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Live webchat with Richard Dawkins, Wed 23 June, 10am-11am

(497 Posts)
GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-Jun-10 12:47:44

We're pleased to welcome Richard Dawkins for a webchat on Wednesday 23 June from 10am-11am. Richard is a celebrated evolutionary biologist and atheist, and author of the best-selling God Delusion.

He has presented programmes on Channel Four that range from enthusing about the Genius of Charles Darwin to arguing against religion in Root of All Evil?

His latest project is taking a long hard look at education and the role religion continues to play in it.

He wants to hear first-hand from Mumsnetters what faith and church schools are really like. How successful are they? Are they selection by another means? Are they divisive? And are they making hypocrites out of non-believing parents who go to church just to send their children to them?

If you can't make the discussion but want to contribute, please post your views here.

Thanks and hope you can join us.

liath Sun 20-Jun-10 00:27:53

Eek, apologies for the Mr, Prof Dawkins blush.

SomeGuy Sun 20-Jun-10 01:29:15

You are quoted here: www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article1767506.ece as saying 'intelligent, sophisticated theologians are almost totally irrelevant to the phenomenon of religion in the world today' 'because they're outnumbered by vast hordes of religious idiots'.

From watching your interview of Rowan Williams it would seem that you regard him as an intelligent, sophisticated theologian, and that our established church in England is therefore not one of religious idiots.

Do you feel that the hand of the 'religious idiots' is strengthened by the rhetoric of anti-theists such as yourself, lining up to attack literalists and their beliefs?

Is it not the case that the stridency of your arguments merely serves to strengthen the resolve of your opponents, and indeed to push believers towards fundamentalism, as their arguments are the ones getting all the publicity?

Your position as both the highest profile evolution scientist and also the most famous anti-theist implies to many believers that there is a choice - evolution or God, when the major Christian Churches in the UK have no opposition to evolution at all.

On the topic of religion in schools, I have no major objections. My son went briefly to a Catholic school, despite my colleague, a Governor, crowing about how good it was and how we wouldn't be able to get in because we weren't Catholics. Of course it is a form of selection, but selection is of course inevitable in life. The school we wanted to go to but didn't get into was further away from our home (we were near the Catholic school) and surrounded by the most expensive housing in town. A few months of Sundays in church is a very much easy hurdle to jump over than having a spare million pounds for a house in the right road.

Anyway, we weren't terribly impressed with the Catholic school as it happens, and are now in a non-selective school - albeit one that has fees of thousands of pounds a year. The major change we have noticed is that at the new school, a great deal is expected of parents in terms of reading to their children, help with homework, etc., whereas previously it was noticeable that there were perhaps two or three parents in each class who couldn't care less about education. I wonder if the previous, Catholic, school might have done better to require regular church attendance, not because a belief in God improves exam results, but because the discipline of regular church attendance is indicative of a ethic of perseverance and structure that would tend to exclude the 'couldn't-care-lesses' - the higher the barrier, the more committed will be those that jump it, and rather something relatively egalitarian than the usual 'how-fat-is-your-wallet' standard applied by successful non-religious schools.

Eleison Sun 20-Jun-10 05:10:41

On the issue of faith schools, it seems to become an issue where there is an unjustifiable scarcity of adequate schools and faith becomes one of several invidious and unjust ways of rationing a resource. Therefore wrong, both when operating strictly correctly according to its own criteria and of course when its criteria are abused by the socially literate and canny middle classes to play the system to their advantage.

Indoctrination? Clearly wrong but at my children's CofE controlled primary that is not what occurs. Rather there is acculturation -- the provision of religious culture to inform one aspect of a child's cultural literacy and help her to choose and rechoose through life. Since religion is not purely or primarily cognitive, the acculturation is partly procedural (the business of hands-together-eyes-closed, etc). Insofar as it is a cognitive acculturation it is at our school properly presented to the children as neutral between faiths and neutral between faith and atheism. So as an atheist I entirely welcome it. But that endorsement is only possible because the school is non-selective on grounds of faith and in my locality there is not unacceptable pressure on good school places.

I would also like to say that the current Dawkins Versus Faith debate is entirely unrewarding and that on the atheist team it presents a hostile caricature of faith and is philosophically facile. It makes me ashamed to be an atheist.

Pofacedagain Sun 20-Jun-10 09:42:14

GREAT posts SomeGuy and Eleison.

justaboutblowingbubbles Sun 20-Jun-10 19:22:42

Dear Professor Dawkins,

First I'd like to thank you for the huge groundswell of interest you have created in discussing issues of religion, faith and belief - as a Church of England clergywoman I know how much it has helped revive interest in the subject amongst non-churchgoers, and I know many of my colleagues give devout thanks in prayer for your work, so effective has it been in provoking people to ask hard questions about their faith and atheism...and, indeed, in creating a process of questioning and reflecting that has seen many hitherto fence-sitters return to the pews...

