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The Interview: Richard Dawkins

On Darwin, faith and natural selection, and why creationists are simply history deniers


 
Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

British author Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion sold over one million copies and touched off an international debate about the existence of a higher power. Critics denounced him as “Christainophobic” and a “secularist bigot.” In Turkey, the book was banned as “an attack on holy values,” and its publisher was put on trial. Now the evolutionary biologist—the world’s most prominent atheist—has set his sights on creationists and advocates of “intelligent design.” His new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, was just released.

Q: Your new book is subtitled The Evidence for Evolution. Why do you think society needs a primer 150 years after Charles Darwin first laid it out in The Origin of Species?

A: It is a very, very important idea. It is the explanation for all of life—a stunningly simple, yet powerful explanation. If you think about it, before Darwin, we hadn’t the foggiest idea of how we came into being. Now we do. It’s still such an exciting idea that it is well worth everybody understanding it.

Q: You compare creationists to Holocaust deniers—history deniers is the term you’ve coined. Isn’t that a little over the top?

A: No. They are both very similar—both are denying what is a perfectly manifest fact. In the case of Holocaust deniers it’s more recent history, but in both cases the evidence— in favour of the Holocaust and evolution—is simply overwhelming. That doesn’t mean they are morally or politically equivalent. But they are equivalent in denying history.

Q: You cite polls suggesting 44 per cent of Americans believe God created human beings 10,000 years ago. But you also acknowledge that figure really hasn’t changed since the early 1980s. I’m curious about this book’s timing. If the number of creationists isn’t increasing, do you think they are gaining more credence?

A: They are possibly gaining more political power. In the U.S., you are constantly hearing stories of school boards harassing teachers and trying to get textbooks banned.

Q: Traditionally, we’ve associated that school of thought with evangelical Christians, or the Sarah Palin crowd. But you’ve identified Islamic creationists as a growing threat. Why?

A: That’s a particular problem in Britain. I read in the paper today the list of the most popular boys’ names in the country. The first was Jack, the second was Mohammed. That makes me feel a little bit worried.

Q: What is it in particular? Do Islamic creationists hew to a different set of myths?

A: No, they are mostly actually plagiarized from the Christian ones, both biblically and in terms of modern creationism. If you read Islamic creationist literature, it’s pretty much lifted from American evangelical literature.

Q: You’ve mentioned the harassment of teachers of evolution in the United States. What’s the situation like in Britain?

A: I wouldn’t say that it’s bad here, but we have to be vigilant. There are two or three schools which are notorious in Britain. And sometimes when I go around the country, talking to schoolteachers, I do hear that they get a fair bit of hostility from their pupils, often those of Islamic origin.

Q: Hostility in what way?

A: When they try to teach evolution, students fold their arms with a fixed stare of rejection on their face. That sort of thing.

Q: You’ve been at this for nearly 40 years. What sort of attacks have you faced?

A: I don’t have anything to complain about. I actually don’t mind facing an argument about this. But I could see how a schoolteacher whose job it is not just to teach evolution but the whole of science—who hasn’t got the time that I’ve got to devote to this particular topic—could be given a hard time. I can handle heckling on evolution because it’s my own field.

Q: You take exception to people who talk about Darwin’s “theory.” Evolution is an indisputable fact, you write, the evidence is overwhelming. Then why are so many people resistant to the concept?

A: I don’t actually take exception to talking about Darwin’s theory, it’s just that there are two different meanings of the word. There’s the meaning that suggests a tentative hypothesis that might be right or wrong. Then there’s the meaning where it’s the name for a body of knowledge. I have no objection to using the word in that sense. There is a tendency for people to say it is only a theory. That is inappropriate.

Q: But even those who accept evolution often harbour basic misunderstandings of how it works—the widespread fallacy that humans are descended from chimps, for example. Why? Do we just do a poor job of teaching it?

A: I guess we do. Another major problem is the idea that it’s all a theory of chance. If it was you would be right to disbelieve it.

Q: A theory of chance?

A: People will say, “You’re never going to convince me that something as complicated as an eye could come about by sheer chance.” And the answer is that natural selection is the very opposite of sheer chance. Natural selection is a non-random process.

Q: The book does lay out, in great detail, the case for evolution. What is the most compelling piece of evidence?

A: I think the molecular genetic evidence. The distribution of genes right across the animal and plant kingdoms. Before you could look at anatomy—things like bird wings and bat wings and human hands—and notice similarities. Nowadays you can do the same kind of thing, but in hugely more detail. For a start we have the same genetic code for all living creatures. Then we have a large number of genes that are manifestly the same, but with detail differences—they look like different drafts of the same book. In extreme cases, like a human and a beetroot, it’s like the difference between Matthew and Luke’s Gospel—clearly they tell the same story, but with different words. Whereas with a human and a chimp, it’s like two different printings of Matthew, with a few typos in one. So you end with a beautiful family tree of resemblance, where very close cousins like humans and chimps have almost all their genes in common. Slightly less close cousins like humans and monkeys still have recognizably the same genes. You could carry on right on down to humans and bacteria, and you will find continuous compelling evidence for the hierarchical tree of cousinship.

Q: One of the things I was taken with was the negative argument—how easy it would be to disprove evolution. All it would take is one rabbit fossil from the Precambrian era, where all we’ve found is very primitive life.

A: Yes, that’s [British geneticist] J.B.S. Haldane’s example. It’s an extremely powerful point. So many critics look at the gaps in the fossil record of evolution. And you can have gaps—they are just waiting to be filled. But if you could find a single rabbit in the Precambrian era [4.6 billion to 542 million years ago] it would blow it all out of the water.

Q: In recent years, many creationists have embraced “intelligent design”—the notion that the intricacy of life somehow proves that a higher power had a hand in its making. But you argue just the opposite, that life is too complex to be the work of any god.

A: Yes. The beauty of evolution is that it does provide an explanation of how you can get complexity out of simplicity. It does it by slow, gradual degree. At no point are you postulating the sudden coming into existence of a complicated being.

Q: You cite also a number of examples of what you call “unintelligent design.”

A: Yes, there are places where no sensible designer would commit such an error. I had a rather exciting day helping to dissect a giraffe, which I describe in the book. The recurrent laryngeal nerve—which runs from the head to the voice box—goes all the way down into the chest, loops around a major artery, then goes all the way back up again. It goes right past the larynx on the way down. All a decent designer would have to do is loop it off at that point. What we’re looking at is the legacy of history.

Q: The book is also a bit missionary work. You try to show creationists the true path. Do you really expect to win any converts?.

A: Probably not among dyed-in-the-wool creationists. But what I would hope is that among people who haven’t really thought about it very much, that it might help. Because evolution has been left out of their education. I think there could be a very large number who are creationists by default. Those are the people I want to reach.

Q: How should we be teaching this? Is this a week, or a month-long lesson?

A: It shouldn’t take very long to get across the central idea. But maybe we should start a bit younger. In Britain you don’t usually learn about evolution until you are about 15. I should have thought that you should start at about 8. But I could be wrong about that.

Q: There’s a new paper from a psychologist at Bristol University, claiming our brains are hard-wired to believe in God. You’ve argued that religious belief is a by-product of indoctrination or lack of education. Could you see an evolutionary benefit to faith?

A: Oh yes, I think that’s quite likely. Not a benefit to faith itself, but a benefit to the kind of psychological predisposition which shows itself in the form of faith.

Q: What would those benefits be?

A: One might be obedience to authority. You can see where that might be of benefit to a child. You are born into a dangerous world, there are all sorts of ways in which you could die, and you need to believe your parents when they tell you don’t go near the edge of the cliff, or don’t pick up that snake, etc. There could very well be a Darwinian survival value in that sort of brain rule of thumb. And a by-product of that could be that you believe your parents when they tell you about the juju in the sky, or whatever it might be.

Q: In the book, you mention you own an original first edition of Darwin’s The Origin of Species and that it’s your prize possession. You’ve been tagged as “Darwin’s Rottweiler.” Why do you have such an affinity for him?

A: He made arguably the greatest discovery any human has ever made. He was a man of great persistence. He wasn’t probably a natural genius, he worked very hard—even though he was an invalid. He was a great family man, a very nice man. I think he was admirable in all sorts of ways. But I think it’s probably that I’m a biologist and he’s the leading figure of the whole of biology.

Q: On your website, you have a campaign going to encourage fellow atheists to “come out of the closet,” and perhaps even wear scarlet “A” pins on their lapels.

