Dawkins on creationism and evolution: a CNN interview

Here’s a nice CNN “red chair interview” in which Richard Dawkins presents his views on evolution and creationism. Note the lack of stridency, which of course won’t quell the accusations.

In the comments section below, please stick to the interview and topics covered by Dawkins. We’re not going to have a pack of slavering dogs accusing Richard of being a “raving misogynist,” since he isn’t.


  1. plantmaven
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    Well spoken as usual by Professor Dawkins. Can we clone him? Trillions of times?

  2. Mal
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Completely put off watching the video by your comment below. You raised the subject and while Dawkins is nor a misogynist, he is not blameless in the ongoing argument between atheists. The characterisation of those on one side of the argument as ‘slavering dogs’ is ridiculous.

    Malcolm Morrison

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I think you kinda missed the point by a country mile.

      • chascpeterson
        Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        Nevertheless, “a pack of slavering dogs” is at best an unfortunate metaphor to have chosen. IMO.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

          No, I think the characterization is quite appropriate for those who call Dawkins a misogynist. And this is the end of that discussion.

          • abrotherhoodofman
            Posted September 8, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

            Careful, Professor Coyne:

            I’m going to hug you so warmly your offspring will retain the Lamarckian imprints.

    • jackrawlinson
      Posted September 9, 2012 at 4:37 am | Permalink

      Go read the comments thread under this video over at Pharyngula and you’ll see that it’s a perfectly good characterisation of a significant number of those people.

      • Griff
        Posted September 9, 2012 at 5:20 am | Permalink

        Agreed. The difference in tone between posters to WEIT and to FtB is huge. WEIT posters occasionally get heated, but they’re rarely abusive, almost always well informed, and generally a pleasure to read. The same cannot be said of FtB. I stopped reading Pharyngula 3 or so months after it moved to FtB.

        Please never move to FtB Prof Coyne.

      • Mal
        Posted September 9, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

        I’m not defending that!

    • vHF
      Posted September 11, 2012 at 5:48 am | Permalink


  3. Sigmund
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed his point about what he would say to ‘God’ in the unlikely event of meeting ‘Him’ after he dies. It is important to emphasize to the religious public that there are multiple God claims, it’s not simply a choice between the one in the bible and atheism.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      If I were in that position I would add to Dawkins’ excellent questions, “Do the holy writings of your followers accurately describe you? Cause if they do I need to know right now before I answer any questions.”

  4. Posted September 8, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    That video gives a false impression. It was actually an interview & it’s helpful to bear in mind the questions he’s responding to. The below transcript is much meatier & more wide-ranging. Richard did an excellent job as always.

    Q. Today, a lot of people think a “meme” is a LOLcat or a photo that’s gone viral. How do you feel about that?
    In the last chapter of “The Selfish Gene,” I coined the word “meme” as a sort of analog of “gene.” My purpose of this was to say that although I’d just written a whole book about how the gene is the unit of natural selection, and that evolution is changes in gene frequencies, the Darwinian process is potentially wider than that.

    You could go to other planets in the universe and find life, and if you do find life, then it will have evolved by some kind of evolutionary process, probably Darwinian. And therefore there must be something equivalent to a gene, although it may be very, very different from the DNA genes that we know.

    I wanted to drive that point home. And rather than speculate about life on other planets, I thought maybe we could look at life on this planet and find an analog of the gene staring us in the face right here. And that was the meme. It’s a unit of cultural inheritance, the idea that an idea might propagate itself in a similar way to a gene propagating itself. It might be like catchy tune, or a clothes fashion. A verbal convention, a word that becomes fashionable, like “awesome,” which no longer means what it should mean.

    That would be an example of something that spread like an epidemic. And the word “basically,” which is now used just to mean “uhh.” That’s another one that’s spread throughout the English speaking world.

    These are potentially analogous to genes in the sense that they spread and are copied from brain to brain throughout the world, or throughout a particular subset of people. The interesting question would be whether there’s a Darwinian process, a kind of selection process whereby some memes are more likely to spread than others, because people like them, because they’re popular, because they’re catchy or whatever it might be.

    My original purpose was to say: It’s not necessarily all about genes. But the word has taken off.

