Prof Dawkins vs Prof Dumbledore – AND ONE MUST DIE!

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Apparently Richard Dawkins thinks that Harry Potter damages children. Except he doesn’t.

Dawkins’ views on Harry Potter remain to be seen. Personally, I think the politics of Potter are slightly iffy (being a paean to meritocracy in which the bad old elitists get their comeuppances while the good new elitists get to inherit the earth and lord it over the “undeserving” muggles), but fail to see how anyone could describe it as damaging (that’s the role of religious nutjobs anyway). However, it does take me back to my undergrad dissertation in which I commented on Dawkins’ 1997 Reith Lecture (which, annoyingly, doesn’t appear on the BBC’s website and is misdated on RichardDawkins.net) where he said:

How do we account for the current paranormal vogue in the popular media? Perhaps it has something to do with the millennium — in which case it’s depressing to realise that the millennium is still three years away [it was four years away! Sheesh!]. Less portentously, it may be an attempt to cash in on the success of The X-Files. This is fiction and therefore defensible as pure entertainment.

A fair defence, you might think. But soap operas, cop series and the like are justly criticised if, week after week, they ram home the same prejudice or bias. Each week The X-Files poses a mystery and offers two rival kinds of explanation, the rational theory and the paranormal theory. And, week after week, the rational explanation loses. But it is only fiction, a bit of fun, why get so hot under the collar?

Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a black suspect. And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to have done it. Unpardonable, of course. And my point is that you could not defend it by saying: “But it’s only fiction, only entertainment”.

This of course is utter bilge. Generally speaking, the formula of the X-Files was that a rational theory and a paranormal theory was presented, both of which turned out to be cobblers, and a third, semi-scientific explanation was found. The monster wasn’t a figment of people’s imagination or a wolf, but it wasn’t a spawn of hell either. Generally speaking, these things were explained as freaks of nature.

In other words, while rarely ascending beyond its pulpy origins, the X-Files formula was the very epitome of scientific method. But Dawkins couldn’t see beyond the fact that it explored the supernatural and space aliens. He should have been celebrating a series which was, at its best, profoundly scientific and prised out these underlying themse. Instead he denounced anyone who enjoyed the show as lunatic irrationalists. Thanks a bunch.

So if Dawkins is to turn his attention to Harry Potter et al, I hope he will be paying a little more attention than he was back then.

2 thoughts on “Prof Dawkins vs Prof Dumbledore – AND ONE MUST DIE!

  1. More importantly, the X Files was clearly fantasy (although a hard core of believers never grasped that). Similarly, Harry Potter is clearly fiction.

    Whilst children don’t always have the best grasp on the difference (I certainly didn’t – I’d believe any old crap), understanding what’s real and what’s not (e.g. Santa, tooth fairy) is an important part of growing up.

    I feel more uncomfortable with programmes that present the supernatural as real. The gap between Britain’s Most Haunted (faked but presented as real) and Sea of Souls (realistic drama) isn’t great, and the 2003 MMR drama Hear the Silence may well have cost lives.

  2. You’re quite right about The X-Files, James, as I continue to plough through it. It tends towards science fiction, rather than fantasy, with cod science explanations most of the time – although it’s happy to play with religion when it takes its dramatic fancy.

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