A: First of all, I ought to say we’re very adamant that we don’t want to out people as atheists. We’re in the business of consciousness raising, trying to encourage them; if they are atheist, to be proud of it.

Q: But is this something you see as a linked purpose? Your work is not just to get people to accept evolution, but to make the next leap?

A: Well, that was certainly the purpose of The God Delusion, but not The Greatest Show on Earth. The battle here is against creationism, not against religion per se. But if you are asking me if my more global purpose is a battle against religion, it is.


 

The Interview: Richard Dawkins

  1. I, for one, am eager to witness the respectful and productive discussion that will ensue…

    • I like your optimism, but I think it's ill-founded.

  2. He's "a bit worried" that kids are being named Mohammedinstead of Jack? (Jack being a derivative of John as in the biblical John?)

    What's to worry about a lot of blokes named Mo?

    • I dunno, but apparently it's worth getting worried about. I mean, Richard Dawkins is a smart man, I'm sure he has good reasons for being "a bit worried" about kids named Mohammed. I mean, it's not like he could be prone to xenophobia or anything like that……

    • Obviously, Muslim parents name their son Mohammed after their prophet. A man that was supposed to have performed miracles before ascending to heaven. A man that proclaimed that god made the first man from dust, and there was no evolution. Everything we see in the natural world was created in situ by god some point in the not too distant past.

      A fair (large?) proportion of Muslim parents calling their son Mohammed, out of respect for their prophet, are going to believe this bull; and pass their belief onto their son.

      That Mohammed is now the second most popular name in Britain suggests that a growing number of people living in this country are creationists.

      That is his, and many other people's, worry.

      • No, Mohammed being the second most popular name in Britain suggests that there is a lot of Muslims in the U.K. It is not a commentary on their creation beliefs.

        Do you know any Muslims? Cause I know a few, and from what I've found they all believe in evolution. Now admittedly there is very few Muslims out here on the praries. And I'm sure that they have a wide variety of beliefs.

        Do you have any evidence like say a poll at least, that could prove most Muslims in the U. K. are young earth creationists?

        • I never said "most" (although most polls suggest it IS most).

          I said a fair(large?) proportion.

          A fair(large?) proportion of Muslims believe the Koran is the unquestionable word of god. That is why they call themselves Muslims. By definition, a Muslim adheres to that belief. So, by definition, you are going to find that those that do believe that the Koran is the word of god are creationists.

          (how "wide" can their beliefs be and still be called Muslims?)

          poll?
          Hameed S (2008). "Bracing for Islamic creationism". Science 322 (5908)

          Percentage that believe Evolution by Natural Selection is a fact
          Egypt 8%
          Malaysia 14%
          Pakistan 16%
          Indonesia 22%

          Of course, you could have done your own research rather than just argue from personal experience ("I'm sure"…etc)

  3. Good interview. I'll be interested to read the book.

    I think his best point in the interview is that Evolution is badly taught in schools. Fundamentalists will often demand that Creationism be taught alongside it, but this is not what's needed. If Evolution were well taught, showing all its strengths as well as its weaknesses, students would be in a good position to make up their own minds by critically assessing the evidence available at this point in history.

    The problem is that evolution is often taught as indisputable "fact" as Dawkins actually describes it here, and I am surprised he did so. In general scientists are careful to avoid referring to any model or theory as "fact" no matter how much empirical evidence supports it, for the simple reason that such theories generally get overturned or modified eventually. The "facts" are the empirical data. The theory/model is the reasoning we use to explain them.

    • But as he points out, too often people use theory to denote something that we're not sure of. That may or may not be true. Evolution is a theory like the sun coming up tomorrow is a theory (in fact, the idea that the sun will come up tomorrow is even less strong a theory because we can be pretty sure that one day it won't be true). At what point do the connotations of the term outweigh the practical realities?

      • (Thumbs up for both of you.)

        One could even muddy the waters further and note that all 'facts' are based on theories or abstractions. We agree that a thermometer shows the temperature, and tend to think of that as a fact. But there's really a bunch of theory built into that, starting with the activity of invisible molecules as a function of their environment, etc. Even our shared experience of 'seeing' objects is based on certain theories.

        On a side note, the "rabbit" argument used to counter the fossil gap charge against Evolution is rather brilliant, I thought.

      • Evolution is a fact. We see it in fossils, in the lab and in the wild (ring species).

        Natural Selection as the mechanism of evolution is the theory part.

        • No. We see genetic variance. That in itself is not evolution.

        • No. We see genetic variance. That in itself is not evolution.

          Evolution is comprised of two things, genetic variance and natural selection. It is, technically, a theory that genetic variance is acted upon by natural selection to produce a consistent change in species that is better adapted to its environment than its competitors.

    • Evolution is a fact. Darwin's theory of natural selection is a theory. Indeed our modern understanding of evolution has evolved quite a bit.

      By analogy, gravity is a fact. Newton and Einstein both produced theories about gravity.

      I agree however that evolutionary biologists tend to muddy the waters by not distinguishing between the phenomena and the description. I suspect that is because until quite recently, the study of evolution has been purely observational.

      • I'm not exactly disagreeing with you here, but isn't gravity an explanatory theory, whereas two objects moving toward each other are the fact (observed phenomenon)?

        • Correct. Physicists are careful to distinguish between General Relativity (a very solid theory – with certain serious problems – whose strength experimentalists labour to assess every day even though no empirical evidence has ever contradicted it), the Newtonian model (a definition of "gravity" with approximately accurate predictive value but no explanation attached), and the empirical observations. Only these last are treated as facts, and even only within certain margins of error.

        • Correct. Physicists are careful to distinguish between General Relativity (a very solid theory – with certain serious problems – whose strength experimentalists labour to assess every day even though no empirical evidence has ever contradicted it), the Newtonian model (a definition of "gravity" with approximately accurate predictive value but no explanation attached), and the empirical observations. Only these last are treated as facts, and even then only within certain margins of error.

          Gravity is not a "fact", it's a name for a mathematical concept used in various theories. That massive bodies generally accelerate toward one another is a fact.

        • Correct. Physicists are careful to distinguish between General Relativity (a very solid theory – with certain serious problems – whose strength experimentalists labour to assess every day even though no empirical evidence has ever contradicted it), the Newtonian model (a definition of "gravity" with approximately accurate predictive value but no explanation attached), and the empirical observations. Only these last are treated as facts, and even only within certain margins of error.

          Gravity is not a "fact", it's a name for a mathematical concept used in various theories. That massive bodies generally accelerate toward one another is a fact.

        • Correct. Physicists are careful to distinguish between General Relativity (a very solid theory – with certain serious problems – whose strength experimentalists labour to assess every day even though no empirical evidence has ever contradicted it), the Newtonian model (a definition of "gravity" with approximately accurate predictive value but no explanation attached), and the empirical observations. Only these last are treated as facts, and even then only within certain margins of error.

          Gravity is not a "fact", it's the name for a mathematical concept (namely a vector field) used in various theories. That massive bodies generally accelerate toward one another is a fact.

    • It becomes a problem with teaching in general and the nature of science. Nothing in science is a fact, it's all just theories – math is where you go for facts and proofs. Teaching that uncertainty to kids makes it much harder to teach what the likely but uncertain conclusions in science are. For all intents and purposes, newtonian gravity is correct if you impose certain restrictions on its scope, but it's not certain even in that scope. Do we really want to spend time in high school going over that uncertainty, or even that scope? Unless a student is going to become a theoretical physicist, there's virtually no reason to consider anything but newtonian gravity to be correct, and knowledge past that is gained in university.

      Evolution is always being discussed in academic biology and there are continuing discussions about the mechanisms for change and ways the theory can be refined to more accurately describe the real world. However, there's virtually no reason a high school student needs to know about these things, because 99.9% of them will only ever have to deal with the overgeneralized version taught in high schools. Knowledge beyond that, for practicaly purposes, is pointless.

  4. "The problem is that evolution is often taught as indisputable "fact" as Dawkins actually describes it here, and I am surprised he did so."

    Evolution is a fact. A fact remains a fact until it is falsified.

    "students would be in a good position to make up their own minds"

    The goal of science education is not to have students "make up their own minds."

    • The goal of education is to form minds. In science one does this by presenting the best available evidence together with the foremost ideas concerning that evidence. Shutting out influential ideas during this process because one does not want students to consider them is called "indoctrination".

    • The goal of education is to form minds. In science one does this by presenting the best available evidence together with the foremost ideas concerning that evidence. Shutting out influential ideas during this process because one does not want students to consider them is merely indoctrination.