    There are people who use meme theory as a serious contribution to the theory of human culture and I’m glad to say that the idea of things going viral has also gone viral.

    Q. How do you think evolution should be taught to children?

    You can’t even begin to understand biology, you can’t understand life, unless you understand what it’s all there for, how it arose – and that means evolution. So I would teach evolution very early in childhood. I don’t think it’s all that difficult to do. It’s a very simple idea. One could do it with the aid of computer games and things like that.

    I think it needs serious attention, that children should be taught where they come from, what life is all about, how it started, why it’s there, why there’s such diversity of it, why it looks designed. These are all things that can easily be explained to a pretty young child. I’d start at the age of about 7 or 8.

    There’s only one game in town as far as serious science is concerned. It’s not that there are two different theories. No serious scientist doubts that we are cousins of gorillas, we are cousins of monkeys, we are cousins of snails, we are cousins of earthworms. We have shared ancestors with all animals and all plants. There is no serious scientist who doubts that evolution is a fact.

    Q. Why do people cling to these beliefs of creationism and intelligent design?
    There are many very educated people who are religious but they’re not creationists. There’s a world of difference between a serious religious person and a creationist, and especially a Young Earth Creationist, who thinks the world is only 10,000 years old.

    If we wonder why there are still serious people including some scientists who are religious, that’s a complicated psychological question. They certainly won’t believe that God created all species, or something like that. They might believe there is some sort of intelligent spirit that lies behind the universe as a whole and perhaps designed the laws of physics and everything else took off from there.

    But there’s a huge difference between believing that and believing that this God created all species. And also, by the way, in believing that Jesus is your lord and savior who died for your sins. That you may believe, but that doesn’t follow from the scientific or perhaps pseudoscientific that there’s some kind of intelligence that underlies the laws of physics.

    What you cannot really logically do is to say, well I believe that there’s some kind of intelligence, some kind of divine physicist who designed the laws of physics, therefore Jesus is my lord and savior who died for my sins. That’s an impermissible illogicality that unfortunately many people resort to.

    Q. Why do you enjoy speaking in the Bible Belt?
    I’ve been lots of places, all of which claim to be the buckle of the Bible Belt. They can’t all be, I suppose. I enjoy doing that. I get very big audiences, very enthusiastic audiences. It’s not difficult to see why.

    These people are beleaguered, they feel threatened, they feel surrounded by a sort of alien culture of the highly religious, and so when somebody like me comes to town…they turn out in very large numbers, and they give us a very enthusiastic welcome, and they thank us profusely and very movingly for coming and giving them a reason to turn out and see each other.

    They stand up together and notice how numerous they actually are. I think it may be a bit of a myth that America is quite such a religious country as it’s portrayed as, and particularly that the Bible Belt isn’t quite so insanely religious as it’s portrayed as.

    In situations such as the death of a loved one, people often turn to faith. What do you turn to?
    Bereavement is terrible, of course. And when somebody you love dies, it’s a time for reflection, a time for memory, a time for regret. I absolutely don’t ever, under such circumstances, feel tempted to take up religion. Of course not. But I attend memorial services, I’ve organized memorial events or memorial services, I’ve spoken eulogies, I’ve taken a lot of trouble to put together a program of poetry, of music, of eulogies, of memories, to try to celebrate the life of the dead person.

    Q. What’s going to happen when you die?
    What’s going to happen when I die? I may be buried, or I may be cremated, I may give my body to science. I haven’t decided yet.

    Q. It just ends?
    Of course it just ends. What else could it do? My thoughts, my beliefs, my feelings are all in my brain. My brain is going to rot. So no, there’s no question about that.

    Q. If there were a God that met you after death, what would you say?
    If I met God, in the unlikely event, after I died? The first thing I would say is, well, which one are you? Are you Zeus? Are you Thor? Are you Baal? Are you Mithras? Are you Yahweh? Which God are you, and why did you take such great pains to conceal yourself and to hide away from us?

    Q. Where did morality come from? Evolution?
    We have very big and complicated brains, and all sorts of things come from those brains, which are loosely and indirectly associated with our biological past. And morality is among them, together with things like philosophy and music and mathematics. Morality, I think, does have roots in our evolutionary past. There are good reasons, Darwinian reasons, why we are good to, altruistic towards, cooperative with, moral in our behavior toward our fellow species members, and indeed toward other species as well, perhaps.

