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The Dawkins Fantasy?

Recently retired (from his chair at Oxford) atheist crusader Richard Dawkins is reportedly writing a book, aimed at children, which will warn that fairy-tales and fantasy stories could have “an insidious effect on rationality”:

The prominent atheist is stepping down from his post at Oxford University to write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in “anti-scientific” fairytales. Prof Hawkins[sic] said: “The book I write next year will be a children’s book on how to think about the world, science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking.

“I haven’t read Harry Potter, I have read Pullman who is the other leading children’s author that one might mention and I love his books. I don’t know what to think about magic and fairy tales.” Prof Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of “bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards”.

“I think it is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know,” he told More4 News. “I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something for research.”

Now I do realise that the press likes to mine Richard Dawkins’s quotes to make him sound as nasty as possible – note his comment at the end about it being “something for research”, and the fact that he likes Pullman’s books (e.g. His Dark Materials), as evidence that he doesn’t sound as if he’s on a crusade against children’s fantasy. I really do hope that it is a media beat-up, because I regard children’s fantasy reading as crucial to development. Every day our children are being forced to grow up quicker, restricting the chance for the development of imagination, not to mention the stunting of metaphorical thinking and moral contemplation.

I had previously reported here on TDG that Dawkins’s next book would be a polemic against Intelligent Design, so I’m not sure what has become of that project. Or perhaps he includes that with the fairytales…

Editor
  1. Imagination Needed!
    Although I don’t often agree with his approach, I actually like Richard Dawkins. I enjoy the fact that his books are not only informative, but very readable by laymen (even though his atheism is very militant).

    I am surprised that he would choose to attack the imagination (in the form of fantasy/fairy tales/etc.) considering that most scientific discoveries & inventions were the result of someone’s “imagining”. Where would we be as a species if we did not have the capacity for imagination? –Probably still throwing stones at each other from our caves–.

    The fact that he mentions Philip Pullman surprises me even more because Pullman does not seem to have a problem with his imagination, and he is a devout atheist himself.

    We’ll have to wait and see, but I hope this is just an attempt at humor on Dawkins’ part & he will stick with his former idea & go after Intelligent Design & leave our “fairy tales” alone.

  2. Wizards
    Aren’t there witches and talking bears in Pullman’s books? Or are those good witches because they are part of an atheist fiction?

    Then again, I’ve often wondered if children should be left to decide at an adult age which faith they want to join. Nowadays it is viewed as immoral to force a child to follow his parent’s career; but it is still accepted that a parent has the right to raise that child on his own particular religion.

    Maybe it should be like any other subject in school: you teach them math and biology and music and in the end some will grow up to be musicians, other doctors and others engineers.

    —–
    It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
    It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

    Red Pill Junkie

    1. Fact or fantasy?
      [quote=red pill junkie]Aren’t there witches and talking bears in Pullman’s books? Or are those good witches because they are part of an atheist fiction?[/quote]

      That’s my point about it all possibly being a bit of a media beat-up. It’s hard to say on the one hand that Dawkins is against fantasy, and then on the other that he likes Pullman’s books.

      Kind regards,
      Greg
      ——————————————-
      You monkeys only think you’re running things

  3. So Dawkins agrees with the Vatican on Harry Potter?
    “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” — Albert Einstein.

    I’m sure Dawkins is just musing out loud, but his thoughts on fairy tales and mythic stories are as dogmatic as Stalinist Russia. Does he include mythology and folklore? Anthropologists and psychologists will tear him a new one, and I can’t wait to hear the responses of JK Rowling and other authors and experts (coincidentally, what qualifications does Dawkins have in child psychology?).

    How will Dawkins research this, sire children of his own and separate them for the next 21 years? One lot limited to CSI-approved textbooks and Randi newsletters, the other raised on a diet of Harry Potter and Disney-fied Grimm Brothers? The only upside to this is Hansel and Gretel push the old skeptic into the oven.

    It’s no surprise he enjoyed Philip Pullman’s books, as the story of Lyra is an atheist retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Which is ironic, because Pullman’s His Dark Materials books are very spiritual — people have souls in the form of animal companions. How did Dawkins react to that?

    Dawkins’s attitude towards fairy tales and mythic stories is no different to the bad guys in Pullman’s books, the authoritarian Church who want to stunt the souls of children at puberty to prevent Original Sin, to make them more malleable to the Church’s authority — take away their imaginations and metaphors and Jungian archetypes, don’t allow them to develop active right brains, take away their free will in the guise of giving them free will, and make them more malleable and obedient to the Church of Science!

    Dawkins sounds like a grumpy old man who never had a childhood, growing up instead with dusty science textbooks for friends and parents who wouldn’t let him play with other children. I bet his only pets were mice used in biology class.

    If Dawkins would take off his dogma-coloured glasses for a moment, he would realise that balance in a child’s upbringing is necessary. If Dawkins gets his way, we’d all be living in a skeptic’s version of Stalinist Russia, with writers of fairy tales and Jungian artists sent to ‘re-education’ camps (although I wouldn’t mind breaking rocks with Neil Gaiman).

    1. I realise that this is a very
      I realise that this is a very old blog post, but just wanted to add my two pence worth.

      Assuming that Dawkins was quoted correctly and wasn’t misrepresented (and you can never be too sure with the media), he seems to be correlating allowing children to read fantasy and fairy stories with “bringing up children to believe in spells and wizards”.

