Saturday, December 30, 2006



The latest to-do in the religion/atheism debate is Richard Dawkins' unfortunate support of a petition that reads:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.
There is a link at the end of the above to "More details" which leads to the following (that is, in any event, on the same webpage):

In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.
Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars called Dawkins on it and, apparently after being contacted by PZ Myers about the petition, Dawkins posted a retraction at Ed's blog and was quoted to similar effect at PZ's blog. Dawkins stated that he had only read the initial part of the petition above and not the "More details."

... If I had read that, I certainly would not have signed the petition, because, as explained in The God Delusion, I am in favour of teaching the Bible as literature, and I am in favour of teaching comparative religion. In any case, like any decent liberal, I am opposed to the element of government coercion in the wording. Furthermore, the Prime Minister, thank goodness, does not have the power to 'make' anything 'illegal'. Only parliament has the power to do that.

I signed the main petition, because I really am passionately opposed to DEFINING children by the religion of their parents (while 'indoctrination' is such a loaded word, nobody could be in favour of it). I was so delighted to hear of somebody else who cared about the defining or labelling of children by the religion of their parents (how would you react if you heard a child described as a 'seclular humanist child' or a 'neo-conservative child'?) that I signed it without reading on and without thinking. Mea culpa.
After some additional complaints about the clarity and sincerity of that statement, Dawkins added:

... I really do regret signing the petition, and I don't see why that is not regarded as admitting that I was wrong. I regret signing it, and I admit that I was wrong to do so. OK?

I also regret the confusion resulting from the fact that, in my past writings, I have used the word abuse in two different contexts. Both are important. One is the labelling of children with the religion of their parents. The other is terrifying children by threatening them with violence, whether that violence is physical (as in whipping them) or mental (as in telling them they will roast in hell). Both labelling and the threat of hell are potentially abusive. Neither is a necessary part of religious education. I have never said that religious education per se is abusive, nor have I opposed religious education per se.
It was, by Dawkins' own account (that I have no reason whatsoever to disbelieve), a sloppy, stupid mistake that does not reflect his real beliefs. Everyone makes them and he should be forgiven and defended from attacks that do not take his retraction into account. However, in my opinion, he should do more than merely retract his support in the comments section of a blog or by proxy at PZ's blog or merely by asking that his name be removed from the petition. Since the petition was advertised in a prominent place on his website, he should issue an apology and clarification there as well, also prominently.

Much of the rest of the heat consuming so much bandwidth has more to do with personalities -- and not just Dawkins'. Myers and Brayton have long clashed, despite the many views they hold in common.

Meanwhile, Rome burns:

Atheists say they've been threatened over their views

... Scott said when he was living in Mobile, Ala., people were tipped off to his atheist views after he wrote an editorial to the local newspaper protesting a proposed bible class at a public school. He said he never mentioned that he was an atheist in the letter.

Scott said after that, his car was bashed up by a baseball bat and a cross was planted in his yard.
Whatever solution there may be for that kind of public hostility, this unseemly display is no help.
Nick Matzke has further explanation from Richard Dawkins over at The Panda's Thumb.

I'm getting more than a little tired of reading PZ and Brayton's pissing contests.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education