    There are evolutionary roots to morality, but they’ve been refined and perfected through thousands of years of human culture. I certainly do not think that we ought to get our morals from religion because if we do that, then we either get them through Scripture – people who think you should get your morals from the Old Testament haven’t read the Old Testament – so we shouldn’t get our morals from there.

    Nor should we get our morals from a kind of fear that if we don’t please God he’ll punish us, or a kind of desire to apple polish (to suck up to) a God. There are much more noble reasons for being moral than constantly looking over your shoulder to see whether God approves of what you do.

    Where do we get our morals from? We get our morals from a very complicated process of discussion, of law-making, writing, moral philosophy, it’s a complicated cultural process which changes – not just over the centuries, but over the decades. Our moral attitudes today in 2012 are very different form what they would have been 50 or 100 years ago. And even more different from what they would have been 300 years ago or 500 years ago. We don’t believe in slavery now. We treat women as equal to men. All sorts of things have changed in our moral attitudes.

    It’s to do with a very complicated more zeitgeist. Steven Pinker’s latest book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” traces this improvement over long centuries of history. He makes an extremely persuasive case for the fact that we are getting more moral, we are getting better as time goes on, and religion perhaps has a part to play in that, but it’s by no means an important part.

    I don’t think there’s a simple source of morality to which we turn.

    Q. What might come after humans in evolution?

    Nobody knows. It’s an unwise, a rash biologist who ever forecasts what’s going to happen next. Most species go extinct. The first question we should ask is: Is there any reason to think we will be exceptional?

    I think there is a reason to think we possibly might be exceptional because we do have a uniquely develop technology which might enable us to not go extinct. So if ever there was a species that one might make a tentative forecast that it’s not going to go extinct, it might be ours.

    Others have come to the opposite conclusion: That we might drive ourselves extinct by some horrible catastrophe involving human weapons. But assuming that doesn’t happen, maybe we will go for hundreds of thousands, even million years.

    Will they evolve? Will they change? In order for that to happen, it’s necessary that a reproductive advantage should apply to certain genetic types rather than other genetic types. If you look back 3 million years, one of the most dramatic changes has been in the increase in brain size. Our probable ancestor 3 million years ago of the genus Australopithecus walked on its hind legs but had a brain about the size of a chimpanzee’s.

    Will that trend continue? Only if the bigger brained individuals are the most likely to have children. Is there any tendency if you look around the world today to say that the brainiest individuals are the ones most likely to reproduce? I don’t think so. Is there any reason to think that might happen in the future? Not obviously. You can’t just look back 3 million years and extrapolate into the future. You have to ask the question: What kinds of genetically distinct individuals are most likely to reproduce during the next hundreds of thousands of years? It’s extremely difficult to forecast that.

    Q. What are you working on next?
    I’m thinking of working on another book and it might be some sort of autobiography, but it’s very much in the planning stage

    • Sigmund
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      Thanks for that. His interview on ‘The Life Scientific’ last week revealed that he is in the middle of writing his autobiography (well nearly the middle, he says he’s still writing about his childhood!)

    • Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Richard Dawkins (in the transcript) says:

      I’ve been lots of places, all of which claim to be the buckle of the Bible Belt. They can’t all be, I suppose.

      From what I’ve seen living only 20 miles from Texas, belt buckles can be huge (several inches across on a person) so maybe the “buckle of the Bible Belt” figure of speech could include the idea that the “buckle” is bigger than just one community.

      • Hayden Scott
        Posted September 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        I don’t live near Texas like you, but I’ve nevertheless observed that belt buckles can be several inches long. I’ve similarly observed that they’re much smaller than the belt they’re attached to.

    • Strider
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      Where’d you get that transcript, Michael?

      • Posted September 8, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        On the Light Years CNN blog:-

        Light Years strives to tell the stories of science research, discovery, space and education. This is your go-to place on CNN.com for today’s stories, but also for a scientific perspective on the news and everyday wonders. Come indulge your curiosity in all things space and science related, brought to you by the entire CNN family

        The particular page is here:-
        Dawkins: Evolution is ‘not a controversial issue’

  5. Brad
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Regarding meet-up with God question. Why does Dawkins allow himself to get roped into answering that? His reply runs counter to his preceding stance in that he lends a sort of speculative air(grounded in good humor of course, but nonetheless speculative) that itself may be construed as ‘open to the possibility.’

    • Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      I don’t agree. Dr. “6.9” Dawkins used the opportunity to pose a good question about the nature of god. Some fence-sitters might think about his reply & add it to their list of reasons to jump from the god ship.

    • Brad
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      I feel he’s lending subtle credence to an afterlife space here. Would be better if Dawkins attacked/deconstructed the very nature of the question itself. Many of the fairy tale notions that Dawkins rails against are seeded by the same pyschic impulses in which said question arises. Dawkins should not entertain fairy tale questions with the same force that he detonates fairy tale ideas as the two are one and the same.

    • steve oberski
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      I enjoyed Richard Dawkin’s answer to the “What do you think will happen when you die ?” question in his recent Playboy interview:

      I shall either be cremated or buried.

  6. Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the video snippet, Prof. Coyne.

    I rather like this short one too. Instead of cussing out Dr. Dawkins, people who have suspended their abilities to think critically should be listening and thanking their lucky stars that we have such an intelligent, courageous and honest voice in our midst.


    Since organized religion isn’t going to go away anytime soon, there is even greater urgency and onus on rational parents to stop teaching to their own children, under the disguise of admirable faith and truths, what are really superstitions, myths, fables and abject untruths.

  7. Marta
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Dawkins may, or may not, have issues with feminists, and they with him. Reasonable people can disagree. However, characterizing anyone on either side of the issue as a “slavering dog” is not helpful.

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      In the comments section below, please stick to the interview and topics covered by Dawkins.

      Can’t you read?

      • Marta
        Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        I manage.

        Thanks so much for your civility.

        • andreschuiteman
          Posted September 8, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

          Apologies if I sounded a bit harsh.

        • Hayden Scott
          Posted September 8, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          Not on this occasion though.

      • Posted September 9, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink

        Hmm… Jerry also enjoined us to stick to the topics Richard discusses in the video.

        Dawkins: We treat women as equal to men.

        This is nowhere near true.


        • Posted September 9, 2012 at 2:10 am | Permalink


        • jackrawlinson
          Posted September 9, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          I think what he meant was that we believe that women should be treated as equal to men. Which is true.

          • Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:13 am | Permalink

            I think Richard is intelligent and eloquent enough to say what he means and mean what he says.


        • Peter Beattie
          Posted September 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          This is what RD said:

          Our moral attitudes today in 2012 are very different form what they would have been 50 or 100 years ago. And even more different from what they would have been 300 years ago or 500 years ago. We don’t believe in slavery now. We treat women as equal to men. All sorts of things have changed in our moral attitudes.

          If you are going to appeal to intelligence and eloquence, you should acknowledge that he obviously didn’t say that everybody everywhere doesn’t believe in slavery and treats women equal to men. He explicitly said “moral attitudes” and hence was talking about generally accepted norms of a civilised and enlightened society. That actual treatment of women could be much improved is uncontroversial, as RD would be the first to agree. But it is also uncontroversial that we have come a long way, even in the actual treatment of women, which was his actual point.

          • Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

            I don’t really doubt that your last two sentences are true, but RD’s actual words formed a false claim. Simply adding “tend to” or “strive to” would’ve been an imperfect but significant improvement.

            I’d go so far as to dispute that this is one of the “generally accepted norms of a civilised and enlightened society” – or that we actually have a society that is sufficiently civilised and enlightened such that it is the norm.

            But perhaps I’m being overly cynical and being misled by the availability heuristic.


            • Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

              Rather than read the single sentence about women out of context, consider the preceding sentence: “We don’t believe in slavery now.”

              Clearly, in the all-encompasing absolute, this is not the case. Human trafficking is a horrible problem; many prostitution rings are “staffed” solely by (typically foreign) slaves; and there’re even third-world countries where outright Southern-style chattel slavery is common.

              And Richard clearly knows all that, and would be the first to fill in the details should you challenge him on that point with a nit-pick.

              So why would it even occur to you that the following sentence relating to women should be any different?



              • Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                Did I claim that it was?


    • Thanny
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      You’re equating “having an issue” with someone and labelling them a misogynist. Just pointing that out in case you missed your own point.

  8. Tyler
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Regarding morality, I propose that we start thinking of morality via a simple framework. You could say that, across cultures, the fundamental goal of people in general is to be happy. In order for most people to be happy, they generally need calm and peace in the world, so that they may be left to pursue their personal goals and dreams. So, the ambition of studying and defining morals should be to provide people the maximum possible amount of personal freedom to do what they want provided that they are not causing harm (physical or emotional, direct or indirect) to others; not impinging on others’ personal freedom; and not taking advantage of others’ ignorance, innocence, or good will. This could be the framework that we use to determine laws on a moral basis.

    Religion and other personal beliefs should never influence this fundamental objective. The courts of law would use this objective as a measuring stick for determining the legal from the illegal. Admittedly, in order to implement this kind of directive, it is necessary to convince the majority of the democracy that this objective is more desirable than the objectives of any one religion, which is often to proselytize and convert.

    • Posted September 8, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      You could say that, across cultures, the fundamental goal of people in general is to be happy.

      Not necessarily, and you don’t even need a specific universal goal to derive morality. All you need is a goal, almost* any goal.

      And, as it turns out, virtually every goal is more effectively realized with the help of others. Even destroying civilization isn’t something you can do without the help of civilization.

      Once you’ve established that you need the help of others to best help yourself, all that’s left is to come up with the most effective way of soliciting others to your cause. And that, in turn, will require you to, in short, be a moral and upstanding citizen.

      Whenever the question of morality comes up, Hume’s “You can’t derive ‘ought’ from ‘is'” is never far away. But that’s completely totally irrelevant, even if it’s true. You can derive “should” from “want,” and that’s what the discussion of morality is all about.

      So you want to rape as many babies as you possibly can? Fine. But you can’t rape any babies at all if you have to spend all your time hunting and gathering food for yourself, so first you should team up with some other people to help distribute the work load. And, if you want those people to accept you into their tribe, you should help them with their common goals and you should avoid doing things to harm their own goals. But those people aren’t going to want you to rape their babies, so they should prevent you from doing so, likely by kicking you out of the tribe, and maybe even by killing you. Sucks to be you, eh?

      But you probably want to live in a healthy society more than you want to rape babies, so you should learn to suppress your baby-raping desires and instead be a moral and trustworthy member of society who supports it with positive contributions.

      See? It’s not only not hard, it’s obvious.

      In this way, morality is much like φ, the golden ratio. Pick two consecutive numbers in the Fibonacci sequence and divide the one by the other and the result is an approximation of φ. The bigger the numbers, the better the approximation. But you don’t have to start with numbers in the Fibonacci sequence; you can take any two numbers, add them together, add the result to the larger of the two numbers, and continue…and the quotient will magically converge on φ.

      It’s the same with morality. Pick any initial want, even one as horrific as raping babies, and follow the chain of shoulds, and you’ll wind up at a good and honest moral code (which may well invalidate your initial want).



      * I qualified this with “almost,” because it breaks down with goals that override self-preservation. “I want to shoot as many people in this movie theater as possible, even if I die trying,” is not going to result in a healthy moral code. However, Darwinian Evolution handles those with such desires, even if messily and only over the course of a great many generations. Healthy societies also build structures to inhibit such desires in the first place and to protect itself against those who fall through the cracks. b&

    • TnkAgn
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Ah, and there’s the rub. People with irrational religious mindsets, most notably Christians and Muslims will, by hook, crook or violence, compel others to share in their version of “happiness.”

      • Tyler
        Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        I am simply saying that each person should seek their own happiness as long as they do not impose on others’ right to do the same. Anything that falls within these bounds cannot rationally be said to be immoral.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      This seems like a plausible place to ask a question. Today at the library sale I picked up a nice new hardcover of Marc Hauser’s “Moral Minds”. Up until a few days ago I would have thought “this book looks interesting,” and started reading. However, I remember seeing on this very site, just a day or two ago (iirc) that Hauser was busted for data falsification. So, now I don’t know what to think of the book. Is anyone familiar with it? Is it worthwhile? It’s hard to know if Hauser’s ideas are supported by data or not, given what has happened.

