Richard Dawkins (born March 26, 1941) is an Oxford zoologist, author, and media commentator, famous for his popular science books on evolution and his views on religion, atheism, and memetics, or "cultural evolution".
- 1 Heart Of The Matter: God Under The Microscope | BBC (1996)
- 2 River out of Eden (1995)
- 3 The Blind Watchmaker (1986)
- 4 The Enemies of Reason (August 2007)
- 5 The Evolutionary Future of Man (1993)
- 6 The God Delusion (2006)
- 7 The Selfish Gene (1976, 1989)
- 8 Unweaving the Rainbow
- 9 Viruses of the Mind (1993)
- 10 The Richard Dimbleby Lecture: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1996)
- 11 The Root of All Evil? (January 2006)
- 12 An Interview by Sheena McDonald
- 13 Book tour lecture
- 14 Darwin's Dangerous Disciple: An Interview by Frank Miele
- 15 Dawkins's Evolution
- 16 Gaps in the Mind
- 17 Going the Whole Hog
- 18 Human Gullibility Beyond Belief
- 19 On Debating Religion
- 20 On Religion and Politics
- 21 Revolutionary Evolutionist
- 22 Science Offers Solace for the Selfish Gene
- 23 Speciesism and Vegetarianism
- 24 The Real Romance in the Stars
- 25 Where'd You Get Those Peepers
- 26 Sourced
- 27 Unsourced
- 28 References
- 29 External links
Heart Of The Matter: God Under The Microscope | BBC (1996)
- What worries me about religion is that it teaches people to be satisfied with not understanding.
River out of Eden (1995)
- The world becomes full of organisms that have what it takes to become ancestors. That, in a sentence, is Darwinism.
- Each generation is a filter, a sieve; good genes tend to fall through the sieve into the next generation; bad genes tend to end up in bodies that die young or without reproducing.
- ... you need more than luck to navigate successfully through a thousand sieves in succession.
- The river of my title is a river of DNA, and it flows through time, not space. It is a river of information, not a river of bones and tissues.
- ... the genetic code is in fact literally identical in all animals, plants and bacteria ... All earthly living things are certainly descended from a single ancestor.
- What is truly revolutionary about molecular biology in the post-Watson-Crick era is that it has become digital.
- There is no spirit-driven life force, no throbbing, heaving, pullulating, protoplasmic, mystic jelly. Life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information.
- Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.
- Your DNA may be destined to mingle with mine. Salutations!
- Never say, and never take seriously anyone who says, "I cannot believe that so-and-so could have evolved by gradual selection". I have dubbed this kind of fallacy "the Argument from Personal Incredulity". Time and again, it has proven the prelude to an intellectual banana-skin experience.
- ... it seems that it would take less than half a million years to evolve a good camera eye ... It's no wonder "the" eye has evolved at least 40 times independently around the animal kingdom ... It is a geological blink.
- This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous – indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
- If there is only one Creator who made the tiger and the lamb, the cheetah and the gazelle, what is He playing at? Is he a sadist who enjoys spectator blood sports? ... Is He manoeuvring to maximise David Attenborough's television ratings?
- ... the true utility function of life, that which is being maximised in the natural world, is DNA survival. But DNA is not floating free; it is locked up in living bodies and it has made the most of the levers of power at its disposal.
- The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.
- We humans are an extremely important manifestation of the replication bomb, because it is through us – through our brains, our symbolic culture and our technology – that the explosion may proceed to the next stage and reverberate through deep space.
- Ch. 5: The Replication Bomb
The Blind Watchmaker (1986)
- "If we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organized complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must have been vastly complex in the first place. The creationist, whether a naive Bible-thumper or an educated bishop, simply postulates an already existing being of prodigious intelligence and complexity. If we are going to allow ourselves the luxury of postulating organized complexity without offering an explanation, we might as well make a job of it and simply postulate the existence of life as we know it!" (pg.451)
The Enemies of Reason (August 2007)
- Amusingly, it [astrology] falls foul of our modern taboo against lazy stereotyping. How would we react if a newspaper published a daily column that read something like this: "Germans: It is in your nature to be hard-working and methodical, which should serve you well at work today. In your personal relationships, especially this evening, you will need to curb your natural tendency to obey orders. Chinese: Inscrutability has many advantages, but it may be your undoing today. British: Your stiff upper lip may serve you well in business dealings, but try to relax and let yourself go in your social life.
