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Richard Dawkins Interview

Dawkins book The Greatest Show on Earth has now been published in German, and as such is being interviewed by a German publication. The conversation centers mostly on why Dawkins thinks that believing the world and universe to be designed is unhelpful:

It is an attempt to disabuse people, especially in America, but also in other parts of the world, who have become influenced by fundamentalist religion into thinking that life can be and should be explained as all designed. I regard that as a lazy and unhelpful explanation as well as an untrue one.

As if people who think it’s designed just stop there with regards to describing the world and the universe with the philosophy called science. Ignore that fact that the history of the world has had folks investigating nature that believed and still believe it’s designed. This is one of Dawkins’ favorite arguments, and no one ever says it’s akin to saying that since we know that songs are composed by intelligence no one else will ever try to figure them out and learn to play them. Or since books are written no one will employ textual criticism and determine something along the lines of why it was written the way it was. As if anything thought to be designed is immediately uninteresting. I suppose that rules out an effort at understanding his book by the same logic. A designed book, that says that don’t look at things as designed if they are to have any merit, is an odd thing.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You never experienced a religious phase in your life?

Dawkins: Of course. I was a child, wasn’t I?

I was an atheist as a child, and only became a Christian as an adult. Quite frankly, Dawkins arguments occurred to me as a child, and I can’t help but see them as childish, that is, underdeveloped. I don’t mean any disrespect to children.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has religion not been very successful in an evolutionary sense?

Dawkins: The thought that human societies gained strength from religious memes in their competition with others is true to a certain extent.

What is a meme? Why does religion, a meme fooling folks according to Dawkins, get to be considered wrong, and not every single thing that Dawkins has ever thought? They are, after all, all thoughts and beliefs. If “memes” provide wrong thinking, why does Dawkins get the golden pass? Why isn’t he subject to an atheist meme just as wrong, or a meme that tells him that his memes are superior to all other memes, all the while, of course, speaking on its own behalf.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But following a religion that does not promote the chances for survival seems to contradict evolutionary logic…

Dawkins: Oh yes, clearly there is a conflict between meme and gene survival. We are familiar with such conflicts. They sometimes work out one way, sometimes the other.

What is a meme again?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You call your opponents “Holocaust-deniers,” “ignorant,” “ridiculous” and “deluded to the point of perversity.”

Dawkins: My suspicion is that more people will find it amusing. If I read an author who is ridiculing some idiot, I myself am rather amused. There may be some who will be turned off and I will have lost them in those passages. But I suspect they’ll be outnumbered by those who are amused.

I call Dawkins a common-courtesy-and- normal-mutual-respect-propriety-denier. This is humanism?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Dawkins, how would you like to be remembered 60 years from now? As the scientist who left his impact with books like “The selfish Gene?” Or as an outspoken, zealous critic of religion?

Dawkins: Both really. I don’t see them as that separate from each other. But I would be sorry if the attack on religion eclipsed what I hope I contributed to science. I think that would be a genuine pity. But I don’t see any contradiction between the two aspects. I think they belong together.

Science is a tool to describe nature, not explain it as an idea; it’s only power is in describing, as a particular phenomena, material entities that we’ve discovered, which is perfectly fine as far as it goes, but Dawkins doesn’t know how far it goes, clearly, if he thinks that descriptions are arguments against explanations. As if a description were ever or could ever be an argument against a proscription. This is the is/ought fallacy, and it underlies Dawkins entire philosophy of scientism and atheism. I feel sorry for the guy, because he doesn’t, for whatever reason, reason all the way.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are we going to see from you next?

Dawkins: I am halfway through writing a children’s book which is called “The Magic of Reality.” Each chapter is a question like: What is an earthquake? What is a rainbow? What is the sun? Each chapter begins with a series of myths seemingly answering those questions, and then I counter that with explanations about the true nature of things. There is something very cheap about magic in the supernatural sense, like turning a frog into a prince with a magic wand. Reality has a grander, poetic magic of its own, which I hope I can get across.

Evolution is the only “science,” and I use that word loosely when using it with the word evolution, that honestly claims that the frog turned into the prince. Because it happened slowly doesn’t make it more scientific and less of a fairy tale. I don’t like to call evolution a fairy tale, because I believe there is a lot of truth in fairy tales, and I wouldn’t like to insult the respectable art.

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10 Responses to Richard Dawkins Interview

  1. Clive, you say you thought of Dawkin’s arguments when you were a child. Can you be specific as to which of Dawkin’s arguments occurred to you when you were a child?

  2. Dawkins’s “laziness” argument is obviously upended by historical data, as you have noted. What about contemporary science, though? Suppose he thinks he can get away with telling us there’s something different in today’s faith/science environment, and that faith makes scientists lazy today? If so, that is a sociological claim that he makes, testable by sociological (i.e. scientific) methods. As a scientist he ought to care whether this oft-repeated claim of his has scientific backing.

