Richard Dawkins Wants Your Kids to Stop Reading Harry Potter?

If you want to save your children, take away their fantasy books!

They may cry, they may clutch their favorite storybook to their chest, but you must pry those misleading, occultic volumes from their hands. Why? Because an authority on the matter says that they’ll be damaged if they open themselves to the power of myth… unless those myths hold up to scientific analysis.

No, I don’t mean Movieguide’s Ted Baehr (although he’s condemned Harry Potter on countless occasions). No, this time it’s the atheist-activist and scientist Richard Dawkins who is worried about the effect of Harry Potter on children.

Yes… having fallen out of the headlines for a while, Dawkins must have brainstormed some new way to get back into the media spotlight. What better way than to threaten the stories beloved by children around the world?

How interesting, that both of Dawkins and Baehr — the athiest and the right-wing Christian alarmist — want to warn us about reading stories about magic and wizards. And yet, both of them make exceptions if the stories blatantly demonstrate their own particular worldviews. (Baehr likes Narnia, Dawkins “loves” Phillip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass.) But Dawkins wants scientific children’s stories that don’t incline them toward believing in anything supernatural.

I wonder if he’s ever read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle loved science. It enhanced her faith in God.

According to Dawkins, the power of myth may be very dangerous, and he intends to use his scientific instruments to come up with some evidence. He says that it’s destructive, and he’s going to write a book telling your kids that they shouldn’t bother with “unscientific fairy tales.”

Perhaps he has some kind of instrument like those horrific “cutting” devices, like the machines in Pullman’s The Golden Compass that can sever a child’s capacity for make-believe…

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 ‚Äì whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know,” he told More4 News.

“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. Perhaps it’s something for research.”

But Prof Dawkins, the bestselling author of The God Delusion who this week agreed to fund a series of atheist adverts on London buses, added that his new book will also set out to demolish the “Judeo-Christian myth”.

He went on: “I plan to look at mythical accounts of various things and also the scientific account of the same thing. And the mythical account that I look at will be several different myths, of which the Judeo-Christian one will just be one of many.

“And the scientific one will be substantiated, but appeal to children to think for themselves; to look at the evidence. Always look at the evidence.”

Discussion has begun over at Arts and Faith.

So…

QUICK! Before you discover that it’s bad for you… come join me in celebrating this destructive habit of fantasy! Let’s enjoy the finer points of Beauty and the Beast!

On Friday, November 14, at 7:30 p.m. I’ll be reading from Cyndere’s Midnight and Auralia’s Colors at Cafe Babel in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

The SPU Bookstore will offer copies of these soon-to-be-banned books.

Cafe Babel is located right along the canal in Fremont, at 126 NW Canal St, Seattle, WA, 98107. (See cafebabelseattle.com for a map.)

Then, on Thursday, November 20, at 7:00 P.M., I’ll be at Village Books, that amazing independent bookstore in Bellingham, Washington. Join us at Village Books, do some Christmas shopping, listen to some storytelling, and let’s celebrate the joys of fairy tales and fantasy.

By the way… here are a few of my own thoughts on the dangerous power of fantasy.

And here are a few books you should buy for your kids before anybody proves that they’re unhealthy.

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  • Garreth

    It seems to me that Richard Dawkins cant recognise what is scientific evidence and what is fantasy/mythology himself. Just think of his concept of the ‘meme’, which dawkins uses to claim that religion is pure indoctrination, lets make it clear there is no scientific evidence for this so-called ‘meme’, it just pure mythology. Or just think of his immortal claim that when it comes to ‘ethics’ we are purely dancing to our DNA, this is also pure mythology, if mythology is a lack of scientific evidence. These claims of a ‘meme’ an ‘ethics is purely us dancing to our DNA’, are just an outworking of a ‘naturalistic philosophy’, which is metaphyical not scientific. So Dawkins interpretation of the world isnt backed by scientific evidence it is pure fantasy/mythology, to use his simplistic binary opposition.

  • mrmando

    [quote]And I’m pretty well convinced that many of those who believe in the fairy tales of, say, the “Left Behind” series, are drastically lacking in scientific education.[/quote]
    If you mean to suggest that there are people who regard the “Left Behind” series as factual, I’d say those people are drastically lacking in religious as well as scientific education.

  • mrmando

    And I’m pretty well convinced that many of those who believe in the fairy tales of, say, the “Left Behind” series, are drastically lacking in scientific education.
    If you mean to suggest that there are people who regard the “Left Behind” series as factual, I’d say those people are drastically lacking in religious as well as scientific education.

