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Richard Dawkins

Dawkins at a signing for his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution in 2009.
Born Clinton Richard Dawkins
26 March 1941 (1941-03-26) (age 68)
Nairobi, Colony of Kenya
Residence Oxford, England
Nationality British
Ethnicity English
Fields Ethologist, evolutionary biologist
Institutions University of California, Berkeley
University of Oxford
New College, Oxford
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford
Doctoral advisor Nikolaas Tinbergen
Doctoral students Alan Grafen
Mark Ridley
Known for Gene-centred view of evolution
Introduction of the concept of memes
Advocacy of atheism and rationalism
Criticism of religion
Influences Charles Darwin, Ronald Fisher, George C. Williams, W. D. Hamilton
Notable awards Zoological Society Silver Medal (1989)
Faraday Award (1990)
Kistler Prize (2001)
Notes
Fellow of the Royal Society
Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL (born 26 March 1941) is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular science author. He was formerly Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford and was a fellow of New College, Oxford.[1][2][3][4]

Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. In 1982, he made a widely cited contribution to evolutionary biology with the concept, presented in his book The Extended Phenotype, that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism's body, but can stretch far into the environment, including the bodies of other organisms.

Dawkins is a prominent critic of creationism and intelligent design. In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, he argued against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the complexity of living organisms. Instead, he described evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker. He has since written several popular science books, and makes regular television and radio appearances, predominantly discussing these topics.

Dawkins is an atheist,[5][6][7] secular humanist, sceptic, scientific rationalist,[8] and supporter of the Brights movement.[9] He has been referred to in the media as "Darwin's Rottweiler",[10][11] by analogy with English biologist T. H. Huxley, who was known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's evolutionary ideas. In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that faith qualifies as a delusion − as a fixed false belief.[12] As of November 2007, the English language version had sold more than 2 million copies [13] and had been translated into 31 other languages,[14] making it his most popular book to date.

Contents

Biography

Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Colony of Kenya, British Empire.[15] His father, Clinton John Dawkins, was an agricultural civil servant in the British colonial service, in Nyasaland (now Malawi). His father was called up into the King's African Rifles during the second world war[16] and was based in Kenya,[17] returning to England in 1949, when Richard was eight. Both of his parents were interested in natural sciences, and they answered Dawkins' questions in scientific terms.[18]

Dawkins describes his childhood as "a normal Anglican upbringing". Though he began having doubts about the existence of God when he was about nine years old, he was persuaded by the argument from design, an argument for the existence of God or a creator based on perceived evidence of order, purpose, or design in nature. By his mid-teens, he had instead concluded that the theory of evolution was a better explanation for life's complexity, and became nonreligious.[19]

Dawkins attended Oundle School from 1954 to 1959. He studied zoology at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was tutored by Nobel Prize-winning ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen, graduating in 1962. He continued as a research student under Tinbergen's supervision at the University of Oxford, receiving his M.A. and D.Phil. degrees in 1966, while staying as a research assistant for another year.[15] Tinbergen was a pioneer in the study of animal behaviour, particularly the questions of instinct, learning and choice.[20] Dawkins' research in this period concerned models of animal decision making.[21]

From 1967 to 1969, Dawkins was an assistant professor of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley. During this period, the students and faculty at UC Berkeley were largely opposed to the ongoing Vietnam War, and Dawkins became heavily involved in the anti-war demonstrations and activities.[22] He returned to the University of Oxford in 1970 taking a position as a lecturer, and in 1990, as a reader in zoology. In 1995, he was appointed Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science in the University of Oxford, a position that had been endowed by Charles Simonyi with the express intention that the holder "be expected to make important contributions to the public understanding of some scientific field".[23] Since 1970, he has been a fellow of New College, Oxford.[24]

In the 1970s, Dawkins turned to explaining the life sciences to a popular audience, beginning with his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene.[20]

Dawkins has delivered a number of inaugural and other lectures, including the Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture (1989), first Erasmus Darwin Memorial Lecture (1990), Michael Faraday Lecture (1991), T.H. Huxley Memorial Lecture (1992), Irvine Memorial Lecture (1997), Sheldon Doyle Lecture (1999), Tinbergen Lecture (2004) and Tanner Lectures (2003).[15] In 1991, he gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Children. He has also served as editor of a number of journals, and has acted as editorial advisor to Encarta Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Evolution. He is a senior editor of the Council for Secular Humanism's Free Inquiry magazine, for which he also writes a column. He has been a member of the editorial board of Skeptic magazine since its foundation.[25]