      This is not so and I don’t see how he could think they are one and the same. The fact that children’s fantasy books are labelled ‘fantasy’ is evidence enough. When I was a child, and I’m sure this is the case with most other children, we were taught that the ‘fantasy’ stories we read or had read to us, were just that – fantasy and not reality. I and, I would imagine, many others, grew up enjoying fantasy stories as an escape from reality, as entertainment – not once did we view these stories as a valid representation of the world and how things were. (Although now that I’m older and have taken an interest in the paranormal and the occult, I think that some of these “fantasy” stories can quite accurately represent the world and how things work – but I digress.)

      Yes, perhaps very, very small children believe in fairies and spells and wizards (I probably believed in the tooth fairy up until I was about eight)but I would estimate that in general, by the time they have reached primary school level, that most children have realised, and been taught, that the fantasy stories they read are merely fantasy and nothing else.

      After all – how many parents are there who are raising their children to believe that the Harry Potter books are literal truth? That you can kill someone by waving a wand and shouting, “Avada Kedavra!” None, I would say.

      On the contrary, I would say that, with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy being notable exceptions, in general, I think a lot of children are taught from an early age the difference between reality and fantasy.

      The point I’m making (in a very belaboured way, I admit) is that Dawkins appears to be suggesting that giving children fantasy tales to read is the same thing as teaching them that these fantasy stories are actually true. And it’s not. Far from it. I certainly hope he doesn’t believe that, as I think it’s irrational to entertain that notion.

      1. Dawkins Believes
        [quote=Tap]The point I’m making (in a very belaboured way, I admit) is that Dawkins appears to be suggesting that giving children fantasy tales to read is the same thing as teaching them that these fantasy stories are actually true. [/quote]

        Unfortunately Tap, Dawkins really does think this. He made it clear in interviews that he wondered if reading children fairy tales made them more susceptible to believing in woo when they’re older.

        He wrote a children’s book rcently, The Magic of Reality (illustrated by Neil Gaiman’s mate, Dave McKean), tearing apart myths by showing the science (such as the sun not being pulled by a chariot through the underworld, but illustrating the scientific concept of orbits etc). Which is nice in a way — it introduces kids to science, always a good thing. But it misses the point of myths so ridiculously, I’m surprised McKean went ahead with it. I’m a bit disappointed Neil Gaiman mumbled a “he was probably misquoted by a journalist” and never said anything more about it — mythologising is his bread and butter. Seriously, what Dawkins proposes isn’t much different to Christians accusing Dugeons & Dragons of turning kids into Satan worshippers. Ironically, the biggest atheists I know are fantasy/scifi authors & readers.

        The danger, in my opinion, is literalism — from science or religion. I wish we could all strike a balance, and live happily ever after in a magical realm of reality. Science could do with a good mythologising!

        I can understand where Dawkins is coming from though — when millions of kids in Sunday School are taught the world was created in six days as literal fact, we clearly need to address the issue.

        1. Sci-Fi atheists

          Ironically, the biggest atheists I know are fantasy/scifi authors & readers.

          I’d been thinking about this lately.

          I have no way to confirm it, but it’s my guess that Sci-Fi fans that lean towards atheism are also fond of Star Trek; whereas the Sci-Fi fans with a more let’s say, Mystic disposition, are probably the ones that are playing with toy light sabers as we speak 😉

          Which is kind of ironic, since the Religious question has been tackled on numerous occasions in the several installments of Star Trek. The 1st movie, which is simply brilliant, ends with the realization that Logic alone is not enough to grapple the mysteries of the Universe; and that our ability to go beyond Logic is actually our best asset.

        2. He really believes?
          [quote=Rick MG]Unfortunately Tap, Dawkins really does think this. He made it clear in interviews that he wondered if reading children fairy tales made them more susceptible to believing in woo when they’re older.[/quote]

          If he’s just theorising about the possibility, then that’s not too bad…even though I’d completely disagree that reading fantasy as a child makes one more susceptible to becoming a believer. Plenty of people read fantasy and don’t grow up to believe in anything. I seriously doubt there’s much of a correlation, if any.

          I *personally* now believe in spells, magick, witchcraft, faeries, etc…but that’s not because I grew up reading some nice fantasy books. It’s because, when I reached my mid-teens, I started to take an interest in spirituality and the paranormal, which has developed into an interest in the occult. I can say without doubt that I’m certain that my interest in reading fiction/fantasy as a child had nothing to do with my esoteric interests today.

          [quote=Rick MG]I can understand where Dawkins is coming from though — when millions of kids in Sunday School are taught the world was created in six days as literal fact, we clearly need to address the issue.[/quote]

          I can see that that is something of a problem (and I personally like a lot of things about the core of Christianity. I was a Christian when I was a child but drifted away from it into the New Age/paranormal/occult, however, there are still things I like/admire about it.)

          But anyway…I don’t see how Dawkins can confuse teaching children something as literal fact and giving children fantasy stories to read in which it is clearly explained to the child that what they are reading is fantasy, not reality. If he was to truly think that the two were the one and the same, I would find that mildly disturbing. The two scenarios don’t even compare. So I hope he really doesn’t think that.

  4. from the Belief-in-Projection-Dept.
    Dave McKean is the illustrator *drool* :3

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA1iawlsKLg

    The Belief System that the Romantics created (this world is horrible and there is a better, seperate world somewhere else) is slowly dying, slowly dying and the Love of Ignorance such as the recent USA seems to hold is also slowly fading away…

    to be replaced by COOL LIVING!

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