Ask Richard Dawkins About Evolution, Religion, and Science Education

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From Slashdot:

Richard Dawkins is an author and an evolutionary biologist. For 13 years, he held the Simonyi Professorship at the University of Oxford. His 1976 book The Selfish Gene helped popularize the gene-centric view of evolution and coined the word “meme.” Several other of his books, including Climbing Mount Improbable, River Out of Eden, and The Greatest Show on Earth have helped to explain aspects of evolution in a way non-scientists can more easily understand. Dawkins is a frequent opponent of creationism and intelligent design, and he generated widespread controversy and debate in 2006 with The God Delusion, a book that subjected common religious beliefs to unyielding scientific scrutiny. He wrote, “One of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.” Most recently, Dawkins wrote The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, a graphic book that aims to introduce kids to science. He’s also recently begun a video series titled “Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life” about how our world would look without religion. Mr. Dawkins has graciously agreed to answer some questions for us. Post your suggestions in the comments below, but please limit yourself to one question per post. We’ll post his responses sometime next week. [emphasis added]

Pile on your questions for Richard Dawkins here!

8 Replies to “Ask Richard Dawkins About Evolution, Religion, and Science Education

  1. 1
    Ichthus77 says:

    Dr. Dawkins,

    You state in River Out of Eden that “In a universe of 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 we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no other god. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is,”—as opposed to “ought”.

    But you also claim we can cultivate our own purpose in The Selfish Gene, stating, “If you would extract a moral from this book, read it as a warning. Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals co-operate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs (SG, 3). We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth…We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism, something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world,” (215). To you, is even natural empathy inherently selfish, as its evolutionary purpose is to promote the survival of those who are genetically related to us? Has your view on this changed since reading Sam Harris’ book?

    You said, on Harris’ website, “To my surprise, The Moral Landscape has changed all that for me. It should change it for philosophers too. Philosophers of mind have already discovered that they can’t duck the study of neuroscience, and the best of them have raised their game as a result. Sam Harris shows that the same should be true of moral philosophers, and it will turn their world exhilaratingly upside down.”

    Do you now believe there is objective moral truth?

    Do you now believe in a ‘real’ good?

    Is this somewhat more like a political move? “Let’s vote on eachother’s bills, even if we don’t agree with them, since we share a common goal”?

    If you do now, with Sam Harris, believe in objective moral truth–What being in reality does that truth describe? To what always good being does it correspond?


    Maryann Spikes
    Christian Apologetics Alliance

  2. 2
    JoeCoder says:

    What is the proper method of summoning your presence? I bought a book of incantations on ebay but I think it was a scam.

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    …a book that subjected common religious beliefs to unyielding scientific scrutiny.

    What a lie.

  4. 4
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    I have to say, The God Delusion was a colossal waste of time, and precisely the kind of thing that makes me embarrassed to be a “moderate atheist”.*

    It was not as witty as Hitchens’ God is Not Great nor as well-argued as Harris’ The End of Faith. (The arguments in TEF are not terribly good, but they’re better than TGD.) I’ve postponed reading Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, in large part because I don’t wish to spoil the pleasure and delight I’ve experienced in reading some of his earlier books. At least Dennett is honest enough to admit that his book is pretty much just Hume’s Dialogues On Natural Religion updated with contemporary science.

    The main thing that distinguishes the “New Atheists” from — what we call them? the “Old Atheists”? — is better marketing. Certainly not the quality of their scholarship or argumentation.

    * I’m not crazy about “moderate atheism” either, but it strikes me as an acceptable term to cover (1) naturalism in metaphysics; (2) pragmatism in epistemology; (3) anti-clericalism in politics. (2) is particularly important to me, and it’s central to my main complaint against Harris. By my lights, William James (in “The Will to Believe”) and Kierkegaard (esp. in “Fear and Trembling”) do not commit any epistemic sins; by Harris’ evidentialist lights, they do.

  5. 5

    Don’t waste your time even to visit slashdot.

    I entered a question for Mr. Dawkins and a few comments for other posts and my entries were immediately deleted.

    Any contributor who dare to show some simpathy for religious belief has great chances to be insulted.

    Don’t waste your time on slashdot. I will never visit it again.

  6. 6
    steveO says:

    OT: There’s a review of Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality by John Daniel Davidson over on First Things:

    A few days before he fell ill, Christopher Hitchens said in an interview, “One should try to write as if posthumously. Because then you’re free of all the inhibition that can cluster around even the most independent-minded writer.” At the time, he was on a book tour in New York promoting his new memoir, Hitch-22. One morning he woke up in his hotel room, “feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse. The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have been hollowed out and then refilled with slow-drying cement.”

    Thus begins the account of Hitchens’ final days, the nineteen months between his diagnosis of esophageal cancer in June 2010 and his death in December 2011 at age sixty-two. The essays he produced for Vanity Fair during this period, while he was deported “from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady,” form the bulk of Mortality, Hitchens’ first (but perhaps not last) posthumous collection of writing.


    Among his arguments, he takes special care to target those Christians who relished his fate as some kind of divine punishment for atheism. Such people are easy targets, whose views hardly seem worthy of a response. Yet Hitchens goes at them anyway, and then moves on to deal with anyone who prays at all. One of his tendencies (and limitations) was to attack the weakest part of an opponent’s argument but ignore the strongest or most compelling parts—a penchant that sometimes eroded his credibility, or at least made him less convincing.

    His chief concern seems to have been cementing his legacy. Hitchens wanted to be remembered in a certain way: unrepentant atheist, loquacious contrarian, combative right to the end. Here was a man, larger than life, who left behind a prodigious amount of great polemical writing and a reputation to match. He wanted it all to remain intact, unsullied by whatever doubts or fears or feelings of loss he might have had at the end. With this volume, for better or worse, that legacy is secure.

  7. 7
    Axel says:

    What legacy? Cherry-picking the questions he apparently deemed easiest to answer?

    I suspect that, as an atheist without hope, Hitchens would have shared Woody Allen’s ‘take’ on immortality:

    ‘I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.’

  8. 8
    Robert Byers says:

    Mr Dawkins.
    Is there biological evidence, from investigation based on the scientific methodology, that is in quality and quantity worthy to justify evolutionary biology as a theory and not just a open hypothesis.?

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