But that's an aside, and you probably wouldn't want to be thanked for that anyway. So, my question:

In the purely hypothetical situation that you died and found that God did, after all, exist, and even more unbelievably He/She was interested in what you had to say...

Would you
a) apologise for your lack of faith,
b) berate Him/Her for the suffering and inequalities in Creation
c) mutter that it wasn't very fair for an intelligent Deity not to provide rational proofs of His/Her existence
d) Do something else far cleverer that I haven't thought of?

Yours,

Justabout

justaboutblowingbubbles Sun 20-Jun-10 19:23:31

PS. Oh, and you're entirely right about faith schools. Unnecessary and socially divisive.

HerBeatitude Sun 20-Jun-10 19:52:48

Hi just want to add my experience of faith school - I live in a grammar school area which means that the catholics who pass the 11 plus tend to go to grammar meaning that there are more places for non-faith school children in faith schools - anything betwee 20-33% in any year group.

DS is going to a RC secondary school in September and along with the grammar schools in the area, it's the only comprehensive school that still has embroidered blazers (as opposed to badges to sew on cheap as chips Asda ones) and only one uniform stockist. So breaching government uniform guidelines aimed at ensuring that low income families are not hit by horrible uniform prices.

It's the only nice comp in the area (hence him going to it) but I was genuinely shocked that it should have this policy and slightly astounded 1. that schools are allowed to flout govt. guidelines like this and 2. that a school that declares itself christian, should want to.

BonzoDoodah Sun 20-Jun-10 23:34:47

Hello Prof Dawkins - thanks for coming on here.
To answer your question first - I am a lifelong atheist and (from a very young age)was bored rigid in school assemblies where I had to listen to what I thought was a pile of nonsense that didn't relate to me at all. My children are not school age yet but there is no way I would sent them to a church run school. I find it bad enough that the state schools have religious ceremonies without having the children indoctrinated any further.

I have always been very open about being an atheist and quite adamant that I am NOT agnostic (despite people arguing with me vehemently) but it has quite often shocked people that I do not believe in god (quote "gosh but you're a nice person!!!" FFS!) I read River Out of Eden recently and am now in the middle of The God Delusion and am finding it refreshing to read someone with my point of view.

I heard you described on Radio 4 today (Sunday) as a "Neo-Atheist" and wondered what you thought of the label. And if you wondered, like me, why it has suddenly become "acceptable" (almost trendy) to say you are an atheist after years of us being seen as pariahs.

kittykitty Mon 21-Jun-10 10:04:46

Did you know that you're the most searched for Richard on Google? I started typing Richard into the search box and Richard Dawkins came up ahead of Richards Hammond, Branson and Gere.

SomeGuy Mon 21-Jun-10 11:00:35
TheShriekingHarpy Mon 21-Jun-10 14:00:36

""But allowing/promoting religious differences in public education seems hugely retrogressive and at odds with all attempts to promote a fair, equal and tolerant society""

And imposing a decree which revokes denominational schools and endorses secularism ...well how is that consistent with a "tolerant society"?

TheShriekingHarpy Mon 21-Jun-10 14:15:54

Also second Mammamic's question to Professor Dawkins - why are theism and (for example) evolution considered irreconcilable or mutually exclusive?

GetOrfMoiLand Mon 21-Jun-10 14:25:58

That is a cracking question, onebat. Will be interested to see professor Dawkins' answer.

I have also read a lot of Prof Dawkins work and hugely admire him, in both his brilliantly argued religious stance and excellent scientific writing. I also love his waspish footnotes.

I too agree that there should be no place whatsoever for faith schools and that there is no free choice. I had to make a very difficuly choice with my dd's secondary school recently, i either had to choose a poor school or send her to a catholic school. As much as I was tempted to send her to the catholic school due to attainment being far higher than teh other choices, I couldn't be hypocritical in the end and actually do it. It would have gone against what I believed in.

Very much looking forward to Wednesday.

ChuckBartowski Mon 21-Jun-10 14:38:46

I also believe faith schools are socially and academically divisive , however I am far more concerned by the acts of daily worship required in supposedly non-faith schools.

My children do not attend faith schools because of their inherently divisive nature. Luckily, we are in an area where the state schools are as good as faith schools but I do object to my child having to pray daily in the Christian faith without learning anything significant about other world faiths. If I wanted my children to be religious, they would attend Sunday school.

mustrunmore Mon 21-Jun-10 14:41:24

I really think 90% of church schools are just hypocrisy these days.

Church schools have a better reputation, even tho many community schools provide great education.

The ds's are in a church school ,and its alot more expensive. I know the donations are 'voluntary' but nevertheless, you kind of have to pay the maintenence fund etc, else there just wonr be any money in the kitty. And all the fantastic things aat our school are pta funded in the main, which means alot of hard work and also alot of spending on the events put on.