- There's real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.
- Reason has built the modern world. It is a precious but also a fragile thing, which can be corroded by apparently harmless irrationality. We must favor verifiable evidence over private feeling. Otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.
- We should be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brain falls out.
- So whereabouts in my body might there be a black hole?
- Isn't Deepak Chopra just exploiting Quantum jargon as plausible-sounding hocus pocus?
The Evolutionary Future of Man (1993)
- There is no general reason to expect evolution to be progressive – even in the weak, value-neutral sense. There will be times when increased size of some organ is favoured and other times when decreased size is favoured. Most of the time, average-sized individuals will be favoured in the population and both extremes will be penalised. During these times the population exhibits evolutionary stasis (i.e., no change) with respect to the factor being measured. If we had a complete fossil record and looked for trends in some particular dimension, such as leg length, we would expect to see periods of no change alternating with fitful continuations or reversals in direction – like a weathervane in changeable, gusty weather.
- Another force driving progressive evolution is the so-called "arms-race." Prey animals evolve faster running speeds because predators do. Consequently predators have to evolve even faster running speeds, and so on, in an escalating spiral. Such arms races probably account for the spectacularly advanced engineering of eyes, ears, brains, bat "radar" and all the other high-tech weaponry that animals display.
- It may be that brain hardware has co-evolved with the internal virtual worlds that it creates. This can be called hardware-software co-evolution.
- It is an article of passionate faith among "politically correct" biologists and anthropologists that brain size has no connection with intelligence; that intelligence has nothing to do with genes; and that genes are probably nasty fascist things anyway.
- The likelihood is that, in 100,000 years time, we shall either have reverted to wild barbarism, or else civilisation will have advanced beyond all recognition – into colonies in outer space, for instance. In either case, evolutionary extrapolations from present conditions are likely to be highly misleading.
- The late Christopher Evans, a psychologist and author, calculated that if the motor car had evolved as fast as the computer, and over the same time period, "Today you would be able to buy a Rolls-Royce for £35, it would do three million miles to the gallon, and it would deliver enough power to drive the QE2 And if you were interested in miniaturisation, you could place half a dozen of them on a pinhead."
- Scientific and technological progress themselves are value-neutral. They are just very good at doing what they do. If you want to do selfish, greedy, intolerant and violent things, scientific technology will provide you with by far the most efficient way of doing so. But if you want to do good, to solve the world's problems, to progress in the best value-laden sense, once again, there is no better means to those ends than the scientific way.
The God Delusion (2006)
- The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
- "The God Hypothesis", p. 31
- Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.
- "A deeply religious non-believer", p. 40
- On the Argument from Degree: "That's an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion." (pg. 102)
- "However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747" (pg. 138)
- "Any entity capable of intelligently designing something as improbable as Dutchman's Pipe (or a universe) would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman's Pipe. Far from terminating the vicious regress, God aggravates it with a vengeance." (pg.146)
- "What is it that makes natural selection succeed as a solution to the problem of improbability, whereas chance and design both fail at the starting gate? The answer is that natural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces. Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so.
- "A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple. His existence is going to need a mammoth explanation in its own right." (pg.178)
- On the properties of God: "Such a bandwith! God, who may not have a brain made of neurons, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know." (pg.184)
- Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them. Such trusting obedience is valuable for survival: the analogue of steering by the moon for a moth. But the flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. The inevitable by-product is vulnerability to infection by mind viruses.
- "The Roots of Religion", p. 176
- There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else (parents in the case of children, God in the case of adults) has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point.
- "A Much Needed Gap?", p. 360
The Selfish Gene (1976, 1989)
- We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man?
- The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.
- Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun.
- The argument of this book is that we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes.
- We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.
- I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave.
- Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.
- Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.
- They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.
- No doubt some of your cousins and great-uncles died in childhood, but not a single one of your ancestors did. Ancestors just don't die young!
- The genes are the master programmers, and they are programming for their lives.
- Whenever a system of communication evolves, there is always the danger that some will exploit the system for their own ends.