      Any input will be greatly appreciated!

  9. Posted September 8, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I find it interesting that Richard considers the origin of life to be the last remaining “big question,” if you will, whose answer was necessary before atheism became intellectually fulfilling.

    Indeed, I don’t know why one even needs answers to questions before coming to atheism. Quite the opposite — just as it would be silly to assume, say, that rocks telepathically control the way that tree branches rub in the wind without evidence supporting such an assertion, it’s silly to assume that just because religions have answered “big questions” with “gods” that those answers need to be taken seriously.

    Worse, the origins of life is hardly the biggest of the “big questions.” The origins of the Big Bang is much, much bigger, and the origins of the laws of nature bigger still. How can Richard possibly be intellectually fulfilled when all he knows about is how some motes on some invisible spec of dust came to self-organize, when he doesn’t have a clue where the dust itself came from? (Except, of course, we pretty much know the answer — but Darwin sure didn’t.)

    Atheism became intellectually fulfilling the instant somebody answered, “I don’t know,” to a question that somebody else claimed was answered by the gods. It became rock solid as soon as that person started asking, “How do you know that?” of the person claiming gods. And it became unassailable when that person demanded evidence supporting the existence of gods.

    Actually answering the questions the religious claim to answer with their gods is nice, sure, but it has nothing to do with how rational or “intellectually fulfilling” atheism is.



    P.S. Richard at the very least has a serious PR problem with respect to the question of the rights of women, and the matter isn’t going to be resolved by not discussing it. Jerry, that you don’t want this to be the place for that discussion I can understand, but it’s a discussion that’s going to have to happen somewhere. And, indeed, yours might well be the sort of neutral ground where such a discussion could be the most fruitful and least acrimonious. b&

    • Griff
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      He’s neither a diplomat or a politician, he’s a scientist. It’s a sad day when a scientist needs PR, least of all to deal with others in the sceptic community.

      • Posted September 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        He’s a popular author and speaker. After politicians, that’s the type of person most in need of PR.


        • Griff
          Posted September 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

          Sad nonetheless

      • Ichthyic
        Posted September 9, 2012 at 2:02 am | Permalink

        He’s neither a diplomat or a politician, he’s a scientist.

        actually, he’s none of those things. He’s a teacher, a lecturer, and a great popularizer of science.

        IIRC, he moved out of doing scientific experiments in the early 80s.

        and, while he did contribute some great work, he’s done far more as a popularizer of science, and that’s a rare enough thing.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink


      This is derived from Dawkins’ often quoted line.

      “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
      Richard Dawkins (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. ISBN 0393315703.” Wikiquotes

      It wasn’t the origin of life, if by that you mean abiogenesis, that was the subject. The stumbling block for so many was how to explain the amazing diversity of living organisms and the incredible apparent design that seemed could only have been achieved by an intelligent agent.

      Darwin provided an explanation that was both simple and powerful and needed no guiding intellect.

      Even today you will hear creationists claiming that the only possible explanation for the life forms we see all around us is their Designer-in-Chief. They always seem so smug to me when they lay down their highest trump card.

      Physics and Chemistry were not so impregnable to disbelief. Faraday, Kelvin, Doppler; there were many people exploring the non-living world in Darwin’s time and making discoveries that were narrowing the Gaps in which God was hiding.

      Living things not so much, though Wallace was right in there and Lamarck had his try at it.

      • Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

        The stumbling block for so many was how to explain the amazing diversity of living organisms and the incredible apparent design that seemed could only have been achieved by an intelligent agent.

        Oh, I understand that that’s the specifics of what Richard’s saying the stumbling block was.

        But all that was was the most popular god-shaped gap of its day.

        Sometime before then, you couldn’t explain the celestial dance without invoking the gods, or explain lightning and stormy seas without invoking the gods, or whatever. Even today, we’re supposed to believe that you can’t explain the origins of the Big Bang without invoking the gods. Same shit, different paddle.

        My confusion is over the near-universal assumption amongst even intelligent people that any answer, no matter how bad, is preferable to “I don’t know.”

