New Zealand academics disagree with Richard Dawkins' dismissal of mātauranga Māori as science

  • 27/10/2022

New Zealand academics disagree with comments by a top UK biologist dismissing mātauranga Māori.

The comments were made by Oxford University's Richard Dawkins, one of the world's leading public intellectuals, during an interview with Newshub national correspondent Patrick Gower.

His comments come as the teaching of mātauranga Māori - or traditional Māori knowledge - has expanded in schools in recent years. 

Dawkins said scientific proof was global and didn't belong to one country.

He said "myths" couldn't be confused with science.

"If there's any value in Māori myths then it must be worldwide," he told Gower.

"It can't be true that it's only true in New Zealand - that would be ridiculous."

Richard Dawkins.
Richard Dawkins. Photo credit: AM

Associate professor Ella Henry, a Māori academic from the Auckland University of Technology, did not accept Dawkins' phrasing.

Henry told AM disregarding traditional knowledge as mere "myths" ignored thousands of years of history.

"Let's remember that 3000 years before Dawkins' ancestors dipped their toes in the North Atlantic, mine were traversing the biggest ocean on the planet using nothing more than Polynesian science," she said.

"There is a particularly Euro-centric notion… very Western notion of science but… there's also, all around the world, some great scientists who are incorporating a variety of knowledge systems." 

She believed "real science" was the incorporation of those knowledge systems.

"That's all we're really talking about - not that there's 'pure science' in one corner and 'Māori stuff' in another."

Appearing on AM alongside Henry, biostatistician Bruce Weir said New Zealand's embrace of Māori culture and values were impressive.

"Certainly, I'm in favour of teaching… Māori approach to science - the cultural beliefs there," he said. "I think they're critical."

Last year, a group of professors from the University of Auckland sparked controversy after publishing a contentious letter dismissing mātauranga Māori as science.