HE is the renowned physicist who dreamed up the "God particle" which has now been found to form one of the basic building blocks of everything in the universe.

But after a year of being lauded for his contribution to the secular world of science, Edinburgh-based Peter Higgs has branded fellow academic Richard Dawkins a "fundamentalist" for his uncompromisingly negative view of religion.

Professor Dawkins, an atheist and author of best-selling book The God Delusion, has made a career out of his disdain for religions beliefs, and has compared the teachings of the Catholic Church to child abuse.

Professor Higgs, who is not religious, said that a belief in science is not incompatible with a belief in God, and called for more tolerance of different points of view.

He said: "What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists," Mr Higgs said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

"Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind."

He added: "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're incompatible. It's 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 you have to be rather more careful about the whole debate between science and religion than some people have been in the past."

He said a lot of scientists in his field were 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's any fundamental difficulty about reconciling the two."

Mr Higgs, who looks likely to win the Nobel Prize for Physics in the near future, came up with the theory of the Higgs boson in 1963, predicting that a particle would be found which endowed all others with mass.

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland were recently able to prove that the particle does in fact exist.

Without the proof, physicists would have had to rethink the standard model.

This theory governs the relationships between fundamental particles which forms the bedrock of current theoretical physics.

Mr Dawkins, has been accused many times in the past of adopting fundamentalist positions. But he has said: "Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist.

"The true scientist, however passionately he may 'believe', in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence. The fundamentalist knows that nothing will."

He recently implied that being raised a Catholic was worse for a child than physical abuse by a priest.

Mr Dawkins related the story of a woman in America who had suffered physical abuse from a priest and had been told her protestant friend would go to hell.

He said: "She told me that, of those two abuses, she got over the physical abuse, it was yucky but she got over it. But the mental abuse of being told about hell, she took years to get over.

"Telling children people who sin are going to go to hell and roast forever, that is a worse form of child abuse. It will give more nightmares because they really believe it."

Mr Dawkins has not responded to Mr Higgs's latest comments.