File photo: Professor Richard Dawkins, left, and Sean Faircloth, Director of Strategy & Policy, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, speak to the media.

London - Atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins was branded a “fundamentalist” by one of his most eminent scientific colleagues.

The militancy of Professor Dawkins’s attacks on religious belief mean he is “almost a fundamentalist himself”, scientist Peter Higgs said.

Professor Higgs, whose theory on the sub-atomic ‘God particle’ was recently supported by experiments at the Cern research centre near Geneva, is considered one of the world’s leading scientists and is widely tipped for a Nobel prize.

Professor Higgs has used his new status to pour scorn on 71-year-old Professor Dawkins, a champion of evolution and author of The God Delusion which argues that belief in God is irrational.

Professor Dawkins’s contempt for religion has recently led him to suggest that being raised as a Roman Catholic is worse for a child than physical abuse.

But Professor Higgs said that Professor Dawkins has caricatured religious believers as extremists and ignored those who try to reconcile their beliefs with science.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Professor Higgs, who is 83, said: “What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists.

“But there are many believers who are not just fundamentalists.

“Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a kind of fundamen- talist himself.”

Professor Higgs also told the newspaper: “The growth of our understanding of the world through science weakens some of the motivation which makes people believers.

“But that’s not the same thing as saying they are incompatible.

“It is just that I think some of the traditional reasons for belief, going back thousands of years, are rather undermined. But that doesn’t end the whole thing.

“Anybody who is a convinced but not a dogmatic believer can continue to hold his belief. It means I think you have to be rather more careful about the whole debate between science and religion than some people have been in the past.”

Professor Higgs added that a lot of scientists were also religious believers.

“I don’t happen to be one myself, but maybe that’s just more a matter of my family background than that there is any fundamental difficulty about reconciling the two,” he added.

The criticism of Professor Dawkins – who was Oxford University’s Professor of the Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008 – ends a year in which his determination to condemn religion has led to a number of abrasive arguments.

He recently spoke about a woman who had written to him about her abuse by a Roman Catholic priest and her anguish when she was told that a Protestant friend would burn in hell.

Being told about hell, Professor Dawkins said, was worse because it was more difficult to get over than physical abuse.

“It seems to me intuitively entirely reasonable that that is a worse form of child abuse, that will give more nightmares because they really believe it,” he said. Earlier this year he suffered ridicule following a Radio 4 Today programme interview in which he was challenged by a priest to give the full 21-word title of On The Origin Of Species, the work by his hero Charles Darwin that established the theory of evolution.

After confidently promising listeners that of course he knew the title, Dawkins flailed through a series of “ums” and “ers”.

He even called on the deity in which he does not believe, resorting to a helpless “oh God” at one low point in his effort. - Daily Mail