- ... it is certainly wrong to condemn poor old Homo Sapiens as the only species to kill his own kind, the only inheritor of the mark of Cain, and similar melodramatic charges.
- Group selection theory would therefore predict a tendency to evolve towards an all-dove conspiracy ... But the trouble with conspiracies, even those that are to everybody's advantage in the long run, is that they are open to abuse.
- ... a lion wants to eat an antelope's body, but the antelope has very different plans for its body. This is not normally regarded as competition for a resource, but logically it is hard to see why not.
- What is the selfish gene? It is not just one single physical bit of DNA. Just as in the primeval soup, it is all replicas of a particular bit of DNA, distributed throughout the world.
- ... a gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this would appear as individual altruism but it would be brought about by gene selfishness.
- It is normally possible to be much more certain who your children are than who your brothers are. And you can be more certain still who you yourself are!
- The truth is that all examples of child protection and parental care, and all associated bodily organs ... are examples of the working in nature of the kin-selection principle.
- But you cannot have an unnatural welfare state, unless you also have unnatural birth control, otherwise the end result will be misery even greater than that which obtains in nature.
- ... leaders who forbid their followers to use effective contraceptive methods ... express a preference for "natural" methods of population limitation, and a natural method is exactly what they are going to get. It is called starvation.
- We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
Viruses of the Mind (1993)
- I have just discovered that without her father's consent this sweet, trusting, gullible six-year-old is being sent, for weekly instruction, to a Roman Catholic nun. What chance has she?
- With so many mind-bytes to be downloaded, so many mental codons to be replicated, it is no wonder that child brains are gullible, open to almost any suggestion, vulnerable to subversion, easy prey to Moonies, Scientologists and nuns. Like immune-deficient patients, children are wide open to mental infections that adults might brush off without effort.
- Think about the two qualities that a virus, or any sort of parasitic replicator, demands of a friendly medium, the two qualities that make cellular machinery so friendly towards parasitic DNA, and that make computers so friendly towards computer viruses. These qualities are, firstly, a readiness to replicate information accurately, perhaps with some mistakes that are subsequently reproduced accurately; and, secondly, a readiness to obey instructions encoded in the information so replicated.
- The second requirement of a virus-friendly environment – that it should obey a program of coded instructions – is again only quantitatively less true for brains than for cells or computers. We sometimes obey orders from one another, but also we sometimes don't. Nevertheless, it is a telling fact that, the world over, the vast majority of children follow the religion of their parents rather than any of the other available religions. Instructions to genuflect, to bow towards Mecca, to nod one's head rhythmically towards the wall, to shake like a maniac, to "speak in tongues" – the list of such arbitrary and pointless motor patterns offered by religion alone is extensive – are obeyed, if not slavishly, at least with some reasonably high statistical probability.
- Ten years ago, you could have traveled thousands of miles through the United States and never seen a baseball cap turned back to front. Today, the reverse baseball cap is ubiquitous. I do not know what the pattern of geographical spread of the reverse baseball cap precisely was, but epidemiology is certainly among the professions primarily qualified to study it.
- Like computer viruses, successful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect. If you are the victim of one, the chances are that you won't know it, and may even vigorously deny it. Accepting that a virus might be difficult to detect in your own mind, what tell-tale signs might you look out for? I shall answer by imaging how a medical textbook might describe the typical symptoms of a sufferer (arbitrarily assumed to be male).
- The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as "faith".
- If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith as your parents and grandparents had. No doubt soaring cathedrals, stirring music, moving stories and parables, help a bit. But by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth. The convictions that you so passionately believe would have been a completely different, and largely contradictory, set of convictions, if only you had happened to be born in a different place. Epidemiology, not evidence.
The Richard Dimbleby Lecture: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1996)
- You could give Aristotle a tutorial. And you could thrill him to the core of his being. Aristotle was an encyclopedic polymath, an all time intellect. Yet not only can you know more than him about the world. You also can have a deeper understanding of how everything works. Such is the privilege of living after Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Planck, Watson, Crick and their colleagues.
- For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria.
- It has become almost a cliché to remark that nobody boasts of ignorance of literature, but it is socially acceptable to boast ignorance of science and proudly claim incompetence in mathematics.
