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What I’d like to ask Richard Dawkins


Recently, Uncommon Descent featured a post by News, inquiring of readers what they would like to ask Richard Dawkins, if they could interview him. I wrote a response. I have been told that News has gone on holiday and would welcome posts on UD, so I’ve decided to put up my question as a separate post. So here’s what I’d really like to ask Professor Richard Dawkins.

“Professor, I understand you’re a great fan of Rev. William Paley’s work, Natural Theology, which Darwin continued to speak highly of, even after he believed he had refuted it. Indeed, you even described yourself as a ‘neo-Paleyan’ in The Blind Watchmaker. Paley, as you’re well aware, contended that unguided natural processes were incapable of creating what he called contrivances – by which he meant systems (whether natural or artificial) that were distinguished by the properties of ‘relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose’ – to quote Paley’s own words. In modern parlance, we might define a contrivance as a complex, co-ordinated arrangement of parts, all subserving a common end. For our purposes, it does not matter whether this end is intrinsic as in living things, or extrinsic, as in artifacts.

“What Charles Darwin did was to put forward a mechanism (natural selection) which he argued was capable in principle of explaining how one complex, highly co-ordinated system of parts assisting an organism’s survival could, over millions of years, gradually evolve into another complex system serving an altogether different purpose, through an undirected (‘blind’) process. What Darwin did not show, however, is how the fundamental biochemical systems upon which all organisms rely for their survival, could have came into existence, in the first place. We might refer to these fundamental systems in Nature as Paley’s ‘original contrivances.’ These contrivances cannot be explained away as modifications of pre-existing biological systems, since anything that preceded them was non-living.

“Now, I understand that some biologists have hypothesized that autocatalytic reactions, by creating more and more complex arrangements of parts, could have given rise to these ‘original contrivances’ over millions of years. But it seems to me that this proposal ignores the most fundamental characteristic of living things: their teleology. A contrivance is a complex, co-ordinated arrangement of parts subserving a common end. In the case of a living thing, that end is the survival, flourishing and reproductive success of the organism. So my question is: how did these arrangements of parts that are supposed to have arisen through autocatalytic reactions billions of years ago ever come to subserve a common end? A telos, after all, is not the sort of thing that comes in halves; a biochemical system either has one or it doesn’t.

“Would you care to comment, Professor?”

