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Interview with Richard Dawkins on fairy tales and retirement - Comments

Prospero's Avatar Comment 1 by Prospero

Adults don't tell children that Harry Potter is true. They do that with religion.
I hope Dawkins don't take this anti-Potter thing to seriously. He will seem humorless - which he is not.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:02:00 UTC | #258790

alabasterocean's Avatar Comment 2 by alabasterocean

The one good thing about children's books is that state leaders and armed military bands doesn't evoke war because some group say that Harry Potter is better then Prince Caspian.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:03:00 UTC | #258792

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 3 by mordacious1

" any evidence that bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards has a pernicious effect."

This has been discussed in depth on the other thread but:

1. It all depends on the motives of the parents.

2. Most born-agains in the U.S. do not allow their children to read about magic and wizards because they are "of the devil", no competing myths allowed.

3. I think that once children learn that Santa and wizards are not real, they question other myths, like god.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:14:00 UTC | #258795

eh-theist's Avatar Comment 4 by eh-theist

I'm appalled at your statement, mordacious. How can you claim that wizards are not real until you've studied, seriously, in wizardry? If you have read the book and still believe this, you have taken it out of context.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:17:00 UTC | #258797

Freethinker15's Avatar Comment 5 by Freethinker15

I've never liked harry potter anyway. Haven't read any of the books and can't stand the films. To much randomness for me.

"Reality produces facts so romantic that imagination could add nothing to it." Jules Verne

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:31:00 UTC | #258799

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 6 by mordacious1


I thought I'd get complaints about saying Santa isn't real.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:37:00 UTC | #258801

javb222's Avatar Comment 7 by javb222


Most born-agains in the U.S. do not allow their children to read about magic and wizards because they are "of the devil", no competing myths allowed.

What? Really? That seems dodgy. I can't believe that "most" evangelicals don't do Santa on Xmas, Witches on Halloween, Aesop fables, fairy tales, etc.

I hope Dawkins don't take this anti-Potter thing to seriously.

I think he posted a comment on this topic in the Children need to be sprinkled with fairy dust - Libby Purves - Times Online article.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:37:00 UTC | #258802

Sciros's Avatar Comment 8 by Sciros

How about all the mythology and/or "fairy tales" that you can't keep children away from even if you tried, like Pokemon, Superman, Spiderman, Star Wars, etc.

What we imagine, and what children imagine, I'm not sure even *can* be constrained by what "what we understand can and cannot truly exist given the laws of physics and nature."

I think Richard will find that the nourishment fantasy stories provide to childrens' imagination can well outweigh any ill effect on their rationality if the stories are not presented to children as indisputable fact the way religion is.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:38:00 UTC | #258803

andreab's Avatar Comment 9 by andreab

Why must something be 100% true to be ok?
Did anyone tell Bill Shakespere that his tales of donkey-headed men and faries were corrupting children?
Religion may be fantasy but fantasy does not have to be religion!

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:39:00 UTC | #258804

Enlightenme..'s Avatar Comment 10 by Enlightenme..

This reminds me of the debate about Tom & Jerry cartoons.

Children don't seem to think it is okay to smash saucepans repeatedly over people's heads or the like, do they?

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:46:00 UTC | #258805

Cerbera6's Avatar Comment 11 by Cerbera6

I love RD but this video posting had me slightly worried. Does he not know that intelligently brought up kids can love science fiction yet realise what they're hearing/reading is fiction. I personally read 2000AD comics and Tolkien from a very early age. I think this helped me as I naturally placed religion in the same category of fiction as I placed the former, albeit at the bottom of the list that most entertained my burgeoning intellect.

I hope it was bad context editing or at least that RD reads these comments.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:48:00 UTC | #258806

Jolly Bloger's Avatar Comment 12 by Jolly Bloger

Anecdotally, I would disagree with Dawkins about fantasy being anti-scientific. There seems to be a pretty strong correlation between being a science lover and a sci-fi/fantasy lover. I don't know what the correlation looks like the other way around (is a fantasy fan more likely to be a science fan) but my guess is that it certainly doesn't hurt.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:53:00 UTC | #258807

SniderD's Avatar Comment 13 by SniderD

Ultraviolet G:
I've seen more than one example of children not being able to tell the difference between make-believe and reality even when they are directly told that something is make believe.

Personally I was about 13 before I stopped believing in things like Ghosts and UFOs. One of my only memorable childhood fears was being abducted. It was a very real possibility to me. This was despite my parents saying "I don't think those things exist. They are not something to worry about."

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:02:00 UTC | #258810

eh-theist's Avatar Comment 15 by eh-theist

I haven't had a chance to watch the video but from what I have read, I think the real issue is how it is presented to the children and how it is reinforced. If the parents/teachers pass it off as "true", it will have a different effect than if they are told that they are just stories.

Richard's point above (and on the other thread) would be more a word of caution - intuition can be completely wrong. Research needs to be done.

Reading a number of "fairy tales", I would guess, would somewhat negate the seeming truthfulness of any of them. Reading the same book a number of times and not having anything to compare it with is a problem.

