Atheist Richard Dawkins has announced that he is relinquishing his post at Oxford University in order to write a book aimed at convincing children not to believe in “anti-scientific” fairy-tales. Apparently, conquering Cinderella is a full-time job.
Times Columnist Libby Purves is glad Dawkins has taken up this new cause, if only because it will highlight once again how badly children need fantasy and myth to make sense of the real world:
The reason I am delighted at Professor Dawkins’ investigation, therefore, is that I am pretty sure his intelligence will bring him to the same conclusion as the psychologists: that a bit of magic and fantasy in childhood is useful and helps you to grapple with your fears about life, death, peril and chance. It may even (to be flippant for a moment) serve to keep future laymen’s minds open to the more provable marvels of science. If you’ve played at invisible fairy-dust, you may have acquired the kind of counter-intuitive mental flexibility required to accept what goes on in the Large Hadron Collider . . . .
Magic is useful. Myths are helpful, pointing at truths which are all the deeper for not being literal. Neither is a threat to scientific understanding. Let children cast off their clouds of glory at their own pace.
Chesterton, in The Red Angel , put it this way:
Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms [the child] for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.
While we’re on the subject, the renowned philosopher Antony Flew offers a response to Richard Dawkins in the new issue of First Things , due out in a week or two. Watch for it.