'If he had nothing to argue against, he would have nothing whatever to say. His life’s work is ‘defined by what it denies’. jeepers, a kind of philosophical reductionism ad absurdum! Axel
Dawkins answer is that we don't, and may never know, how exactly life began. However he is completely confident that once it exists, the evolutionary process accounts for how it develops. I am not satisfied with that answer, however, because I still think there is a question of 'why' - why did the process produce intelligent, self-aware beings, and not simply stop with blue-green algae or insects. Again, Dawkins will deny that this is a valid question: there is only the fact of the occurrence, there isn't really any reason, in a teleological sense. He must insist that in a real sense, it happens for no reason. And yet he insists that he is a champion of reason. jeeprs
As Antony Flew says in his illuminating “There is a God” (p. 124) “The philosophical question that has not been answered in origin-of-life studies is this: How can a Universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and “coded chemistry”? here we are not dealing with biology, but an entirely different category of problem.” felipe
Reminds me of this Bertrand Russel quote someone posted here recently: "I cannot see how to refute the argument for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it." JoeCoder
That's kind of what I mean. On the one hand he acknowledges that Darwinism is a very poor philosophy, and a terrible picture of life. But then he will say that it is up to people to make up 'their own' meanings and values. But if Darwinism really is 'why humans are here', then there really cannot be any such things as 'meanings and values' - at least not in any real sense. But he is so philosophically inept, that he can't seem to grasp this contradiction or think through the consequences of his own philosophy. If he had nothing to argue against, he would have nothing whatever to say. His life's work is 'defined by what it denies'. jeeprs
VJT: Excellent post! KF kairosfocus
Dawkins has already answered the question in the OP. In his interview with Ben Stein in Expelled he said "No one knows." Barry Arrington
He said in his debate on Australian television earlier this year: "I very much hope that we don't revert to the idea of survival of the fittest in planning our politics and our values and our way of life. I have often said that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to explaining why we exist. It’s undoubtedly the reason why we're here and why all living things are here." Question: isn't there a very deep conceptual confusion in the use of the word 'why' in this statement? jeeprs
@Robert Byers I think most of us here hold that evolution could not produce a human from a chimp in periods even much longer than 6m years. Take HIV and Maliara for example, two examples from Behe's Edge of Evolution. In the last several decades that we've been observing them, they've each had something around a million times more selection and mutation events than humans would have had since a chimp divergence, yet they've each developed 1 and 0 new protein-protein binding sites, respectively, and I think HIV may have duplicated a protein (someone more knowledgeable jump in here). And many other microbes have also shown remarkable little evolution over similarly vast and rapidly reproducing populations. But in the same time, humans would have needed to develop around 300-1400 proteins (depending on which study you read) through processes of duplications, fusions, de novo from junk DNA, and some without homologs at all. Give a million times less opportunity, hominins would have had to evolve a thousand times faster. Evolution is a billion times too slow. JoeCoder
I would ask professor Dawkins to debate William Lane Craig and release the video on the Internet. As everyone with an IQ above room temperature knows, Dawkins' intellect and knowledge of cutting-edge science is unmatched. Dawkins would clearly devastate Craig with his empirical, scientific, and mathematical analyses of how random errors must have surely transformed inanimate matter into complex information-processing systems in the first primordial cell, and then transformed that primordial cell into me. This is hardcore science according to Dawkins, irrefutable, and beyond question except by those blinded by religious ignorance, as exemplified by people like William Lane Craig. Of course, anyone with IQ above room temperature knows exactly why Dawkins won't debate Craig. Craig so outclasses Dawkins in every category of intellectual endeavor that Dawkins knows he would be outed as an intellectual, scientific, philosophical, mathematical, and rational inferior. Concerning the request by News: I'll work on some posts. As many UD readers know, I was rescued from the dark side late in life (at age 43, even though at that time I had an impeccable pedigree in Dawkinsian philosophy), and ID was a major factor in my renaissance -- my rebirth. Frankly, it is incomprehensible to me that any intelligent and well-educated person can accept Darwinian orthodoxy, given the scientific discoveries of the last half-century. It's really weird. When confronted with exponentially expanding and never-receding evidence of design in the cosmos and living systems, some people, even highly educated people, just shrug their shoulders and declare that it all must have happened by accident. Frankly, I am not optimistic about reaching such people. The fool in his heart says there is no God, and as bizarre as it might seem, many of the most "highly educated" people in our contemporary culture are not just foolish, but completely irrational. On the other hand, we must continue the fight. You never know whom you might reach. My Christian friend Dave Pounds once prayed for me and introduced me to both Christianity and the ID movement when I was an atheist, and look at what that led to! This was good, very good. GilDodgen
I would ask if evolutionary biology has been peer reviewed for its great presumptions? Darwin said if the reader didn't ALREADY accept long ages then put his book down. I say this a presumption being demanded that neutralizes evolution as a biological hypothesis. One can't disprove such a hypothesis of biology if one not only must first disprove a geological assumption but one can't do it!! In short there was not enough time for evolution to work its magic! Its only a option there was enough time. if there was not enough time then evidence for evolution couldn't exist as it never happened! Is there evidence, worthy, for evolution without presuming long ages for earth? Fossils only work if theres time between them! In fact evolution just uses lines of reasoning based on geology tales to make its case. Yet there is no , or precious little options, of actual biological evidence in the hand to demonstrate evolution as evidenced. As it would be if it never happened. Biology can't claim discoveries if its not biology but geology doing the digging. Robert Byers
What is Truth? What is Love? Where is Science, without truth and love? Mung
Sorry vjt, you want to engage his intellect, I want to see if he has a heart ;) Mung
Is there any other religion on earth that declares that God Is Love? Mung
If it is true that God is real, and it is also true that God is love, how would that change you? Mung

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