God knows what kids get up to at summer camp. God and Nabokov, who may be one and the same. Richard Dawkins doesn't believe in Him - God, that is - and so his camp is of an altogether different kind. From The Sunday Times:
India Jago, aged 12, and her brother Peter, 11 [...] are among 24 children who will be taking part in Britain’s first summer camp for atheists.
The five-day retreat is being subsidised by Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, and is intended to provide an alternative to faith-based summer camps normally run by the Scouts and Christian groups.
While afternoons at the camp will involve familiar activities such as canoeing and swimming, the youngsters’ mornings will be spent debunking supernatural phenomena such as the formation of crop circles and telepathy. Even Uri Geller’s apparent ability to bend spoons with his mind will come under scrutiny.
The emphasis on critical thinking is epitomised by a test called the Invisible Unicorn Challenge. Children will be told by camp leaders that the area around their tents is inhabited by two unicorns. The activities of these creatures, of which there will be no physical evidence, will be regularly discussed by organisers, yet the children will be asked to prove that the unicorns do not exist. Anyone who manages to prove this will win a £10 note - which features an image of Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory - signed by Dawkins, a former professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University.
That would be one of those £10 notes that "promise to pay the bearer" with gold that doesn't exist. And what if the unicorns only come to life if you don't believe in them? And what the heck is a "professor of the public understanding of science"?
The whole point of organised kids' camping is to rebel, with secret chats about Rude Things among the guy ropes. What will these children, doubtless innoculated against Christianity from the cradle, rebel against? One thing's for sure, if I were a twelve-year-old boy and some camp leader tried to tell me there were no unicorns, I would get the horn and give it to him straight.
Yes, I've often wondered about Dawkins' professorship.
Since when was the 'public understanding of science' an academic subject? It's like having a professor of the public understanding of Latin or the public understanding of French Literature. Sounds like the sort of thing you do if you're not clever enough to be a real scholar. What has happened to poor old Oxford?
Mary - as regards Dawkins and his ilk - you may enjoy some of the essays in David Bentley Hart's anthology, "In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments" (in particular the essay called 'On the Trail of the Snark With Daniel Dennett') - and also the first half of his book, 'Atheist Delusions'.
I quote the following choice passage from 'The Gospel of Unbelief', the first chapter of 'Atheist Delusions':
"As I write, Daniel Dennett's latest attempt to wean a credulous humanity from its reliance on the preposterous fantasies of religion, Breaking the Spell, has arrived amid a clamor of indignant groans from the faithful and exultant bellowing from the godless.
'The God Delusion', an energetic attack on all religious belief, has just been released by Richard Dawkins, the zoologist and tireless tractarian who - despite his embarrassing incapacity for philosophical reasoning - never fails to entrance his eager readers with his rhetorical recklessness.
'Over the past few years, Sam Harris' extravagantly callow attack on all religious belief , The End of Faith, has enjoyed robust sales and the earnest praise of sympathetic reviewers.
'Over a slightly greater period, Philip Pullman's evangelically atheist (and rather overrated) fantasy trilogy for children, His Dark Materials, has sold millions of copies...And one need hardly mention the extraordinary sales achieved by Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code...surely the most lucrative novel ever written by a borderline illiterate."
Another sample of Hart at his most acerbic: "I can honestly say that there are many forms of atheism that I find far more admirable than many forms of Christianity or of religion in general.
And I must share this remark about Dennett, which made me laugh out loud when I read it in 'On the Trail of the Snark' - "there are those almost stirring moments when the magnificent and imposing peaks and promontories of his immeasurable historical ignorance swim into view, as when he asserts that the early Christians regarded apostasy as a capital offense."
"But atheism that consists entirely in vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of strident self-righteousness, is as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism."
I can fault only one observation made by Hart: after dissecting one particularly "excruciatingly fatuous" manifestation of this popular atheism by one Martin Kettle of 'The Guardian' (as expressed in Kettle's column about the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004) Hart concludes -
'But Kettle is also uncertain that there are many at present as bold as he is in pressing these questions. Confident though he is in the justice of his plaints [against conventional views of the goodness of God] he concludes by reflecting upon proposed laws in Britain forbidding expressions of religious hatred, which he fears might restrict open critique of religious beliefs, and morosely wonders whether most of his contemporaries still have the courage to join him in his mission to ecrasez l'infame, or whether they are now 'too cowed' even to ask if indeed 'the God can exist that can do such things.' (Of course, all things being equal, it is fairly safe to say that a public avowal of atheism will not require any particularly plentiful reserves of courage in Britain in the foreseeable future)." END QUOTE.
'It is fairly safe to say that a public avowal of atheism will not require any particularly plentiful reserves of courage in Britain in the foreseeable future'...Thus Hart.
Well, yes perhaps: UNLESS the person daring to make such a public avowal, happens to have been raised a Muslim...(though of course the reserves of courage are also required, if the born Muslim, in the UK, should choose to publicly declare themselves a Christian...).
I am surprised that someone as all-round brilliant, and as otherwise perceptive of the condition of the modern Western world, as Hart shows himself to be, and who has visited Britain not so very long ago, should be so completely silent on this unpleasant reality of modern Britain.
No one in his right mind would contend that God and Nabokov are one and the same. The question is: are they of equal rank or does the latter outrank the former?