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Richard Dawkins targets Harry Potter, "mythical thinking"


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Harry Potter has become the latest target for Professor Richard Dawkins who is planning to find out whether tales of witchdraft and wizardy have a negative effect on children.

Professor Richard Dawkins plans to find out if stories like Harry Potter have a "pernicious" effect on children.

The prominent atheist is stepping down from his post at Oxford University to write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in "anti-scientific" fairytales.

Prof Hawkins said: "The book I write next year will be a children's book on how to think about the world, science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking.

"I haven't read Harry Potter, I have read Pullman who is the other leading children's author that one might mention and I love his books. I don't know what to think about magic and fairy tales."

Prof Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of "bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards".

"I think it is anti-scientific

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Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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My daughter is currently watching a show featuring talking animated vegetables. I certainly hope she doesn't grow up believing there is such a thing as talking vegetables. And I certainly hope she doesn't develop a sense of imagination. That would be the worst. <_<

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I'm not sure.

So if Dawkins thinks that stories such as the ones he was brought up on make you less rational, then isn't he admitting that he is, to some degree, irrational?

Way to score an own goal.

Matt

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I find it so sad that Mr. Dawkins thinks that myths and imagination are a bad thing. What dismal humans we would all be without the arts and the mythical creativity that forms them.

Denny

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

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I find it so sad that Mr. Dawkins thinks that myths and imagination are a bad thing. What dismal humans we would all be without the arts and the mythical creativity that forms them.

Yes, I can't help picturing him as the pre-Voyage Eustace Scrubb:

[He] liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools. . . . He thought of course that [the four Pevensies] were making it all up [about Narnia]; and as he was quite incapable of making anything up himself, he did not approve of that. . . .

"I'm trying to think of a limerick," said Eustace. "Something like this:

"Some kids who played games about Narnia

Got gradually balmier and balmier--" (VotDT 3-5)

Edited by BethR

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Yes, I can't help picturing him as the pre-Voyage Eustace Scrubb:
[He] liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools. . . . He thought of course that [the four Pevensies] were making it all up [about Narnia]; and as he was quite incapable of making anything up himself, he did not approve of that. . . .

"I'm trying to think of a limerick," said Eustace. "Something like this:

"Some kids who played games about Narnia

Got gradually balmier and balmier--" (VotDT 3-5)

Oh, my gosh. Mark Shea said exactly the same thing:

There was a boy called Richard Dawkins, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Dickie and masters called him Dawkins. I can't tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none. He didn't call his Father and Mother "Father" and "Mother", but Harold and Alberta. They were very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotallers and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on beds and the windows were always open.

Richard liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.

And of course Lewis elsewhere makes it clear that Eustace had read "none of the right sort of books," and so didn't know a dragon when he saw one, for instance.

That said, let's remember that Dawkins in this same interview avers to loving His Dark Materials, and say what you like about it, that's imaginative fantasy. So he's not a complete "trousered ape," to borrow another Lewisism.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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That said, let's remember that Dawkins in this same interview avers to loving His Dark Materials, and say what you like about it, that's imaginative fantasy. So he's not a complete "trousered ape," to borrow another Lewisism.

I found that somewhat interesting as well, if not ironic. And my more cynical side can't help but wonder if Dawkins would give Pullman a bit of a pass, due to their philosophical similarities.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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SDG wrote:

: That said, let's remember that Dawkins in this same interview avers to loving His Dark Materials, and say what you like about it, that's imaginative fantasy. So he's not a complete "trousered ape," to borrow another Lewisism.

Well, it's fantasy of a sort, but fantasy with a very pro-scientific and anti-dogmatic agenda.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Well, it's fantasy of a sort, but fantasy with a very pro-scientific and anti-dogmatic agenda.

Yes - it was almost fantasy against fantasy. It had such a poorly developed sense of itself - lacking the "wonder" somehow.

I love the quotes about Eustace and then the application to Dawkins. That is so "creative" - probably not appreciated on several levels by Mr. Dawkins.

Denny

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

Cinema In Focus Website

Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara Website

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I also can't help but wonder why Dawkins is only going after fairy tales, myths, etc., and not targeting the whole of fictional literature and writings. After all, Shakespeare had witches, ghosts, fairies, and other mythical/"anti-scientific" elements in his stories. Wouldn't logic dictate that children be prevented from reading him as well? Or is Shakespeare off the hook because he's not targeted at the kiddies?

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Scientism run amok. The true disaster of our time that devalues any kind of true-Truth transmitted by the arts, religion or philosophy. Why do we so often hear the phrase "It's just a movie!" or book, etc.- code for: the content doesn't have the ability to communicate anything of real value. Only SCIENCE can do that.

I wish I could snap my fingers and transport Dawkins to a world where all the vestiages of reality and meaning that are derived from a non-scientific way of perceiving the world were totally removed. I'd like to see how happy he would be. What a dismal world that would be.

Owen Barfield, in "Saving the Appearances", claimed that imagination was going to be the most important virtue of the 20th century. He may have been right.

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Folks are jumping to Dawkins defense in the comments of my blog, saying that I (and we) are overreacting, that he didn't really *say* that fantasy is bad, but that he intends to find out. So they're telling me I'm making a mountain of a molehill.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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"I think it is anti-scientific

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Folks are jumping to Dawkins defense in the comments of my blog, saying that I (and we) are overreacting, that he didn't really *say* that fantasy is bad, but that he intends to find out. So they're telling me I'm making a mountain of a molehill.

