In Brief

Richard Dawkins: 'fairy tales are bad for children'

Stories about the supernatural world could hold back young children, says Richard Dawkins

Reading fairy tale stories to children may harm them by enforcing a false belief in the supernatural, according to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Dawkins, a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University, warned of the dangers of teaching children "statistically improbable" facts from fairy tales by encouraging a belief in Santa Claus, wizards and princesses.

He suggested children should be taught scientific facts rather than fictional fantasy at a young age. "I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism," he reportedly said. "We get enough of that anyway."

Dawkins questioned whether the delight of fairy stories might hold children back, according to the Daily Telegraph.

"Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are?" he said. "Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism?" 

Dawkins told the audience he had stopped believing in Father Christmas when he was just 21 months old after realising a man called Sam had donned a costume.

Dawkins also described his 'flirtation' with religion until the age of eight. "I think I did believe it up to the age of eight or nine, when preachers said if you really, really pray for something it can happen," he said. "Even moving mountains – I believed it could really happen."

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