’t even say that Jesus for sure existed. There certainly isn’t any non-debatable evidence from his lifetime that proves his historicity.

    The difference between entertaining the idea of Santa for holiday fun and indoctrinating kids into forced belief of a truly violent God that commits multiple acts of genocide is quite significant. Surely you understand that.

  3. St. Nicholas existed? Really? Prove it to me. All you can provide is something other than your direct experience. You make a metaphysical leap of faith with that statement (that he existed). I challenge you to prove it to me.


    Aside from the documented history of St. Nicholas, there is his grave, and his remains that were examined by a team of scientists. Do you have any reason to question the grave and the bones and the documented history? I’m willing to change my mind if you can give a compelling argument or point to sources that dispute his historicity.

    On the other hand, I have not read about an undisputed tomb of Jesus, nor have I heard of any undisputed remains, nor have I seen undisputed historical documents from during the life of Jesus.

    Direct experience is not the only way to determine the reality of a person, place, or thing. In fact, direct experience can be just as misleading as when you are being tricked by a deceiver, depending on the context of the experience. For instance, you can take a hit of acid and watch horns grow out of your head in the mirror, but that doesn’t mean horns grew out of your head.

  5. This one is topical for me.
    I have a 4 year old girl who is about to be swamped yet again with presents tomorrow by well meaning relatives.
    Some of these will be from Santa. My partner challenged me yesterday with “what’s the family policy on Santa? Real? not real?”. She knows my sceptical and science based approach to life has issue with the promotion of the un-real. I was unable to give a clear direction and deferred my response. Meanwhile plump, white mained, Red and white wearing images are battering the senses (think Hitchcock’s “The Birds”)
    The issue of Santa, and more generally fantasy, has been on my mind for some time now with the approach of festivities but what I’ve come up with are only concerns and negatives – things I don’t want.
    I don’t want to lie to my child.
    I don’t want the issue to resolved by the fog-horn of media or by sheep-like peers.
    I don’t want (and rile against) peer pressure to sway my decision – Like in my conversation this morning with my sister re the same topic she says, “Oh I remember there was a kid in my daughter’s class who’s parents taught her not to believe in Santa ….it was so sad!” …the conversation deteriorated from there and I think she called me mean and sour. No amount of praise and fascination for the world of nature would do. If I didn’t want to ENCOURAGE my girl to believe in fairies I must be an unhappy person… and that made me sad …and angry …sour even.
    And (this is the hard one) I don’t want my daughter to be denied a positive experience or to be ostracised because of what she has been taught.
    From the post above you seem to be at peace with your child’s world of fantasy as well as her world of nature. I am clearly not there yet.
    I would like to be at peace with it too but am stumped by my own belief that the natural world can loose its lustre and magnificence when contrasted with quick-fix, attention grabbing, fantastical, magical …stuff.
    “See all of those twinkling stars aren’t they beautiful? Did you know we have one of our own? Yes! We saw it this morning and it’s just gone to bed. We’ll see it again tomorrow morning … our very own pet star!”
    “That’s nice Dad. Now can you show me the fairies?”
    It’s nice to get that off my chest but really if you have any advice I will listen intently. I’m kind of on my own out here.


    Melbourne, Australia

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