      • "Shutting out influential ideas during this process because one does not want students to consider them is merely indoctrination."

        That's not generalisable. In the sciences, one presents ideas based in science and those that are not should be rightly excluded. The point of formal education, especially in the lower grades, is certainly not to waste time on political/moral controversies that younger people are exposed to outside of school anyway and which adults themselves don't come to any agreement on. Being indifferent to such things is how indoctrination creeps into the education process.

        School is not the only place where minds are formed and it's been a disaster to continue to believe that.

      • What about shutting out bad ideas? Compared to Darwin's theory of natural selection, creationism/intelligent design is a bad idea, not worth teaching.

        • First of all, creationism and intelligent design are two different ideas.
          Secondly, how could one know whether they are bad ideas if one hasn't studied them?

          And finally, I'm not advocating teaching creationism or intelligent design in science class. I'm advocating teaching the difficulties associated with evolutionary theory together with the supporting evidence. Just as it would be foolish to teach General Relativity without pointing out its inconsistency with Quantum Mechanics (both well established scientific theories) it would be foolish to teach Evolution without pointing out the gaps in the fossil record and the problem of discrete leaps in organ development.

          Understanding the reasoned objections to a scientific theory are part of understanding the theory. Unfortunately these are often neglected when there is an agenda that inclines people to treat the theory as unquestionable fact. The result is a dearth of new understanding as people refuse to question the prevailing science.

          • There is no lack of questioning of evolution, so you don't have to worry about that.

            However, there is a question of how much to teach. Taking your example, in most physics courses in high school they do not, in fact, mention that quantum mechanics contradicts general relativity, and only very slightly touch on how general relativity contradicts Newtonian physics. Nobody complains about those being an incomplete education. Why? Because it's right enough for most people's purposes. If they get further into the subject, eventually they learn these things.

            Similarly for evolution. Even if the "difficulties" you postulate existed (they don't.. gaps in evidence do nothing to invalidate the theory or even challenge it, and discrete organ formation is a false difficulty as there is nothing to suggest that it occurs and nothing in evolution that postulates that it does) there is no relevance to teaching them because evolution on its own is right enough for most people's purposes.. except if the purpose is to be able to avoid cognitive dissonance about the creation myth.

          • "There is no lack of questioning of evolution, so you don't have to worry about that. "
            Actually, in academia there is. It can be a career killer. Likewise for students, it can be a grade killer.

            I agree with your point that one doesn't have to teach every nuance of science in high school. Nonetheless, students should not be led to believe that something is indisputable fact when it isn't. If one is going to teach Evolution, one should teach it warts and all. Show the students what we know and what we don't.

            For example, in high school students are generally taught the Bohr model in Chemistry. It's simplistic and fairly incorrect, but it is a good starting point. However, a good teacher also points out that there are serious problems with this account, gives a few examples, and leaves the rest of the story for university. That way students don't go through life believing they know something that they don't.

          • "There is no lack of questioning of evolution, so you don't have to worry about that. "
            Actually, in academia there is. It can be a career killer. Likewise for students, it can be a grade killer.

            I agree with your point that one doesn't have to teach every nuance of science in high school. Nonetheless, students should not be led to believe that something is indisputable fact when it isn't. If one is going to teach Evolution, one should teach it warts and all. Show the students what we know and what we don't.

            For example, in high school students are generally taught the Bohr model in Chemistry. It's simplistic and fairly incorrect, but it is a good starting point. However, a good teacher also points out that there are serious problems with this account, gives a few examples, and leaves the rest of the story for university. That way students don't go through life believing they know something that they don't.

          • "There is no lack of questioning of evolution, so you don't have to worry about that. "
            Actually, in academia there is. It can be a career killer. Likewise for students, it can be a grade killer. It's on a par with the situation 5 years ago vis a vis global warming.

            I agree with your point that one doesn't have to teach every nuance of science in high school. Nonetheless, students should not be led to believe that something is indisputable fact when it isn't. If one is going to teach Evolution (as one should), one should teach it warts and all. Show the students what we know and what we don't.

            For example, in high school students are generally taught the Bohr model in Chemistry. It's simplistic and fairly incorrect, but it is a good starting point. However, a good teacher also points out that there are serious problems with this account, gives a few examples, and leaves the rest of the story for university. That way students don't go through life believing they know something that they don't.

          • Good questioning of evolution isn't a career killer and is very welcomed. It's uninformed, unsupported, or unintelligent questioning of evolution that kills careers or grades. This is by no means specific to evolution and certainly not a bad thing – drawing an analogy to Chemistry, if I go into a Chemistry class, even in high school, and claim the Thomson model, not the Bohr model, is correct, I will get a poor mark and I'll have deserved it.

            Besides, while in both chemistry and physics the base theories taught to students are oversimplifications that have clear successors to be discussed in university, there isn't one for evolution. There are some refinements and explanations of the mechanism of species change, but there is nothing in mainstream academic biology like there is for, say, gravity, where general relatively replaces newtonian gravity. Evolution is more like electrostatics – even a professor who would point out the problems in newtonian gravity (to make students aware of general relativity) wouldn't do the same for Coulomb's law because it has no real successor in electrostatics.

          • There is no lack of questioning of evolution, so you don't have to worry about that.

            However, there is a question of how much to teach. Taking your example, in most physics courses in high school they do not, in fact, mention that quantum mechanics contradicts general relativity, and only very slightly touch on how general relativity contradicts Newtonian physics. Nobody complains about those being an incomplete education. Why? Because it's right enough for most people's purposes. If students get further into the subject, eventually they learn these things.

            Similarly for evolution. Even if the "difficulties" you postulate existed (they don't.. gaps in evidence do nothing to invalidate the theory or even challenge it, and discrete organ formation is a false difficulty as there is nothing to suggest that it occurs and nothing in evolution that postulates that it does) there is no relevance to teaching them because evolution on its own is right enough for most people's purposes.. except if the purpose is to be able to avoid cognitive dissonance about the creation myth.

    • "Evolution is a fact. A fact remains a fact until it is falsified."

      Foreigner, you are obviously not a scientists of a philospher. if you suggest a thing is a fact until proven otherwise you are misguided.

      Also, I believe that the role of good education is to enable students to have information and the ability to think so that they can make up their own minds. Would you prefer students have information rammed down their throats and be forced to believe something instead of learning how to think?

  5. The available data mass supports the theory of evolution very well. Should the rabbit-in-the-wrong-era be discovered, which seems unlikely, then the theory would have to be re-examined.

    The goal of "science education" need not be too narrowly defined. After all, discoveries are made by those who question and explore.

  6. Glad to see that Dawkins kept Mr Crazy in the box, with the exception of that Holocaust denier remark. Kind of a counterpoint to the creationist talk about “evolution leads to the Nazis”. Anyway, if Dawkins wants to stay away from crazy talk that undermines belief in his sanity, he might want to not say that sort of thing. That’s just inflammatory and insulting and won’t win people over, I’m sorry.

  7. "with the exception of that Holocaust denier remark."

    He qualified that remark rather ably. The two types of denial are not on the same political or moral level, but are identical in terms of their rejection of compelling evidence.

    Where critics of Dawkins might best focus their attention is on his unscientific assertions about religion, faith and epistemology, subjects for which the work of anthropologists, sociologists, historians and philosophers make him look rather foolish and unread.

    • Your point is well taken. However, regardless of qualification I think it unwise to talk about Holocaust deniers in this instance. Related to the overall tendency to bring up hot botton words like “Holocaust”, “Neville Chamberlain” and others in public discourse, it tends to overheat the debate without really providing useful perspective.

      • "However, regardless of qualification I think it unwise to talk about Holocaust deniers in this instance."

        I'm sure if the Creationists stopped drawing relationships between Darwin's work and Hitler, Dawkins (or anyone else) would find no need to retaliate proportionately.

        • I would prefer not to be refuted using “2 wrongs make a right” reasoning. However, it would not be difficult to provide more outrageous creationist remarks – a certain movie called Expelled comes to mind. So I suppose in the world of warfare as opposed to civil debate you have a point.

    • Of course, "religion, faith and epistemology" are absolutely chock full of rock-hard scientific assertions!

      • Of course not. But religion and theology are independent bodies of knowledge with peer-reviewed processes for identifying and disseminating knowledge. Dawkins holds himself out as an expert in these areas without the benefit of the knowedge held by religious scholars. It's unfortunate that religion and theology (as bodies of knowledge) are not taught in our schools. As a result, when young adults do confront the science/religion debate, they must rely on their immature, Sunday-school knowledge of theology to thoughtfully consider their position. I believe that a mature level of theological understanding instilled in our high school graduates would do more to drive creationism out of our schools (and churches) than all the arguments presented by the new atheists.

