Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity

Dan Smith looks at whether Richard Dawkins's involvement in the New College of the Humanities private university is consistent with his atheist ideology.

By Dan Smith

The creation of the New College of the Humanities (NCoH) – a new private university in London staffed by some of the world’s leading academics and charging fees of £18,000 per year – is a frightening extension of the government’s growing thirst for free-marketisation.

The increase of competition within the educational field promises to widen the gap between the richest and poorest in society and has already given birth to an increase in university tuition fees and the growth of free schools.

However it is the curious involvement of Professor Richard Dawkins – the eminent biologist and renowned atheist – which seems particularly odd.

Firstly, it is important to recognise that the rise of free schools, the increase in tuition fees and the foundation of NCoH are part of the same cohesive neo-liberal project which believes free-market principles improve educational standards due to increased competition.

NCoH is the logical conclusion of the rise of free schools because it comes as a result of the erosion of state authority and the idea that the market can provide for everyone’s needs. The enforced abdication of state authority creates a power vacuum which is filled by other powerful actors – such as private companies or organised religion.

The establishment of NCoH does not in itself contradict Dawkins’s disciplined atheism but, when contextualised within the narrative of educational liberalisation and marketisation, it can be seen to conflict with Dawkins’s rabid religious scepticism because the rise of free schools has fortified the influence of organised religion.

The problem with free schools

There are numerous reasons why free schools reinforce hierarchy and exacerbate social division but, in this case, the most pressing factor is the ascension of faith schools.

Free schools in Britain are based on a Swedish model which has been criticised for rapidly increasing the number of religious schools, giving influence to controversial institutions such as the Church of Scientology and the Plymouth Brethren, and empowering fundamentalist Islamic organisations. Indeed, half of Michael Gove’s first round of free schools had a religious ethos.

Gove himself has acknowledged concerns that faith schools may use new legislation to push their own agenda but, unlike in Sweden, no guidance has been issued relating to free school applications. Indeed, David Cameron’s favourite think-tank, the right-wing Policy Exchange, argued in its Faith Schools We Can Believe In paper (pdf) that free schools are increasingly vulnerable to extremist influences.

Many faith schools have remained within the private sector so as to not compromise their religious beliefs but, under a free school system, they can access state funding without state control. Furthermore, teachers in free schools are not required to hold recognised teaching qualifications.

Dawkins and religious education

According to The God Delusion Professor Dawkins believes:

“Children are educated, again often from a very early age, with members of a religious in-group and separately from children whose families adhere to other religions. It is not an exaggeration to say that the troubles in Northern Ireland would disappear in a generation if segregated schooling was abolished.”

Dawkins conceptualises religious education and the enforced endowment of religious beliefs onto children as a form of child abuse and lies at the very core of his critique of religion. One facet of this criticism is that segregation and in/out groups creates conflict.

Dawkins’s association with NCoH is therefore hypocritical on two levels.

Firstly, opportunity to develop the NCoH has only arisen because of the spread of free schools and the inevitable rise of faith schools – something which Dawkins, if he is to remain intellectually consistent, should be opposing; secondly, both free schools and elitist higher education further encourages segregation on the basis of wealth and class – Dawkins criticises religion for encouraging segregation, so why doesn’t he apply the same analysis to education?

Dawkins’s involvement with the NCoH neo-liberal experiment suggests he may be more interested in his own wealth and self-interest than academic integrity. According to the Bible, Jesus told his disciples:

“…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Fortunately, for Richard Dawkins at least, there’s no such place as the kingdom of God.

32 Responses to “Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity”

  1. Knut Cayce

    Dawkins’ divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: http://bit.ly/iA0VhY writes Dan Smith

  2. Amster

    Dawkins’ divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: http://bit.ly/iA0VhY writes Dan Smith

  3. James Macgregor

    Dawkins’ divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: http://bit.ly/iA0VhY writes Dan Smith

  4. Andrew Crory

    Dawkins’ divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: http://bit.ly/iA0VhY writes Dan Smith

  5. Cookie Zamorski

    OR Dawkins' fervent atheism reflects a belief in western superiority entirely consistent with NCHUM http://t.co/1sBf8FR

  6. Patty

    Dawkins’ divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: http://bit.ly/iA0VhY writes Dan Smith

  7. Joselyn Wallbrown

    Dawkins's divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: However it is the curious involvement o… http://bit.ly/mKa3YF

  8. Eyes On Power

    Dawkins’ divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: http://bit.ly/iA0VhY writes Dan Smith

  9. Mike Smith

    Dawkins's divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: However it is the curious involvement o… http://bit.ly/kgpGmI

  10. Avenging Matilda

    Dawkins’ divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: http://bit.ly/iA0VhY writes Dan Smith

  11. Dave Citizen

    It is going to require clear guiding principles to unpick these anti-social developments. Those of us who believe our society will do better if all the country’s children are given an excellent education must reconstruct the ideological basis for our position. I suggest this position needs to address basic but possibly uncomfortable questions like:

    To what extent is it acceptable for parental wealth to influence the quality of schooling a British child has access to?

    Is it acceptable for British children to be sent to schools by their parents because they want their children to receive a different education based on particular religious or other beliefs?

    How do answers to the above fit with a society that aspires to reward on merit and believes in equal opportunities?