He has sat on judging panels for awards as diverse as the Royal Society's Faraday Award and the British Academy Television Awards,[15] and has been president of the Biological Sciences section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2004, Balliol College, Oxford instituted the Dawkins Prize, awarded for "outstanding research into the ecology and behaviour of animals whose welfare and survival may be endangered by human activities".[26]

In September 2008, Dawkins retired from his post as Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science,[27] announcing plans to "write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in "anti-scientific" fairytales."[28]

On 19 August 1967, Dawkins married fellow ethologist Marian Stamp; they divorced in 1984. Later that same year, on 1 June, Dawkins married Eve Barham − with whom he had a daughter, Juliet Emma Dawkins − but they too divorced, and Barham died of cancer on 28 February 1999.[29][30] In 1992, he married actress Lalla Ward.[31] Dawkins had met her through their mutual friend Douglas Adams, who had previously worked with Ward on the BBC science-fiction television programme Doctor Who. Ward has illustrated over half of Dawkins' books and co-narrated the audio versions of two of his books, The Ancestor's Tale and The God Delusion. In 2008, Dawkins made a cameo appearance as himself in the Doctor Who episode "The Stolen Earth".

Work

Evolutionary biology

Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin, March, 2008.

In his scientific works, Dawkins is best known for his popularisation of the gene-centred view of evolution. This view is most clearly set out in his books The Selfish Gene (1976), where he notes that "all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities", and The Extended Phenotype (1982), in which he describes natural selection as "the process whereby replicators out-propagate each other". In his role as an ethologist, interested in animal behaviour and its relation to natural selection, he advocates the idea that the gene is the principal unit of selection in evolution.

Dawkins has consistently been sceptical about non-adaptive processes in evolution (such as spandrels, described by Gould and Lewontin)[32] and about selection at levels "above" that of the gene.[33] He is particularly sceptical about the practical possibility or importance of group selection as a basis for understanding altruism.[34] This behaviour appears at first to be an evolutionary paradox, since helping others costs precious resources and decreases one's own fitness. Previously, many had interpreted this as an aspect of group selection: individuals were doing what was best for the survival of the population or species as a whole, and not specifically for themselves. British evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton had used the gene-centred view to explain altruism in terms of inclusive fitness and kin selection − that individuals behave altruistically toward their close relatives, who share many of their own genes.[35][a] Similarly, Robert Trivers, thinking in terms of the gene-centred model, developed the theory of reciprocal altruism, whereby one organism provides a benefit to another in the expectation of future reciprocation.[36] Dawkins popularised these ideas in The Selfish Gene, and developed them in his own work.[37]

Critics of Dawkins' approach suggest that taking the gene as the unit of selection − of a single event in which an individual either succeeds or fails to reproduce − is misleading, but that the gene could be better described as a unit of evolution − of the long-term changes in allele frequencies in a population.[38] In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains that he is using George C. Williams' definition of the gene as "that which segregates and recombines with appreciable frequency".[39] Another common objection is that genes cannot survive alone, but must cooperate to build an individual, and therefore cannot be an independent "unit".[40] In The Extended Phenotype, Dawkins suggests that because of genetic recombination and sexual reproduction, from an individual gene's viewpoint all other genes are part of the environment to which it is adapted.

Advocates for higher levels of selection such as Richard Lewontin, David Sloan Wilson, and Elliot Sober suggest that there are many phenomena (including altruism) that gene-based selection cannot satisfactorily explain. The philosopher Mary Midgley, with whom Dawkins clashed in print concerning The Selfish Gene,[41][42] has criticised gene selection, memetics and sociobiology as being excessively reductionist.[43]

In a set of controversies over the mechanisms and interpretation of evolution (the so-called 'Darwin Wars'),[44][45] one faction was often named after Dawkins and its rival after the American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, reflecting the pre-eminence of each as a populariser of pertinent ideas.[46][47] In particular, Dawkins and Gould have been prominent commentators in the controversy over sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, with Dawkins generally approving and Gould generally being critical.[48] A typical example of Dawkins' position was his scathing review of Not in Our Genes by Steven Rose, Leon J. Kamin and Richard C. Lewontin.[49] Two other thinkers on the subject often considered to be allied to Dawkins are Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennett; Dennett has promoted a gene-centred view of evolution and defended reductionism in biology.[50] Despite their academic disagreements, Dawkins and Gould did not have a hostile personal relationship, and Dawkins dedicated a large portion of his 2003 book A Devil's Chaplain posthumously to Gould, who had died the previous year.

