Problem with God: Interview
with Richard Dawkins
Posts - Distance From Belief
in theism - 051606)
- - -
[with my comments in brackets, not
part of original article]:
renowned biologist talks about intelligent
design, dishonest Christians, and why God is
no better than an imaginary friend.
by Laura Sheahen
biologist Richard Dawkins has made
a name for himself defending evolution and
fighting what he sees as religiously motivated
attacks on science. Dr. Dawkins sat down with
Beliefnet at the World Congress of Secular
Humanism, where his keynote address focused
on intelligent design.
You're concerned about the state of edu-
cation, especially science education. If you were
able to teach every person, what would you want
people to believe?
I would want them to believe whatever
evidence leads them to; I would want them to
look at the evidence, judge it on its merits, not
accept things because of internal revelation or
faith, but purely on the basis of evidence.
everybody can evaluate all evidence; we
can’t evaluate the evidence for quantum physics.
So it does have to be a certain amount of taking
things on trust. I have to take what physicists say
on trust, for example, because I'm a biologist.
But science [has] a system of appraisal, of peer
review, so that I trust the physics community to
get their act together in a way that I know from
the inside. I wish people would put their trust in
evidence, not in faith, revelation, tradition, or
What do you wish people knew about
They need to understand what evolu-
tion is about. Many of them don’t. I was truly
shocked to be told by two separate religious
leaders in this country [the U.S.] a few weeks
ago--they both said something to the effect
that, “I’ll believe in evolution when I see a
tailed monkey give birth to a human.”
is staggering ignorance of what evolu-
tionary science is about; if they think that’s
what evolutionists believe, no wonder they’re
skeptical of it. How can a civilized country have
adult people in positions of leadership who
know so stunningly little about the leading bio-
You said in a recent speech that design
was not the only alternative to chance. A lot of
people think that evolution is all about random
That’s ludicrous. That’s ridiculous.
Mutation is random in the sense that it’s not
anticipatory of what’s needed. Natural selec-
tion is anything but random.
selection is a guided process, guided
not by any higher power, but simply by which
genes survive and which genes don’t survive.
That’s a non-random process.
animals that are best at whatever they do
—hunting, flying, fishing, swimming, digging—
whatever the species does, the individuals that
are best at it are the ones that pass on the
genes. It’s because of this non-random pro-
cess that lions are so good at hunting, ante-
lopes so good at running away from lions, and
fish are so good at swimming.
There are intelligent people who have
been taught good science and evolution, and
who may choose to believe in something reli-
gious that may seem to fly in the face of sci-
ence. What do you make of that?
It’s certainly hard to know what to
make of it. I think it’s a betrayal of science.
I think they have a religious agenda which,
for reasons best known to themselves, they
elevate above science.
What are your thoughts about the des-
pair some people feel when they ponder
natural selection and random mutation? The
idea of evolution and natural selection makes
some people feel that everything is meaning-
less--people’s individual lives and life in gen-
If it’s true that it causes people to
feel despair, that’s tough. It’s still the truth.
The universe doesn’t owe us condolence or
consolation; it doesn’t owe us a nice warm
feeling inside. If it’s true, it’s true, and you'd
better live with it.
more diplomatic way of stating that is that
the truth of the matter is that within the bound-
aries of that which makes us what we are, we
have the ability to seek, to find, to know, but
only with an open mind can the door never
be closed, can reason prevail, can truth be
believe what some guys wrote down (and
many interpolated and changed in various ways)
over close to 2,000 or more years ago, simply
because someone says it's good or belief in the
unprovable is good, or evidence is unnecessary,
as if all that ancient material is relevant today,
as if one's very life depended on it, that's naught
but mental enslavement to the discredited myth
machines of the past and the myth perpetuation
machines of the present (aka, religions, churches,
synagogues, mosques, and other places where
one is told to extinguish doubt and just believe
what the designated authority figures say.)]
