Children need to be "protected" from religious indoctrination in schools, biologist and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins has said, backing a campaign by Atheist Ireland to overhaul our education system.
Speaking to The Irish Times in advance of a public talk at Trinity College Dublin on Tuesday evening, Prof Dawkins said: "There is a balancing act and you have to balance the rights of parents and the rights of children and I think the balance has swung too far towards parents…
“Children do need to be protected so that they can have a proper education and not be indoctrinated in whatever religion their parents happen to have been brought up in.”
Prof Dawkins was in Dublin on the second-leg of a pair of talks organised by Arizona State University's Origins Project, which is aimed at promoting public understanding of science.
While his address focused primarily on genetics, Darwinism and “misconceptions about science”, he also answered questions from the floor about religion and those forces in society “against rationality”.
After Stephen Fry's much-publicised comments on God, Prof Dawkins is perhaps only the world's second most famous atheist right now. But he still pulls a crowd and several hundred people coughed up £35 (€50) a head for his lecture in Edmund Burke theatre with cosmologist and Origins Project founder Lawrence Krauss.
Prof Dawkins, who spent Monday in Belfast, praised the work of Atheist Ireland in campaigning to separate church and state in education.
Warning against the “power of childhood indoctrination”, he said it was futile debating with people who put the Bible ahead of scientific evidence. “You have to write off those people” but you can try to convince younger people to avoid superstition, Prof Dawkins said.
His plea for reform was backed by Prof Krauss who said: “Parents, of course, have concerns and ‘say’ but they don’t have the right to shield their children from knowledge. That is not a right, any more than they have the right to shield their children from healthcare or medicine.”
In his address, Prof Dawkins spoke of “the replication bomb” that gave rise to human life as we know it. He said the laws of chemistry showed that before DNA there was another “self-replicating entity”, probably RNA.
But could this process have occurred elsewhere? He said people were “perfectly entitled to believe” that earth was unique in containing life but this was highly improbable.
He said life in the universe could be as rare as “one in a billion stars” but if it existed “the one thing I will put my shirt on is that it will be Darwinian life”, namely it would depend on some information-bearing, self-replicating entity.
Recommending that people “put flying saucers out of your mind,” however, he said “it’s far more likely that we would discover it by radio than we would be visited.”