- If you want to do evil, science provides the most powerful weapons to do evil; but equally, if you want to do good, science puts into your hands the most powerful tools to do so. The trick is to want the right things, then science will provide you with the most effective methods of achieving them.
- But perhaps the rest of us could have separate classes in science appreciation, the wonder of science, scientific ways of thinking, and the history of scientific ideas, rather than laboratory experience.
- It really comes down to parsimony, economy of explanation. It is possible that your car engine is driven by psychokinetic energy, but if it looks like a petrol engine, smells like a petrol engine and performs exactly as well as a petrol engine, the sensible working hypothesis is that it is a petrol engine.
- It's been suggested that if the super-naturalists really had the powers they claim, they'd win the lottery every week. I prefer to point out that they could also win a Nobel Prize for discovering fundamental physical forces hitherto unknown to science. Either way, why are they wasting their talents doing party turns on television?
By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.
- How do we account for the current paranormal vogue in the popular media? Perhaps it has something to do with the millennium – in which case it's depressing to realise that the millennium is still three years away.
- The popularity of the paranormal, oddly enough, might even be grounds for encouragement. I think that the appetite for mystery, the enthusiasm for that which we do not understand, is healthy and to be fostered. It is the same appetite which drives the best of true science, and it is an appetite which true science is best qualified to satisfy.
- You contain a trillion copies of a large, textual document written in a highly accurate, digital code, each copy as voluminous as a substantial book. I'm talking, of course, of the DNA in your cells.
- You don't have to be a scientist – you don't have to play the Bunsen burner – in order to understand enough science to overtake your imagined need and fill that fancied gap. Science needs to be released from the lab into the culture.
The Root of All Evil? (January 2006)
- I want to examine that dangerous thing that’s common to Judaism and Christianity as well: the process of non-thinking called faith.
- Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time.
- One of the things that is wrong with religion is that it teaches us to be satisfied with answers which are not really answers at all.
- If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them? Who's God trying to impress? Presumably himself, since he is judge and jury, as well as execution victim.
- Of course politics are important - Iraq, Palestine, even social deprivation in Bradford. But as we wake up to this huge challenge to our civilised values, don't let's forget the elephant in the room - and elephant called religion.
- I want to say that killing for God is not only hideous murder - it is also utterly ridiculous.
- And when we look closely, we find a system of morals which any civilised person today should surely find poisonous.
- You've just said a very revealing thing. Are you telling me that the only reason you don't steal and rape and murder is that you're frightened of God?
- Part 2: "The Virus Of Faith", quoted at "The Proper Study of Mankind" blog on January 25, 2006
- We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
- Part 1: "The God Delusion"
- Oh, but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn't it? Symbolic?! So Jesus had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual? Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any other conclusion than "barking mad".
- Part 2: "The Virus Of Faith", quoted at ibid.
- Without religion you have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion. (Quoting Steven Weinberg)
- Part 2: "The Virus Of Faith"
- Thus the creationist's favourite question "What is the use of half an eye?" Actually, this is a lightweight question, a doddle to answer. Half an eye is just 1 per cent better than 49 per cent of an eye.
- Part 2: "The Virus of Faith"
An Interview by Sheena McDonald
- The world and the universe is an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful does it appear. It is an immensely exciting experience to be born in the world, born in the universe, and look around you and realise that before you die you have the opportunity of understanding an immense amount about that world and about that universe and about life and about why we're here. We have the opportunity of understanding far, far more than any of our predecessors ever. That is such an exciting possibility, it would be such a shame to blow it and end your life not having understood what there is to understand.
- Maybe somewhere in some other galaxy there is a super-intelligence so colossal that from our point of view it would be a god. But it cannot have been the sort of God that we need to explain the origin of the universe, because it cannot have been there that early.
McDonald: Now a lot of people find great comfort from religion. Not everybody is as you are – well-favored, handsome, wealthy, with a good job, happy family life. I mean, your life is good – not everybody's life is good, and religion brings them comfort.
Dawkins: There are all sorts of things that would be comforting. I expect an injection of morphine would be comforting – it might be more comforting, for all I know. But to say that something is comforting is not to say that it's true.
