Just this week Richard Dawkins made a quick trip to New Zealand to give talks, interviews, and podcasts. Much of what he involved evaluating the merit of Mātauranga Māori—the indigenous “way of knowing” that includes practical knowledge, ideology, superstition, tradition, religion, and morality—as a competitor to modern science. I’ve written about this issue a gazillion times on this site (see here for a collection of links), arguing, along with the seven professors at Auckland Uni who signed a letter to The Listener, that while MM should be taught in anthropology or sociology class, it is not even close to being itself “science”. Richard has also promulgated this view.
But despite the palpable incompatibility between MM and modern science, the New Zealand government is going full steam ahead on teaching MM in science classes—indeed, in replacing the entire educational system of the country with a Māori-infused curriculum. It’s fine, of course, to be inclusive by adding local values and history (and some practical methods) to national education, but New Zealand is surrendering wholesale—and that includes its science funding—to the will of the indigenous people, although they comprise fewer than 17% of the inhabitants. In its behavior, including peppering government documents and decree with Māori words (as Richard notes, few, even among the Māori, speak the language), New Zealand is the wokest country I know of. Those who oppose this risk public opprobrium and even their jobs, so one hears little about the science/indigenous knowledge clash in the NZ press. It is a Land of the Cowed.
Richard is featured today in two article in UK papers: a report in the Times and his own take in a Spectator “diary entry”. I give the headlines below, but it’s likely that both are paywalled. I therefore also give links to the archived articles, which are free. Try clicking the screenshots and, if that doesn’t work, go to the archived links I’ll give.
As you see, Richard didn’t pull any punches about MM vs. science during his visit. I expect this will cause a huge kerfuffle in New Zealand, but it’s about time that people stopped being cowards about this issue and debated it honestly. People like Richard and I are foreigners and have nothing to fear, but many Kiwis can and have lost their jobs for speaking up against the fulminating indigenization of their country.
Some snippets, written with passion and Dawkins’s characteristic panache. The “magnificent seven” are the seven Auckland Uni profs who spoke up for science in The Listener. (Two are now deceased.)
Perhaps the most disagreeable aspect of this sorry affair is the climate of fear. We who don’t have a career to lose should speak out in defence of those who do. The magnificent seven are branded heretics by a nastily zealous new religion, a witch-hunt that recalls the false accusations against J.K. Rowling and Kathleen Stock. Professor Kendall Clements was removed from teaching evolution at the University of Auckland, after the School of Biological Sciences Putaiao Committee submitted the following recommendation: ‘We do not feel that either Kendall or Garth should be put in front of students as teachers. This is not safe for students…’ Not safe? Who are these cringing little wimps whose ‘safety’ requires protection against free speech? What on earth do they think a university is for?
To grasp government intentions requires a little work, because every third word of the relevant documents is in Māori. Since only 2 per cent of New Zealanders (and only 5 per cent of Māoris) speak that language, this again looks like self-righteous virtue-signalling, bending a knee to that modish version of Original Sin which is white guilt. Mātauranga Māori includes valuable tips on edible fungi, star navigation and species conservation (pity the moas were all eaten). Unfortunately it is deeply invested in vitalism. New Zealand children will be taught the true wonder of DNA, while being simultaneously confused by the doctrine that all life throbs with a vital force conferred by the Earth Mother and the Sky Father. Origin myths are haunting and poetic, but they belong elsewhere in the curriculum. The very phrase ‘western’ science buys into the ‘relativist’ notion that evolution and big bang cosmology are just the origin myth of white western men, a narrative whose hegemony over ‘indigenous’ alternatives stems from nothing better than political power. This is pernicious nonsense. Science belongs to all humanity. It is humanity’s proud best shot at discovering the truth about the real world.
No punches pulled! I love “cringing little wimps”, but the whole piece rings with righteous anger.
And below is the ending, which is pure Dawkins (“Kia ora” is Maori for “hello,” but literally means something like “Good health to you.”):
Postscript on the flight out: Air New Zealand think it a cute idea to invoke Māori gods in their safety briefing. Imagine if British Airways announced that their planes are kept aloft by the Holy Ghost in equal partnership with Bernoulli’s Principle and Newton’s First Law. Science explains. It lightens our darkness. Science is the poetry of reality. It belongs to all humanity. Kia Ora!
And the report from the Times, which you can also find archived here.
This is really just the Times reporting on what Richard wrote in The Spectator, but there’s a bit of extra background information:
The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has hit out at the New Zealand government for proposing to teach traditional Maori mythology as equal to modern science.
The government of the former prime minister Jacinda Ardern proposed adding Matauranga Maori, or “Ways of Knowing” to the science curriculum, provoking a furious row. The proposal was put forward by the ministry of education, led at the time by Chris Hipkins, who succeeded Ardern after her shock resignation in January.
The government has taken several steps to incorporate indigenous beliefs into government policy over recent years. In 2017, the Ardern administration granted legal personhood to the Whanganui River, closing one of New Zealand’s longest-running court battles. The Maori had campaigned for more than a century to secure legal protection for the river, and the ruling prompted other countries to grant legal rights to natural treasures.
Dawkins is a long-term critic of Matauranga Maori. In a 2021 letter to the Royal Society of New Zealand, he wrote: “Science classes are emphatically not the right place to teach scientific falsehoods. Creationism is still bollocks even if it is indigenous bollocks.”