Thursday, 30 July 2009

Spare a Thought for the Unicorns

An atheist summer camp in Somerset is offering children aged seven to 17 a "godless alternative" to religious camps traditionally run by the scouts and church groups, the BBC reports. Camp Quest, according to its promoters, is "dedicated to improving the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method… and the separation of religion and government".
That doesn't sound too bad - until, that is, you take a look at the centrepiece of the week's activities.
As the principal task of the week the camp asks its participants to search for two invisible unicorns. The unicorns cannot be seen or heard, tasted, smelt or touched, they cannot escape from the camp and they eat nothing. The only proof of their existence is contained in an ancient book handed down over "countless generations". A prize - a £10 note signed by Professor Richard Dawkins - is offered to any child who can disprove the existence of the unicorns.
That sounds really open-minded, doesn't it? Even if you look beyond the thinly-veiled and vaguely mocking allusions to the Bible and to God, the fact that the children are challenged to disprove the unicorns' existence suggests to me that their minds have already been seeded with the appropriate outcome. Sorry to rain on the parade, but that's not scientific. True science looks objectively at the whole body of evidence and seeks to draw meaning from it without making prior assumptions. If you decide something is or isn't true before you start you'll just end up gathering evidence that supports your theory.
Then, of course, there's the prize. The glorious reward for giving up the treasures of a life of faith, the security of unconditional love and comfort in the face of death is one miserable ten-quid note defaced by Richard Dawkins. That's not much of an exchange.
But look deeper - money is a man-made concept, it gives a false sense of security yet is inherently unreliable, it promotes arrogance, pride and amoral living, and ultimately it never satisfies. Maybe it's an appropriate reward after all.


  1. well they can say what they like about the disproving of unicorns but i maintain they're real.