Richard Dawkins on Evolution

It’s been a heavy day of Moonbat email following recent discussions of the anti-science views of Deepak Chopra and some who follow him. Following this I needed a good dose of sane discussion. Fortunately I found it in an interview with Richard Dawkins at Beliefnet. (Hat tip to Evolving Thoughts). Also check out the video of the interview with Dawkins on The Colbert Report. Here’s some hightlights from the interview at Beliefnet:

You’re concerned about the state of education, especially science education. If you were able to teach every person, what would you want people to believe?

Not 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 authority.

What do you wish people knew about evolution?

They need to understand what evolution 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.”

That is staggering ignorance of what evolutionary 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 biological concept?

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 chance.

That’s ludicrous. That’s ridiculous. Mutation is random in the sense that it’s not anticipatory of what’s needed. Natural selection is anything but random. Natural 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. The 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 process that lions are so good at hunting, antelopes 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 religious that may seem to fly in the face of science. 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.

You criticize intelligent design, saying that “the theistic answer”–pointing to God as designer–“is deeply unsatisfying”–presumably you mean on a logical, scientific level.

Yes, because it doesn’t explain where the designer comes from. If they’re going to emphasize the statistical improbability of biological organs-“these are so complicated, how could they have evolved?”–well, if they’re so complicated, how could they possibly have been designed? Because the designer would have to be even more complicated.

Is atheism the logical extension of believing in evolution?

They clearly can’t be irrevocably linked because a very large number of theologians believe in evolution. In fact, any respectable theologian of the Catholic or Anglican or any other sensible church believes in evolution. Similarly, a very large number of evolutionary scientists are also religious. My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.

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24 Comments

  1. 1
    kj says:

    My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism. ~~Richard Dawkins
    OMG! Evolution is a gateway drug!

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    That’s why the religious right objects to teaching it.

  3. 3
    janet says:

    My husband is an Anglican scientist who obviously “believes” in evolution. Many many times my husband has said that the more he discovers things in his research, the more he believes in God.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    There are many scientists who see studying evolution as studying the mechanism by which God acts. While I do not personally agree with that viewpoint, there is no way to prove who is right. It also doesn’t matter as evolution can be studied objectively regardless of whether one believes it is something set in motion by a God.

  5. 5
    kj says:

    janet, good. That means evolution isn’t necessarily a gateway drug. Someone alert the religious right! Evolution may not be dangerous to study! Janet’s husband is proof!

    @;-)

  6. 6
    janet says:

    My husband has no problem and does not see a conflict with his beliefs and his work. The more we learn, the more we realize how limited the human brain is. He is also involved in developing science programs for K-12 but in no way does he believe that faith or religion should ever ever be interjected. It has no place in the classroom.

    But church and home–yes. We have great family discussions and conversations with our priest. Faith is a private and personal matter.

  7. 7
    kj says:

    janet,

    Exactly. It’s two entirely different subjects. Kudos to your husband for his work, and his faith.

    “Back in the day,” twelve years of Catholic schools, we had both religion and science class. It wasn’t an issue. Even as a child, I didn’t feel torn between one or the other.

    The attempted joining of the two subjects today needs to be called out early and often, in my opinion. We aren’t baking muffins, the two don’t mix.

    Again, kudos to your husband. We need more people like him developing science programs!

  8. 8
    kj says:

    And props to Ron Chusid for covering this attempted mixing of science and religion as thoroughly as he does.

    There are no sacred cows. Bravo, Ron! @;-)

  9. 9
    Ron Chusid says:

    kj,

    The real problem is the mixing of politics and religion.

    In an ideal world, dealing with objective people, religion should in one sense be mixed with science. If we were really looking for answers to questions such as the origin of the universe and development of life objectively, then the God hypothesis could be combined with other hypotheses.

    In reality this would never work as those who promote the God hypothesis would not be willing to follow the scientific method and throw out the hypothesis if it doesn’t pan out. Even worse, the most fanatic proponents of the God hypothesis are busy coming up with bogus arguments to dispute established science, thereby throwing themselves out of the realm of true science.

