The scientist and secular campaigner Professor Richard Dawkins yesterday said that Europe was a "haven of civilisation" trapped between the Islamic world and the US.

The writer of The God Delusion, speaking at a packed session of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said that in his view religious belief was not on the wane, even if attendance at churches in the UK was declining.

He said that organised religion in the US - in particular the "mega-churches" of the evangelical denominations - and the world of Islam are having increasing influence.

After saying there was an "increasing Islamic element in this society" in Britain, he added: "It is possible to see Europe as a haven of civilisation, with the pincer movement of Islam on one side and the US on the other."

Mr Dawkins said, in answer to a question from the audience about the future of religious belief in the world, that the possible growth in Islam while Christianity declines would be a "poor exchange". He said there were Christian theologians who he would like to discuss God with, but had not done so. He denied that his own books and discourse about atheism may be "a cult" in itself.

Elsewhere in the talk, held in the main theatre of the book festival in Charlotte Square, he talked at length about the possibility of life on other planets in the universe, which he said was indeed possible.