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Richard Dawkins on Darwin-Doubting Undergraduate Student: "Little Fool" Is a "Pathetic Little Idiot"

At the Richard Dawkins Foundation website, Dawkins himself has commented on a story about a student who didn't want to learn about evolution. Dawkins tells his own story about an encounter with a student who apparently had sensitivities on the same subject. Dawkins, however, shows the opposite of sensitivity.

Little commentary is necessary -- Dawkins's words speak for themselves:

I too caused a girl to cry, for the same reason, when I made a cameo appearance in a classroom at a small university in America earlier this year. I felt remorseful at the time, but afterwards I thought about it and remorse turned to anger. Anger at the girl's stupid parents. Anger at the girl herself for being so weedy. What the hell did she think a university was for, if not to encourage her to think in new and unfamiliar ways, going beyond what she was exposed to when living with her ridiculous family? I didn't in any way insult the girl herself or say unpleasant things about her or her family. I didn't even tell her to grow up, although I should have. All I did was lay out the facts of evolution and the evidence for it, in unemotional, scientific terms. And that was enough to make the little fool cry.

The story above is about a school, not a university but, even so, what a pathetic little idiot. All remorse having left me, I now think the undergraduate I encountered thoroughly deserved her self-imposed distress, and it sounds to me as though the teacher in the present case was bending over backwards, further than she should, to be nice and accommodating.

Given how comfortable Dawkins seems calling someone a "little fool" or "pathetic little idiot," I have a hunch he didn't merely "lay out the facts for evolution" in an "unemotional, scientific" fashion. Whatever the case, if you want to get skeptical students to learn about evolution, Dawkins's methods are probably the worst possible way to go about doing that. Making students cry, and then calling them "idiots," is a pedagogically inadvisable strategy. And yet he was formerly Oxford University's Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science?

So what approach does successfully encourage students to learn about evolution? When giving lectures to students, I encourage them never to "opt out" of studying evolution, and instead to study the subject when given the opportunity. As I explain, my own experience was that the more I learned about evolution, the more I saw that Darwinian theory is beset by serious scientific flaws and dubious assumptions. I also encourage students to think critically and carefully whenever learning about this, or any, topic, and form their own opinions.

Giving students permission to think for themselves and form their own opinions--and equipping them with the critical thinking tools which enable them to do this--relieves many of the distress they may feel at the prospect of tackling this controversial topic. This works much better than calling then names or making them cry. Amazing, isn't it?