Richard Dawkins on childhood, religion, and science

The New York Times has an excellent profile of Richard Dawkins — presumably on the occasion of the publication of his first children’s book, The Magic of Reality, now out in the UK and out soon in the US. A choice bit:

Aren’t the theologian’s questions — Why are we here? Is there something larger than us? Why do we die? — central to the human project?

Professor Dawkins shakes his head before the question is out. His impatience with religion is palpable, almost wriggling alive inside him. Belief in the supernatural strikes him as incurious, which is perhaps the worst insult he can imagine.

“Religion teaches you to be satisfied with nonanswers,” he says. “It’s a sort of crime against childhood.”

And please spare him talk of spiritualism, as if that were the only way to meditate on the wonder of the universe. “If you look up at the Milky Way through the eyes of Carl Sagan, you get a feeling in your chest of something greater than yourself,” he says. “And it is. But it’s not supernatural.”

A crime against childhood. A very interesting perspective, and one that’s been on my mind lately as I’ve been reading The Little Prince to my daughter — and noticing how uncomfortable I now feel with some of its pat spirituality, its glorification of childhood as a state of perfect innocence and wisdom, its sweeping dismissal of empirical observation and of grownup concerns: its contempt for growing up as a whole. But I’ll write a full post on that later.

Dawkins says he’s toying with “opening his own state-sponsored school” — not for indoctrinating kids to be atheists, but a sort of “Think for Yourself Academy” — a brilliant idea. And he offers a rousing paean to science in the accompanying video interview:

You don’t learn science in order to go into the lab and use the Bunsen burner and the test tube and the microscope. Everybody should learn some science because it is fascinating! The fact that we know where we come from, why we exist, what our ancestors looked like, when they came into existence, when the universe came into existence, when the world came into existence, what it is that shapes the world you live in, what it is that has shaped, over four billion years, your ancestors and the ancestors of every other creature alive today to make them what they are today — what could be more rivetingly exciting than understanding that?


The Times also offers selected quotes from some of his works here.

Update: A great interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer here.

(Image via the NY Times)


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