Posted in Blog Archive

Posted by abeodbart June 30, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins has helped launch a summer camp aimed at changing the way children think.

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, has helped launch an atheist summer camp for children. Alongside the more traditional activities of tug-of-war, swimming and canoeing, children at the five-day camp in Somerset will learn about rational scepticism, moral philosophy, ethics and evolution.

Camp-goers aged eight to 17 will also be taught how to disprove phenomena such as crop circles and telepathy. In the Invisible Unicorn Challenge, any child who can prove that unicorns do not exist will win a £10 note – which features an image of Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory – signed by Dawkins, Britain’s most prominent atheist.

Dawkins is not personally involved in Camp Quest, which originated in the United States, but helped subsidise the cost of the camp through his Richard Dawkins Foundation. The former Oxford professor said Camp Quest provided children with a summer camp that was “free of religious dogma”, unlike many adventure breaks which are run by the Scouts and faith-based groups. All 24 places at the camp, which runs from July 27 to 31, have already been filled and more camps are planned for next year, including Easter.

The First Post

June 30, 2009 at 12:18 pm
Mike says:

Am I the only one that thinks running an Athiest Camp over Easter is a little more thanironic? :p


June 30, 2009 at 12:37 pm
flapjack says:

I want that tenner… but how to prove unicorns don’t exist? I’m thinking a signed testimonial from a unicorn on it’s deathbed that it’s the last one… though there’s no saying they don’t exist in a galaxy far far away. OK how about a testimonial from Darth Vader that he’d destroyed them all?
Dammit, I’m just going to have to get Dawkins to sign another £10 note!

June 30, 2009 at 12:40 pm
Charlotte says:

What an idiot..

June 30, 2009 at 12:54 pm
Siobhan says:

Hmmm, not actually sure how I feel about the idea of an atheist Summer camp…

I often think that we should teach children more about critical thinking and scepticism as part of their education, and less about religion etc, but (and I can hardly believe I am saying this) there is something nice about the ability small children have to just believe in things, I just think that they should grow out of it at some point.

Would it be very sad to teach an eight year old to be a more sceptical thinker? At eight should they still beleive in unicorns and fairytales for a little while longer?

I’m not sure…

June 30, 2009 at 12:59 pm
Rob says:

I have never really taken to Dawkins style. I think its because its very very easy to say “proove you’r right!” rather then “proove me wrong!”. If you were asked right now to proove your sain thats a very hard thing to do, but proveing someone else is mad is very easy.


June 30, 2009 at 1:06 pm
Siobhan says:

@ Rob, the entire world is actually run my tiny invisible elves who climb into our brains when we are sleeping and control all of our thoughts and actions – prove me wrong.


June 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm
ReliegiousMarie says:

@Mike…nope your not the only one, only i think it´s admirable that at least one person on this whole feckin´ rock is on a very strong mission to get the balance back in matters of religion and dogma. (and it is probably good that not everyone can do this like Dawkins does)

For Easter, I bet ya, they choose Easter for more then one reason…

I would personally never ever bring my kids to any summer camp, but for those who do and did so for years and years….i say, Good for them to Have an Atheist camp finally.

June 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm
mturf says:

thats fantastic! i’v always been an advocate of teaching doubt. this goes alongside thoughts like “they should teach common sense in school”. i’v always had mixed opinions about camps like that simply because of all the… for want of a better word… hogswash they beef the kids with. if the world can fill youngsters with thought provoking ideas and show them how to see through the mist of narrow mindedness and misplaced beliefs that that float around the place then we might get some serious improvements to the human race over the next few generations. left hope we see more things like this.
the unicorn thing is awesome, and great fun. i know if i was there at that age i would have been after that baby

June 30, 2009 at 1:52 pm
Beth says:

Haha! I want to come! I’m 16 and will be 17 next summer. I’m there.

This is a brilliant idea, and I hope it catches on.

June 30, 2009 at 1:59 pm
roz says:

fyi, there are pagan scout groups in the U.S….altho they dont have an easy time of it! :)

June 30, 2009 at 2:00 pm
~Mojo~ says:

I am an atheist, an anti-theist, and a fan of Richard Dawkins. However, I find myself skeptical when it comes to using leisure time physical activity to promote a deeper intellectual message to children. Why can’t a kid just go to camp and do outdoor things like hike and canoe without there being a catch to it all? Religious or anti-religious, can’t camp just be kept camp?