Dawkins' latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, expounds the evidence for biological evolution. It was released on 3 September 2009, published in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations by Transworld.[51] In the United States it was released on 22 September 2009, where it was published by Free Press.[52] All of his previous works dealing with evolution had assumed its truth, and not explicitly provided the evidence to this effect. Dawkins felt that this represented a gap in his oeuvre, and decided to write the book to coincide with Darwin's bicentennial year.[53]

Meme

Dawkins coined the word meme (the cultural equivalent of a gene) to describe how Darwinian principles might be extended to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena.[54] This has spawned the field of memetics. Dawkins memes refer to any cultural entity that an observer might consider a replicator. He hypothesised that people could view many cultural entities as capable of such replication, generally through exposure to humans, who have evolved as efficient (although not perfect) copiers of information and behaviour. Memes are not always copied perfectly, and might indeed become refined, combined or otherwise modified with other ideas, resulting in new memes, which may themselves prove more, or less, efficient replicators than their predecessors, thus providing a framework for a hypothesis of cultural evolution, analogous to the theory of biological evolution based on genes.[55] Since originally outlining the idea in his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins has largely left the task of expanding upon it to other authors such as Susan Blackmore.[56]

Although Dawkins invented the specific term meme independently, he has not claimed that the idea itself was entirely novel,[57] and there have been other expressions for similar ideas in the past. For instance, John Laurent has suggested that the term may have derived from the work of the little-known German biologist Richard Semon.[58] In 1904, Semon published Die Mneme (which appeared in English in 1924 as The Mneme). This book discussed the cultural transmission of experiences, with insights parallel to those of Dawkins. Laurent also found the term mneme used in Maurice Maeterlinck's The Life of the White Ant (1926), and has highlighted the similarities to Dawkins' concept.[58]

Criticism of creationism

Dawkins is a prominent critic of creationism (the religious belief that humanity, life and the universe were created by a deity,[59] without recourse to evolution[60]). He has described the Young Earth creationist view that the Earth is only a few thousand years old as "a preposterous, mind-shrinking falsehood,"[61] and his 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, contains a sustained critique of the argument from design, an important creationist argument. In the book, Dawkins argued against the watchmaker analogy made famous by the 18th-century English theologian William Paley in his book Natural Theology. Paley argued that, just as a watch is too complicated and too functional to have sprung into existence merely by accident, so too must all living things, with their far greater complexity, be purposefully designed. According to Dawkins, however, natural selection is sufficient to explain the apparent functionality and non-random complexity of the biological world, and can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, albeit as an automatic, nonintelligent, blind watchmaker.[62]

In 1986, Dawkins participated in a Oxford Union debate, in which he and English biologist John Maynard Smith debated Young Earth creationist A. E. Wilder-Smith and Edgar Andrews, president of the Biblical Creation Society.[b] In general, however, Dawkins has followed the advice of his late colleague Stephen Jay Gould and refused to participate in formal debates with creationists because doing so would give them the "oxygen of respectability" they crave. He suggests that creationists "don't mind being beaten in an argument. What matters is that we give them recognition by bothering to argue with them in public."[63]

In a December 2004 interview with American journalist Bill Moyers, Dawkins said that "among the things that science does know, evolution is about as certain as anything we know". When Moyers questioned him on the use of the word theory, Dawkins stated that "evolution has been observed. It's just that it hasn't been observed while it's happening." He added that "it is rather like a detective coming on a murder after the scene... the detective hasn't actually seen the murder take place, of course. But what you do see is a massive clue... Huge quantities of circumstantial evidence. It might as well be spelled out in words of English."[64]

Dawkins has ardently opposed the inclusion of intelligent design in science education, describing it as "not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one".[65] He has been a strong critic of the British organisation Truth in Science, which promotes the teaching of creationism in state schools, and he plans − through the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science − to subsidise the delivering of books, DVDs and pamphlets to schools, in order to counteract what he has described as an "educational scandal".[66]

Atheism and rationalism

Dawkins lecturing on his book The God Delusion, 24 June 2006.

