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Richard Dawkins: Fairy tales hurt kids

TOM HUNT
Last updated 05:00 06/06/2014
Richard Dawkins
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Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins has been accused of having a science delusion after launching a scathing attack on children's fairy tales.

The British scientist, known for his assaults on religion in books such as The God Delusion, has told a science festival audience that parents should ditch fairy tales in order to "foster a spirit of scepticism" in their children.

"I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism," The Times reports him saying.

"Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, about witches and wizards or princes turning into frogs. There's a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog. It's statistically too improbable."

But John McIntyre, owner of The Children's Bookshop in the Wellington suburb of Kilbirnie, called his comments "elitist nonsense".

"My theory is literacy is a ladder, and you have got to get them on the ladder - whatever gets them there, whether it's fairy tales or science. Whatever they want to read, let them read it."

He quoted Albert Einstein: "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

Victoria University psychology school head Marc Wilson said there was no evidence in research showing that fairy tales caused children any damage.

Fairy tales had a greater benefit, as they taught children about morality issues. "We use metaphors to understand the world around us."

Dawkins told the festival in Cheltenham, England, that a scientific approach to the world was far superior to a "second-rate" supernatural one.

He cited the Winnie-the-Pooh stories as implausible, with their idea of a bear, tiger, pig and kangaroo sharing an ecosystem. "Many people would say you destroy the magic of childhood if you tell them that princes can't turn into frogs," he said. "I'm genuinely uncertain."

James Gilberd, a member of New Zealand Skeptics and a "Dawkins fan", said scientists sometimes got carried away with their own "world view", believing it was the only valid one.

"Some people are so confident of the rightness of their world view that they seek to impose it on others they consider to be at a lower intellectual level."

"They do not credit others with the intelligence to make up their own minds about what to believe.

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What do people on the street think of Dawkins' latest ideas? 

Diane Welsh, early 50s, mother, Kilbirnie: "Fairy tales are a very important part of growing up. It's imagination and learning to use it."

Ronald McDonald, 76, retired, Mt Cook: "They can teach science and fairy tales. There's no reason not to do both. Fairy tales are a tradition in all cultures." 

Ryan Abraham, 23, student, Mt Cook: "It's nonsense. Fairy tales are awesome. They are good stories, they give kids a good imagination. As long as you are not telling kids they are real." 

Will Mather, 19, hospitality student, Te Aro: "You enjoy children's stories, there's a sense of tradition. I don't know any adults who still believe the world is that black and white."

Celia Clarke, 31, public servant, Napier: "I think children should believe in fairy tales. I was devastated when I found out Father Christmas wasn't real." 

- The Dominion Post

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