- It is a very helpful insight to say we are vehicles for our DNA, we are hosts for DNA parasites which are our genes. Those are insights which help us to understand an aspect of life. But it's emotive to say, that's all there is to it, we might as well give up going to Shakespeare plays and give up listening to music and things, because that's got nothing to do with it. That's an entirely different subject.
- I don't want to sound callous. I mean, even if I have nothing to offer, that doesn't matter, because that still doesn't mean that what anybody else has to offer therefore has to be true.
Book tour lecture
- If it's really true, that the museum at Liberty University has dinosaur fossils which are labelled as being 3000 years old, then that is an educational disgrace. It is debauching the whole idea of a university, and I would strongly encourage any members of Liberty University who may be here... to leave and go to a proper university.
- It's obvious that in an intelligent educated audience such as this university, I stress this university. Who saw fit to give them accreditation?
Darwin's Dangerous Disciple: An Interview by Frank Miele
- Most of what we strive for in our modern life uses the apparatus of goal seeking that was originally set up to seek goals in the state of nature.
- ... but the dominance hierarchy itself is not something that natural selection favors or disfavors. What natural selection favors or disfavors is the individual behavior of which the dominance hierarchy is a manifestation. I would put war and overpopulation in that category.
- I think it is not helpful to apply Darwinian language too widely. Conquest of nation by nation is too distant for Darwinian explanations to be helpful. Darwinism is the differential survival of self-replicating genes in a gene pool, usually as manifested by individual behavior, morphology, and phenotypes. Group selection of any kind is not Darwinism as Darwin understood it nor as I understand it. There is a very vague analogy between group selection and conquest of a nation by another nation, but I don't think it's a very helpful analogy. So I would prefer not to invoke Darwinian language for that kind of historical interpretation.
- There's nothing nonsensical about saying that what would evolve if Darwinian selection has its head is something that you don't want to happen. And I could easily imagine trying to go against Darwinism.
- ... a fairly common pattern in television news: right at the end a smile comes onto the face of the newsreader and this is the scientific joke – "some scientist has proved that such and such is the case." ... And it's clearly the bit of fun at the end, it's not serious at all. I want science to be taken seriously, because, after all, it's less ephemeral – it has a more eternal aspect than whatever the politics of the day might be, which, of course, gets the lead in the news.
- Very often in science one finds that there are ideas in the air, and lots of people hold them, but they don't even realise they hold them. The person who can crystallize them, and lay out not only the central idea but its implications for future scientific research can often make a tremendous contribution. And I think that's what "The Selfish Gene" did. Lots of scientists, they'd been Darwinians all their lives, but they'd been inarticulate Darwinians. And now they really understood what was foundational to Darwinism and what was peripheral. And once you understand what is foundational, then you begin to deduce conclusions.
- I really want to say that there are no major disagreements ... I think the tendency of American intellectuals to learn their evolution from him [Gould] is unfortunate, and that's putting it mildly.
- Religions do make claims about the universe – the same kinds of claims that scientists make, except they're usually false.
- It is almost as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism, and to find it hard to believe.
- I'm a friendly enough sort of chap ... I'm not a hostile person to meet. But I think it's important to realise that when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.
Gaps in the Mind
- But it is we that choose to divide animals up into discontinuous species. On the evolutionary view of life there must have been intermediates, even though, conveniently for our naming rituals, they are usually extinct.
- We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realise that we are apes. Our common ancestor with the chimpanzees and gorillas is much more recent than their common ancestor with the Asian apes – the gibbons and orangutans. There is no natural category that includes chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans but excludes humans.
- Molecular evidence suggests that our common ancestor with chimpanzees lived, in Africa, between five and seven million years ago, say half a million generations ago. This is not long by evolutionary standards ... in your left hand you hold the right hand of your mother. In turn she holds the hand of her mother, your grandmother. Your grandmother holds her mother's hand, and so on ... How far do we have to go until we reach our common ancestor with the chimpanzees? It is a surprisingly short way. Allowing one yard per person, we arrive at the ancestor we share with chimpanzees in under 300 miles.