Dawkins is an outspoken atheist and a prominent critic of religion, and has been described as a militant atheist.[67][68] He is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society,[69] a vice-president of the British Humanist Association (since 1996),[15] a Distinguished Supporter of the Humanist Society of Scotland,[70] a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism,[71] and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.[72] In 2003, he became a signatory of the humanist manifesto Humanism and Its Aspirations, published by the American Humanist Association.[73]

Dawkins believes that his own atheism is the logical extension of his understanding of evolution[74] and that religion is incompatible with science.[75] In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins wrote:

An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.[76]

In his 1991 essay "Viruses of the Mind" (from which the term faith-sufferer originated), he suggested that memetic theory might analyse and explain the phenomenon of religious belief and some of the common characteristics of religions, such as the belief that punishment awaits non-believers. According to Dawkins, faith − belief that is not based on evidence − is one of the world's great evils. He claims it to be analogous to the smallpox virus, though more difficult to eradicate.[77] Dawkins is well-known for his contempt for religious extremism, from Islamist terrorism[78] to Christian fundamentalism; but he has also argued with liberal believers and religious scientists, from biologists Kenneth Miller[79] and Francis Collins[80] to theologians Alister McGrath and Richard Harries.[81] Dawkins has stated that his opposition to religion is twofold, claiming it to be both a source of conflict and a justification for belief without evidence.[82] However, he describes himself as a "cultural Christian",[83] and proposed the slogan "Atheists for Jesus".[84]

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when asked how the world might have changed, Dawkins responded:

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![85]

Dawkins has especially risen to prominence in contemporary public debates relating science and religion since the publication of his 2006 book The God Delusion, which has achieved greater sales figures worldwide than any of his other works to date. Its success has been seen by many as indicative of a change in the contemporary cultural zeitgeist, central to a recent rise in the popularity of atheistic literature.[86][87] The God Delusion was praised by many intellectuals including the Nobel laureate chemist Sir Harold Kroto, psychologist Steven Pinker and the Nobel laureate biologist James D. Watson.[88] In the book, Dawkins argued that atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind.[89] He sees education and consciousness-raising as the primary tools in opposing what he considers to be religious dogma and indoctrination.[5][22][90] These tools include the fight against certain stereotypes, and he has adopted the term Bright as a way of associating positive public connotations with those who possess a naturalistic worldview.[90] Dawkins notes that feminists have succeeded in arousing widespread embarrassment at the routine use of "he" instead of "she". Similarly, he suggests, a phrase such as "Catholic child" or "Muslim child" should be considered just as socially absurd as, for instance, "Marxist child": children should not be classified based on their parents' ideological beliefs.[90] According to Dawkins, there is no such thing as a Christian child or a Muslim child, as children have about as much capacity to make the decision to become Christians or Muslims as they do to become Marxists.[89]

In January 2006, Dawkins presented a two-part television documentary The Root of All Evil?, addressing what he sees as the malignant influence of religion on society. The title itself is one with which Dawkins has repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction.[91] Critics have said that the programme gave too much time to marginal figures and extremists, and that Dawkins' confrontational style did not help his cause;[92][93] Dawkins rejected these claims, citing the number of moderate religious broadcasts in everyday media as providing a suitable balance to the extremists in the programmes. He further remarked that someone who is deemed an "extremist" in a religiously moderate country may well be considered "mainstream" in a religiously conservative one.[94] The unedited recordings of Dawkins' conversations with Alister McGrath and Richard Harries, including material unused in the broadcast version, have been made available online by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.[95]

Oxford theologian Alister McGrath (author of The Dawkins Delusion and Dawkin's God) maintains that Dawkins is ignorant of Christian theology, and therefore unable to engage religion and faith intelligently.[96] In reply, Dawkins asks "do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?",[97] and − in the paperback edition of The God Delusion − he refers to the American biologist PZ Myers, who has satirised this line of argument as "The Courtier's Reply".[98] Dawkins had an extended debate with McGrath at the 2007 Sunday Times Literary Festival.[99]

Another Christian philosopher Keith Ward explores similar themes in his 2006 book Is Religion Dangerous?, arguing against the view of Dawkins and others that religion is socially dangerous. Criticism of The God Delusion has come from philosophers such as Professor John Cottingham of the University of Reading.[100] Other commentators, including ethicist Margaret Somerville,[101] have suggested that Dawkins "overstates the case against religion",[102] particularly its role in human conflict. Many of Dawkins' defenders claim that critics generally misunderstand his real point. During a debate on Radio 3 Hong Kong, David Nicholls, writer and president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, reiterated Dawkins' sentiments that religion is an "unnecessary" aspect of global problems.[103]

Dawkins argues that "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other".[104] He disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould's principle of nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA). In an interview with Time magazine, Dawkins said:

