Richard Dawkins questioned the lessons in "supernaturalism" in fairy tales. Photo: Getty
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Richard Dawkins questions fairy tales' "pernicious" effect on children

Fairy tales could be harmful to children because they may "inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism", according to the biologist.

The evolutionary biologist and professional atheist Richard Dawkins has suggested reading fairy tales to children could be harmful.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Dawkins suggested fairy tales could instil a false belief in the supernatural from a young age. Also, somewhat ironically, the scourge of Creationism took particular umbrage at the idea that a prince could possibly mutate into a frog.

Here's what he said:

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

I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism – we get enough of that anyway.

Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable.

And not satisfied with his extensive work to argue against the existence of God, the author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion lashed out at another omnipotent mystery man: Father Christmas.

My mother has recorded in her notebook that I was at a Christmas party and there was a man called Sam who came as Father Christmas, all 'ho ho ho'. All the children were enthralled by this. Then he left, I piped up much to the consternation of the adults, 'Sam's gone'.

However, amid a flurry of reporting of his comments, Dawkins has taken to Twitter to contextualise his argument. He insists he was simply asking a question, rather than condemning fairy tales outright:
 


But he'll be all right, he's apparently now off to snorkel near New Guinea. Let's hope he doesn't come across any ugly ducklings.

 

Oh, and for balance, read His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman writing for the New Statesman in defence of fairy tales.

I'm a mole, innit.

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New Digital Editor: Serena Kutchinsky

The New Statesman appoints Serena Kutchinsky as Digital Editor.

Serena Kutchinsky is to join the New Statesman as digital editor in September. She will lead the expansion of the New Statesman across a variety of digital platforms.

Serena has over a decade of experience working in digital media and is currently the digital editor of Newsweek Europe. Since she joined the title, traffic to the website has increased by almost 250 per cent. Previously, Serena was the digital editor of Prospect magazine and also the assistant digital editor of the Sunday Times - part of the team which launched the Sunday Times website and tablet editions.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman editor, said: “Serena joins us at a great time for the New Statesman, and, building on the excellent work of recent years, she has just the skills and experience we need to help lead the next stage of our expansion as a print-digital hybrid.”

Serena Kutchinsky said: “I am delighted to be joining the New Statesman team and to have the opportunity to drive forward its digital strategy. The website is already established as the home of free-thinking journalism online in the UK and I look forward to leading our expansion and growing the global readership of this historic title.

In June, the New Statesman website recorded record traffic figures when more than four million unique users read more than 27 million pages. The circulation of the weekly magazine is growing steadily and now stands at 33,400, the highest it has been since the early 1980s.