    Then there’s the problem that the God hypothesis carries so much other baggage. If we did find that a God did initiate the big bang, and did set evolution in motion, this says nothing about all the specific stories and beliefs of each religion. It is a long stretch from having a creator to having an entity which should be worshiped, or from using such a God to deny abortion rights, say we should not eat pork, or say homosexuals cannot marry.

    Obviously, considering all the baggage associated with religion, it is best that it be kept separate from science as well as politics.

  10. 10
    kj says:

    Ron,

    Unless (and until) A Creator Being(s), with all the bonafides necessary, shows up on CNN, I think any attempts to mix the two subjects is an effort in fantasy.

    I can understand religion mixed up with politics (as they both stem from beliefs about how the world optimally should be run), than religion mixed up with science.

    :-\

  11. 11
    kj says:

    Wanted: Religious Leader. Belief in God Not Required
    Local Ethical Society Ponders Core Values In Choosing a Leader

    Link

  12. 12
    kj says:

    And a review of Dawkin’s book in the Washington Post.

    Link

  13. 13
    Ron Chusid says:

    kj,

    In a sense science and religion are attempting to do the same thing when they both try to answer questions such as the origins of the universe. Of course it is fantasy to think there are enough people who can look at this objectively and therefore science and religion must be kept separate.

    Religion definately does get mixed up in politics, but we’ve seen the bad consequences of that.

  14. 14
    kj says:

    Ron,

    You’re correct, “In a sense science and religion are attempting to do the same thing when they both try to answer questions such as the origins of the universe.” of course.

    What I have problems understanding, I guess since I was taught to keep the two subjects separate since childhood, is why the difference between what we believe (because we chose to believe it), and what exists (because it is verifiable), creates such a conflict in some people’s minds.

    I can’t imagine thinking that my beliefs, or any other non-scientist’s beliefs, about our origins would be accorded any credence in any subject dealing with either origins, or evolution. What possible importance could my beliefs add to either conversation? Or study?

    That would be the height of arrogance, in my thinking.

  15. 15
    kj says:

    And ‘the height of arrogance’ is how I look at non-scientists who decide to weigh-in on the subject of evolution– not because of what they do or don’t know about the subject– but because they have a belief about humankind’s origins. You know, “spare me your beliefs, buddy” is my attitude. If I wanted to know about their beliefs, I’d ask.

    Leave science to the scientists!
    (pun) Because, “God bless them,” I don’t want the job! @;-)

  16. 16
    Ron Chusid says:

    kj,

    That’s why I only gave a very limited hypothetical possibiity of science and religion mixing. If hypothetically there was a creator which initiated the big bang, it could fall to science to investigate this. Religion could not as religion does not follow the scientific method, and people’s beliefs to substitute for facts. (Of course any theory which uses an intelligent creator would still have to explain the origin of such an intelligence, and such a theory would actually be more difficult to explain than the big bang already is.)

    There are some in religion who claim to practice science, such as the Discover Institute, but instead we see them practice pseudo-science as they reject established science based upon religious belief.

  17. 17
    Ron Chusid says:

    kj,

    Going back to above comments, if a creator should appear on CNN and contradict religious dogma, conservatives would reject as bias of the liberal media as he/she didn’t appear on Fox. (Never mind the fact that CNN has been pretty conservative since Turner got out.)

  18. 18
    Ron Chusid says:

    kj,

    There are also other ways to look at mixing science and religion. Sometimes it is inevitable as religion makes claims with regards to science and scientists may respond. (Of course if the goal is to avoid arguments where nobody will ever agree then there is an argument to stay away from this. By the same logic we should not discuss either religion or politics, which would make this a very quiet blog).

    Richard Dawkins discussed it in this manner:

    More generally it is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science’s turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.

    The same is true of many of the major doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. The Virgin Birth, the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Resurrection of Jesus, the survival of our own souls after death: these are all claims of a clearly scientific nature. Either Jesus had a corporeal father or he didn’t. This is not a question of “values” or “morals”; it is a question of sober fact. We may not have the evidence to answer it, but it is a scientific question, nevertheless. You may be sure that, if any evidence supporting the claim were discovered, the Vatican would not be reticent in promoting it.

