Scientist offers televised challenge to fundamentalist teaching at a Christian private school. Michael Shaw reports
A fundamentalist Christian school which teaches pupils that Noah's ark was fact and that Aids victims are sinners is to be exposed by the scientist Richard Dawkins in a documentary next week.
But Adrian Hawkes, headteacher of the private Phoenix academy in north London, says he is less fanatical about his beliefs than the atheist scientist.
Professor Dawkins visited the school as part of his Channel 4 series The Root of all Evil?, which argues that religion is to blame for much of the world's suffering.
The Phoenix academy is one of more than 50 small private schools in Britain which teaches the Accelerated Christian Education (Ace) curriculum, a system that originated in the United States and is increasingly popular in the UK with home-schooling families.
Pupils work quietly at individual desks facing the wall, separated from other children by high partitions to discourage them from talking to each other in lessons.
Their curriculum is based on a series of booklets and worksheets produced by Ace which bring Christianity and quotations from the Bible into all aspects of the curriculum and teaches pupils "to see life from God's point of view".
Professor Dawkins said he was taken aback to see that Noah's ark was included as fact in the school's science books, and that God or Jesus seemed to be mentioned on almost every page. He was also shocked to see Aids described in one textbook as "the wages of sin".
But Mr Hawkes defended the inclusion of Noah's ark in his school's science lessons.
He said: "The stuff I was taught when I was a kid at school in science now you would laugh at and say was a myth, but that's what I was taught as fact. One of the things they taught me was that the moon came from the ocean."
Mr Hawkes said that unlike many Ace schools in the US, some of the 40 pupils at the Phoenix academy were not Christians and he encouraged students to question the curriculum.
"One of the (Ace texts) says that dancing is evil, but most of our kids would think that was hilarious," he said.
Mr Hawkes said of Professor Dawkins: "I can understand agnostics, but to say you're an atheist is to say you know everything. He's the fundamental one - I'm liberal in comparison."
Professor Dawkins argues in his programme that religion acts like a virus and saddles children with evident falsehoods and an inflexible moral outlook.
"Adrian Hawkes, I'm sure, is a well-meaning man," he said. "But why should he impose his personal version of reality on children?
"Not only are they encouraged to consider the weird claims of the Bible alongside scientific fact, they are also being indoctrinated into what an objective observer might see as a warped reality."
The Root of All Evil? will be shown on Channel 4 on Monday, January 16 at 8pm.