Going the Whole Hog
- You see, if you say something positive like the whole of life – all living things – is descended from a single common ancestor which lived about 4,000 million years ago and that we are all cousins, well that is an exceedingly important and true thing to say and that is what I want to say. Somebody who is religious sees that as threatening and so I am represented as attacking religion, and I am forced into responding to their reaction. But you do not have to see my main purpose as attacking religion. Certainly I see the scientific view of the world as incompatible with religion, but that is not what is interesting about it. It is also incompatible with magic, but that also is not worth stressing. What is interesting about the scientific world view is that it is true, inspiring, remarkable and that it unites a whole lot of phenomena under a single heading. And that is what is so exciting for me.
Human Gullibility Beyond Belief
- Yet scientists are required to back up their claims not with private feelings but with publicly checkable evidence. Their experiments must have rigorous controls to eliminate spurious effects. And statistical analysis eliminates the suspicion (or at least measures the likelihood) that the apparent effect might have happened by chance alone.
- Paranormal phenomena have a habit of going away whenever they are tested under rigorous conditions. This is why the £740,000 reward of James Randi, offered to anyone who can demonstrate a paranormal effect under proper scientific controls, is safe. Why don't the television editors insist on some equivalently rigorous test? Could it be that they believe the alleged paranormal powers would evaporate and bang go the ratings?
- Consider this. If a paranormalist could really give an unequivocal demonstration of telepathy (precognition, psychokinesis, reincarnation, whatever it is), he would be the discoverer of a totally new principle unknown to physical science. The discoverer of the new energy field that links mind to mind in telepathy, or of the new fundamental force that moves objects around a table top, deserves a Nobel prize and would probably get one. If you are in possession of this revolutionary secret of science, why not prove it and be hailed as the new Newton? Of course, we know the answer. You can't do it. You are a fake.
- Yet the final indictment against the television decision-makers is more profound and more serious. Their recent splurge of paranormalism debauches true science and undermines the efforts of their own excellent science departments. The universe is a strange and wondrous place. The truth is quite odd enough to need no help from pseudo-scientific charlatans. The public appetite for wonder can be fed, through the powerful medium of television, without compromising the principles of honesty and reason.
On Debating Religion
- Religious people split into three main groups when faced with science. I shall label them the "know-nothings", the "know-alls", and the "no-contests".
- I suspect that today if you asked people to justify their belief in God, the dominant reason would be scientific. Most people, I believe, think that you need a God to explain the existence of the world, and especially the existence of life. They are wrong, but our education system is such that many people don't know it.
- A universe with a God would look quite different from a universe without one. A physics, a biology where there is a God is bound to look different. So the most basic claims of religion are scientific. Religion is a scientific theory.
- The trouble is that God in this sophisticated, physicist's sense bears no resemblance to the God of the Bible or any other religion. If a physicist says God is another name for Planck's constant, or God is a superstring, we should take it as a picturesque metaphorical way of saying that the nature of superstrings or the value of Planck's constant is a profound mystery. It has obviously not the smallest connection with a being capable of forgiving sins, a being who might listen to prayers, who cares about whether or not the Sabbath begins at 5pm or 6pm, whether you wear a veil or have a bit of arm showing; and no connection whatever with a being capable of imposing a death penalty on his son to expiate the sins of the world before and after he was born.
- Out of all of the sects in the world, we notice an uncanny coincidence: the overwhelming majority just happen to choose the one that their parents belong to. Not the sect that has the best evidence in its favour, the best miracles, the best moral code, the best cathedral, the best stained glass, the best music: when it comes to choosing from the smorgasbord of available religions, their potential virtues seem to count for nothing, compared to the matter of heredity. This is an unmistakable fact; nobody could seriously deny it. Yet people with full knowledge of the arbitrary nature of this heredity, somehow manage to go on believing in their religion, often with such fanaticism that they are prepared to murder people who follow a different one.
- Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.
- It is often said, mainly by the "no-contests", that although there is no positive evidence for the existence of God, nor is there evidence against his existence. So it is best to keep an open mind and be agnostic. At first sight that seems an unassailable position, at least in the weak sense of Pascal's wager. But on second thoughts it seems a cop-out, because the same could be said of Father Christmas and tooth fairies. There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can't prove that there aren't any, so shouldn't we be agnostic with respect to fairies?
- Science offers us an explanation of how complexity (the difficult) arose out of simplicity (the easy). The hypothesis of God offers no worthwhile explanation for anything, for it simply postulates what we are trying to explain. It postulates the difficult to explain, and leaves it at that.