        • Religion and theology do not identify and disseminate knowledge. As Thomas Paine put it, "The study of theology…is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion."

  8. I enjoyed article.Now I would like Mr.Gatehouse to interview a creationist.Someone like John Mackay.Having both types of interviews would give your readers something else to think about.

    • That's the old Creationist "teach the controversy" dodge, when there in fact is no controversy.

      • Right. There's no controversy among everyone who agrees with you.

      • That’s the old Evolutionist “there is no controversy” dodge, when in fact there is a controversy.

        (I’m kidding. You see how we all get along so well when we’re busily making assertions about matters to complicated for useful discussion by the general public on message boards?)

    • Yes, interview a sane person and a lunatic to find out where the truth lies. Makes perfect sense.

  9. "When they try to teach evolution, students fold their arms with a fixed stare of rejection on their face."____Wow. How can anyone endure such persecution?

    • Be yourself a teacher and deal with it every week and tell me later.

  10. Really really hard to insult a creationist–lol!! Evolution has been under attack now for some 150 years, a mountain of new evidence has been acquired through reasearch over that time and in many displines. For creationists evidence does not matter, it can always be ignored, if they were not so dangerous the rest of us might ignore the creationist. The fact that their spirituality is as much political as it is spiritual makes it a necessity that their power be limited. The duh factor should not be in the halls of power.

    • The same "mountain of evidence" that you say supports your presupposition that there is no God supports my presupposition that He exists. It depends on one's viewpoint. It's not a matter of ignoring the evidence, but interpreting it. If one looks at evidence through a particular lens or bias then one will tend to interpret that evidence in favour of that bias.

  11. One's presuppositions determine how he or she interprets the evidence. If you assume there is no God or Creator then you will naturally view the evidence in that light and will say that it supports your bias. If you believe that that God exists and created the universe then you will see the evidence as supporting that assumption.

    • mrfarenheit,

      Which god might you be refering to mrfareheit, and what evidence do you have say for the existence of Zeus? What evidence do you have for a six thousand year old earth, or the talking snake and the compounded absudities of scripture. Like I said the DUH factor has no business in positions of power, it scares thoughs who think rationally. Like I said it is almost impossiable to insult a creationist——–lol!! Zeus be with you!!

      • Great argument, sir. Though you say it is almost impossible to insult a creationist, you try admirably.

        • I have found reason to no avail with creationists and I finally came to the conclusion that disrespectful humor is the only way to deal with people that have either forfited their right to think or never had the ability in the first place. Yours is an oppressive political movement, that is the only reason it draws the attention of thinking people whatsoever.

          • You are certainly entitled to that opinion.

          • …and your point is? That you have no valid argument to refute any of the above but still cling to dogmatic ideas?

    • No. If you believe that God exists and created the universe then you will simply discard evidence as irrelevant, as it all comes down to, "Well God put it there." That's not seeing evidence as supporting anything, that's discounting evidence and rationalizing it away where it conflicts with unsupported faith.

    • Does science indeed assume anything about the existence of gods?

  12. Religion is all bunk as is this authors opinion. Its just a way for them to enrich themselves and control the weak minded.

    • Thank you for your most helpful opinion.

  13. So I take from this that you are an "evolution enthusiast".

  14. One can certainly see where your presuppositions lie.

    • Indeed, it's a fundamental belief structure for me that the scientific method and cause leading to effect is a far superior lens to view the world with than any faith based structure. It provides us with useful predictions about the future that have allowed us to vastly improve our quality of life over the years. Faith provides neither the evidence to suggest that is is an incorrect belief, nor the value to humanity to suggest it is even a more desirable one.

      So yes, you can see where my presuppositions lie.
      How are they wrong?

    • Indeed, it's a fundamental belief structure for me that the scientific method and cause leading to effect is a far superior lens to view the world with than any faith based structure. It provides us with useful predictions about the future that have allowed us to vastly improve our quality of life over the years. Faith provides neither the evidence to suggest that science is an incorrect belief, nor the value to humanity to suggest that faith is even a more desirable one.

      So yes, you can see where my presuppositions lie.
      How are they wrong?

      • "How are they wrong?"

        Well, for starters you've got a false choice between the scientific method and "faith based structure". There are other possibilities.

        Secondly you seem to be assuming that objections to evolution are faith-based. Many are based on reason, just like objections to every other scientific theory. People have no problem admitting that there are shortcomings with General Relativity or Quantum Mechanics, but often treat Evolution as though it's a theory that admits no doubt. That is because of emotional baggage that people bring to the issue, and it's contrary to good science.

      • "How are they wrong?"

        Well, for starters you've got a false choice between the scientific method and "faith based structure". There are other possibilities.

        Secondly you seem to be assuming that objections to evolution are faith-based. Many are based on reason, just like objections to every other scientific theory. People have no problem admitting that there are shortcomings with General Relativity or Quantum Mechanics, but often treat Evolution as though it's a theory that admits no doubt. That is because of emotional baggage that people bring to the issue, and it's antithetical to good science.

        • That's because there are no doubts to evolution. There is no counter-evidence at all and all new findings do nothing but support evolution. It's treated as fact simply because there has been no dispute of its validity in its 150 years aside from those of faith who bring their bias into the situation.

          Also, evidence is objective and cannot be interpreted in different ways. Tens of thousands of scientists have tested the evidence for evolution and all of the evidence has led to the same conclusion. There is no emotional baggage attached to any scientific theory; if there was evidence proving it wrong, we would all abandon it overnight. That's the difference between science and faith.

  15. "Thus the average enthusiast for Evolution is liable to think that the idea that the current state of affairs is preordained"

    I see absolutely no evidence for such a statement, and your 'logic' is verging on the ridiculous. In fact, I have never heard of someone who understands the theory of evolution concluding that the current state is 'pre-ordained' or using (much less accepting) that the concept of 'fate' even exists. Of course you last statements, the 'there is no" family is correct. But this is not a revelation, this is just the normal view.

    • "I have never heard of someone who understands the theory of evolution concluding that the current state is 'pre-ordained' or using (much less accepting) that the concept of 'fate' even exists."

      I don't mean scientists, I mean the laity. And among the laity you hear it all the time. People think that 'fitness' is some kind of absolute, not relative to the environment in which the fit creature exists; if it's an absolute, then the fitness level must constantly have been increasing, i.e. life is getting fitter & better. This is a widespread misunderstanding and I'll thank you for not calling my noting of the fact ridiculous.

      • "and I'll thank you for not calling my noting of the fact ridiculous."

        And I thought I was being rather polite. It you want to make broad sweeping unsupported "observations" and present them as "facts", i suggest you grow a thicker skin

        • And I thought you were being very impolite. You didn't present any counterargument, you just said I was wrong. I guess it doesn't matter when you're just venting.

          • "You didn't present any counterargument"

            My dear Jack Mitchell, the kid gloves are on just for you. As I suspect you know, it is not necessary to present a counter-argument when one is debating. You made, to my mind, some extraordinary claims without evidence, empirical or otherwise. You offered an opinion, or should I say rant, which I take exception to.

            You said, and I quote "the average enthusiast for Evolution is liable to think that the idea that the current state of affairs is preordained — Fate". I think this is utter rubbish, and patently false. Your notion goes against the core of the theory, in which adaptive pressure is blind. I hardly think the enthusiasts, by definition, would be so fundamentally misinformed. To make such an extraordinary claim, you should point to at least some form of study, but you do not. Instead, you offer us some extremely tenuous logic, that I feel is absurd, or more plainly – ridiculous.

            You essentially posit that we're in state B, having come from state A and moving toward state C; and that therefore coming to state B is considered by the "avenge enthusiast" as being "inevitable", "pre-determined" and "fate". Your conclusion is a huge leap, as there is nothing to suggest that the necessary transitions have a deterministic causality. So in the end you provide a dubious explanation to support your extraordinary view.

            Your entire "sermon" says little more than "those who claim to understand evolution, don't actually get it – they are in fact all closet believers following their own apocalyptic god".

            Forgive me if I take exception to this.

          • You obviously can't read, or can't be bothered to, as the view you quote is precisely the one I was refuting. And I was quite specifically not attributing it to serious proponents of evolution but to the average enthusiast. If you do happen to understand the theory, good on you, but my point is that little old Dave Mallon is not the centre of the universe — we're post-Galileo, after all — and your own view may not be universally shared by those who claim to agree with you. Cf., for instance, some other comments on this thread.

