Outspoken atheist Professor Richard Dawkins is to warn children of the dangers in believing "anti-scientific" fairytales such as Harry Potter.
Prof Dawkins will write a book aimed at youngsters where he will discuss whether stories like the successful JK Rowling series have a "pernicious" effect on children.
The 67-year-old, who recently resigned from his position at Oxford University, says he intends to look at the effects of "bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards".
'I think it is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don't know,' he told More4 News.
'Looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's something for research.'
The Conventional Folly article linked to above says:
If Dawkins isn’t careful, he’s going to end up founding the atheist equivalent of the Parent’s Television Council, where scores of underpaid twenty-somethings scour the airwaves 24-7, tallying up on their scorecaards the number of times David Caruso flashes an ass cheek or Peter Griffin says “bitch”, “ass”, or “suck”—except instead of doing that, Dawkins and his lot will be tabulating references to fairy godmothers, magic beans, and such.
That's a bit of a leap. The book hasn't even been published yet (it may not even be written yet), and the article says nothing about an intent to censor.
I think it is an interesting question, the extent to which consumptions of particular types of media, such as those with more fantastical elements, effects later academic performance. My guess is that it depends a great deal on context, i.e. the way in which the stories are presented. If fantastical books are read to children before they can read themselves, and it's made clear that "it's just a story, and none of it is real," then that might make a difference from a situation where children are encouraged to take stories seriously.
I honestly don't know. It would also be interesting to survey avid readers of fantasy and compare their beliefs in the supernatural. I've read a fair amount of fantasy myself. I enjoyed the Oz books while growing up, read Piers Anthony, and am still waiting for the next Song of Fire and Ice book to come out. And I'm a pretty hardcore rationalist.
Einstein famously said that imagination is more important than knowledge. I think fantasy is not only healthy, but desirable, in fostering children to constantly stretch their imagination and ask "what if" questions, to posit alternative worlds where the rules are different. The key element is the extent to which they treat fantasy as hypothetical or whether they take it somewhat seriously.
And if even they did, and studies bore out some kind of negative effect of reading fantasy on college entrance exams (which I doubt), I'm pretty sure Dawkins would not be in favor of censoring such material, but in informing parents so they can make choices about what and how to present material to children.