On Religion and Politics
- We've reached a truly remarkable situation: a grotesque mismatch between the American intelligencia and the American electorate. A philosophical opinion about the nature of the universe which is held by the vast majority of top American scientists, and probably the majority of the intelligencia generally, is so abhorrent to the American electorate that no candidate for popular election dare affirm it in public. If I'm right, this means that high office in the greatest country in the world is barred to the very people best qualified to hold it: the intelligencia, unless they are prepared to lie about their beliefs. To put it bluntly American political opportunities are heavily loaded against those who are simultaneously intelligent and honest.
- "Dawkins, Science Must not be Swayed by Religion" Youtube, August, 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZIx4NE-iPU
- I'm not a very good politician, and it doesn't really occur to me to think about what's the best way to achieve something politically. If you look at the historical struggle for women's suffrage, for example...women who militantly campaigned for the right to vote were written off as strident extremists, and people accused them of alienating the very people whose support they should have been courting. But today, the idea of women not being allowed to vote is preposterous. Would you be moderate? Would you be respectful? You wouldn't.
- When I wrote this program, I never thought that it would evolve anything more than a variety of treelike shapes. I had hoped for weeping willows, cedars of Lebanon, Lombardy poplars, seaweeds, perhaps deer antlers. Nothing in my biologist's intuition, nothing in my 20 years experience of programming computers, and nothing in my wildest dreams prepared me for what actually emerged on screen. I can't remember exactly when in the sequence it first began to dawn on me that an evolved resemblance to something like an insect was possible. With a wild surmise, I began to breed, generation after generation, from whichever child looked most like an insect. My incredulity grew in parallel with the evolving resemblance ... I still cannot conceal from you my feeling of exultation as I first watched these exquisite creatures emerging before my eyes. I distinctly heard the triumphal opening chords of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (the 2001 theme) in my mind. I couldn't eat, and that night "my" insects swarmed behind my eyelids as I tried to sleep.
- My prize would be for a visually appealing world in which the life-forms have a visible, and preferably 3-D, morphology on the computer screen. They must evolve adaptations not just to "inanimate" factors like the weather (which would produce essentially predictable, not emergent evolution) but to other evolving life forms (which is a recipe for emergent properties).
Science Offers Solace for the Selfish Gene
- What are all of us but self-reproducing robots? ... We have been put together by our genes and what we do is roam the world looking for a way to sustain ourselves and ultimately produce another robot, a child.
Speciesism and Vegetarianism
- ...what I am doing is going along with the fact that I live in a society where meat eating is accepted as the norm, and it requires a level of social courage which I haven’t yet produced to break out of that. It’s a little bit like the position which many people would have held a couple of hundred years ago over slavery. Where lots of people felt morally uneasy about slavery but went along with it because the whole economy of the South depended upon slavery.
- In reply to a question from Peter Singer author of Animal Liberation during an interview on Point of Inquiry
The Real Romance in the Stars
- We should take astrology seriously. No, I don't mean we should believe in it. I am talking about fighting it seriously instead of humoring it as a piece of harmless fun.
- There's this thing called being so open-minded your brains drop out.
- Note, accordingly, how little it means to say something like "Uranus moves into Aquarius". Aquarius is a miscellaneous set of stars all at different distances from us, which have no connection with each other except that they constitute a (meaningless) pattern when seen from a certain (not particularly special) place in the galaxy (here). A constellation is not an entity at all, not the kind of thing that Uranus, or anything else, can sensibly be said to "move into".
- The shape of a constellation, moreover, is ephemeral. A million years ago our Homo erectus ancestors gazed out nightly at a set of very different constellations. A million years hence, our descendants will see yet other shapes in the sky, and their astrologer (if our species has not grown up and sent them packing long since) will be fabricating their oracles on the basis of a different zodiac.
- Scientific truth is too beautiful to be sacrificed for the sake of light entertainment or money. Astrology is an aesthetic affront. It cheapens astronomy, like using Beethoven for commercial jingles.
- Scorpio could go retrograde up Uranus and it wouldn't make any difference.
Where'd You Get Those Peepers
- Thus the creationist's favourite question "What is the use of half an eye?" Actually, this is a lightweight question, a doddle to answer. Half an eye is just 1 per cent better than 49 per cent of an eye, which is already better than 48 per cent, and the difference is significant.
