In Brief

Why Atheist Richard Dawkins Supports Religious Education in Schools

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins, founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, talks about his work at an event in Sydney, Australia, in 2014. (Image credit: Don Arnold/Getty Images)

Despite his criticism of intelligent design and creationism, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins told people at a science festival this past the weekend that he believes religious education is a key subject for schoolchildren.

Dawkins, who is open about his atheism, said that understanding religion can help students get a better grasp of the world's history and culture. He made the statement during a public conversation at the Cheltenham Science Festival in Gloucestershire, England, on Sunday (June 11), according to The Telegraph.

It's basically impossible to study English literature without some knowledge of Christianity, Dawkins noted. [Saint or Spiritual Slacker? Test Your Religious Knowledge]

Dawkins is the author of several books, including "The Selfish Gene" (Oxford University Press, 1976), in which he talks about how genes associated with self-interested survival drive evolution; the 2006 best-seller "The God Delusion"; and his forthcoming book, "Science in the Soul" (Random House, August 2017).

Dawkins touched on religious education after being asked whether schools should stop teaching the subject due of fears that it result in children accepting religious doctrine without questioning it.

But, after stating his support for the subject — at least for historical and cultural purposes — he warned that it was "deeply wicked" and "evil" to use religion to scare children by saying that they could end up in "hell fire," Dawkins said, according to The Telegraph.

He also said that scientists should stop using the phrase "theory of evolution," largely because the term "theory" could lead people to think that it was not scientifically proven, he said, according to The Telegraph.

"I would recommend not calling it a theory, I would call it a fact," he said at the festival. "The word 'theory' is clearly misunderstood. Evolution is a fact and there is absolutely no question or doubt about that. Look at the evidence — it is overwhelming."

He added that Darwin used the term in the 19th century, "fair enough, but it is a fact, it is established as strongly as any other fact in science … It’s much better to abandon the word 'theory' altogether. Don't ever use the word theory of evolution."

Original article on Live Science.

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.