          • You obviously can't read, or can't be bothered to, as the view you quote is precisely the one I was attacking. And I was quite specifically not attributing it to serious proponents of evolution but to the average enthusiast. If you do happen to understand the theory, good on you, but my point is that little old Dave Mallon is not the centre of the universe — we're post-Galileo, after all — and your own view may not be universally shared by those who claim to agree with you. Cf., for instance, some other comments on this thread.

          • You obviously can't read, or can't be bothered to, since the view you quote is precisely the one I was attacking. And I was quite specifically not attributing it to serious proponents of evolution but to the average enthusiast. If you do happen to understand the theory, good on you, but my point is that little old Dave Mallon is not the centre of the universe — we're post-Galileo, after all — and your own view may not be universally shared by those who claim to agree with you. Cf., for instance, some other comments on this thread.

            May I say that your haste to misunderstand me confirms my thesis that zealous advocates of the Theory of Evolution are tinged with religious fervour? If this were the Middle Ages, you'd have burned me at the stake by now for having the gall to suggest that Darwin was not the One True Prophet, merely an ordinary exponent of the obvious. I happen to agree with him, but you militant evolutionists can get stuffed.

          • What an asshole.

          • Quite the scientific lexicon you've got there, Dave.

  16. Posts like this prove Dawkins' point that evolution education is sorely lacking! Wow.

    • Do tell, JonA, what you find ignorant about my post.

    • Do tell, JonA, what you find ignorant about my post. I'm sure you were taught how to argue in school along with your profound understanding of epistemology and the philosophy of science.

  17. Evolution is a theory in the same sense that gravity is a theory. Anybody walked out of a 10th story window lately because gravity "is just a theory" ?

    The facts of evolution, from the fossil record, molecular genetics, radioactive dating, geology, comparative anatomy etc. are overwhelming.

    The theory of evolution, random mutation mediated by natural selection, is the best model we have so far to explain the facts of evolution. There are other models as well, including genetic drift and horizontal gene transfer. These models are amenable to falsification, that is one can devise experiments such that if the experiment failed the model would be invalidated. As well, these models can make predictions, for example, given the current state of an organism we should see this transitional form in geological strata of a certain age.

    Intelligent Design does not meet any of the above criteria, it is not falsifiable and it does not make testable predictions. In fact, many of the claims of ID have been refuted, for example the eubacterial flagellum was said to be too complex to have evolved from simpler forms because the removal of any single component would render the flagellum useless. It has been shown that flagellum evolved from the type III secretory system.

    There are without doubt controversies in evolution, these are being hashed out in respectable peer reviewed scientific journals. ID is not a controversy, it is creationism by another name.

    • Very good description here. No ideas in science are ever certain, but if they're well supported by evidence with no unexplained contradictions, we assume they are true for the purposes of technological and intellectual advancement (and to not walk out of windows).

  18. Have to disagree with you on a few points here. I'll skip the ones where you qualified it however, because I think you're probably right about the beliefs of society at large.

    Now, just to be up front, I'm a fervent Evolutionist. You might say I'm religious about it. I believe natural selection explains so much, not just about our physiology and biology, but even about our societies, thoughts, and decisions. And with that, it becomes more than an explicative tool, it also becomes one which you can use both consciously and to predictable effect. It becomes very useful in marketing, and figuring out a slogan or idea which is likely to stay in a person's head because it makes them feel better.

    Viewing through the lens of natural selection is useful for figuring out why certain wrong ideas stick in people's heads, and thus make it easier to come up with ideas to counter-act that.

    But key in understanding it is that evolution and natural selection have no plan, as you say. We anthropomorphize them at our peril. There is no plan to evolution. There is no concern if the evolutionary path taken eventually leads to a dead-end and the organism, species, or society dies out. And because of that we need to be aware of it and watch carefully to ensure that the strategies for our society are not left to natural selection.

    Because natural selection doesn't actually pick..
    ..it weeds.

    • "Because natural selection doesn't actually pick..
      ..it weeds."

      See, you're doing it too. :)

      It doesn't *do* anything. It's an observed pattern.

      And societies are not organisms, and as such cannot be understood through the biological model of evolution. Sure, species and societies change over time, but societies don't reproduce through passing genetic type material to offspring, so the whole analogy falls flat. Cultural evolutionism and social Darwinism were well debated, and ultimately discredited, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

      • Yes, I said we anthropomorphize them at our peril.. but I didn't say it was impossible. Sometimes that's simply the best way to drive forward understanding. And while you're correct natural selection doesn't do anything, the common understanding of "do" includes the idea that if certain effects are explained by something, we typically refer to that something as the "cause" of the effect, and most people are entirely comfortable with this. Like saying that the stock markets go down. The stock markets don't *do* anything, because they're a collection of individual orders for the buying and selling, and as people change their valuation for a particular company or offering, they will offer higher or lower to purchase it. But the market? It's just a handy shorthand.

        If the creationists manage to drive evolution away from these shorthands they will certainly have won, because it means they will have pushed evolution back to a technical standpoint which the common person does not have either the inclination or the time to spend understanding the technical details of it when common terminology works just fine.. just fine that is unless you're a creationist who is deliberately seeking some point of semantic difficulty so that they can attempt to falsely generalize that to the whole theory.

        As for societies I firmly believe that societies are organisms in many respects. What was missing in the 1800s and early 1900s was an understanding of memetics. These are the genetics of societies — they are not organisms in a physiologic sense obviously. However, they have internal systems that maintain their structure, they have units that process resources in different ways to drive them forward, and they compete with one another for cultural dominance, and it is all done through thoughts and ideas, with people merely being the carriers of such. That said, I haven't done a lot of reading into the discussions then, however I would wager a guess that they were looking at individuals and biologic mechanisms as the DNA of societies and hence running into significant difficulties which are not present with memetics as the central DNA of societies.

    • "…it becomes more than an explicative tool, it also becomes one which you can use both consciously and to predictable effect."

      You are no longer talking about evolution, you are talking about evolutionary psychology.

      • Absolutely. However, the term "evolutionary psychology" might give you pause. Where would the general ideas behind such a psychology have derived from? Providing credit to the child without any to the parent strikes as churlish at best. Dishonest at worst.

  19. Science is just a tool, a highly systematic method to understand the workings of nature. Faith is a belief. And everyone is entitled to his or her beliefs. The problem arises when believers try to make faith look like science.

    Purveyors of Intelligent Design confuse the issue by calling it a theory, which is a misuse of a scientific term to describe what is actually an act of faith. A scientific theory is not an opinion or a belief. It is the product of a long, highly disciplined process of question, hypothesis, experiment, conclusions, gathering
    facts, peer review, debate, then publication. If new information comes along, the theory is modified and so the knowledge base grows.

    Darwin's theory of natural selection has stood the test of time for 200 years. New evidence from genetic work, molecular studies, ecology, have only fortified the concept. Natural selection is still with us, seen in everything from animal populations to antibiotic resistance. Entire departments of universities
    are devoted to evolutionary biology and thousands of publications fill libraries. It's an elegant theory that describes how life on this planet changes over time. That's how science works.

    Bob McDonald Quirks & Quarks FEB 17th, 2009

    • Yes, but the science of the development of the universe, including the minutely brief period described by evolutionary biology, does not mean that faith is unfounded. There is as much evidence to support and substantiate peoples' faith as there is to support science. The two need not be seen as mutually exclusive. Read Stephen Hawking–in the midst of this vast universe, that looks the same in every direction, even to the most sensitive instruments, he surmises that we would be extremely arrogant to consider that we are the only ones looking at it, or that of the million million million planets, ours is the only one that support beings who can wonder how it all works.

      Those who think it is Darwin or nothing have a very, very narrow view of faith, belief, AND science.

  20. I've thought of a better example to explain why the Theory of Evolution is usually, though wrongly, taken to be teleological.

    Take the idea that "Dinosaurs evolved into birds." In ordinary terms, this is true, but it is not literally true: the dinosaurs themselves did no evolving, they just mated and died. The class of creatures evolved; but such a class has no independent existence, it's just our taxonomy. All the statement that "Dinosaurs evolved into birds" means is that birds' ancestors were dinosaurs; but by using verbs in the active voice like "evolve" and intransitive verbal nouns like "evolution" we imply that the dinosaurs were somehow involved in their own evolution (as the doers of action). On the contrary, evolution (in the past) is a description of the relationship between our own classification of species: it is our interpretation of the aggregate of events, not a series of events in themselves.

