Prof Dawkins, a well-known atheist, also blamed the Government for accommodating religious views and allowing creationism to be taught in schools.
“Most devout Muslims are creationists so when you go to schools, there are a large number of children of Islamic parents who trot out what they have been taught,” Prof Dawkins said in a Sunday newspaper interview.
“Teachers are bending over backwards to respect home prejudices that children have been brought up with. The Government could do more, but it doesn’t want to because it is fanatical about multiculturalism and the need to respect the different traditions from which these children come.”
Prof Dawkins, professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford University, is author of books including the Selfish Gene, the Blind Watchmaker and the God Delusion.
He said science was being threatened in classrooms because the Government accepts that theories including “intelligent design” can be discussed “in the context of being one of a range of views on evolution.”
“The Government – particularly under Tony Blair – thinks it is wonderful to have children brought up with their traditional religions. I call it brainwashing,” he added.
“It seems as though teachers are terribly frightened of being thought racist. It’s almost impossible to say a
In addition to overseeing our understanding of science, Dawkins is also the best-known atheist in the country, a man who considers the worship of Christ to be about as relevant as dancing around a totem pole or deifying the Giant Spaghetti Monster. His fans will know all about this from his books, notably The God Delusion – a bestseller that picks apart the inconsistencies in religion with scalpel-like logic.
Dawkins is about to chew up religion again now, in a television series about his hero, Charles Darwin, which holds up to ridicule those who refuse to accept the theory of evolution. Astounding though it may seem, 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, there are many people who don’t believe its findings, he says.
Some of these are evangelicals in far-off countries who think that God created everything in six days and that rainy days began with Noah’s Flood. Others, however, are a bit closer to home. British secondary-school science teachers, for example.
“Science is being threatened in our class-rooms,” says Dawkins, citing examples such as the schools funded by the evangelical car dealer Peter Vardy and the private Blue Coat school in Liverpool that employs a creationist science teacher called Nick Cowan. When Dawkins himself met Cowan, he was confidently assured that the Earth is only 6,000 years old (rather than 4.5 billion). Cowan also apparently solved the chicken-and-egg conundrum by explaining: “God created the chicken, and the chicken laid the egg.”
“Nick Cowan is a scandal,” fumes Dawkins. “To have him teaching science at a respectable school is about equivalent to having a flat-Earther teaching geography.”
More seriously, Dawkins believes that many science teachers who do believe in evolution are selling our children short by kowtowing to political correctness. At the moment, he points out, Darwinian evolution is taught in British schools at key stages 3 and 4, but under the national curriculum, alternative theories such as “intelligent design” (part of the creationist credo) “could be discussed in schools . . . in the context of being one of a range of views on evolution”, according to a government education minister.
“It’s fine to teach children about scientific controversies,” Dawkins says. “What is not fine is to say, ‘There are these two theories. One is called evolution, the other is called Genesis.’ If you are going to say that, then you should talk about the Nigerian tribe who believe the world was created from the excrement of ants.”
Cowardice is at the root of the problem, he feels. When it comes to presenting the truth of science against the “mythology” of religion, science teachers duck the issue for fear of reprimand. And not only from evangelical Christians. In his view, devout Muslims are a large part of the problem.
“Islam is importing creationism into this country,” he says. “Most devout Muslims are creationists – so when you go to schools, there are a large number of children of Islamic parents who trot out what they have been taught.”
In his TV series, Dawkins faces a class of 15-year-olds at Park High secondary school in London. A few of the pupils readily tell him they don’t believe in evolution because it runs counter to their religious beliefs. It’s only after he bundles them into a coach and shows them fossils at the seaside that one or two admit there might be something in this evolution gig after all.
Dawkins shakes his head with dismay. His large, light Oxford house is filled with books, of which his most precious is a first edition of On the Origin of Species, an imprint that ran to only 1,250 copies and sold out immediately. The book has never been out of print since.
His inquiry into how Darwin’s theory of evolution continues to be watered down, and how our fear of giving religious offence encourages this, eventually led to a meeting with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Who wasn’t that much help, since Williams’s line is that evolution is all well and good, but that God was responsible for it.
“Oh, Rowan Williams – what a sweet man,” says Dawkins, a smile breaking over his face. “I have a lot of time for the Church of England.” What? But you’re the most famous atheist in the country. “I feel rather sorry for them in a way. Compared to the alternatives, it is a thoroughly decent organisation. And if all Christians were like Rowan, there wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve met him socially, and he is delightful.”
“When I go to dinner with a bishop, I find them very often – extremely often – very convivial, nice people. Why ever not?” Indeed. Dawkins wants to be liked, and perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect him to thrust The God Delusion over the dinner table at anyone sporting a dog collar.
His view is that most of the Anglican top brass know the Virgin birth and other such “myths” are mumbo-jumbo anyway. “Often, when you talk to bishops, it appears they don’t believe in very much.”
Even the archbishop? “It would appear he does believe in it [the Virgin birth],” says Dawkins. “But he doesn’t thrust it down people’s throats. His kind of Anglicanism is benign and pretty harmless.”