Richard Dawkins supports school Bible plan
Leading atheist Richard Dawkins says he supports the plan to put a Bible in every English school.
The privately funded distribution of King James Bibles began this month to mark its 400th anniversary.
Prof Dawkins, writing in the Observer, said: "It is not a moral book and young people need to learn that important fact because they are very frequently told the opposite".
Critics have said it is unlikely that schools do not already have a Bible.
Education Secretary Michael Gove supported the plan, saying the text had had "an immense influence" on the English-speaking world.
He said pupils should learn about its role in the nation's history, language, literacy and culture.
Prof Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford, said: "A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian."
"People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality."
He added: "I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem.
"The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself."
KING JAMES BIBLE
- 54 scholars, all members of the Church of England, were chosen to work on the translation and 47 completed the task in 1611
- They drew heavily on the work of William Tyndale, who was one of the first to translate the Bible into English from Hebrew and Greek
- It was all at the request of King James I, who was unhappy with existing translations. He frequently visited the scholars at work
- Phrases we still use include: No peace for the wicked (Isaiah 57:21), The blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:13) and God forbid (Romans 3:6)
Although he questioned whether any child would actually read it, he said: "Whatever else the Bible might be - and it really is a great work of literature - it is not a moral book and young people need to learn that important fact because they are very frequently told the opposite."
He added: "Not a bad way to find out what's in a book is to read it, so I say go to it. But does anybody, even Gove, seriously think they will?"
In the same way that Mr Gove wanted pupils to learn about its wide influence, Prof Dawkins emphasised the Bible's contribution to literature.
"The whole King James Bible is littered with literary allusions, almost as many as Shakespeare (to quote that distinguished authority Anon, the trouble with Hamlet is it's so full of cliches)."
Among the examples he used to illustrate his point were: the salt of the earth; go the extra mile; I wash my hands of it; filthy lucre; through a glass darkly; wolf in sheep's clothing; hide your light under a bushel; and no peace for the wicked.
The Bible distribution costs of £370,000 are being funded by charities and philanthropists.