Telling children fairy tales and getting them to believe in Father Christmas is “pernicious” and could cause them hard, according to scientist Richard Dawkins.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, the biologist claim it was “rather pernicious to instil in a child the view that the world is shaped by supernaturalism.”
“Even fairytales, the ones we all love, about witches and wizards or princes turning into frogs. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog. It’s statistically too improbable.”
The Daily Mail reports that although he acknowledged that the appeal of fairytales lies in their magic, he said their supernatural perspective on the world was “second-rate”, and they may cause more harm than we think. He also questioned whether children should be allowed to believe in Father Christmas.
“Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasy of childhood? Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism?,” he said.
Professor Dawkins was also asked whether he thought parents who teach their children religion are subjecting them to a form of child abuse. Although he refused to be drawn on the question, he did respond: “To call it testament to child abuse would be a bit strong, but when you tell a child to mind their Ps and Qs otherwise they’ll roast in hell then that is tantamount to child abuse.”
Dawkins, whose book The Selfish Gene revolutionised evolutionary biology, also admitted that his reputation as a militant atheist may overshadow his scientific work, but said his views were unlikely to change. “The scientific worldview is so wonderful and I resent children being brought up with a second-rate explanation for our existence,” he said.