  12. Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity – Left Foot Forward | InGodWeLust.com

    […] more from the original source: Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity – Left Foot Forw… This entry was posted on Sunday, June 12th, 2011 at 2:48 pm and is filed under Non-Believers. […]

  13. Chris

    If you think Richard Dawkins’s religious scepticism is “rabid” you obviously haven’t read his writings or heard him speak. He may upset a lot of religious zealots but I would have hoped you won’t base your opinions on what they say about him.

  14. Charles

    Why wouldn’t an evolutionary biologist support the free market principles that reflect evolution? Competition, rewarding success and punishing failure are central to both. For some obscure link between independent universities and religious schools to deter them is frankly illogical and ridiculous.

  15. Jonathan Taylor

    @leftfootfwd: Dawkins’ divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity: http://t.co/Lvn0CsC <–interesting point

  16. Ed's Talking Balls

    Dave,

    How about all the gutless political parties ask themselves the following uncomfortable question too:

    Is it acceptable for a child to go to a secondary school based on academic merit?

    Given that any egalitarian would (or at least, if in his right mind, should) answer ‘yes’, why on earth, amid all the coalition’s reforming zeal, is there no clamour for grammar schools?

    Let’s have social mobility in this country and give intelligent children from modest backgrounds the chances which the comprehensive experience so often cruelly denies them.

  17. mr. Sensible

    Something tells me grammar schools were about more than educational attainment…

    I am totally opposed to Free Schools.

  18. Ed's Talking Balls

    An entry exam is considerably fairer than a postcode lottery, Mr. Sensible. I would rather people were differentiated on the basis of their ability rather than geography or wealth.

  19. consumer

    http://t.co/qpNkmB3 @shngrdnr. Interesting point about dawkins. And one I agree with as well. Free schools seems hypocritical.

  20. John Jackson

    Quite frankly, it is at times such as this that I am grateful I do not share Richard Dawkin’s simplistic, linear and one-dimensional view of human existence; let’s face it, given his – personally lucrative – endorsement of this Tory led government’s IDEOLOGICALLY motivated, elitist and divisive education policies, the future for many a young person is clearly going to rest ‘in the hands of the Gods’ !!

  21. Dave Citizen

    Ed – I would prefer a system such as that in Finland, with no private opt out and everyone from the richest to poorest families’ children attending their local school. This works in Finland, enabling it to top world education rankings repeatedly. It wouldn’t work as yet in Britain because our society is so hopelessly unequal. You can guess what else i’d be changing!

  22. Jerren Jimjams

    Richard Dawkins has responded:

    “This is the brainchild of A C Grayling, NOT me. I have no idea why the BBC chose to use my face. Professor Grayling invited me to join the professoriate and give some lectures. I accepted the invitation, partly because I liked the idea of lecturing to non-scientists after reaching Oxford’s compulsory retiring age, partly out of respect for A C Grayling, and partly out of respect for the other professors from around the world who had already agreed to lecture, and whom I felt honoured to be invited to join.”

    You also neglect to mention A.C Grayling at all, who is the founder and a very famous atheist himself.

  23. greg

    Make the point about the school being incorrect.
    make the point about dawkins and academics joining not doing what you consider the right thing.

    however do not say him doing something non-religious means he supports something religious. the idea preposterous and insulting.

    i know athesits who are committed socialists and committed libertarians and most things in between as well.

    Please do not equate atheism with a set of political beliefs (as it happens i am both an atheist and basically oppose this university even if i dont care that much and i strongly free market neo-liberal policies etc)

    The article’s conclusion is presumptuous and wrong and built on a dismal knowledge of dawkins.

  24. Stephen W

    This is most certainly the most batshit crazy nonsense I have read for quite a while.

    Dawkins is betraying his beliefs by joining a private college because the wide political currents that are moving in the direction of a less direct state control over education has also led to the expansion of the number of schools run with a religious ethos.

    The vast, blind running, jumping leaps of logic required to make that even vaguely work as a logical argument are so ridiculous that I’m actually impressed. I would have to go on for pages just to list the hidden premises, non-sequiters and total humbug required to make that even make vague logical sense.

    Congratulations to you Sir. In trying to criticise Dawkins you have managed to make even larger failures of basic reason and sense than even Dawkins himself manages. A man so stupid that he actually thinks that non-segregated schooling would have been all it took to entirely solve the Northern Irish Troubles in 20 years, one of the most complicated and deep-rooted communal strifes in human history. Bravo to you. You have a bright future in organised stupidity.

  25. Dick Turner

    RT @leftfootfwd: Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity http://t.co/nn50uDs

  26. CoCoaButta

    RT @leftfootfwd: Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity http://t.co/27DOATG

  27. Liz K

    RT @leftfootfwd: Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity http://t.co/cGbuwzY

  28. Phil M

    The difference here is that the new college charges twice the top fee and so is only really open to the children of the wealthy. At least the free schools aren’t based upon the ability to pay. It seems that Graylin and Dawkins are quick to criticise the faith schools for being divisive, but ignore social division based upon wealth. New atHeists, same old prejudices.

  29. Liz K

    If A C Grayling has as I have been told today pulled out, will Dawkins now soon follow??

  30. Leo Nikolaidis

    RT @leftfootfwd: Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity http://t.co/3rp4zA8

  31. A state free of religion is a core liberal belief | Left Foot Forward

    […] Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrity – Dan Smith, June 12th […]

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