        You can say that life looks designed, but where’s the designer? You can also say that the gumballs in a gumball machine look intentionally and neatly stacked, but where’s the stacker? Without evidence of a designer or stacker, the most you can offer in response is, “Hmmm, I suppose that’s not out of the question. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and assume that’s the only reasonable or fulfilling possibility. Let’s instead have a closer look and see if we can find any more clues.”

        Simply saying, “I don’t know, so I guess we’ll go with your cockamamie ideas about faery tales coming to life” isn’t intellectually fulfilling. Even saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll admit that I don’t have anything that can top your cockamamie ideas about faery tales coming to life” isn’t intellectually fulfilling.

        What is intellectually fulfilling is saying, “I don’t know, and would you please stop wasting our time with your cockamamie ideas about faery tales coming to life so we can get to work to see if we can figure this out?”

        That’s what Darwin did, of course, but he was hardly the first, last, or even singly most important (though, to be sure, few others loom as large on the horizon).



        • curt nelson
          Posted September 9, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink


    • DavidIs
      Posted September 9, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      “Richard at the very least has a serious PR problem with respect to the question of the rights of women”

      I’m sorry? That’a like saying, “Barack at the very least has a serious PR problem with respect to the question of whether he was born in the US”

      Legitimacy is not measured by volume. A tiny but loud fringe should not dictate our discourse, nor determine what is or is not serious.

      • Posted September 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        But President Obama does have a serious PR problem over the question of his citizenship, and that’s a subset of the even more serious PR problem relating to the melanin content of his skin.

        And he has addressed both PR problems, rather successfully — though, I must point out, the question of the location of his birth is moot since there’s no question of his mother’s citizenship and that alone is sufficient to establish his own citizenship. And I really wish that was the way that he framed his response — “No, I really was born in Hawaii, but Mom was Kansas born and bred, so who cares where she was when she gave birth to me?”

        Like it or not, a small but vocal minority generally gets to set the agenda, at least in today’s world. Ignore them only at your extreme peril. Dismiss them, yes, but with a succinct and valid (and dismissive) rebuttal — not with silence. And then be the one to set the agenda to whatever it is you really want to talk about.

        “No, I really was born in Hawaii, but Mom was Kansas born and bred, so who cares where she was when she gave birth to me? That’s why the lives of hard-working middle-America families are so important to me, and why I’m here to….”



        • Rsbones
          Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          Sorry for the late reply, but the reason Obama cannot simply reply in the way you suggest is that it is not sufficient for him to be a citizen: to be president, one must have been born on American soil.

          • Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

            A “natural-born citizen” is a person who is naturally a citizen at birth, as opposed to somebody who is later granted citizenship. And the Constitution clearly establishes that the children of citizens are themselves citizens, regardless of the place of birth — just as it also establishes that children born on US soil are citizens, regardless of the citizenship of their parents.

            And the fact that location of birth is irrelevant for children of citizens isn’t even an issue. McCain was born in Panama (to American citizens), and Romney’s father, who also made a bid for the White House, was born in Mexico (to American citizens).



  10. dunstar (@eightyc)
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Dawkins is always awesome.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink


  11. Maude
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I feel like a cliche atheist to enjoy hearing Dawkins speak so much. He’s really a great scientist and science teacher of our time. I still don’t understand the people who think he’s aggressive in his speeches. When I recommend “The Selfish Gene” to people, the usual answer is “by that [insert insult here] atheist?”. Oh well. They’re missing out.

    • Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      To many religious people, “I don’t believe you,” or even, “My analysis of the extant evidence leads me to a different conclusion” is the worst possible insult to their character.

      To understand why, read up on cognitive dissonance theory.



  12. marksolock
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  13. krzysztof1
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Two very simple questions for god at the end. Has there ever been a killer defense of the “divine hiddenness” thing? I don’t know of one.

    • Posted September 8, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      The best they’ve come up with is “free the willies!”

      Never mind that the whole point of the Bible is to prove the truth of YHWH / Jesus’s reality and desires by documenting their repeated and spectacular interactions with huge swaths of some very gullible primitives in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, parting the Red Sea today or healing the sick or whatever would deprive us of the joys of falling for the scam.

      Or something like that….