  • mrmando

    Can you begin to imagine all the variables Dawkins would have to control to find out whether fantasy literature has a “pernicious effect” on children? And since he professes not to know what that effect might be, how will he know when he’s found it? And supposing that he does find some pernicious effect, how will he know it’s really attributable to fantasy literature? He can’t very well dictate what children do or don’t read over their lifetimes.

    As I’ve observed elsewhere, when adults start freaking out about children not knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, it’s usually the adults who have lost perspective. A healthy child has a much more well-developed sense of make-believe than the average adult does.

    I’m gobsmacked to learn that Dawkins has actually stepped down from his Oxford post in order to pursue this project. The children’s book sounds like something he could write with information he already has, but the research project on possible pernicious effects of fantasy literature could take years and prove fruitless, and it tickles me to no end to think of Dawkins wasting his time and energy on it.

  • gaith

    I think that at least a question mark on the headline is indeed appropriate. Look what Dawkins says in the post Brandon links to:

    “Magic spell stories might be a valuable, even essential, part of a child‚Äôs imaginative development. Both points of view are defensible in the absence of evidence, and research is the only way to decide between them.”

    Maybe he purposefully name-dropped Potter to get a headline, or maybe it was a leap a reporter made. I’d hope it was the latter, but readily admit that it could be the former.

    Ironically, it sounds as though you and Dawkins might agree that reading Harry Potter and Tolkien might correlate with religious belief in developing minds. I read fantastical stories as a kid, but I also read books about the solar system. I have a vague memory of looking at large photographs of the dark side of the moon and thinking, “the people who wrote these myths talked about in my Sunday school picture books weren’t in any position to describe the mysteries of the universe”.

    Now, I love myths, and I think Chesterton’s “The Man Who was Thursday” is a wonderful book, but I’m not willing to label Dawkins an unfeeling robot based on the evidence thus far presented.

    And I’m pretty well convinced that many of those who believe in the fairy tales of, say, the “Left Behind” series, are drastically lacking in scientific education.

    And awalter, look up “evil” at dictionary.com. The primary definition in several sources is “morally bad or wrong”. Just because atheists don’t believe in a mythic underground red monster doesn’t mean we have to substitute usefully emotional words such as “evil” with “ungood” or variants thereof.

  • http://www.adamwalter.blogspot.com/ awalter

    Wow, so this is what it takes–religion, religion–to make Dawkins admit he believes in “evil.” (“It is evil to describe a child as a Muslim child or a Christian child.”) He’s likely to be put on a time-out for this, at the next meeting of the Angry Atheist Guild.

  • genebranaman

    When I read the piece, I thought of this quote:

    “Men like me, who posess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules, just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”

    Now, if only Dawkins could somehow be introduced to Jadis . . .

  • flatlandsfriar

    I have a finite, if unknown, number of minutes remaining in my life. I do not intend to waste even a portion of one of them on what Richard Dawkins thinks.

    I’m not putting on blinders. I welcome discussion with sincere, thoughtful folks of many stripes, including atheists. Dawkins, who sounds more and more like Bill Maher with a mortarboard every day, is not among their number.

  • jeffbarlow11

    Dawkins sounds like a very proper Telmarine :-)

  • tycen

    Sounds like a pretty closed minded and intolerant view Dawkins has – trying to shove his beliefs down our (kids’) throats.

  • http://lookingcloser.org Jeffrey Overstreet

    Er, Jeff, contrary to what your post title declares, Dawkins nowhere says in that article that kids shouldn’t read Harry Potter; he only says they shouldn’t take it as fact.

    You think I’m jumping to a conclusion that he is at least inclined to think the Harry Potter books are destructive?

    Why is he, the most famous atheist in the world, declaring that his next formal investigation is into the possibility of “pernicious” effects of fantasy on children if he doesn’t already have a sense that they are destructive? I will be astonished, and thrilled, if he arrives at the conclusion that, lo, fairy tales are meaningful in a unique and powerful way, and a healthy part of developing imagination and poetic understanding. I’ll withdraw my complaint, if he discovers that they are meaningful, because he will affirm the value of the imagination… and of faith. His “evidence” is no threat to my faith because faith, by its very definition, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

    Perhaps I am jumping to a huge conclusion, and because you’ve brought this up, I’ll add a question mark to my title.

    But I’m inclined to suspect that he’s taking this approach A) to keep his name in headlines, and B) because he really does want to resist “fairy tales” because the realm of poetry, metaphor, and mystery are territories where faith in often bolstered and inspired.

    Especially as he hasn’t read the Potter books, it sounds as though he was talking about traditional religion (which some of us call fairy tales), happened to mention Potter, and a sensationalist journalist blew that comment out of proportion.