June 30, 2009 at 2:52 pm
Emma Rose says:

Sounds good except kids like beliving in that kind of thing! I’d like to think this will help raise a more intelligent generation, but really i think kids might dismiss it as boring. There might be some tears when theyre told Santa isnt real!

June 30, 2009 at 2:59 pm
Jules says:

I’m Pagan, but even if I wasn’t I’d think this was a bad idea. Heck, I think the Pagan scout groups Roz mentions are a bad idea. Kids are kids, stop assaulting them every hour of every day. I don’t want any belief system, religious, atheist or political, to be pushed on kids. When they’re too young to understand, it’ll only be damaging, if they’re old enough to, let them work things out for themselves, without anyone pushing theirs on them.

Besides, in a world as troubled as ours by human suffering, mass extinction and pollution, I think there’s thousands of better things to spend money on than send a kid to camp. I never went to one and I still grew up fine, with an appreciation of the natural world and an interest in physical activity.

June 30, 2009 at 3:10 pm
Gunnar J. says:

To the first poster: No, I ALSO think it’s ironic!

These militant atheists suck so hard. Dawkins needs to force his world-view on the rest of us in the most grotesque manner, just like in Jesus-camp, only his tactics are merited becouse he’s “right….” right?

I love Derren Brown and really like how he respects people’s intelligence (or at least does not make his lack of respect clearly known), but Dawkins and those Penn & Teller guys… damn. I watched a mind-numbingly stupid show of theirs last night about environmentalism which ignored all the real debate and rather settled for cheap laughs at the expense of some moronic tree-hugging girl.

And what’s the deal with that Teller guy?

June 30, 2009 at 3:22 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

Come one now, Dawkins isn’t comparable to Jesus Camp just because you think his books are pushy. In Jesus Camp, kids are abused pretty horribly. If this atheist camp involves telling them to be soldiers for Darwin and having them fall over and flail about, then maybe it’ll be a valid comparison.
Not sure how I feel about this idea overall. I don’t see a problem teaching kids about philosophy, though, to be honest, or about examining things skeptically. I can also see the need for a kids’ camp that specifically stays away from religious dogma, I remember a group coming into our school to sell a Christian camp to us when I was a tiny ScreamingGreenConure, and church groups disguising themselves as after-school activity clubs in order to push religion.

June 30, 2009 at 3:42 pm
FigaroTheParrot says:

I dont know… I love Dawkins and he’s certainly been an influence in my life, but this camp idea seems a bit misguided and, honestly, creepy. I would rather it be a camp devoid of religion, rather than a camp that taught atheism. Theres a subtle but important distinction, I feel.

Then again, Dawkins is a man of great integrity, intelligence, and compassion. I’m sure if he’s involved at such a level, everything will be run with the highest morals and ethics.

June 30, 2009 at 3:55 pm
Mark System says:

I think it’s a really good idea. As a former member of a boy’s Christian youth organisation, the only thing I ever dis-liked was the religious aspect. All the other elements (not least camp every summer) have benefited me in my life. Time spent singing hymns could have been used to teach us how to disprove telepathy. That’s just 100% cooler! The fact that these organisations are usually “religious” just shuts out parts of society. Any child should feel welcome to an Atheist camp if it’s not pro actively attacking religion and more so just teaching “reason”. Could youth organisations play a key role in sorting out the mess with gangs etc?

June 30, 2009 at 4:02 pm
Don says:

This camp seems to have been misrepresented in the media as an ‘atheism’ camp, and it’s a mistake that seems to be being repeated here. From what I’ve read of it, it is not ‘pushing’ any religious world view, atheistical or otherwise – it says it will teach kids how to think, not what. The ‘atheism’ angle seems to come from the fact that the camp is advertising itself as an alternative to non-religious parents who would otherwise have only religious camps to choose from.
I would agree with posters above who think that 8 year olds are a little young to be learning the value of doubt and skepticism. It could well be that such philosophical and intellectual activities are reserved for the older children, in which case I’m all for this. Children certainly aren’t learning about critical thinking where it should be taught, in science class.