I think that Gould's separate compartments was a purely political ploy to win middle-of-the-road religious people to the science camp. But it's a very empty idea. There are plenty of places where religion does not keep off the scientific turf. Any belief in miracles is flat contradictory not just to the facts of science but to the spirit of science.[105]

Astrophysicist Martin Rees has suggested that Dawkins' attack on mainstream religion is unhelpful.[106] Regarding Rees' claim in his book Our Cosmic Habitat that "such questions lie beyond science", Dawkins asks "what expertise can theologians bring to deep cosmological questions that scientists cannot?"[107][108] Elsewhere, Dawkins has written that "there's all the difference in the world between a belief that one is prepared to defend by quoting evidence and logic, and a belief that is supported by nothing more than tradition, authority or revelation."[77] As examples of "good scientists who are sincerely religious", Dawkins names Arthur Peacocke, Russell Stannard, John Polkinghorne and Francis Collins, but says "I remain baffled ... by their belief in the details of the Christian religion."[109][110][111][112][113] He has said that the publication of The God Delusion is "probably the culmination" of his campaign against religion.[114]

In 2007, Dawkins founded the Out Campaign to encourage atheists worldwide to declare their stance publicly and proudly.[115] Inspired by the gay rights movement, Dawkins hopes that atheists' identifying of themselves as such, and thereby increasing public awareness of how many people hold these views, will reduce the negative opinion of atheism among the religious majority.[6][116]

In September 2008, following a complaint by Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar, a court in Turkey blocked access to Dawkins' website richarddawkins.net. The court decision was made due to "insult to personality".[117][118][119][120][121][122]

Dawkins with Ariane Sherine at the Atheist Bus Campaign launch

In October 2008, Dawkins officially supported the UK's first atheist advertising initiative, the Atheist Bus Campaign. Created by Guardian journalist Ariane Sherine, the campaign aimed to raise funds to place atheist adverts on buses in the London area, and Dawkins pledged to match the amount raised by atheists, up to a maximum of £5,500. However, the campaign was an unprecedented success, raising over £100,000 in its first four days, and generating global press coverage.[123][124] The campaign, started in January 2009, features adverts across the UK with the slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Dawkins said that "this campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think — and thinking is anathema to religion."[125] A Church of England spokesman said: "we would defend the right of any group representing a religious or philosophical position to be able to promote that view through appropriate channels. However, Christian belief is not about worrying or not enjoying life. Quite the opposite -- our faith liberates us to put this life into a proper perspective."[126]

Richard Dawkins Foundation

In 2006, Dawkins founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS), a non-profit organisation. The foundation is in developmental phase. It has been granted charitable status in the United Kingdom and the United States. RDFRS plans to finance research on the psychology of belief and religion, finance scientific education programs and materials, and publicise and support secular charitable organisations. The foundation also offers humanist, rationalist and scientific materials and information through its website.[127]

Other fields

Dawkins talking at Kepler's Books, Menlo Park, California, 29 October 2006.

In his role as professor for public understanding of science, Dawkins has been a critic of pseudoscience and alternative medicine. His 1998 book Unweaving the Rainbow takes John Keats' accusation that, by explaining the rainbow, Isaac Newton had diminished its beauty, and argues for the opposite conclusion. He suggests that deep space, the billions of years of life's evolution, and the microscopic workings of biology and heredity contain more beauty and wonder than do "myths" and "pseudoscience".[128] Dawkins wrote a foreword to John Diamond's posthumously published Snake Oil, a book devoted to debunking alternative medicine, in which he asserted that alternative medicine was harmful, if only because it distracted patients from more successful conventional treatments, and gave people false hopes.[129] Dawkins states that "there is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't work."[130]

Dawkins has expressed concern about the growth of the planet's human population, and about the matter of overpopulation.[131] In The Selfish Gene, he briefly mentions population growth, giving the example of Latin America, whose population, at the time the book was written, was doubling every 40 years. He is critical of Roman Catholic attitudes to family planning and population control, stating that leaders who forbid contraception and "express a preference for 'natural' methods of population limitation" will get just such a method in the form of starvation.[132]

As a supporter of the Great Ape Project – a movement to extend certain moral and legal rights to all great apes – Dawkins contributed the article "Gaps in the Mind" to the Great Ape Project book edited by Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer. In this essay, he criticises contemporary society's moral attitudes as being based on a "discontinuous, speciesist imperative".[133]