      • andreschuiteman
        Posted September 8, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        But after Jesus’ departure all the evidence was carefully erased from the world, so that all we have left is a book so implausible that you need faith to believe most of the things it says.

  14. Harry
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry to break the rule immediately, but I have missed that Dawkins is accused of being a misogynist. When did this start, what has he said to be accused of such? Why would he of all people want to adopt one of the most distinguishable traits of religion? Any links to the background story for this would be greatly appreciated. (Google doesn’t lead to any trustworthy sites.)

    • Posted September 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Google “Dear Muslima” and you’ll get plenty of hits on both sides of the matter.

      Just leave the Google results on Google, is all Jerry asks….


      • Harry
        Posted September 8, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        Thank you Ben. I never followed that debate one year ago and would have presumed that it had died down by now, but obviously it hasn’t.

        • Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:04 am | Permalink

          The extrapolation of individual perception to a class was invalid. The ‘quest’ continues as it is a fractional truth in search of a binary ruling. Rather divisive the arbitrary gender split.

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    As always, Dawkins here is affable, well-mannered, hyper-articulate — and his analysis is spot-on. Even if he is a raving monogamist.

  16. Posted September 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Sedate Me!.

  17. Stephen
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    You should link the original CNN Youtube channel, not only because it’s the original, but also because the sound quality is better.

    here: http://youtu.be/R9uhE4CT2xM
    or here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9uhE4CT2xM

  18. Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    When it comes to explaining goodness and morality, we continue to take a defensive posture. This does not help – appearing as one is uncomfortable and cornered. I wish Susan Jacoby’s book on American secularism, or even Pinker’s on the history of violence, take center stage in the Godless movement. Atheists, deists, and seculars have been in the front line in everything from emancipation, women’s suffrage, civil rights to speaking out against child abuse. The religious feel all smug running their soup kitchens but their opposition to the magnitude of historical injustice and wrong has been tenuous. The evidence is strong that religion has more often inured otherwise reasonable people against unspeakable cruelties for centuries and centuries. It’s not the root of all evil. But it sure is a catalyst for wickedness. The biggest ethical advances have come on the tide of secularism, which weighs benefit and harm on its own merit, elevates reason, and ushers a culture of compassion, love, and empathy unadulterated by folklore and superstition. The Godless have the high ground, and it’ll serve all humanity well for us to adopt a tone with more spine.

    • Posted November 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      How about abortion?

      would any Godless person call THAT child abuse….or even MURDER? Get over yourselves,
      you’re NOT that special.

      And thank you’re MOTHER that she wasn’t thinking like you when you were whelped,
      because If she had you (the Godless) wouldn’t even take credit for all those Good things that you think they (the Godless) are responsible for.
      Don’t preach to me about ethics,you can’t when you don’t have MORAL values,because all you really value is you’re own intellectual narcissism

      HOW’S THAT FOR SPINE Dumb Fuck?

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted November 10, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        Okay, you’re gone from this site. And anybody else that engages in such name-calling will suffer the same fate.

        Bye, William!

  19. Sam Salerno
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    On your comment of lack of stridency by Richard, Jerry. At around 1:40 Richard states that ” who cares about creationists they don’t know anything.” I find that a strident comment. And I applaud it.
    Let the fundamentalists cry about it. Like George Carlin asked, “When will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?”

    • Posted September 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know about Jesus and pork chops, but, back in the old neighborhood, Jesus’s wife, Maria, and their daughter, Elena, used to go door-to-door with a cooler filled with fresh hot tamales — and, believe me, they were fantastic.


      • Jo5ef
        Posted September 9, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

        Hot tamales… In a cooler?
        It’s a miracle!

    • Greg Esres
      Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      If that’s strident, then the word really loses any meaning other than “expresses different views.”

      • Marella
        Posted September 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        That’s one of the things the religious do, make words meaningless so that you don’t notice they have nothing coherent to say.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted September 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          Nevertheless, a large number of us appear to have, in fact, noticed.

  20. Ralph
    Posted September 11, 2012 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    God, I love this blog! Not just the content, but the comments are just chock full of win.

  21. skepcheck
    Posted September 11, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    It’s a website, not a blog :->

  22. Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it ever dawned on Mr. Dawkins that when he dies that GOD will be the one asking the questions.

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