Church schools aalso have their own quirky rules eg the one closest to us allows tarot at indulgence evenings etc, but our school doesnt. We are also not allowed to dress as a witch or a devil at halloween parties, but its ok to be a zombie or a vampire hmm

I have a question for you professor Dawkins.... how do I help a 6yr old (going on 14 in his head) who is very bright, very science-minded, but who is really struggling with combining what he knows about evolution etc and what the school tells him about God? He's perfectly intelligent enough to understand the concept of people believing without proof etc etc, but every now and aagain he really wobbles, as the church school obviuosly presents God as gospel (no pun intended).

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 15:59:22

You mean your school is teaching him creationism mustrunmore? How odd. Perhaps you can tell him that Christianity and a science are not mutually exclusive?

I never had to pay a penny extra at our local CoE school for my son and neither did anyone I know.

vinauchocolat Mon 21-Jun-10 17:10:20

Professor Dawkins I admire your work hugely. I believe faith schools are completely socially divisive and it angers me. I am not an atheist, but I'm not religious either. I am a sceptical agnost at present more atheist than anything else. (and I personally believe religion is a hijacked tool which once held some truth but now its sole function is to control humanity.)

Anyway I am always asked (for example, in hospital when pregnant) to choose a religion. There is no box for 'not sure' or 'undecided'. They force you to choose a religion. I hate this.

I am also always told 'the best schools are church schools' which, in my area (SE London) happens to be true. I am therefore told I must christen my children, and to do this I must go to church, and must bring my child up as a religious person. I believe this is morally wrong, to impose a belief system on a small child who may or may not choose these beliefs himself. I did not christen my daughter, and she very sadly died at age 18 months. The people I speak to effectively state that in not christening her I both caused her death and have condemned my innocent and wonderful child to a less than pleasant afterlife.

What I am trying to say is that we live in an alarmingly segregated society- I am the minority and I feel that I am victimised due to my non-disclosure of faith. I am not allowed access to the best schools, I am told horrible things about my daughter, I am forced to choose a faith to tick NHS boxes, and in these modern times I would be happier to be able to choose to live without a specified religion without such prejudice.

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 17:25:47

vinauchocolat - I am terribly sorry you've had access to such appalling individuals to say such a horrible thing about your daughter. I just wanted to say there are plenty of Christians who struggle with the idea of an afterlife. And there are plenty more [the majority I'd suspect] who would not think for a second that anyone would be at a disadvantage, if there were an afterlife, because they were not christened.

I am well aware there are some hideous christians around. But they do seem to get around according to this thread, unfortunately.

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 17:30:24

And as for causing your daughter's death - where do these awful people reside? It is an absolute perversion of everthing Christ taught.

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 17:30:36

And as for causing your daughter's death - where do these awful people reside? It is an absolute perversion of everthing Christ taught.

GetOrfMoiLand Mon 21-Jun-10 17:31:47

vinauchocolat - what a wicked, unforgiveable thing those people have said to you. That is truly awful.

I have no problem in the knowledge that there is no god. There is a beautiful passage in God Delusion speaking about a non religious funeral service, which really touched a chord with me when I read it.

I probably contradict myself in that I adore visiting churches and catherdrals. As soon as i enter them however, it really strikes me that why do we humans believe in god, when we can create so much beauty and majesty with our bare hands.

vinauchocolat Mon 21-Jun-10 17:37:16

Yes Po they really have said those things, but I didn't mean to generalise in my post so I apologise for that. I'm sure there are far more nice Christians, and in fact I have met two very nice non judgemental vicars, but the majority of people who have actively spoken to me about it have really upset me by some of the things they have said regarding christenings. A bit off-topic I know, but it seems there is such prejudice still out there (albeit perhaps coming from a minority who lurk near me) against people who are not commited to a faith.

vinauchocolat Mon 21-Jun-10 17:40:59

GetOrf, even though I don't share their beliefs, they really made me sad because there is that tiny part of me which doubts whatever belief or non belief I have, so although I don't believe what they said is correct it has been internalised somewhat as a 'you're such an awful parent your child got ill/died/is now going to hell because of you' message! They've all been either from S London or Wales hmm

Pofacedagain Mon 21-Jun-10 17:44:05

It is a real problem though vin, because how dare anyone say something like that to you, let alone in the name of Christ. That really is evil at work, and if there is such a thing as supernatural evil [though human evil is quite enough] it resides in people like that [as well as in the banking system, greed, and the power hungry etc]Christ reserved much wrath for the self righteous and the quick to judge.

I sound like a fully fledged Christian, and as an agnostic I can't be, but it is a real problem, the way that Christians pervert Christ's teachings, and then someone like Dawkins comes along and misunderstands the crucial philosphical role religion plays because Christianty, for example, has been totally perverted by those that claim to represent it.

pernickety Mon 21-Jun-10 17:56:39

TheShriekingHarpy "And imposing a decree which revokes denominational schools and endorses secularism ...well how is that consistent with a "tolerant society"? "

Do you know what secularism is? Secularism isn't a bad thing. There are even religious secularists!

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