Dawkins also regularly comments in newspapers and weblogs on contemporary political questions; his opinions include opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq,[134] the British nuclear deterrent and the actions of U.S. President George W. Bush.[135] Several such articles were included in A Devil's Chaplain, an anthology of writings about science, religion and politics. He is also a supporter of the Republic campaign to replace the British monarchy with a democratically-elected president.[136]

In the 2007 TV documentary The Enemies of Reason,[137] Dawkins discusses what he sees as the dangers of abandoning critical thought and rationale based upon scientific evidence. He specifically cites astrology, spiritualism, dowsing, alternative faiths, alternative medicine and homeopathy. He also discusses how the Internet can be used to spread religious hatred and conspiracy theories with scant attention to evidence-based reasoning.

Continuing a long-standing partnership with Channel 4, Dawkins is set to present an episode of the upcoming five-part television series The Genius of Britain, along with fellow scientists Stephen Hawking, James Dyson, Paul Nurse, and Jim Al-Khalili.[138] The programme will focus on major British scientific achievements throughout history.

Awards and recognition

Dawkins receiving the Deschner Prize in Frankfurt, 12 October 2007, from Karlheinz Deschner.

Dawkins was awarded a Doctor of Science by the University of Oxford in 1989. He holds honorary doctorates in science from the University of Huddersfield, University of Westminster, Durham University,[139] the University of Hull, and the University of Antwerp, and honorary doctorates from the University of Aberdeen,[140] Open University, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel[15], and the University of Valencia.[141] He also holds honorary doctorates of letters from the University of St Andrews and the Australian National University (HonLittD, 1996), and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997 and the Royal Society in 2001.[15] He is one of the patrons of the Oxford University Scientific Society.

In 1987, Dawkins received a Royal Society of Literature award and a Los Angeles Times Literary Prize for his book, The Blind Watchmaker. In the same year, he received a Sci. Tech Prize for Best Television Documentary Science Programme of the Year, for the BBC Horizon episode The Blind Watchmaker.[15]

His other awards have included the Zoological Society of London Silver Medal (1989), Finlay innovation award (1990), the Michael Faraday Award (1990), the Nakayama Prize (1994), the American Humanist Association's Humanist of the Year Award (1996), the fifth International Cosmos Prize (1997), the Kistler Prize (2001), the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic (2001), the Bicentennial Kelvin Medal of The Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow (2002)[15] and the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest (2009).[142]

Dawkins topped Prospect magazine's 2004 list of the top 100 public British intellectuals, as decided by the readers, receiving twice as many votes as the runner-up.[143][144] He has been short-listed as a candidate in their 2008 follow-up poll.[145] In 2005, the Hamburg-based Alfred Toepfer Foundation awarded him its Shakespeare Prize in recognition of his "concise and accessible presentation of scientific knowledge". He won the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science for 2006 and the Galaxy British Book Awards Author of the Year Award for 2007.[146] In the same year, he was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007,[147] and was awarded the Deschner Award, named after German anti-clerical author Karlheinz Deschner.[148]

Since 2003, the Atheist Alliance International has awarded a prize during its annual conference, honouring an outstanding atheist whose work has done most to raise public awareness of atheism during that year. It is known as the Richard Dawkins Award, in honour of Dawkins' own work.[149]

Media

Publications

Documentary films

Notes

a. ^ W. D. Hamilton hugely influenced Dawkins and the influence can be seen throughout Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene.[22] They became friends at Oxford and following Hamilton's death in 2000, Dawkins wrote his obituary and organised a secular memorial service.[151]

b. ^ The debate ended with the motion "That the doctrine of creation is more valid than the theory of evolution" being defeated by 198 votes to 115.[152][153]