June 30, 2009 at 4:18 pm
Gunnar J. says:

Agreed “ScreamingGreenConure,” my analogy was misplaced, chosen more for shock value I guess.

What I was trying to get at was how all this indoctrination is just fighting fire with fire. “Science-camp” would have been a better and more wholesome way to encourage independent thought in my opinion. But spending a summer learning how to disprove crop circles? What-EVER!

June 30, 2009 at 4:21 pm
amanda says:

@Mike yes ha ha … bonk

June 30, 2009 at 4:38 pm
Don says:

In what way is teaching critical thinking and skepticism ‘indoctrination’? Surely it’s the very opposite? When you look at the number of people in this country who uncritically accept creationism, homeopathy and, yes, crop-circles (or at least the alien origin thereof), don’t you think the teaching of these ideas is important?

June 30, 2009 at 4:50 pm
KatM says:

It really is unfair offering a prize of a signed £10 note to a child. If my children are anything to go by, a ten pound note is a rare gift and spent on something they really really want. I think it is more aimed at the parents of the winner who will willing agree to swap the old scribbled-on note for a nice new looking one that can be spent immediately. The scribbled-on one can then be safely stored away and auctioned on ebay during some future time of financial need.

As for 8 year olds and skepticism:- I have an 8 year old and it is an ideal age for encouraging their already questioning minds to think around what they are being taught. There are plenty of opportunities stimulated by school work, tv programs, etc, to talk around a subject and make them aware that not all people view things in the same way. In particular, religious topics can be tackled by saying that some people believe this but other people believe that and talking about why this might be. There is nothing harsh or forced about this approach and leaves the door open for future discussions as they grow older.

June 30, 2009 at 5:07 pm
Statchie says:

I live in the US and have heard of these camps. They are actually normal camps. Kids hike and canoe and such. The underlying tones seems to be mindfulness. Whether it’s learning how to protect yourself in the woods or taking on world viewpoints. Kids are taught how to take concepts that can be confusing for us all and think about them, but they try to keep it light and fun. I think it’s lovely. It sounds to me as though most of the camp is just regular camp, but they do have a few interesting activities that stands them apart. haha!

Keep in mind that no one forces anyone to participate in these things. The families that are going to participate in speciality camps like these are families in which the kids will most likely be being raised with a similar mindset. I highly doubt that an eight year old girl for a strong Christian family would have a mother who chose this camp over others. Instead the camps offer a nice option for kids who would groove on it. Everyone likes being with like minded people and this is just one more choice for families.

Thumbs up, I say.

June 30, 2009 at 5:07 pm
DaveyJJ says:

@Rob. You’re confusing the words “proof” and “evidence” dear boy.

Proof only exists in the field of mathematics, nothing else. I believe what I believe (atheist/evolution/&c) based on a pile of evidence that points us all in those directions. When you can provide evidence for me that contradicts mine, then I change my views.

That’s the fundamental (no pun intended) difference between rational thinkers and those who will not change their beliefs despite evidence that clearly demolishes their worldviews.

When someone drops a iron ball and it goes up, I promise to revise my views about the theory of gravity. Same goes for any evidence of any god(s).

As Don says, critical thinking and skepticism *isn’t* indoctrination … it’s teaching a willingness and desire to alter your worldview based on a new preponderance of evidence. The world’s most brilliant thinkers are those who demolish the incorrect old views by providing us new evidence that better explains (and in many cases, more simply explains) the world around us.

Signed … a parent whose teaching his kids how to think, not what to think. And someone who is happy to not have all the answers and doesn’t ever believe we will.

June 30, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Indoctrination is indoctrination whether the ploy is atheistic, religious, or la la monkeyism. Children should be allowed to be children first and foremost. How about a summer camp without ulterior motives? Strikes me as tit-for-tat bollocks to be honest. Christians have a summer camp so I’m going to have an atheist summer camp. Handbags.

Oh and Dawkins is intelligent and at a push has integrity….but compassion…Seriously?

