Dawkins vs mātauranga Māori vs Western Science vs woke culture wars

Dawkins vs mātauranga Māori vs Western Science vs woke culture wars


Elon Musk, Richard Dawkins’ criticism of mātauranga Māori in schools faces backlash from Kiwi researcher

Tech billionaire Elon Musk has weighed in on criticism of the inclusion of mātauranga Māori in New Zealand’s school curriculum following a column denouncing the policy by prominent international scientist Richard Dawkins.

But a leading Kiwi researcher has slammed the scientist – saying the opinions are “embarrassing, inaccurate and full of racist tropes”.

Dawkins – an evolutionary biologist and writer and author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion – wrote a column for UK magazine the Spectator calling the teaching of mātauranga in science classes “ludicrous”.

The Oxford University fellow and former professor said the policy was “ludicrous” and changes to the curriculum were “adolescent virtue-signalling”.

Ugh, hasn’t this gotten ugly fast.

To be fair to the 7 Professors and Dawkins, they have a technical point.

You can’t have a publicly funded curriculum that undermines the legitimacy of ‘western science’.

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1 + 1 always equals 2, that’s not up for negotiation. We already have enough people who think crystals cure cancer, that microchips are in the vaccine and that Covid is being spread by 5G technology.

We can’t undermine the legitimacy of ‘Western Science’, this is a public education curriculum, you can’t set it against itself, the task is to turn out scientifically literate citizens for a high tech economy. Debating the ideas about cultural dominance of western scientific presumptions at Uni is one thing, sowing seeds of illegitimacy in high school students is completely another.

So the 7 Professors have a technical point, but the whole debate becomes immediately moot because this branch of inquiry wasn’t included in the next stage of the curriculum, so the 7 Professors claim a victory despite the other side not turning up.

Where I think they totally jumped to conclusions is in their condescending perspective that trashes 1000 years of indigenous knowledge by using an excruciatingly narrow definition  of what science actually means.

It’s like burning down the Sistine Chapel because proper art is painted on canvas.

I think the Professors are wrong about that, a people who navigated oceans by the stars, with complex astronomy, with vast natural science knowledge through a deep oral tradition, you can’t just arrogantly write that 1000 years of knowledge off with such snide parameters.

B-U-T we have academic freedom in NZ and as such it’s our academics who have the responsibility and freedom to articulate ideas that can be controversial.

I respect academic freedom enough to disagree vehemently with their conclusion but defend their right to say it.

The most disappointing part of this debate is that it’s made The Listener politically relevant for 30seconds for publishing the 7 Scientists letter.

Which is awful.

The Listener has all the self importance of a fart in an elevator. I stopped reading after Finlay MacDonald left.

The letters page of The Listener is the perfect place for these academics to duel it out. A white realm of Boomer privilege punching it out in the most low brow news media these ivory tower titans will collectively agree to stoop to.

What would be terrible right now is some type of woke purge to have these Professors expelled from Auckland University or from the Royal Society.

People can academically disagree and even be disagreeable without a lynch mob forming to burn heretics.

Personally, I think the Matariki coverage on TV last year might just be the most important cultural moment in NZ history.

We rarely see the majesty of Māori culture so raw and dramatic.


The spiritual power of this poetry can touch us as a people in a way we’ve never experienced, this is a nation whose emotional range is stretched at the ANZAC Day Last Post.

To be exposed to Māori culture on mass media broadcasting like this, to have the drama played out against the stage of the dawn was a moment unlike any other and I believe will have a profound impact on New Zealand.

This celebration, part grief-part hope, this powerful theatre of primordial forces of nature speaks to a nation of lonely atheists desperate for meaning on these shaky Isles.

We didn’t realise how much we needed Matariki.

For me, I wanted my daughter to have the birthright that is the Māori culture as a Kiwi and she has spent her entire life in a Māori emersion class and can speak Te Reo fluently and is amazing at her Kapa Haka. When she does a wee karakia it makes me tear up and feel more of a New Zealander than anything else.

She is one pakeha in a Māori school of about 500. Her teachers are always stunned that a Pakeha parent would place their child there, but it has given her a confidence that I adore.

For me, the Māori culture is a gift, and if you want that gift it is there to give you deeper connection to this land, but if you don’t want the gift that’s ok, and it doesn’t make you a bad person.

Forcing Te Reo down peoples throats is not the definition of a gift.

I don’t believe in the spiritual elements of the culture but I don’t have to believe in God to enjoy the beauty of the Quran’s poetry or the art of the Sistine Chapel.

Where I seperate from those fighting for mātauranga Māori is when they attempt to take Māori knowledge and skills and attempt to suggest a pedagogy that doesn’t exist.

I want to take an example from Dave Armstrong over at Stuff, and let me be clear, I’m not attacking Dave, because I like him, but take this example

What might happen is that when teaching plate tectonics, for example, an informed teacher could tell the story of Ngātoroirangi, who called his sisters in Hawaiki to turn themselves into fire and travel underground to Aotearoa and subsequently appear at various volcanic hotspots. The story shows that after much observation, Māori probably understood the relationships of the volcanoes in the Pacific “ring of fire”, something confirmed with the scientific discovery of plate tectonics in the 1960s.



Would we think that early Polynesian explorers encountered volcanic activity around the Pacific and then created a narrative about supernatural beings popping up to explain that or are we honestly suggesting Māori had a functioning knowledge of plate tectonics which we didn’t discover until 1967?

Dave suggests the story is a good entry point for Māori and Pacific Islanders to get into science, ok, but that’s not what defenders of mātauranga Māori want, they want recognition these myths ARE science and that’s a problem.

While Europeans were frightened of sailing off the edge of the Earth, Māori and Polynesian navigators were exploring the Pacific. Their indigenous knowledge, skill set and cosmology should be recognised on their own merit without pigeonholing it into Western Scientific structure.

Finally I find the concept of ‘western’ science to be an eye rolling concept because ‘western’ science has stolen so much science from every one else.

We stole everything the Greeks had and took enormous amounts in science, medicine, math, astronomy and chemistry from the Muslims, so the concept of Western Science when we are discussing the totality of human knowledge seems a critical race theory too far.

This stopped being about science a long time ago and is now just another frontline for the woke culture war.


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