    Look, too, at the term "natural selection." The implication behind the metaphor is that Mother Nature is out there with a pair of tweezers picking which creatures are Fit and which are Unfit. Again the mistaken idea of agency. Again the notion that there are some criteria which form the basis for selecting one creature and not the other. If the Theory of Evolution wants to avoid these misunderstandings, it should cleanse its vocabulary of agency and teleology.

    • I think you're making things overly complicated. Instead of "cleansing it's vocabulary", it's just a matter of stating the definition of the words you use. As Professor Dawkins pointed out, there are two definitions of 'theory'. A science teacher simply needs to state this at the outset and indication which one sciences use when they refer to the Theory of x-evolution, gravity etc. . In fact I'd say your explanation of 'evolution' is fine.

      "Take the idea that "Dinosaurs evolved into birds." In ordinary terms, this is true, but it is not literally true: the dinosaurs themselves did no evolving, they just mated and died. The class of creatures evolved; but such a class has no independent existence, it's just our taxonomy. All the statement that "Dinosaurs evolved into birds" means is that birds' ancestors were dinosaurs…"

      Again, simply explain that at the outset and I think we're fine. A new vocabulary isn't necessary.

      And as for the 'laity' -if by that you mean the average American off the street -then yes, I think there is a teleological misunderstanding. But again, that's due to poor education in the first place. So we're back to necessity of books like the Professors.

      • Well, I'm all for explaining things clearly, but I think there's a serious communications problem, and also an inexcusable lack of rigour, when basic statements at the heart of debate (like "We evolved from apes") are semantically defective on two different levels (i.e. evolution is not an active process, and "we" were not around millions of years ago). If Evolution's own lay advocates — by laity I just mean, as you say, non-scientists — get things like that mixed up, it's no wonder the average Creationist is pretty muddled about what he's contradicting, and the debate is going to continue going in circles. After all, the truth if the Theory of Evolution is not in question among evolutionary biologists: this is all a propaganda exercise to prevent Biblical literalists from sending us back to the Dark Ages. I just suggest that we start by not having to apologise for the backwardness of our terminlogy.

    • Dinosaur is a class, Bird is a class. To say that Dinosaurs evolved into Birds, merely states that through successive generations one class was gradually developed from the other. I agree that there is an issue with the voice and the implication that the Dinosaurs were some how involved. However, to go back to our other discussion, I do not believe that many people (scientists or otherwise) believe that Dinosaurs were actually involved. It just one of the many ambiguities inherent in the general use of the English language.

      The term 'natural selection' is the name of a process, it is not a description of the process. You are right that people may read this incorrectly and infer an agent, but I not in the class of humans in claim to understand the theory. You also say "Again the notion that there are some criteria which form the basis for selecting one creature and not the other." I may be misunderstanding you here, are you saying that there is no selective criteria or that one is not pre-defined or that one is not given by an agent? Clearly, the environment that individuals find themselves in will favour some more than others.

      I have seen no evidence with confusion in these terms, when they are explained. The one that seems to causes the greatest grief is the misunderstanding of the word theory, as Timbo mentioned.

  21. Can any of the "secular fundamentalists" above explain how one second there was nothing and a split second later there was everything. All matter in the universe was created (sorry!!) in the first few split seconds after the Big Bang. Why did this happen? How can nothing create everything in an instant? Enlighten us poor superstitious believers.

    • To respond to the subtext of your question: it does not require the existence of a god. Your logic consists of: we do not have an empirically tested and confirmed theory of how the big bang occurerd, therefore god. Sorry, that is how people have tried to prove a god's existence for thousands of years, and it has always been displaced with understanding of how the universe works. The big bang is a tough phenomenon to study, but we're working on it.

      Even if a god caused the big bang, if that was the extent of their involvement in the universe, it is a pretty much irrelevant entity. Also, consider that if a god happened to get the ball rolling on the universe, it in no way corroborates the whole jesus myth.

      • Do you even know the extent of the evidence that exists in support of the Big Bang? Can you begin to comprehend even a tiny, tiny fraction of the vast universe you live in? Is it even conceivable that man is the most intelligent being in all these million billion trillion solar systems? How could man be so arrogant as to assume that nobody else is "working on it" or is vastly more superior in understanding it than we are?

        Even if we begin to understand HOW it works, we are a long way from understanding WHY it all exists in the first place. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    • You should read some of Stephen Hawking's work, especially "A Brief History of Time". In it, Hawking, world renowned astro- and quantum-physicist, describes the known universe as being, at the beginning of "time", infinitely dense and infinitesimally small. Whatever happened before that is not relevant because it followed different rules than the universe now operates under. Then Hawking wisely muses, "Who are we to argue if God decided to start the universe with a big bang?"

    • If you are correct, then what created God?

    • The big bang has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with evolution-that would be cosmology.

      In any case, your argument "We don't know, therefore god did it", is precisely the same as the one the ancient Greeks used when they thought up Zeus to explain thunder and lightning. It is inherently flawed reasoning.

  22. Michael Ruse rather ably demonstrated something like this in his "The Creation-Evolution Controversy". If you want to read something by someone trying to figure out where religion and science belong as opposed to "discussing evolution in religious terms and religion in scientific terms", Ruse is a good place to go.

  23. Anyone who thinks Richard Dawkins somehow has the upper hand in this debate has never seen Ben Stein's documentary subtitled "No Intelligence Allowed". In that piece, following Dawkins' forceful and scientifically substantiated declaration that the odds of life beginning here strictly by chance is infinitesimally small at best, Stein pressed Dawkins for an explanation: How, then, did life start on this planet? Dawkins' emphatic answer was that the only way it could have happened was for some beings, more advanced and intelligent than we are, to have come here and planted it. "Aliens?" asked Stern? "Aliens." But not God. Makes perfect sense…

    The problem in the debate is those who argue under the assumption that religious and scientific evidences are mutually exclusive.

    • That's not accurate. Stein asked Dawkins how could life have possibly have been designed on this planet. He didn't ask how life could have started on this planet but how could possibly been designed. Dawkins was giving the only logical, however almost impossible, idea that another higher intelligent being planted life here, and he never said he agrees or even thinks this is a valid argument or possibility but was humoring Stein's question, and then he went on to say that the beings that could have possibly started life here would have evolved by means of natural selection somewhere else. Dawkins is not saying that he believes life was started by aliens he was just giving an answer to Stein's question "How could life have possibly been designed on this planet' and Dawkins, who does not believe life was designed at all, gave the only answer he could possibly fathom.

      • Check again. Stein "pinned him to a board, like a great big butterfly" just as he said he was going to. If he thought he had not, if it was clear that Dawkins clearly showed his argument to be superior, then why did Stein produce and distribute the documentary?

        • Stein's movie "expelled" has been completely debunked by many people. He lies and misquotes scientists like Dawkins. Google "expelled" there is lot of proof it lies, misquotes, and makes things up. To quote "expelled" in an arguement is absurd.

  24. Doesn't Professor Dawkins contradict himself when he states that his battle is against religion?

    Science is another religion (read Paul Feyerabend). Professor Dawkins is the new priest living in the 21st century working in a new temple called a university – he is leading a new faith – Dawkinism.

    I have no arguement against his work and do not consider it a threat to my personal views – but it is no substitute for my Christian faith that is liberating me from the evils of revenge, bitterness, back-biting, gossip and leading me into blessed places that are peaceful, joyful and honest!

    It is a shame against the Christian church that this debate can gain so much attention.

    We are living in a box and no one is getting out alive and no matter who you are – everyone has some kind of "faith," including Professor Dawkins.

    • Science is knowledge based upon proof & evidence, it is not faith.

      Faith is the belief in something in the absence of proof, this is the core of many relegions.

      Creationism is not faith. It is the belief in something despite evidence of it's falsehood.

      • Thank you for your reply.

        You are making very basic ontological assumptions – it is far too simplistic for me to take as a serious attack on my point.

        My main point is that people believe in "science" as if "knowledge" is the yellow brick road.

        I believe – If you understand all mysteries and have not love you have nothing. I like the song by the Beatles "All you need is love" (… but then they broke up :)

      • Actually chris M, the biblical notion of "faith" is closer to the english word "trust". Trust implies a deliberate decision to place your trust in an idea or person. In fact it does rely on proof, it is a misconception that the word faith is in fact a "blind leap".

