Britain’s best known atheist, Richard Dawkins, could soon be writing cautionary tales against religion and other “myths” for children, to add to his tracts for adults. Retiring from his job as Oxford University’s PR man for science at the end of his term, Dawkins gave a TV interview in which he said that fairy tales, being “anti-scientific”, might have a perverse effect on children’s minds. It would be a good topic to investigate, he said. He immediately won himself the unpopular status of an anti-Harry Potter spoilsport.
Times columnist Libby Purves pointed out that students of child development defend far-fetched magical stories as playing an important part in the developing mental life of young children, and that normal children easily distinguish stories from reality. Not only does it help them grapple with fears about life, death, peril and chance, says Purves, it may also “serve to keep future laymen’s minds open to the more provable marvels of science”. She worries about “the modern tide of thought that says children must be allowed only dull bald truth” and concludes that, “Myths are helpful, pointing at truths which are all the deeper for not being literal. Neither is a threat to science.”
On his website Dawkins defends his “intuition…that a diet of wizards and magic, where anything can change, at the shake of a wand, into anything else, might predispose a child to lazy habits of thought, avoiding the urge to question how and why things really happen.” He adds, consistent with his atheism fatwa: “I find it plausible that early exposure to supernatural magic might predispose a child to religious indoctrination. What, after all, is the difference between Jesus walking on water, or turning water into wine, and a witch turning a prince into a frog?”
Despite that risk he seems prepared to let research settle the question of whether magic stories are a valuable, even essential, part of a child’s imaginative development. Watch this page… ~ Times Online, Oct 27