References

  1. ^ "The Simonyi Professorship Home Page". The University of Oxford. http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/index.shtml. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  2. ^ "The Third Culture: Richard Dawkins". Edge.org. http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/dawkins.html. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  3. ^ Staff (2008). "(Clinton) Richard Dawkins". Who's Who. London: A & C Black. 
  4. ^ List of Fellows of New College, Oxford - NB Dr Dawkins is no longer listed because he is retired
  5. ^ a b Smith, Alexandra (27 November 2006). "Dawkins campaigns to keep God out of classroom". The Guardian. http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,1958138,00.html. Retrieved 2007-01-15. 
  6. ^ a b Chittenden, Maurice; Waite, Roger (23 December 2007). "Dawkins to preach atheism to US". The Sunday Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article3087486.ece. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  7. ^ Persuad, Raj (2003-03-20). "Holy visions elude scientists". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/connected/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=P8&targetRule=%5C10&xml=%2Fconnected%2F2003%2F03%2F19%2Fecfgod119.xml. Retrieved 2008-04-17. 
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  146. ^ "Galaxy British Book Awards — Winners & Shortlists 2007". Publishing News. 2007. http://www.britishbookawards.co.uk/pnbb_winners2007.asp?#3. Retrieved 2007-04-21. 
  147. ^ Behe, Michael. "Time Top 100". TIME. http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/time100/article/0,28804,1595326_1595329_1616137,00.html. Retrieved 2008-03-02. 
  148. ^ Giordano Bruno Stiftung (28 May 2007). "Deschner-Preis an Richard Dawkins". Humanistischer Pressedienst. http://hpd-online.de/node/2010. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  149. ^ Slack, Gordy (2005-04-30). "The atheist". Salon. http://dir.salon.com/story/news/feature/2005/04/30/dawkins/index.html. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  150. ^ Staff. "BBC Educational and Documentary: Blind Watchmaker". BBC. http://www.bbcactive.com/BroadCastLearning/asp/catalogue/productdetail.asp?productcode=207. Retrieved 2 December 2008. 
  151. ^ Dawkins, Richard (3 October 2000). "Obituary by Richard Dawkins". The Independent. http://www.unifr.ch/biol/ecology/hamilton/hamilton.html#Dawkins. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  152. ^ Critical-Historical Perspective on the Argument about Evolution and Creation, John Durant, in "From Evolution to Creation: A European Perspective (Eds. Sven Anderson, Arthus Peacocke), Aarhus Univ. Press, Aarhus, Denmark
  153. ^ "1986 Oxford Union Debate: Richard Dawkins, John Maynard Smith". RichardDawkins.net. http://richarddawkins.net/article,721,1986-Oxford-Union-Debate,Richard-Dawkins-John-Maynard-Smith. Retrieved 2007-05-10.  Debate downloadable as MP3 files.

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Richard Dawkins

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".

Contents

Sourced

  • No.
    • In response to question at American Atheists 2009 conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Dawkins was asked if he had ever encountered a "Clever or interesting" argument from an opponent (presumably in this case, a creationist). His response was greeted by a standing ovation.[1]
  • 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!
    • The Blind Watchmaker, pg.451 (1986)
  • 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
  • What worries me about religion is that it teaches people to be satisfied with not understanding.
    • Heart Of The Matter: God Under The Microscope | BBC (1996)
  • The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.
  • 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.
    • Unweaving the Rainbow (1998)
    • Dawkins has stated on many occasions that this passage will be read at his funeral.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • From speech at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, April 15, 1992. Frequently misattributed to The God Delusion.

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.
  • Genes do indirectly control the manufacture of bodies, and the influence is strictly one way: acquired characteristics are not inherited. No matter how much knowledge and wisdom you acquire during your life, not one jot will be passed on to your children by genetic means. Each new generation starts from scratch.
  • 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.

The Evolutionary Future of Man (1993)

Full text here. The Economist 1993-09-11, vol. 328, p. 87

  • 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.

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.

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 Richard Dimbleby Lecture: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1996)

Full text here. Lecture, BBC1 Television 1996-11-12

  • 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)

A documentary in two parts:

  1. The God Delusion
  2. The Virus of Faith
  • I want to examine that dangerous thing that’s common to Judaism and Christianity as well: the process of non-thinking called "faith". (Part 1, 00:00:55)
  • 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. (Part 2, 00:29:56)
  • Yousef Al-Khattab: When you take the women and dress them like whores, on the street...
    Richard Dawkins: I don't dress women, they dress themselves...
    Yousef Al-Khattab: But you allow it as a norm, to let the women go on the street dressed like this. What's going on with your society?
  • I do remember one formative influence in my undergraduate life. There was an elderly professor in my department who had been passionately keen on a particular theory for, oh, a number of years, and one day an American visiting researcher came and he completely and utterly disproved our old man's hypothesis. The old man strode to the front, shook his hand and said, "My dear fellow, I wish to thank you, I have been wrong these fifteen years". And we all clapped our hands raw. That was the scientific ideal, of somebody who had a lot invested, a lifetime almost invested in a theory, and he was rejoicing that he had been shown wrong and that scientific truth had been advanced. (Part 1, 00:13:32)
  • 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 — an elephant called "religion". (Part 1, 00:00:24)
  • I want to say that killing for God is not only hideous murder — it is also utterly ridiculous. (Part 1, 00:44:39)
  • 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, 00:13:55)
  • 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 verdict other than "barking mad". (Part 2, 00:30:25)
    • Part 2: "The Virus Of Faith", quoted at ibid.
  • I was reminded of a quotation by the famous American physicist Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist. Weinberg said: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it, you'd have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion". (Part 2, 00:35:01)
  • 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"

Climbing Mount Improbable (2006)

  • It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn't work.
    • (p.77)

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 bandwidth! 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. 176Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Bantam Press. pp. 406 pp.. ISBN 0-618-68000-4.  
  • 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 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.
  • 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?