        Chrsitianity is based on the historical death and resurection of Jesus. There is significant proof that Jesus was born, lived and died, only to be raised from the dead. We have over 500 witnesses and corroborating evidence from extra-biblical sources. That is historical evidence, and it is evidence that is definitly woth putting our faith in!

        • "There is significant proof that Jesus was born, lived and died, only to be raised from the dead."

          There is absolutely zero "proof" that Jesus did anything miraculous. You can compile all the hearsay you want and call it evidence. Still doesn't make it true.

    • Science is the one domain in which we human beings make a truly heroic effort to counter our innate biases and wishful thinking. Science is the one endeavor in which we have developed a refined methodology for separating what a person hopes is true from what he has good reason to believe. The methodology isn't perfect, and the history of science is riddled with abject failures of scientific objectivity. But that is just the point-these have been failures of science, discovered and corrected by-what, religion? No, by good science."
      — Sam Harris

  25. Good interview, but my god is that a terrible tie.

  26. Anyone looking for proof that humans evolved needn't look farther than John Baird.

  27. Conservatives have a monopoly on science – the left denies genetic determinism and human biodiversity. They deny a tsunami of evidence showing significant mental and physical differences between the races, conserveratives accept this science. The left belives in hiring according to race and gender, the right believes in hiring the best candidate. Darwin's beliefs about race are conservative and leftists deny them.

    "You've mentioned the harassment of teachers of evolution in the United States."

    Big deal, it's not nearly as bad as the harrassment of race realists in Canada and the USA by radical leftists like Dawkins. People losing their jobs for using the word "niggardly", the president of Harvard losing his job for stating scientific facts about women and math/science, the discoverer of DNA Dr. Watson losing his job for making un PC (but scientifically valid) comments about Africa.

    We have a monopoly on science, it is the left that is anti science.

    • "Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative."
      — John Stuart Mill

    • He has sort of a point. Consider post-modernism. That's anti-science, dogmatically liberal (to the point of rendering the word "liberal" meaningless–think PC nazis, multiculturalists, etc.), and well-established in academia.

      On the other hand, I don't think a rejection of post-modernism makes one a "conservative," and I wouldn't call Dawkins a "radical leftist" (and that statement does rather contradict the claim that "conservatives have a monopoly on science"). Furthermore, it is inaccurate to say that there is a "tsunami of evidence showing significant mental and physical differences between the races," or at least it depends on what you mean by "the races." Classifying humans according to skin color is hardly scientific, for example.

      That said, I do believe Political Correctness has become a bothersome ideology that needs to be checked–it has no place in the pursuit of truth, and it should by no means be in a position to discourage scientific inquiry and debate.

  28. It is hard to deny the"fact" of evolution, even in recent history people, language, species and even religion have all evolved. The problem with materialists such as Dawkin is that they always attack the least evolved of the religious species and use their outdated views to denounce the whole of spirituality. Religion has been misused over the years for power and control, so has science (hence nuclear weapons). I believe fundamentalist religions act as a good balance to materialistic scientists to help us evolve in material and in spirit.

    • I am a member at Prof. Dawkins website, if you would be as so kind to point out the "more evolved of the religious species" and tell me how his views on religion are "outdated," I could pass this information along to him. I'm sure he would be intrigued.
      And may I remind you, religion has killed many, many more people than atomic bombs…well, so far anyway.

  29. I do not think any reasoning person can rationally dispute evolutionary fact. My one problem with the author, and their ilk, is their Atheistic stance. What sheer arrogance. It proclaims a complete and total understanding of the workings of the universe.
    I wonder sometimes if this is not a scientific reaction to the close minded, arrogant proclamations of organized religion. One view seems as stilted and condemning as the other. I think the strongest statement any of us can make concerning omnipotence is: We just don't know.

    • "Atheistic stance. What sheer arrogance. It proclaims a complete and total understanding of the workings of the universe."

      Wow, you really screwed the pooch on that one. Where do you get your ideas, I wonder? Revelation? Atheism is the rejection of theistic claims, on account of a lack of evidence. It is not a separate claim of its own.

      "I think the strongest statement any of us can make concerning omnipotence is: We just don't know."

      Exactly, which is why we don't believe. That makes us atheists. It would do no good for me to go around proclaiming that "I don't know" about the truth of any and all preposterous claims, and that therefore it might be true. There is the matter of the burden of proof, after all: it doesn't rest with the atheist or the a-leprechaunist or the a-unicornist to produce evidence for the non-existence of these things). As I said before, the atheist doesn't make a claim ("a complete and total understanding of the workings of the universe," for example), the theist does.

  30. I must say that some here are completely mischaracterizing Atheism.

    There are very, very few atheists that I know of that would say "There is no god." Notice that this claim is very different from the claim "I do not believe in god." The latter claim does not profess certainty. If people had actually read Dawkins' book, they would have read that he falls into this latter category; he goes so far as to say that it is unscientific to assert that there is no god.

    What we have here are two different questions: an epistemological question (gnosticism/agnosticism) and a theological question (theism/atheism). The gnostic atheist would claim that they know that there is no god; the agnostic atheist would claim that they do not believe in god. The agnostic atheist may even claim that they find the existence of god to be so improbable that there almost certainly is no god. But a good scientist does not go so far as to make a claim of certainty, and that certainly is not what Dawkins has done in the past. In his book "The God Delusion", he rates himself as a ~6 on his scale of belief, where 7 is absolute certainty that there is no god. In recent interviews, he has said he is closer to a 6.9 but cannot commit himself to a position of 7. People should really understand the arguments before they criticize them.

  31. Does anybody else believe that creationism and evolution could coexist?
    How did the earth come about and how did the first organisms land here? I might be very ignorant, but I want to have faith that somehow the Earth really did come from what might have been the "big bang". But I don't think that humans landed on Earth during this "Big Bang". I think that some distant ancestors of ours was roaming the earth many years ago and that we evolved from those ancestors. And I think that we will continue to evolve into something else.

    I believe in Creationism (the Earth was created somehow that I can't fathom) and in Evolution (we evolved from the ancestors that originated on Earth).

    • This is so weak. If you can't fathom it, you'll just believe something simpler, regardless of whether it is true or not. It's backwards to say the least.

  32. My first response was: "what's the big deal about a popular science book laying out the evidence for evolution?" Then it occurred to me that no one would even bother to write a book about laying out the evidence for the heiocentric theory of the solar system or the Newtonian conception of physics, because no one has doubted these for centuries. Why do religious literalists reject the theory of evolution but not these others? They contradict a *literal* reading of the Bible just as much as evolution. Besides, the empirical evidence is much more available to average people for evolution than for the dynamics of the solar system and the principles of Natural Selection, mutation, and decent by modification are much easier to grasp than for Newtonian physics.

  33. I listened to an interview of Richard Dawkins over APR a couple of years ago. He was asked a question about why a being of superior intelligence could not have been the author of the universe. His answer was something like that evolution shows life begins with the simple and goes to the complicated.
    With that type of circular reasoning, why does he not just admit that evolution is his religion–that everything he hears goes through the filter of evolution and that he cannot consider anything that does not line up with that belief? I have faith and admit it; he has faith and calls it science.

    • You have no real concept of what science is unfortunately.

    • You are right. Science is a faith. It just happens to be based in fact, not in some book that tells you that some omnipotent person that you can't see, exists. That would be the definition of insanity, FYI.

  34. Perhaps next time Maclean's can ask Mr. Dawkins why he has radicalized secular thought and has become as much to blame for the polarization of this issue as any American televangelist (the simple answer being the money)

    • I think his answer would be: "it's about time!" (not money)

      We've advanced our understanding beyond the need for a crutch like religion – it's about time we shed the confusion (and thus, conflict) and present the world as it really is so that we have a hope of advancing further. Otherwise, what's the point? To get to heaven? No thanks, unless you can prove it!

  35. Okay, maybe I am missing something here. What is the driving force that causes things to change as in evolution? Is it something external……a higher power perhaps? Maybe evolutionist and creationists are not really that far apart. Because it takes an huge amount of faith to believe in evolution, too. As for Richard Dawkins he doesn't really tell us anything new. Most of it is just rehashed mumbo jumbo.

    • Try reading about evolution, Dawkins's new book prehaps?

