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Richard Dawkins: Kids Should Read the Bible in Public Schools

Speaking at a science festival this past weekend, notorious atheist Richard Dawkins defended teaching the Bible in schools as an "important part of our culture." He opposed abolishing religious education, but argued that children should be taught comparative religions to learn history and literature, along with critical thinking.

"I would not abolish religious education, I think I would substitute it for comparative religion and Biblical history and religious history," Dawkins said, as reported in Britain's The Telegraph. He emphasized the Bible specifically as an essential part of history and culture.

"I think that it is an important part of our culture to know about the Bible, after all so much of English literature has allusions to the Bible," the atheist declared. He emphasized that "if you look up the Oxford English Dictionary you find something like the same number of quotations from the Bible as from Shakespeare."

Dawkins also added that the Bible is "an important part of our history" in the UK, but also in the West generally. "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."

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, is well known for launching the movement of "new atheists," along with Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens. His most famous book, The God Delusion, argues against religion in general. At the festival, he was promoting his forthcoming book Science in the Soul: Selected Wrightings of a Passionate Realist, a collection of his essays on science and religion.

But Dawkins does not advocate for the utter silencing of religion.

"Comparative religion is very valuable, partly because the child learns that there are lots of different religions, not just the one they were brought up with," the author declared this past weekend. "They learn that they are all different and they can't all be right, so maybe none of them are right. Critical thinking is what we need."

The outspoken atheist did not encourage such critical thinking when applied to evolution, however. He argued that it was time to abandon the phrase "theory of evolution," because the word "theory" invokes a degree of doubt for most people.

"I would recommend not calling it a theory, I would call it a fact," Dawkins said. "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."

"I've given up hope of ever clearing up that confusion," the atheist added. "It's much better to abandon the word theory altogether. Don't ever use the word theory of evolution."