Camp Fires and Skepticism

Camp Quest is like a regular summer camp — campers canoe and swim — except that one of the main activities is trying to prove unicorns do not exist in order to win a ?10 note signed by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins praises the summer camp for atheists,which “encourage[s] children to think for themselves, sceptically and rationally.” [%comments]


I wish I could have gone to that when I was young.

Doctor Gonzo

I hope their solution is to point out that you can't prove a negative, but agree that the overwhelming evidence we have is that unicorns do not currently exist on this planet.


@Doctor Gonzo

Wouldn't that be an agnostic summer camp?


from the article that's exactly what they're trying to show:
"The unicorns are not necessarily a metaphor for God, they are to show kids that you can't prove a negative," said Samantha Stein, who is leading next month's camp at the Mill on the Brue outdoor activity centre close to Bruton, Somerset.

mind your manners

I hope they're not learning manners from Richard Dawkins, that guy has no tact.


Please, please, please get the facts straight!

When this story first hit 2 weeks ago in the Sunday Times, Camp Quest UK were forced to issue a rebuttal...which can be seen at their actual web page here: (you have listed the US parent companies web site for which the UK camp is an off shoot).

One key point for readers is that Richard Dawkins didn't start the camp, but his foundation did make a donation. He believes in rational thinking and the scientific method, and put money into a summer camp with an ethos based around critical thinking.

Another is that it isn't atheist but open to all...and not intended as a rival to summer camps with a religious theme.

On unicorns...the whole point about the unicorn exercise is that nobody can win the prize...and nobody has in the US camps since they were founded ten years ago. It just is an exercise to show that you cannot prove a negative (in this case that invisible unicorns who cannot be heard, smelt or touched but whose existence is recorded in an ancient book that you aren't allowed to look at, do not exist). Basically it is a lesson that you CANNOT disprove the existence of God...

Unfortunately a very negative spin was put on the camp by some UK "religion correspondents". Some of the language used would appear to be deliberately chosen to create a negative framing of the story: the Sunday Times' headline breaking the story was "Dawkins sets up kids' camp to groom atheists". I'm not sure about in the US but over here in the UK the word groom has very strong links to predatory child abusers.

Do people setting up a camp for children to learn deserve this? I would say no. I would also say it would be equally outrageous to use the same language to frame an article about a bible study camp...or scout camp.

Whether you like Dawkins or not, and lets face it he enjoys getting up people's noses, a little bit of critical thinking goes along way. This is true whether applied to science, theology...or economics...

That's a thought ... what about a Freakonomics Summer Camp for budding economists?

How about a free market for breakfast ingrediants? Choosing the tug of war team by auction? Any other ideas for activities?


Brian Westley

Dawkins didn't start the camp; Camp Quest was started 10 years ago as a response to the Boy Scouts of America refusing membership to atheists. Dawkins provided some funding to start a Camp Quest franchise in the UK.

Rich Wilson


No, it would be atheist camp. The vast majority of atheists, like Dawkins, think that Fod is as highly unlikely as unicorns (or flying spaghetti monsters, or teapots flying around Mars).

Very few atheists go to the extreme of stating that there is 0% chance that Fod exists, because they understand that you can't prove a negative.

Agnostic gets a bit complicated. You'd better just read the Wikipedia article on it.


No, agnosticism is hte understanding that we cannot be certain about anything. Atheism is the lack of belief in a god. The two are not incompatible.

Further, some agnostics will say "I don't know, every answer is equally valid", but that does not apply to all agnostics. I think it would be a very reasonable position for an agnostic to say "We can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a supernatural entity, but without a compelling amount of evidence, I will not accept any supernatural claims."

Caca Fuego

Better would be a camp that tried to prove that Richard Dawkins did not exist.


Caca Fuego @ #10: That would be a very short day camp session, as all he would have to do is show up and wave hello. That's more than God deigns to do.

Richard @ #6: Excellent entry, thank you for setting things forth so clearly.

If the general run of people understood "you can't prove a negative," we would not be bogged down in Iraq, as GWB and his cadre kept insisting that no inspection report that failed to turn up WMD would be acceptable to them.

science minded

please, please- it is not a matter of believing in scientific thinking or the scientific method- as if a faith based issue at all. And if you think so- you do not understand science. That kind of thinking is for non-scientists and people not in the know. Such skepticism is a form of Protestant thinking minus protestantism (and I am not Protestant). There is a concept or name in my field for this process whereby religious ideas get separated from their religious origins. The result is what is interesting- hearing people speaking in religious tones who will deny their religiosity or people speaking as if their perspective is of science, when it is clearly religious. Example- was discussing Christmas with a friend back when and the friend said to me- everyone in the US celebrates Christmas, it's a secular holiday. What I should have said then- but didn't was-- there is a difference between appreciating and celebrating.


Eric M. Jones

It is easy in many cases to disprove a negative. The logical requirement is an exhaustive search. In mathematics, computers have been used to simply search all possibilities, and if you find NONE, then the negative is proved. If an exhaustive search is impossible, then okay, but It is easy to state there are no canals on Mars and it is easy to state that there are no mountains on Earth taller than Everest, because we have exhaustively searched.

One can also use physics and the other hard sciences to resolve certain issues. It is easy to say there is no Planet-X on the other side of the Sun. It is easy to say there are no elephants 20-meters tall. Etc....

So Richard: After an exhaustive search, we can say that there are no unicorns. Send me the money.


"After an exhaustive search, we can say that there are no unicorns. Send me the money."

Clearly you have never heard of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

"Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them."

May her glorious hooves never be shod.


I would imagine that by the end of the camp the children would be able to point out to you, Eric M. Jones, that no one has exhaustively searched the entire galaxy for unicorns.

Eric M. Jones

#14 --I believe Dawkins has something to say about that. Also there is medication that will help.

#15 --We are talking about EARTH unicorns. I reserve the right to exclude extraterrestrial creatures. There are higher mountains than Everest too, just not on this planet.

Send me the money Richard.

Camp Freddie

But how do you prove that they aren't invisible unicorns that can't be detected using our puny undestanding of physics?

I agree though that, anyone that says "you can't prove a negative" annoys me no end, since there are lots of negatives that can be proved. So long as you have a 100% reliable detection method and have looked everywhere, you can prove a negative.


> We are talking about EARTH unicorns.

A contract requires a meeting of the minds.

You would need to mutually agree on the nature of said unicorns. You can not expect to win Richard's money by unilaterally declaring that the unicorns originate on Earth and are corporeal.

Why just the other day Elvis was telling me how he was playing poker with Fred Unicorn, Zeus, Grey Alien #2 and a Chupacabra that wandered in.

D J Wray

It has become an atheist camp by association. Richard Dawkins has, perhaps unwittingly, through his association, become a figurehead and therefore a promoter of the camp. Also through association, the organizers are implying that people who believe in God are irrational. In fact there are a number of compelling reasons to believe in (a) God, not the least of which is the fact that the human brain has adapted, through evolution, an interface with God ("The God Spot").
D J Wray

"Organizing atheists is like herding cats" - Richard Dawkins

Canoe man

The point of an activity holiday is the activities, team games and to have fun meet people etc!

This is just the same as any other camp but with the science and reigion or no religion bolted on!

There are plenty of places you can go on an activity holiday and do the sports such as climbing, canoeing .... and to learn some science, look at stars etc. infact Mill on the Brue is one of them!

A very cleaver neash market for the uk has been created with out the religion or no religion views that are had on the camp it would not be a one of the kind.

we should not be dividing kids up like this and freedom of thinking can be taught with out bringing religion into it or not.