Richard Dawkins: I believed until I was 8 or 9

(PA)Professor Richard Dawkins, ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author, has blasted fantasy tales for encouraging a belief in the supernatural.

It's not often that Cinderella, Goldilocks and their fairytale friends come under fire, but Richard Dawkins has taken aim at fantastical children's books, claiming that they "inculcate a view of the world which includes supernaturalism".

Famed for his aggressive secularist views, Dawkins has long lambasted parents who encourage their children to explore religion – labelling it "indoctrination" – and it seems he has now gone one step further in blasting fairytales for their role in inspiring a belief in the supernatural.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival on Tuesday, The Telegraph reports that Dawkins asked his audience, "Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are? Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism?"

"I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism – we get enough of that anyway," the evolutionary biologist went on to add.

In an interview in 2008, Dawkins suggested that tales involving magic may have an "insidious affect on rationality," and it appears that he has now developed this line of thinking.

"Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There's a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable," he said on Tuesday.

There to promote his new autobiography, 'An appetite for wonder', Dawkins also shared that as a child he believed in the power of prayer, but that he no longer has any faith – despite recently referring to himself as a "secular Christian".

"I think I did believe it up to the age of eight or nine, when preachers said if you really, really pray for something it can happen. Even moving mountains, I believed it could really happen," he told his audience, before going on to add, "I grew up. I put away childish things.

"I think the scientific view is so marvellous that anything else is a second rate explanation of existence."

Even Santa didn't esacpe unscathed; Dawkins recalled outing a family friend as the bearded fellow who came to entertain himself and some other children during his youth.

"There was a man called Sam who came as Father Christmas, all 'ho ho ho'. All the children were enthralled by this. Then he left, I piped up, much to the consternation of the adults, 'Sam's gone,'" Dawkins remembered, neglecting to mention how many festive parties he has been invited to since.

He did, however, note that it would be "a bit strong" to label bringing up children to have a religious faith as child abuse, though he made sure to add: "When you tell a child to mind their Ps and Qs otherwise they'll roast in hell, then that is tantamount to child abuse".