June 30, 2009 at 5:38 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

KatM: what you say about reaching encouraging kids to question and think around what they’re taught was what I first thought this article meant when it talked about teaching kids skepticism, but I’m not so sure now. I do think a camp with science and general philosophy would be better than this idea. here is Camp Quest’s website. I am not sure I really like them very much and I don’t feel altogether happy about what is basically segregation – I understand that parents might not want to send their kids to a camp with religious content and there’s definitely a place for camps without that, but a camp JUST for the kids of atheists and secular humanists? That’s just seperating them from their religiously brought-up friends for the summer, and that helps nobody at all. the Wikipedia article makes me like them even less.

June 30, 2009 at 8:01 pm
Ms G says:

I may hope they will leave the kids some hope and dreams here and there. It’s not always about reason I’d say. And about crop circles .. I hope the kids get to have their own say about it as well, or what they would like it to be. Next to what they think it probably is. Well, the younger ones will come up with interesting stuff, I’m sure about that. My little cousin talks about the 2 little red buttons on our back which makes us invisible and about trashcans underneath the roots of plants (very practical I thought). And that we were doing silly things, we, the two of us, not because we were crazy .. but for fun (not all people understood that he thought).

They find their own way quite well most of the time … and will enjoy exploring their own brain … in all its facets … Let’s not forget how we got where we are now …. and see also the good points …

These camps … they make it sound a bit … depressive .. like .. they are going to tell the kids that all that nice stuff’s just not true .. and then they will tell them what they will have to see … the cold truth … The oldest ones even need to be capeable to play .. Oh, and they taught me stuff .. which I never took in as my own … so let’s hope that is all most kids will do … listen .. check stuff .. and make up their own mind as far as possible.
The extreme floaters might need some help here and there but I did not encounter those at any moment in my life I have to say .. we all seemed to float …. it is another way of surviving this not so nice place called planet earth .. life is not always that nice, even not for kids. They are just bored in some part as the adults.

June 30, 2009 at 9:09 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

What we really need is a camp that teaches kids to make their own crop circles.

June 30, 2009 at 11:38 pm
Ricky says:

If we are to counteract the poison of religion, peddled to our children like crack cocaine on a daily basis, we need more projects like. Religion is an evil which plays on our children’s’ fears, throttles their imaginations, imposes false morality on them and reduces the real wonder of our existence to a mere fairy story.
Well done for Richard D for helping to fund such a worthwhile project. I’d rather leave my kids in the hands of atheists than to the ‘tender’ care of a group or scoutmasters, priests or nuns – so much for religion!

By the way the whole point about the unicorn is that you can’t prove it does not exist. Merely by being unable to prove something doesn’t exist does not mean is exists! Now apply that reasoning to god.

July 1, 2009 at 7:38 am
flapjack says:

SGC – Regarding crop circles, everyone knows crop circles are made by stoned wallabies!

July 1, 2009 at 12:01 pm
Don says:

Worth reading

Even supposedly positive articles have to be double-checked, it seems.

July 3, 2009 at 8:59 am
Karina says:

I don’t see anything wrong with an athiest summer camp. Religion consumes our society. Take Christmas for instance. Although I revel in the commercialism as much as the next, why not simply admit what it is – an ancient pagan festival. I hate lying to children. Santa Claus is a big fun guy but he does not climb down chimneys and he certainly does not bring you the presents – no that comes from mummys hard earn cash that she has been saving up all year. And don’t even get me started on the nativity play. But despite my own beliefs, I never follow through with them, because the rest of society would say : ah that poor kid. Isn’t her mother awful. So I go along with the fanfair like everyone else.I think it is great to teach kids to open their minds and not be manipulated so maybe the next generation will be less putty in the hands of whoever it is that wishes to mould them.

July 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm
Andy Evans says:

I think Dawkins is starting to believe his own hype. ‘The Richard Dawkins Foundation’? Do me a favour!

August 16, 2009 at 12:41 am
Sara Leighs - English revert to Islam says:

So he’s setting out to brainwash just like religious schools and churches etc. Just shows that athiesm is and always will be the faith of the human ego. thiests worhsip some kind of god athiests worship their belief in themselves.

Interestingly both thiests(christian’s, jews etc) and athiests think they are 100% correct in their belief yet neither’s evidence withstands critical apprasial.

September 12, 2010 at 11:14 am
Rory says:

Thank science for Richard Dawkins, this summer camp sounds great.


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