Just as teaching religions comparatively might negate some of the threat of dogmatic belief, letting kids read other myths and fairy tales might also hamper the efforts of parents to indoctrinate their children. (Wishful thinking? Possibly. Let's see the research before we assume anything to be true.)

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:05:00 UTC | #258812

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 14 by mordacious1


Every evan church in my area offers alternative-to-halloween parties. They give out candy and other goodies, but their theme is biblical rather than "devil worship". They have tried to ban Harry Potter from schools because it teaches wizardry. I think this is the norm among these people. Look what happened to the movie "Golden Compass". There was an email compaign to get people in the U.S. to boycott it and it did poorly here.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:05:00 UTC | #258811

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 16 by Steve Zara

Comment #272442 by Cerbera6

I love RD but this video posting had me slightly worried. Does he not know that intelligently brought up kids can love science fiction yet realise what they're hearing/reading is fiction.

On this thread, and the other related one I keep seeing responses to things Richard Dawkins has never said. I listened carefully to what he said and read what he as written, and I see not the slightest mention of science fiction.

I can't speak for Dawkins, obviously, but I get the impression that people think he is against fictional stories. All I see is him wondering in an open-minded way if introducing children to ideas of magic can prime them for belief in religion and even hostility to science.

I can see what he is saying, and I think he may have a point. If a young child fantasizes about wizards and dragons, and they are told science says that those beliefs are just dreams, and can never be real, I am sure is is possible that there could be some hostility to science if the true wonders of science aren't introduced to the child at the right time. In place of wizards, tell them about Newton and Kepler. In place of dragons, dinosaurs.

I can also see how such magical stories could prime a child's mind for religion. The disappointment that a child gets whenever they realise that the stories of fairies and unicorns aren't true can be less if they believe in eternal life, angels and baby Jesus.

Dawkins is not saying don't tell children stories. Just that we should ensure that we open their minds to the wonders of science, and give them the ability to think critically at an early stage. I think that is a wonderful attitude. I can't think of a more important project than to educate children in this way, and I can't think of anyone better to write such a book.

I have to add that this was a truly awfully presented interview... "Dawkins taking on Harry Potter"! What nonsense.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:09:00 UTC | #258814

Wosret's Avatar Comment 17 by Wosret

This is the most ridiculous I've ever seen anyone make RD look.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:10:00 UTC | #258815

Titania's Avatar Comment 18 by Titania


Are you faulting the interviewer or RD?

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:16:00 UTC | #258817

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 19 by Richard Dawkins

Richard, children know the difference between "make-believe" and reality, even at quite a young age: provided that trusted adults don't tell them that something is actually true.

Oh well, that's very nice to know. Obviously you've done the research, and so you know what you are talking about. Or do you just know, from your personal intuition, what children think?

I am agnostic about almost everything that is being said on this thread, and the other two threads on the same topic. Also, I have no view on Harry Potter. I know nothing about Harry Potter, one way or the other. I have never read Harry Potter, and, contrary to the More4 report, I never said anything about Harry Potter. All I said was that it would be nice to see some RESEARCH on the question of the influence of magical stories on children. I did not, and I do not, prejudge the result, and I offer no opinion. I am fed up with opinions and feelings.

Some people feel it is obvious that the death penalty deters murder. Some people feel it is obvious that violence on television and in computer games incites violence. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn't. Same with children and magic. I don't care what you feel, and I don't care what I feel. I want to see the evidence. Please stop telling us what you feel. Please stop telling us what your intuition is. Your intuitive feelings are of no interest whatsoever, and nor are mine. I don't give a bugger what you feel, or what I feel. I want to know that the evidence shows.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:18:00 UTC | #258819

Wosret's Avatar Comment 20 by Wosret

19. Comment #272454 by Titania

The way the interview was done. Painting RD as anti-fiction. This, I think is absurd. He was good friends with my favorite Si-Fi writer, Dougles Adams, and even met his wife through him, if I am not mistaken.

I wasn't exactly clear what RD was getting at, because it was such a short interview, but it definitely was nothing like they attempted to paint it.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:28:00 UTC | #258826

a non e-moose's Avatar Comment 21 by a non e-moose

I'm not sure I understand what He's saying... is he saying fantasy literature is anti-scientific? In my exerience, fantasy geeks (I've known quite a few of them) are typically more rational and intellifgent than the average joe.

I understand you don't give a bugger about this anecdotal evidence, but I wonder what raised your suspicion of a pernicious effect of fantasy in the first place?

The majority of the people in the fantasy society at my uni are studying science, and quite a few are also in the atheist society.

...then again, I do know a fantasy geek that is into alchemy and 'witchcraft' as well.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:33:00 UTC | #258833

Titania's Avatar Comment 22 by Titania


I thought that is what you meant but you were uncharacteristically ambiguous. Thanks for clarifying.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:34:00 UTC | #258834

Sally Luxmoore's Avatar Comment 23 by Sally Luxmoore

The funny thing about this is that many of us are reacting to any suggestion of anti-Harry Potterism in the same way that the theists react to having their 'religious feelings' hurt!
Sorry Richard.
I suppose we ought to realise too that you are being 100% down the middle.
Wait for the evidence!