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.

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 favours or disfavours. What natural selection favours or disfavours is the individual behaviour 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 behaviour, 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.

The Genius of Charles Darwin

  • Gravity is not a version of the truth. It is the truth. Anyone who doubts it is invited to jump out a tenth story window.

A Devil's Chaplain (2003)

  • If there is mercy in nature, it is accidental. Nature is neither kind nor cruel but indifferent.
  • The secret of a joyful life is to live dangerously. A joyful life is an active life - it is not a dull static state of so-called happiness. Full of the burning fire of enthusiasm, anarchic, revolutionary, energetic, daemonic, Dionysian, filled to overflowing with the terrific urge to create - such is the life of the man who risks safety and happiness for the sake of growth and happiness.
  • My point is not that religion itself is the motivation for wars, murders and terrorist attacks, but that religion is the principal label, and the most dangerous one, by which a 'they' as opposed to a 'we' can be identified at all.
  • Religion is the most inflammatory enemy-labeling device in history.
  • To label people as death-deserving enemies because of disagreements about real world politics is bad enough. To do the same for disagreements about a delusional world inhabited by archangels, demons and imaginary friends is ludicrously tragic.
  • There's money in hope.
  • The human mind is a wanton storyteller and even more, a profligate seeker after pattern. We see faces in clouds and tortillas, fortunes in tea leaves and planetary movements. It is quite difficult to prove a real pattern as distinct from a superficial illusion.
  • The Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation...claims...the "Whole substance" of the wine is converted into the blood of Christ,; the appearance of wine that remains is "merely accidental", "inhering in no substance". Transubstantiation is colloquially taught as meaning that the wine "literally" turns into the blood of Christ. Whether in its obfuscatory Aristotelian or its franker colloquial form, the claim of transubstantiation can be made only if we do serious violence to the normal meanings of words like 'substance' and 'literally'.

External links

Wikipedia
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Richard Dawkins
File:Richard
Dawkins at a talk in Reykjavík, Iceland,
June 24, 2006.
BornMarch 26, 1941 (1941-03-26) (age 69)
Nairobi, Kenya
ResidenceOxford, England
NationalityBritish
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford
Academic advisor  Nikolaas Tinbergen
Notable students  Alan Grafen, Mark Ridley
Known forEvolution, Atheism
Scientific thought
Criticism of religion
Meme
ReligionAtheist

Clinton Richard Dawkins (born Nairobi, 26 March 1941) is a British theorist and writer who held the post of Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. He is a leading proponent of scientific thinking, and of evolution in particular. He is a prominent critic of religion, and believes that there is no God. He regularly engages in debate with creationists.

Dawkins' ideas on evolution were heavily influenced by W.D. Hamilton. The influence can be seen throughout Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene. They became friends at Oxford and, after Hamilton's death, Dawkins wrote his obituary[1] and organised a secular memorial service.

Contents

Works

Books

  • "The Selfish Gene" (1976)
  • "The Extended Phenotype" (1982)
  • "The Blind Watchmaker" (1986)
  • "River Out of Eden" (1995)
  • "Climbing Mount Improbable" (1996)
  • "Unweaving the Rainbow" (1998)
  • "A Devil's Chaplain" (2003)
  • "The Ancestor's Tale" (2004)
  • "The God Delusion" (2006)
  • "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" (2009)

Documentaries

  • "Nice Guys Finish First" (1987)
  • "The Blind Watchmaker" (1987)
  • "Growing Up in the Universe" (1991)
  • "Break the Science Barrier" (1996)
  • "The Root of All Evil?" (2006)
  • "The Enemies of Reason" (2007)
  • "The Genius of Charles Darwin" (2008)

References

  1. included in Hamilton W.D. 2005. Narrow roads of gene land, vol. 3: Last words (with essays by coauthors, ed. M. Ridley). Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-856690-5









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