How Richard Dawkins Stole Christmas
Ruining the Holidays with a Children's Treasury of Atheism
The Magic of Reality
by Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean
(Free Press, $32)
The zoologist Richard Dawkins is famous for, one, promoting a genecentric view of evolution and, two, promoting a Godless view of the universe. When it comes to his view concerning genes and their central role in biological evolution, he has some flexibility. He is willing to give up a little ground if the evidence against his position cannot be easily rejected. As for his belief in the Godlessness of the universe, he is inflexible. If you do not accept atheism as the truth, then you are dead wrong. His confidence is, of course, justified; all the evidence around us points not to a grand creator but a cosmic history of accidents. There was the accident of a universe with just the right amount of hydrogen to produce stars. There was the accident of a planet that's just the right distance from a star. The accidents that led to bacterial life, multicellular life, plant life, and animal life. And, finally, the accidents of climate, geography, flora, and fauna that connected to form the kind of mammal that has a brain big enough to believe in a supreme being and, also, disprove the existence of this supreme being.
It's not that Dawkins is wrong about God (that humans made Him up), but his tone is so ungentlemanly, so ungenerous, so fanatical. He has yet to write a book in which he does not stop an engaging line of argument to remount on his high horse and remind us of the universe's utter Godlessness. We have heard you, Dawkins. We have heard you so many times. Yes, God did not design this wasp and its macabre way of killing caterpillars; yes, God did not make the perfect human eye; yes, God-intoxicated people are a danger to scientific progress. Having pounded these hard truths into the heads of adults for thirty-some years, Dawkins has decided it's time to hammer it into the heads of children. This fall, he published a children's book, The Magic of Reality.
Hearing somewhere (a cocktail party?) that children are very visual, Dawkins decided to pack his little book with vivid illustrations by the comic-book artist Dave McKean. Well and good. But here is the problem: Dawkins has not written a fabulous children's book but, instead (and rather predictably), a stuffy textbook. Why is this a problem? Because if a child is unlucky enough to read The Magic of Reality, he/she will immediately be returned to the last place they want to be during the holidays: the school, the classroom, tasked with memorizing the facts of science.
Dawkins's goal? Replace the magic of myths with the magic of hard facts: The sun is so far from the earth, light moves at such and such a speed, photosynthesis converts light into energy that powers living organisms, and so on. Children must get real. This business of turning frogs into princes or pumpkins into carriages is total rubbish. Why? Because "frogs and coaches are complicated things with lots of parts that need to be put together in a special way, in a special pattern that can't just happen... by a wave of a wand." This is your science teacher speaking. This is not who you want to spend Christmas with. What you want is to be amused by frogs that can talk, penguins that fly airplanes, and zebras that can disco dance. Every child knows what is entertainment and what is homework. No amount of illustrations can hide the simple fact that Dawkins's book is just a bunch of homework.