    We all know how he brands himself as a scientist and nothing but a scientist. So let’s have a show of hands now: how many believe he’s checked to see whether there’s empirical data to support this laziness objection? Has he checked to see whether people of faith actually do tend to cut research short just because they’ve decided “God did it”?*

    In fact what he’s practicing is pure data-free theorizing prejudice in action, and it’s not the only instance of this—although actually what that link exposes is different: in his “child abuse” claim he’s not only operating in an absence of scientific information, he’s contradicting established science.

    Dawkins tell us all he wants us to take science as our sole source of knowledge. If he really meant that in his heart of hearts he would set a consistent example. This kind of thing tells more about the man than just about anything else he says or does; for what he’s demonstrating in practice is, “Trust science as your one source of knowledge as long as it agrees with me. If it doesn’t, then ignore it.”

    *Note to potential objectors: if you can point to figures showing there are fewer Christians in certain scientific fields than would be expected from their proportions in the general population, I can point to other confounding factors that would need to be controlled for in the analysis. In other words, this kind of research can’t be done by seat-of-the-pants observations. It’s not science unless it’s done scientifically.

  3. Thanks

  4. Look, before Darwin, it appeared that something had to create all the complex organic life around us including ourselves. Now we know. It was random mutations and natural selection. Evolution didn’t (doesn’t) need an intelligent designer. As the new discoveries and understandings unfold in the science of astrophysics and theoretical physics, the drivers of the universe’s origin will become more and more apparent and they will also be be non-intelligent. So how is this a weak or lazy argument? It is the extraordinary claims for an ID that require extraordinary evidence. Evolution has held up against the most stringent scrutiny over time. Believers on the other hand deal only in unchallengeable statements. As Christopher Hitchen’s said, “arguments that explain everything, explain nothing.

  5. Natural Selection and random mutations don’t explain anything about the complex organisms.

  6. Retroman,

    Clive, you say you thought of Dawkin’s arguments when you were a child. Can you be specific as to which of Dawkin’s arguments occurred to you when you were a child?

    Sure, the question of Who created the Creator? which I’ve heard Dawkins make, and he wasn’t joking.

  7. Besides, Darwin had an idea of gemmules as a kind of sand that collected in the genitals and was the explanation of reproductive similarities and differences, his idea didn’t involve random mutation in the way we now think of it. So his thinking didn’t help explain anything about the complexity of organisms as we know them now.

  8. Jim1151 says:

    As Christopher Hitchen’s said, “arguments that explain everything, explain nothing

    I think we agree here. My problem is that evolution seems to fall into this category. When considering extremely complex, often irreducibly complex biological systems that are not accessible by small gradual modifications plausible within the available natural resources for variation, then any hypothetical idea is accepted as rebuttal to the alternative explanation of design.

    Evolution explains gradual change, rapid change and no change at all. It explains adaptation to theoretically 100% efficiency, it also explains poor efficiency. (Although the more we know about stuff the less likely it is that we would declare it poor.)

    Evolution explains junk DNA. It also explains “functional non-coding segments of DNA”.

    Evolution explains why the eye was not designed. It also explains why it is still one of the best instruments for vision, inspiring designers all over the world.

    Evolution explains competition and co-operation.

    Evolution explains why some proteins are different in somewhat similar looking creatures. It also explains why some proteins are identical in apparently dissimilar creatures.

    Evolution is the creationism of the materialist because it goes forward from presuppositions. Evolution has happened, because it is the mandate of the metaphysics. We can see small changes in the living things around us, and that is taken as evidence for the naturalistic origin of the extreme variety of present and past life.

    Life can self organize itself from inanimate matter. There is not a single shred of evidence that it is possible, but the research goes on, perhaps forever, because it is also the mandate of the metaphyisics.

    The only problem is that the evidence underpinning the materialist logic is not strong enough to allow challenge or open debate about it, so the opposition must be silenced and marginalized…

  9. As Tom and Clive both noted, the ‘laziness’ idea simply isn’t true as history demonstrates.

    I heard Krauss making this argument during his debate with Craig the other day. I kept thinking – who does this? The scientists of the past never did. Quite the contrary the queen of sciences was theology; the more you learned about the creation, the more you learned about the Creator.

    But if you apply that reasoning to an atheist worldview – what is the point? Why NOT be lazy? What does it matter anyway? Who cares?

  10. First off Alex73 all of biology supports the idea of evolution, there is over 170 years of evidence that evolution is true and there has never been a study that has been replicated that has supported ID and not evolution. With all of the evidence there are 4 logical arguments you can make 1. There is no god or he is just an observer and has no effect of the universe. 2. God created the universe and he is allowing it flow from there. Now the next two you can make ether of the first two arguments also. 3. God or another intelligent designer(aliens) created life and let it evolve naturally or guided its evolution. 4. God or another intelligent designer created life in near its current state and is faking evolution in the past.

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