    Either Mary’s body decayed when she died, or it was physically removed from this planet to Heaven. The official Roman Catholic doctrine of Assumption, promulgated as recently as 1950, implies that Heaven has a physical location and exists in the domain of physical reality – how else could the physical body of a woman go there? I am not, here, saying that the doctrine of the Assumption of the Virgin is necessarily false (although of course I think it is). I am simply rebutting the claim that it is outside the domain of science. On the contrary, the Assumption of the Virgin is transparently a scientific theory. So is the theory that our souls survive bodily death, and so are all stories of angelic visitations, Marian manifestations, and miracles of all types.

    There is something dishonestly self-serving in the tactic of claiming that all religious beliefs are outside the domain of science. On the one hand, miracle stories and the promise of life after death are used to impress simple people, win converts, and swell congregations. It is precisely their scientific power that gives these stories their popular appeal. But at the same time it is considered below the belt to subject the same stories to the ordinary rigors of scientific criticism: these are religious matters and therefore outside the domain of science. But you cannot have it both ways. At least, religious theorists and apologists should not be allowed to get away with having it both ways. Unfortunately all too many of us, including nonreligious people, are unaccountably ready to let them.

     

  19. 19
    kj says:

    Ron wrote: (Of course if the goal is to avoid arguments where nobody will ever agree then there is an argument to stay away from this. By the same logic we should not discuss either religion or politics, which would make this a very quiet blog).

    My dear sainted mother used to say, “Do not argue religion or politics.” And then she and her 9 siblings, their spouses and kids, would proceed to argue both religion and politics. It was our summer theatre. @;-)

  20. 20
    kj says:

    Ron,

    Somewhere I have a John Birch Society book thingy, inherited from one of my aunts (the same one who forced me to read “Atlas Shrugged” twice). Ya want I should dig it up? 😉

  21. 21
    kj says:

    Ron wrote: In reality this would never work as those who promote the God hypothesis would not be willing to follow the scientific method and throw out the hypothesis if it doesn’t pan out. Even worse, the most fanatic proponents of the God hypothesis are busy coming up with bogus arguments to dispute established science, thereby throwing themselves out of the realm of true science.

    Then there’s the problem that the God hypothesis carries so much other baggage.

    and

    There are also other ways to look at mixing science and religion. Sometimes it is inevitable as religion makes claims with regards to science and scientists may respond.

    I agree with you. Ideally, it would be a wonderful, mind-expanding exercise to discuss both subjects at the same time. Just discussing the merits (and demerits) of the sun-centered universe belief would, I think, be fascinating. Charting the evolution (no pun intended) of humankind’s collective self-reflection, for starters.

    But we’d need to have a solid agreement to put the baggage down, as you said above, and vow to keep the conversation away from dogmatic attempts to show a particular point of view down the throat’s of the participants.

    Ah, rational discourse. 😉

  22. 22
    kj says:

    I mean, what if a monolithic God was the creator of all things, and that God was a he, and he gave us lessons in growth (parent model), and those lessons were couched in scientific discoveries?

    We could argue about what those lessons were, and where we were at with learning them. (I mean, this is leaving out entirely where we are “at” with learning and practice from the teachings of His prophets, Moses, Christ, and Mohammad.)

    Of course, believers in other religions would feel slighted by this example. But with enough room for imagination, their beliefs could be thrown in the pot as well. For example, Eos, the Greek dawn goddess. Does she move around the earth? Or does the earth move around her? Who does the moving? And why?

    Sorry for the simple examples. I’m simple-minded. 🙂

  23. 23
    kj says:

    I mean, I doubt I’d be in the Richard Dawkins discussion circle. He has a much greater grasp of science than I’ll ever have. (Or truthfully, ever want to have.)

    “Leave science to the scientists!” (PLEASE!) LOL

  24. 24
    Ron Chusid says:

    kj,

    You should check out Brothers and Sisters. That family also has their share of political arguments.

    I’d prefer Atlas Shrugged to the BIrcher book thingy.

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