Outspoken atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is a vocal opponent of religion, but he isn’t against teaching it.
In his bestselling book The God Delusion, Dawkins explored the roots of religion in human culture and spoke out against religion as a whole for influencing society in negative ways. Dawkins described himself as a “deeply religious non-believer.”
But speaking at a science festival in England this weekend, the scientist urged religious education to be taught to British schoolchildren. Dawkins called religion crucial to their understanding of history and culture, and said it was virtually impossible to study English literature without also knowing the background of Christianity.
“I don’t think religious education should be abolished. I think that it is an important part of our culture to know about the Bible,” said Dawkins. “After all, so much of English literature has allusions to the Bible. If you look up the Oxford English Dictionary, you find something like the same number of quotations from the Bible as from Shakespeare.”
Describing Christianity as important to both culture and history, Dawkins said: “So much of European history is dominated by disputes against rival religions, and you can’t understand history unless you know about the history of the Christian religion, and the Crusades, and so on.”
Dawkins did not recommend for students to be indoctrinated by religious beliefs, but rather encouraged them to cultivate an understanding of the subject. “I would not abolish religious education, I think I would substitute it for comparative religion and Biblical history and religious history,” he said.
Dawkins was at the event to promote his latest book, Science in the Soul, in which he describes Islam as the “most evil” religion for cultivating fanaticism among its adherents. He described moderate Muslims, who make up the bulk of the religion, as its biggest victims.
“It’s tempting to say all religions are bad, and I do say all religions are bad, but it’s a worse temptation to say all religions are equally bad because they’re not,” said the author.
Dawkins is best known for describing the concept of “memes” in the book The Selfish Gene, in which he described cultural ideas, behaviors and styles that spread from person to person within a group. The concept is analogous to genes that self-replicate, mutate and evolve.