Culture

My Son and I Write A Review of Richard Dawkins' Children's Book

My 7-year-old son, Max, and I co-wrote a review of Richard Dawkins’ children’s book, “The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True,” for Chemical & Engineering News. It was a wonderful collaboration with my son, who is already much brighter than I ever was at that age. I’m very proud of him. Here’s an excerpt:

Yes, we get it. These myths/stories seem ridiculous, and Dawkins takes the tone he always takes when describing religious stories—a condescending one. Yet to somebody who was raised in religion but also understands science, the mocking tone also mocks culture. It is a difficult thing to describe to those who did not grow up with religion. I can devote my career to writing about science, yet also feel strangely defensive about the stories of my childhood. In his previous book, “The God Delusion,” Dawkins compared this reaction to our evolutionary need to obey our parents. I do not know if this is true, since I have not obeyed my parents in decades. Nevertheless, I continue to feel possessive about stories I know to be myths simply because they are an important part of the way my parents raised me.

What Dawkins does not see is that the myths of our ancestors are snapshots in time. They show our cultural evolution and are a tie to our earlier, more primitive selves. They do not need to be taken literally, but rather respected as cultural history.

The problem I have with Dawkins’ assumptions is that I know these stories are not the hindrance to scientific thought that he presumes. But Dawkins repeats a mistake from previous books about the clash of religion and science by assuming that anybody other than the most fervent minority actually takes these stories literally. So, in this book, he considers it part of his crusade to set kids straight and point out the obvious, that these are just myths and stories. Children can tell the difference.

Max is very much into “Star Wars” mythology, for example. So I asked him why it is that he’s so immersed in this mythical universe yet has such little patience for the mythology listed in Dawkins’ book? Because nobody claims “Star Wars” is true, he said. And, of course, he is correct. More here