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:35:00 UTC | #258837

jdaudett's Avatar Comment 24 by jdaudett

If I could propose a hypothesis along the lines of what Ultraviolet G was saying, perhaps the way these books/movies/media are framed is more important than the media themselves? I would imagine that introducing young minds to rubbish and telling them that it is in fact rubbish, comforting rubbish, funny rubbish, etc. would be good for them in terms of learning to think for themselves. It would fit with the idea that we are evolved to listen to our parents at a young age, and explain my (though few) observations that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" ideologically. I'd also guess that there's entirely too much literature on the subject out there in the form of parenting books.

Good luck with the experimentation.

PS: I also just remembered reading somewhere about the human mind being evolved to emulate other people/things, and perhaps that might add to it.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:36:00 UTC | #258838

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 25 by Steve Zara

Comment #272471 by a non e-moose

In my exerience, fantasy geeks (I've known quite a few of them) are typically more rational and intellifgent than the average joe.

"Richard Dawkins says he will spend his retirement writing a book for children."

"I have read Pullman who is the other leading children's author .."

"I would like to know whether there is any evidence that bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards has a pernicious effect."

Get the message? Sorry to sound abrubt, but I am just bewildered as to why so many seem to be missing the point (in my view).

Books that encourage critical thinking, and reveals the wonder of science, for children, could, especially if it can get into schools, be one of the most important ways we can attack irrationality and the increasing problem of creationism and anti-science attitudes.

I was very strongly influenced by being given a child's science encylopaedia at age 4. I have really never "recovered" from that.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:38:00 UTC | #258840

Byrnie's Avatar Comment 26 by Byrnie

The poet in me became rather defensive when i watched this. Escapism/fiction/mythology are things which can inspire children to think laterally, and is something which i believe has a direct link to the imagination of a child.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:40:00 UTC | #258843

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 27 by Richard Dawkins

I am starting to suspect that people on this thread are using 'fantasy' to mean 'science fiction', and are confusing that with the fairy tales that I was talking about. I love science fiction, and think it is wonderful for stimulating imaginative scientific ideas. Science thrives on imagination, the wilder the better. I was never talking about anything close to science fiction, in any case. I was talking about magic spells, turning princes into frogs and things like that. That is not science fiction, that is fairy tales. And I wasn't even coming out against fairy tales, only wondering what research might show about their effects on children.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:42:00 UTC | #258844

a non e-moose's Avatar Comment 28 by a non e-moose

@ steve zara

What, you think that fantasy fans in their 20s only read textbooks as kids?

As long as no one is telling kids that harry potter is actually true, it seems absurd to me to think it is anti-scientific. I think it has the oposite effect; the more fiction one is exposed to, regardless of age, the better equipped one is to tell fact from fiction.

Really, this is completely misguided, and I fear Dawkins risks alienating a large portion of his potential fan base if he keeps this up.

Edit: @Dawkins: fantasy and science fiction share a large portions of its fanbase.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:47:00 UTC | #258847

Wosret's Avatar Comment 29 by Wosret

22. Comment #272471 by a non e-moose

I'm a massive fantasy geek. As long as I'm clear that this is speculation, I will offer some. I think that it is quite possible that the more one knows about fantasy, and fiction, the easier it is to see common themes, and archetypes as the individuals, and stories that appear in religion.

A knowledge of them reveal the claims of "uniqueness" and so forth, obvious nonsense. It perhaps allows one to better judge the line between reality and fiction. Based on common indicators.

I've often contemplated how it was that I could be raised in such a fundamentalist family, and only have religious friends, and to have never believed it, or never found it inspiring. I think that it is quite possible, that I just had better fiction, and more inspiring characters than Christianity could offer at my disposal.

Could also be that the bible offers no significant female characters. Something that is a must for me.

23. Comment #272472 by Titania

You're right, I wasn't clear. That could have been easily misconstrued.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:49:00 UTC | #258849

Knucklesdude's Avatar Comment 30 by Knucklesdude

But I think it's safe to say those that are hardcore religious (specifically Catholic faith) are usually less inclined to even consider reading a Harry Potter book. The Pope opposes them of course: "It is good that you explain the facts of Harry Potter, because this is a subtle seduction, which has deeply unnoticed and direct effects in undermining the soul of Christianity before it can really grow properly."

So maybe the Pope thinks minds of children could, past the point of accepting the Catholic faith, be feeble enough to allow a fiction book to corrupt their worldview? And the Pope mentions facts vs. Harry Potter, what is better contradictory fact than science? Unlike the Bible, the Harry Potter series admits it is a fictional tale from the start.

I think parents may sway to the same stance the Pope does. I don't really have any evidence, but you can Google "catholic" or "christian" and "Harry Potter" to view the numerous articles on bans of the book and hatred from the faith.

And disregarding my opinion that the tale of Harry Potter is much more probable of being true than the Bible, I don't think kids could seriously have a worldview today based upon witchcraft and wizardry.

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 13:50:00 UTC | #258851