Yes, but remember what C.S. Lewis (again!) says in Surprised by Joy about his discovery of George MacDonald's fantasy novels:

A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere--'Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,' as Herbert says, 'fine nets and stratagems.' God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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I've had a number of semi-related thoughts.

First, and this might be more appropriate for the Dawkins and atheism thread, is the charge of the Judeo-Christian myth being irrational. Lets assume for the moment it is a myth and theology is no more than reflection upon a myth. I've been reading alot of Thomas F. Torrance lately. One of his significant motiffs is the inter-relatedness between theology and natural science. As he understands it, God, humanity, and the natural order exist in a triadic relationship. The underlying rationality found in nature and humanity is analougous to the rationality found in God's own being. Further because God's own being is known through his action's - God's own self is ultimately rational.

Further we might assume that Bultmann's demythologizing programme is true. I'm not overly familiar with Dawkins critique of deistic religions, however I'm willing to bet that aside from denying the exististence of a God, he really objects to those irrational miracles. Bultmann would agree with that later point - however that still pushes us into Torrance's point - the rationality found in the natural or created order is analougous to that of God's own self. So, as its own distinct science, theology is far from irrational but rational in a matter unique to its subject matter. I suppose ultimately Dawkins rejects this type of rationality, however I do question the charge of irrationality sticking.

Second, about the children's book - Dawkins might just be "testing" whether or not children's fairy tales have a negative effect on Dawkins' breed of rationality. That he is even testing this hypothesis leads me to believe that his hunch is that they do have a negative effect on rationality.

Third, how long have fairy tales and myths been around? Since the begining of history? It seems like for the most part humanity has done pretty well on the whole rational front, especially in a post-enlightenment world. That Dawkins form of rationality exists in spite of the existence of children's fairy tales suggests that perhaps fairy tales don't negatively affect all that much. Or perhaps, he would hope that their absence would yield a higher or more prevelant form of Dawkins' rationality.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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Of course, Screwtape would say that Dawkins is on "the enemy's" turf...

Great insight! Perhaps we should send our best fiction to Mr. Dawkins?

Denny

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

Cinema In Focus Website

Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara Website

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Folks are jumping to Dawkins defense in the comments of my blog, saying that I (and we) are overreacting, that he didn't really *say* that fantasy is bad, but that he intends to find out. So they're telling me I'm making a mountain of a molehill.

I'm stealing this line, but one doesn't call a conference on "Whither Incest" to reinforce the traditional taboo. What a person considers a question worth asking and intends to pursue says far more than their self-conscious rationalized (in both senses) statements. Dawkins cannot "look at" something-he-calls-fantasy-or-myth with anything but contempt, because the scientistic glasses superglued onto his brain define what-he-understands-as-reality as the "that-which-is-scientifically-discernable," the material-all-the-way-down. Fantasy and myth and transubstantiation and spirit and form and magic plainly do not cut the mustard on those grounds.

From his perspective, what is there even to decide? We aren't even talking about someone who thinks the Inquisition was bad, say; we're talking about someone who thinks raising a child in some religious faith is child abuse. What is he supposed to think about teaching children about wizards who get brooms to fly through the air or turn water into wine or whatever. This "investigation" will be about as interesting, suspenseful and unpredetrmined as Ahmedinejad's conference to "find out" about the Holocaust. Since Xtianity is nothing more than a fantasy or myth accidentally more successful than Flyingspaghettimonsterism, and we all know how evil Xtianity is (we do, right?), fantasy is merely a form of training for the higher forms of evil. A gateway religion ... like marijuana.

Edited by vjmorton

Yeah ... well ... I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.

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Prof Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of "bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards".

See ... this is what I'm getting at: the terms of the question define the answer. Who exactly is this referring to? Who exactly is brought up to "believe in spells and wizards"? Names, hometowns, please, Mr. Empirical Scientist.

Granted, I didn't have the most religious upbringing as a boy, but I'm pretty confident that I still didn't believe in Merlin or vampires or the 10,000-Volt Ghost, though I still watched Scooby-Doo and read the Arthur tales and whatnot. I didn't have the critical vocabulary to use terms like "suspension of disbelief" or "true myth," but I'm still pretty sure I understood "it's only make-believe." And then I went back to the Beano to read about such unmagical, unspell-driven stories like Roger the Dodger and the Bash Street Kids. The very terms of this question make fiction of any kind as problematic as fantasy or religion.

Dawkins is just a humorless twit, deserving of nothing but ridicule.

Yeah ... well ... I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.

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Prof Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of "bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards".

See ... this is what I'm getting at: the terms of the question define the answer. Who exactly is this referring to? Who exactly is brought up to "believe in spells and wizards"? Names, hometowns, please, Mr. Empirical Scientist.

Granted, I didn't have the most religious upbringing as a boy, but I'm pretty confident that I still didn't believe in Merlin or vampires or the 10,000-Volt Ghost, though I still watched Scooby-Doo and read the Arthur tales and whatnot.

Sure, but that's because at the end of each Scooby Doo cartoon, it was revealed that the monster was Old Farmer Jenkins. :D

"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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Thanks for posting that article, Matt. It was truly interesting.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Y'know, if Dawkins were going after the fact that many children are raised to believe in SANTA CLAUS, I might have some sympathy for him. But spells and wizards? Oy vey.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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