    If he intends to look for a “pernicious effect” of “mythical thinking,” then clearly Harry Potter falls into that territory. As does Pullman’s epic. And Tolkien, and Lewis, etc. That is a declaration worthy of a headline. I sympathize with the reporter.

    Dawkins said he’s writing a book about this, so it was hardly a toss-away comment that someone put in the headlines rashly. He is looking at this as “science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking” in the interest of looking for “pernicious effect” of the latter, and since by his own declarations, only that which can be scientifically substantiated is a good thing, his inevitable conclusion can be seen miles away. Fairy tales encourage poetic thinking, mythical thinking, and encourage us to form ideas about mysteries and those things that are beyond the reach of science. And that, in Dawkins book, is probably unacceptable.

    And frankly, the whole endeavor is rather suspect because, really, how many children grow up believing Harry Potter is fact? How many grow up believing frogs literally become princes? Most of us come to appreciate that while these stories are not, and were never meant to be, interpreted as literal history, they incline us to consider spiritual mysteries that deepen our understanding of, and apprehension of, the Real. And they cultivate in us the expectation of the Miraculous, so we recognize it when it actually breaks into history. They affirm for us that we are, to our very essence, creatures who expect God, who have “eternity written in our hearts.”

    Why not investigate the power and function of metaphor, of poetry, of associative thought… a quality that distinguishes us from the animals?

    Ah, there’s the rub. I suspect he’s afraid of myth. Because mythical thinking is a capacity that sets us apart, that suggests creation really is meaningful, that it is “word made flesh,” that it is a language for us to read, and that a language implies a speaker. Poetry opens us to listen to forces beyond ourselves, beyond even the poet, who is often surprised at what his own words reveal.

    Poetry also opens us to such “irrational” capacities as love, mercy, and compassion… things that really don’t make sense if you’re just looking at the numbers.

  • http://youtube.com/moviebuzzreviewdude Brandon

    Another note: Dawkins’s response to the telegraph article and another article found on his website. His response is in the comments section:

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,3277,Children-need-to-be-sprinkled-with-fairy-dust,Libby-Purves-Times-Online#272075

  • macwaylay

    Sounds like a way get some great press and the hype machine revved up for his up and coming books.

    I think there are a lot of things that can have a “Pernicious” effect on children when parents do give a crap about them.

    When children have no one to talk to about their new book they are reading, or what they just wrote then of course it can breed vast amounts of misconception.

  • http://youtube.com/moviebuzzreviewdude Brandon

    I’m sure the fantasy books everywhere are trembling in their 15th and 16th century boots. Regardless, I think this is an interesting article. This kind of response sounds typical of Dawkins – him taking his scientific nose and sticking it where it doesn’t belong. Yes, other people, I know that he doesn’t say outright we should stop reading Harry Potter. But honestly, Dawkins? Seriously? This is the best you can do? You have one of the smartest minds in the world (even though I don’t agree with him I’m sure he’s a very intelligent, even though his ), and you choose to go after fantasy? It’s just a book – if it’s corrupting our minds because it’s not true, then how far could this go? Certainly to other genres like science fiction and action adventure, and you can be he’ll probably even try to trickle it down further if he DOES “discover” fantasy’s “pernicious” effect. Isn’t every work of fiction some kind of fantasy, in one way or another? How are we supposed to tell the difference, Mr. Dawkins?

    IMO, reading fantasy books at a young age can only be good – it enhances your imagination and encourages you to dream big and wide – let’s say fantasy books are “pernicious,” what then? Nothing. It’s another pointless attention-grabber and tirade from Dawkins, which I’m used to by now.

  • sapience14

    All the literary critics in the world just groaned. Loudly.

    But do notice he doesn’t say that they have a pernicious effect on children, he says he wants to find out if they do. He says he doesn’t know if they do–so I think you are right, this is largely a media stunt, given that he says that he’s never even read HP. I also think he’ll find out that they don’t have a bad effect. Because lets face it: how many scientists do you know love Star Wars? Seriously unscientific myth, and it hasn’t stopped them from doing good science.

  • Seth H.

    Without pointing any fingers, I will say that there are people in this world who really need to sit down and shut up.

  • gaith

    Er, Jeff, contrary to what your post title declares, Dawkins nowhere says in that article that kids shouldn’t read Harry Potter; he only says they shouldn’t take it as fact.

    Especially as he hasn’t read the Potter books, it sounds as though he was talking about traditional religion (which some of us call fairy tales), happened to mention Potter, and a sensationalist journalist blew that comment out of proportion.

    He can’t be anti-fantasy if he enjoys Pullman. He may well find, as I do, that there’s a regressive anti-intellectual thread in the Potter series (for all her smarts and honor, Hermione winds up with… plain ol’ Ron?), but I still think that at this stage you’re putting words in his mouth.


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