(continued): However, I don’t think
it should make one feel depressed.
don’t feel depressed.
feel elated. My book, "Unweaving the
Rainbow," is an attempt to elevate science
to the level of poetry and to show how one
can be—in a funny sort of way—rather
spiritual about science. Not in a super-
natural sense, but there are uplifting mys-
teries to be solved. The contemplation
of the size and scale of the universe, of
the depth of geological time, of the com-
plexity of life--these all, to me, have an
inspirational quality. It makes my life
worthwhile to study them.
Obviously, a lot of people find the
theistic answer satisfying on another level.
What do you see as the problem with that
What other level?
At whatever level where people say
the idea of God is very satisfying.
Well, of course it is. Wouldn’t it be
lovely to believe in an imaginary friend who
listens to your thoughts, listens to your prayers,
comforts you, consoles you, gives you life
after death, can give you advice? Of course
it’s satisfying, if you can believe it. But who
wants to believe a lie?
unfortunate nature of religion is that
they've (most) been taught that their imag-
inary friend called God is the ultimate evil-
doer (though whatever he/it/she/they does
is called 'good'), and will harm in the worst
way possible those humans whom he finds
displeasing for the most petty of reasons.]
of them have also been taught that
the existent God is Love and Love that
God (and do what you're told, by religious
types), or else. 'Tis the threat side of faith,
not often addressed when the God pitch
(the seduction) is made, but nevertheless
deeply embedded in the world's major
If you had to name top sources for
optimism and hope in a naturalistic or mater-
ialistic worldview, what would they be?
I think there is something glorious
in the universe, in contemplating the Milky
Way galaxy, in contemplating the fact that
this is only one in billions of galaxies, con-
templating the fact that at the beginning of
the 21st century, humanity really has gone
a very long way toward understanding the
universe in which we live and the life form
of which we are a part. I find that a truly
(continued): Obviously, there are
other things having nothing to do with science
poetry, sex, love.
are all things that make life, to me, ex-
tremely worth living.
concur, although I might add, for balance,
there is so much on the negative side of the
coin, in nature, that to ignore all of that, and
pretend that all have essentially the same
core chance at making the most of this, our
one and only certain chance at life, is far
removed from the truth, from the actual
nature of being.]
(continued): Then there's the added
fact that it is the only life we’re ever going to
get. Don’t kid yourself that you’re going to live
again after you’re dead; you’re not.
the most of the one life you’ve got.
it to the full.
within a naturalistic construct, and within
the infinity of the all, it's difficult to eliminate the
possibility, however remote, that somehow,
some way, one's cognizance will recur in some
fashion by which a naturalistically constrained
continuance would be perceived. Likely? No.
Highly unlikely? Yes.]
You've criticized the idea of the afterlife.
What do you see as the problem with a termin-
ally ill cancer patient believing in an afterlife?
Oh, no problem at all. I would never
wish to disabuse or disillusion somebody who
believed that. I care about what’s true for my-
self, but I don’t want to go around telling people
who are afraid of dying that their hopes are un-
probably true, -but- any writing that
disabuses or attempts to disabuse the audience
from their religious fantasies, those are in play
when terminally ill individuals read them. As
for what one says to a terminally ill individual,
in person, it would be as all conversations are,
a response to stimuli and what the brains in-
volved parse to the vocal chords at the mo-
ment the stimuli is provided.]
(continued): If I could have a word
with a would-be suicide bomber or plane
hijacker who thinks he’s going to paradise,
I would like to disabuse him.
wouldn’t say to him, "Don’t you see what
you’re doing is wrong?" I would say, "Don’t
imagine for one second you’re going to para-
dise. You’re not.You’re going to rot in the
trying to prevent a suicide bomber
from killing him/her-self & others is a noble
goal, not likely that words such as that would
do the trick, as suicide bombers are deeply
steeped in Islamic religious myths which try
to justify killing in the name of the supposed
defense of Islam, in the name of the supposed
God they call Allah, from a very early age, in
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