Dawkins anti-religion school crusade is met with scepticism
The plan by science communicator turned anti-religion campaigner Professor Richard Dawkins to take his crusade into schools has been met with concern and scepticism by some of his peers and allies ñ and by one leading charity.
According to media reports, Professor Dawkins is seeking charitable status for a foundation with the purpose of ìflooding schools with anti-religious literature.î
The initiative will also attempt to divert donations from the hands of ìmissionariesî and church-based charities. It will attack the teaching of creationism and promote ìrational and scientific enquiryî.
However the plan has been described as ìa decidedly mixed bagî and ìa blunderbuss approachî by some who otherwise sympathise with Dawkinsí non-belief, as well as his commitment to science education.
Professor Steven Rose, the distinguished biologist, commented: ìI worry that Richardís view about belief is too simplistic, and so hostile that as a committed secularist myself I am uneasy about it.î
At a forum this month (November 2006) held at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, Melvin J. Konner, Professor of Anthropology and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University, who stressed he had ìnot a flickerî of religious faith, described some of Dawkinsí views as simplistic and uninformed.
Responding to writer Sam Harris as well, who has also attacked religion in an undifferentiated way, Professor Konner declared: ìI think that you and Richard are remarkably apt mirror images of the extremists on the other side and that you generate more fear and hatred of science [than understanding].î
In his new book Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, skeptic Michael Shermer also stresses the myriad ways evolutionary theory does not necessarily conflict with religion, and argues that the case against creationism does not have to divide believers and non-believers ñ though it does require a thorough refutation of fundamentalism.
In the UK the governmentís Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has made it clear that creationism and its cousin ID have no place in school science classrooms, responding to a recent joint representation by Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association
Professor Dawkins, Oxfordís professor of the public understanding of science, is the author of many widely-praised scientific bestsellers. His latest book is The God Delusion, a strongly worded polemic against religious faith of any kind.
Professor Dawkins also says that his foundation will maintain a database of charities free of ìchurch contaminationî.
This produced an expression of concern from the widely-respected development and advocacy agency Christian Aid, which, though supported by the churches, has always had a strong policy of avoiding proselytism and working with people of all faiths and none.
Their recent anti-arms trade initiative, which has involved school children highlighting the impact of militarism on the poorest, was partly fronted by comedian and investigative journalist Mark Thomas, who is an avowed atheist.
Christian Aidís Dominic Nutt said that Professor Dawkins is ìtarring a lot of excellent charities with the same brush. Many charities give aid only on the basis of need.î
Others have suggested that ìfloodingî schools with propaganda for or against religion is equally wrong and that the new foundation will score an own goal if it goes down the tit-for-tat confrontation route.
Ekklesiaís Simon Barrow commented: ìSuch an approach will be deemed unacceptably polarizing and simplistic by many people who oppose inappropriate proselytizing, faith-based selection in publicly-funded schools, creationism, and tax breaks for the promotion of particular beliefs. That, of course, includes both religious and non-religious people alike.î
Also on Ekklesia: Why Richard Dawkins is right to attack facile God-talk, but wrong to portray all religion as ignorant and dangerous (Turning God into a disaster area). On Guardian Comment-is-Free: Difference based on friendship - Simon Barrow: The antagonism between organised religion and militant secularists is unproductive and excluding.