  36. I have one thing to say from a creationist point of view and that is one day every one of you Evolutionist will take a stand before the Creator God himself and give account for your debunk theory's and leading thousands astray with it. God Created the earth and all that is within it and all the galaxys and there's even written proof passed down sense beginning of time in Gods Book called the Bible. Scientist will continue to deny deny deny the truth but I would be very fearful of what I say to add or take away from the Bible because when you leave this life you're in the hands of almighty God. Like it or lump it Evolutionist I have Evidence and you don't. Your evidence is manmade theories and based on bunk, I have History and written proof of an intelligent design. You will not find no other Book written sense the beginning of time to support a Creation so you have no argument.

    I am after all “fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalms 139:14

    • You have one book from a 2000 year old iron age desert people. We have thousands of books from educated scientists using the latest techology, peer reviewed by other scientists. We win.

      • Yes I have one Book from beginning to the end of all life as we know it and it didnt take God thousands of Books to publish to show how he CREATED the HEAVENS AND THE EARTH in 6000 Years like your so called scientist had to do and come up with a conclusion or try to show how the Earth and Solar System was made in thousands of Books. It took God just 1. After all he is God the Creator AMEN.

        • You need to take the blinders off my friend. Just read his new book, you might learning something. (maybe learn how to spell since as well)

        • Most atheists have read the bible and were raised in their parents religion. We then read other books and started to think for our selves.
          Have you read the quran or torah, they are about your same god? Which book of your god is the truth? How do you choose one over the other? Is it the one you were raised with? If so, that's not thinking for yourself, that just being a parrot.

        • Except its pretty common knowledge now that this all powerful book you base your entire life on was written 2000 years ago, and not by god, but by men with a vested interest in getting others to believe what they put in it.

          How can a person call themselves a creationist without getting embarrassed? I mean seriously? Homo sapiens knew the basics of agriculture 4000 years before your god "created" anything. Seems to me like creationist is a nicer way of saying willingly stupid.

    • HOGWASH! EVERYONE NOWS THE WON TRUE GOD IS THE MIGHTY CTHULHU (MAY HE DEVOUR YOUR SOUL LAST)! WHEN THE STARS ARE RIGHT HE WILL AWAKEN FROM HIS LONG SLUMBER OF EONS TO RISE WUNCE MORE FROM HIS SUNKEN REALM OF R'LYEH. THE NATIONS WILL TERMBEL AND THE PLANETS WILL KRASH INTO EACH OTHER AS CTHULHU COMES TO COLLECT HIS FAITHFUL MINIONS BY THE TENS!!! BUT YOU, PUNY MORTAL, SHAMELESS UNBELIEVER–YOU WILL BE DEVOURED LAST, AS A PITIFUL AFTER-DINNER SNACK, SENSE YOU, IN YOUR FESTERING DOUBT, ARE NOTHING MORE SUBSTANTIAL OR FILLING TO THE UNCANNY BOWELS OF OUR DREAD ELDRITCH LORD! IA! IA! CHULHU F'TAGN!

    • The only truth comes from crazed iron age nomads roaming the desert in the Middle East. Good theory.

  37. The man states his “global purpose is a battle against religion”. I take this as the statement of a zealot proclaiming he is a zealot. He is a warrior not a scientist or teacher. To win his battle he needs to turn others away from what they believe. I think he should be given equal consideration with other belief systems. We need to teach evolution along with other religions in our schools.

    • 1) Science is NOT a religion. It is a proven way to gather true facts and to build testable theories on, like math does.
      2) Science should be taught in science class, ALL religions should be taught in Religious classes equally.

  38. I find it funny this guy talks about intelligent design as being a basic denial of history, and compares it to a denial of the holocaust. If only history itself were fact. Its more like 'one person's interpretation on the facts they wish to acknowledge as being facts, and whatever else they want to throw in there." : hence, His-Story (sorry ladies we're working to change it to "Their-Story" as fast as possible here.) In history, the most valuable source is someone who experienced it first hand. That of course leave it to the interpretation of the story teller, but also means that history tend to get more diluted the further away from the event we get chronologically. Its pretty hard to deny the holocaust when there's still people who experienced it first hand alive. Two hundred years from now, Holocaust deniers will get a lot more notice, especially if some Nazi inspired regime becomes the main world power. On the other hand, why should they care, when an over developed belief in natural selection was a basis of the Holocaust. 'We're better, we'll prove it by being stronger, and the laws of laws of nature will justify our actions.' If the Nazis had have won, we'd be calling that whole atrocity the best thing that ever happened to mankind, and fully believe it in our deluded social conscience. And as far as natural selection and an evolution based view is concerned, the only 'good' is to see your own kind prosper and become stronger, and if you screw up, it doesn't matter- Nature will fix everything for you!!! Just give it a few billion years.

    So a few things to draw from history:
    a) What you believe to be truth is not necessarily the truth, no matter how true you think it is. (this goes for everybody)
    b) The stongest party at anytime gets to choose what truth is.
    c)The further we are away from an event, the less likely we are to fully understand it.

    Sorry, Rick, I'm sure your version of history works for you, but I'm not really buying your version of the facts.

    • You make a good arguement for writed history. Science is not history, it is facts. There was no writen history of gravity before Newton but there still was gravity.

    • Typical post-modernist, sticking his literary criticism where it doesn't belong.

  39. You have alrighty come half way on the logic that Dawkins is stateing. With the evidence scientists now have on the size and age of the unverse, it proofs the earth is not 6000 years old. So the Bible is not the word of an all knowing god.
    All evidence point to evolution. There is no evidence for god.
    Your elephant story helps to show how religion thinks, a scientist would says he does not know and needs more evidence.
    What is your evidence for god? ( no, you cannot use a book call the bible, it's just a man write book with no evidence to back it up.)

  40. I'm a huge fan of Dawkins, And have read many of his books. Including "The God Delusion", which I wholeheartly agree with.

    I look forward to reading his new book "The Greatest Show on Earth" I anticipate it will give me the amunition I, and all other thinking rational people need to refute the Evolution Deniers.

    But until I've read it, I'll leave the Bible thumpers with this thought, form another great thinker:

    "Belief is when others do the thinking" – Buckminster Fuller

  41. There it is folks. Pure, unadulterated, blessed reality. Why don't more of you get it? Are you really that stupid or incapable of looking up an encyclopedia entry? You have the Internet, obviously. Use it. Learn something before you reveal your ignorance to the world.

  42. I'm a christian and I think god has put Richard Dawkins here to test our faith. You can prove anything with science, and he has just 'proved' that evolution exists. I could prove it doesn't exist just as easily i just dont want to.

    • because you let a book written by very ignorant people thousands of years ago guide your life, and you might not know this about the origianl scriptures that the current bibile was translated from but none of the original apostals matthew, mark, luke, john, never once mention a man named jesus who was born of a virgin and crucifeied ect… so how can you worship a god who doesnt see the need to tell the people wirting about his teachings that he sent his son to earth and so on…? they didnt even know that the person who “died for their sins” even existed yet science can be proven as fact, what im trying to say that with this knowledge christians still choose to waste their lives on a book that holds no meaning with our current knowledge of the way the world works, only use it has is instilling morals, in which we are born with.

  43. I would like to ask Mr. Dawkins where did it all come from? It had to start somewhere and so where was that. We know that matter can neither be created nor destroyed but it can be changed from one form into another. We know that that is a principle of science. So in the universe, we have tremendous matter and tremendous energy interchanging all the time, but where did it all come from? And then where did that come from, so on, so on etc. Ultimately, there must have been a creation.
    Nevertheless, I am interested in hearing Mr. Dawkins view on that, or for that matter, anyone else.

    • its your thought process that makes you think that it has to be a creation, my friend that is the wrong way to think because your implementing somewhat of a rule that everything has to come from something but humans as a whole arent evolved enough to come to that conclusion.

    • if you had even a morsale or intelligence you would realize dawkins is a gift from the universe to teach people how your religion is a diesese if you will on our way of life its just a very ellaborate way to contol the masses, a good example of how the bible can do bad things to people look at the westboro baptist church that has picked over 22,000 military funerals cause they feel the killing of U.S. soldiers is punishment from god becasue of all the “fags” in America, yeah thats the book i want my kids to read cause clearly homosexuality isnt a choice its a way of life you are born with i personally think its natures way of population control.

    • the where did it all come from answer is summed up in the big bang theory. Its a physics phenomenon (so Mr Dawkins may not be much help) which is being studied at the LHC as well as many other places. All the research theyre doing there (like finding the Higgs and proving the standard model) is just adding evidence to what the majority of physicists accept as fact. If you need more proof, listen to an untuned radio–a lot of the static is background radiation that is made from stars and supernovae, but mostly leftover from the big bang.

  44. im ashamed to be turkish >_>

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