- Nilsson and Pelger began with a flat retina atop a flat pigment layer and surmounted by a flat, protective transparent layer. The transparent layer was allowed to undergo localised random mutations of its refractive index. They then let the model deform itself at random, constrained only by the requirement that any change must be small and must be an improvement on what went before ... The results were swift and decisive. A trajectory of steadily mounting acuity led unhesitatingly from the flat beginning through a shallow indentation to a steadily deepening cup, as the shape of the model eye deformed itself on the computer screen. The transparent layer thickened to fill the cup and smoothly bulged its outer surface in a curve. And then, almost like a conjuring trick, a portion of this transparent filling condensed into a local, spherical subregion of higher refractive index. Not uniformly higher, but a gradient of refractive index such that the spherical region functioned as an excellent graded-index lens.
- But even with these conservative assumptions, the time taken to evolve a fish eye from flat skin was minuscule: fewer than 400,000 generations. For the kinds of small animals we are talking about, we can assume one generation per year, so it seems that it would take less than half a million years to evolve a good camera eye.
- The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
- "God's Utility Function," Scientific American, November, 1995, p. 85
- Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!
- The population of the US is nearly 300 million, including many of the best educated, most talented, most resourceful, humane people on earth. By almost any measure of civilised attainment, from Nobel prize-counts on down, the US leads the world by miles. You would think that a country with such resources, and such a field of talent, would be able to elect a leader of the highest quality. Yet, what has happened? At the end of all the primaries and party caucuses, the speeches and the televised debates, after a year or more of non-stop electioneering bustle, who, out of that entire population of 300 million, emerges at the top of the heap? George Bush.
- "Bin Laden's victory " The Guardian (March 22, 2003)
- Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional "next world" is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.
- "The Atheist", by Gordy Slack, Salon.com (April 28, 2005)
- The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing, is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.
- "From tail to tale on the path of pilgrims in life", The Scotsman (April 9, 2005)
- Just because science so far has failed to explain something, such as consciousness, to say it follows that the facile, pathetic explanations which religion has produced somehow by default must win the argument is really quite ridiculous.
- "The flying spaghetti monster", by Steve Paulson, Salon.com (October 13, 2006)
- It would be deeply depressing if the only way children could get moral values was from religion. Either from scripture, and God knows we don't want them to get it from scripture, I mean, just look at scripture. Or, from being afraid of God, being intimidated by God. Anybody who is good for only those two reasons is not really being good at all. Why not teach children things like the Golden Rule, do as you would be done by, how would you like it if other children did that to you, so why do you do it to them... I think it's depressing that anybody should suggest that you actually need God in order to be moral. I would hope that our morals come from a better source than that, and therefore they are genuinely moral rather than based on outmoded scripture, or based on fear.
- BBC, (January 29, 2008)
- Life results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators.
- Supposedly offered in response to physicist and Nobel laureate Leon Lederman's half-jokingly remark that the real goal of physics was to come up with an equation that could explain the universe but still be small enough to fit on a T-shirt.
- It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that if Darwinism was really a theory of chance, it could not work.
- Hot on the heels of its magnanimous pardoning of Galileo, the Vatican has now moved with even more lightning speed to recognise the truth of Darwinism.
- Science offers us an explanation of how complexity (the difficult) arose out of simplicity (the easy). The hypothesis of God offers no worthwhile explanation for anything, for it simply postulates what we are trying to explain.
- ... the stereo-type of scientists being scruffy nerds with rows of pens in their top pocket is just about as wicked as racist stereotypes.
- Who will say with confidence that sexual abuse is more permanently damaging to children than threatening them with the eternal and unquenchable fires of hell?
- Justifying space exploration because we get non-stick frying pans is like justifying music because it is good exercise for the violinist's right arm. (RD paraphrases this argument in a discussion with Lawrence Krauss, 3:50 min - 5:10 min)
- If somebody believes that the world is only (...) a few thousand years old, when the true age of the Earth is of the order of a few billion years old, that means they are out by a factor of... a million. Which is not a trivial error.
- Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion, 406 pp., Bantam Press. ISBN 0-618-68000-4.