David Cameron has said atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins “just doesn’t really get it” on the issue of faith schools.
Listen to the Prime Minister’s answer to Richard Dawkins
The Prime Minister made the comments as he answered questions from well-known figures for a Guardian newspaper article.
Mr Cameron said he thinks faith schools are “very often good schools” and he noted that the church had provided “good schools long before the state got involved”.
Prof Dawkins asked the Prime Minister: “Why do you support faith schools for children who are too young to have chosen their faith, thereby implicitly labelling them with the faith of their parents, whereas you wouldn’t dream of so labelling a ‘Keynesian child’ or a ‘Conservative child’?”.
Mr Cameron responded: “Comparing John Maynard Keynes to Jesus Christ shows, in my view, why Richard Dawkins just doesn’t really get it.
“I think faith schools are very often good schools. Why? Because the organisation that’s backing the school – the church or the mosque or the synagogue – is part of the community.
“And it brings a sense of community and a sense of responsibilty and the backing of an institution to a school.
“The church was providing good schools long before the state ever got involved, and we should respect the fact that it’s not just the state that can provide education – other bodies, too.
“So I support faith schools on the basis of the proof that over the years they’ve been good schools.”
The Prime Minister also responded to a question from TV presenter Jonathan Ross, who called for more drugs to be legalised.
Mr Ross said: “Will you or your cabinet be the first to see sense and do something about the expensive, time-consuming and ultimately pointless ‘war’ on drugs. Time to legalise some and legislate others, surely?”
But Mr Cameron replied: “I don’t believe in legalisation. If you legalise, you make more available; and if you make more available, you build up a larger problem.”
Last year Prof Dawkins said he wanted to set up a school where children could “automatically” work out that “they are atheists”.
He was speaking in light of the Government system which allows individuals to set up “free” schools.
Claiming not to want to “indoctrinate” children into atheism, Prof Dawkins said his school would teach children “to ask for evidence, to be sceptical, critical, open-minded”.
He went on to say: “If children understand that beliefs should be substantiated with evidence, as opposed to tradition, authority, revelation or faith, they will automatically work out for themselves that they are atheists.”
Prof Dawkins has previously labelled the teaching of orthodox Christian beliefs about life after death as “child abuse”.