Dawkins admits mistake, removes name from petition

Richard Dawkins has admitted he erred in signing the controversial petition mentioned in the previous post, and in a comment on Ed Brayton’s blog, says the following:

I did sign the petition, but I hadn’t thought it through when I did so, and I now regret it. I have asked the organizer to remove my name. Unfortunately, it seems that the list has already gone off to Downing Street but the organizer, Jamie Wallis, has kindly asked their web manager to remove my name. I suspect that he himself may be having second thoughts about the wording, and I respect him for that. It isn’t always easy to get the exact wording right.

I signed it having read only the main petition: “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.” I regret to say that I did not notice the supporting statement with the heading, “More details from petition creator”: “In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians.” If I had read that, I certainly would not have signed the petition, because, as explained in The God Delusion, I am in favour of teaching the Bible as literature, and I am in favour of teaching comparative religion. In any case, like any decent liberal, I am opposed to the element of government coercion in the wording. Furthermore, the Prime Minister, thank goodness, does not have the power to ‘make’ anything ‘illegal’. Only parliament has the power to do that.

I signed the main petition, because I really am passionately opposed to DEFINING children by the religion of their parents (while ‘indoctrination’ is such a loaded word, nobody could be in favour of it). I was so delighted to hear of somebody else who cared about the defining or labelling of children by the religion of their parents (how would you react if you heard a child described as a ‘seclular humanist child’ or a ‘neo-conservative child’?) that I signed it without reading on and without thinking. Mea culpa.

So there we have it. Unlike creationists, Dr. Dawkins shows a scientist’s humility and willingness to admit to a mistake. I hope he is more circumspect in future about adding his name, and the considerable weight it carries, to anything that on the surface appears to support his views, before looking more deeply at its true ramifications.

PS: PZ Myers has spoken to Dawkins personally and confirmed it is Dawkins who commented at Brayton’s blog, and that Dawkins has in fact recanted.

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