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Richard Dawkins

The hypothesis of God offers no worthwhile explanation for anything, for it simply postulates what we are trying to explain.

Dawkins, who held the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, is known for his books The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene, River out of Eden and Climbing Mount Improbable. In all of his work he successfully explains how complex forms of life evolved from simple forms of life. In a number of lectures and debates, notably the Voltaire Lecture "Viruses of the Mind", he demands that scientists and other rational people stop waffling and accept the lack of evidence for religious claims and draw the obvious conclusions: there is no god, and religion is a pack of lies.


His 2006 book The God Delusion critically examines religion and its claims. As of late October 2006, it ranks near the top of the bestseller lists.

Richard Dawkins reads The God Delusion

Along with the book came the launch of The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science


"The survival value of the god meme in the meme pool results from its great psychological appeal. It provides a superficially plausible answer to deep and troubling questions about existence. It suggests that injustices in this world may be rectified in the next. The 'everlasting arms' hold out a cushion against our own inadequacies which, like a doctor's placebo, is none the less effective for being imaginary. These are some of the reasons why the idea of God is copied so readily by successive generations of individual brains. God exists, if only in the form of a meme with high survival value, or infective power, in the environment provided by human culture." -- from The Selfish Gene


Dawkins wrote an article for Free Inquiry magazine (Volume 18, Number 2) where he disputes the claim that science and religion occupy separate domains. It can be found at http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/dawkins_18_2.html


The following interview is excerpted from a conversation between Mother Jones contributing writer Michael Krasny and Richard Dawkins [...]. The interview took place on March 17, 1997, at San Francisco's Herbst Theater at a California Academy of Sciences benefit.

MK: You're known for your atheism and your comment that "religion is a virus." Are you more tolerant toward religion these days?

RD: No. I am often asked to explain as a biologist why religion has such a hold. The theory is this: When a child is young, for good Darwinian reasons, it would be valuable if the child believed everything it's told. A child needs to learn a language, it needs to learn the social customs of its people, it needs to learn all sorts of rules -- like don't put your finger in the fire, and don't pick up snakes, and don't eat red berries. There are lots of things that for good survival reasons a child needs to learn.

So it's understandable that Darwinian natural selection would have built into the child's brain the rule of thumb, "Be fantastically gullible; believe everything you're told by your elders and betters."

That's a good rule, and it works. But any rule that says "Believe everything you're told" is automatically going to be vulnerable to parasitization. Computers, for example, are vulnerable to parasitization because they believe all they're told. If you tell them in the right programming language, they'll do it. Computer viruses work by somebody writing a program that says, "Duplicate me and, while you're at it, erase this entire disk."

My point is that the survival mechanism that makes children's brains believe what they're told -- for good reason -- is automatically vulnerable to parasitic codes such as "You must believe in the great juju in the sky," or "You must kneel down and face east and pray five times a day." These codes are then passed down through generations. And there's no obvious reason why it should stop.

There's an additional factor in the virus theory, which is that those viruses that are good at surviving will be the ones that are more likely to survive. So, if the virus says, "If you don't believe in this you will go to hell when you die," that's a pretty potent threat, especially to a child. Or, if it says, "When you become a little bit older you will meet people who will tell you the opposite of this, and they will have remarkably plausible arguments and they'll have lots of what they'll call evidence on their side and you'll be really tempted to believe it, but the more tempted you are, the more that's just Satan getting at you." This is exactly what many creationists in this country have been primed with.

MK: You've said that when you discovered Darwin, everything fell into place. You felt a peace of mind. How was your atheism confirmed by Darwinism?

RD: Before I discovered Darwin, I was fascinated by the apparent design and beauty of living things. I knew enough biology to know that living creatures are prodigiously complicated and elegant. They look exactly as though they'd been designed. That was why I believed in a divine creator. Because I had been so persuaded by this argument for design, when I discovered Darwinism, I had a kind of "road to Damascus" experience.

I think there is a serenity that comes from understanding, from being able to solve a mystery. And the bigger the mystery, the greater the serenity. When you think about the diversity, complexity, and beauty of life -- the elegance of the apparent design of life -- it adds up to a colossal mystery. And the solution, Darwin's solution, is quite remarkably simple. My serenity comes from the satisfaction of seeing a really, really neat, elegant explanation that can explain so much.


In the following excerpt from "God's Utility Function," Scientific American, November 1995, p. 85 Dawkins questions the idea of a universe with a mystical purpose:

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, 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. <quoting Darwin:> The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

21-Jun-2003 Dawkins mentions this site in his column [1] in the Guardian. //Thanks Professor!//

More quotes from Richard Dawkins

"Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."

"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world." Lecture, Edinburgh Science Festival (1992)

Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end. -- "Religion's Misguided Missiles" (September 15, 2001)

"I do disapprove very strongly of labelling children, especially young children, as something like 'Catholic children' or 'Protestant children' or 'Islamic children'. That does seem to me to be very wicked because what you're in effect doing is making the assumption that the beliefs, the cosmology, the beliefs about the world, about life, are automatically going to be inherited in a way that you don't assume for anything else. (...) But society simply assumes, without even asking, that there is such a thing as a Catholic 4 year old, or a Muslim 4 year old. And that I do think is wicked."

"But as for theology itself, defined as "the organised body of knowledge dealing with the nature, attributes, and governance of God", a positive case now needs to be made that it has any real content at all, and that it has any place in today's universities."

"We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further." from Russel's Teapot video

"Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr's death will send them straight to heaven." - The Selfish Gene

"If you are in possession of this revolutionary secret of science, why not prove it and be hailed as the new Newton? Of course, we know the answer. You can't do it. You are a fake."

"The universe is a strange and wondrous place. The truth is quite odd enough to need no help from pseudoscientific charlatans."

"Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."

"We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators."

"Nearly all peoples have developed their own creation myths, and the Genesis story is just the one that happened to have been adopted by one particular tribe of Middle Eastern herders. It has no more special status than the belief of a particular West African tribe that the world was created from the excrement of ants."

"To describe religions as mind viruses is sometimes interpreted as contemptuous or even hostile. It is both. I am often asked why I am so hostile to organized religion." The Devil's Chaplain (2004)

"Are science and religion converging? No. There are modern scientists whose words sound religious but whose beliefs, on close examination, turn out to be identical to those of other scientists who straightforwardly call themselves atheists." The Devil's Chaplain (2004)

"To an honest judge, the alleged convergence between religion and science is a shallow, empty, hollow, spin-doctored sham."The Devil's Chaplain (2004)

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." - from the opening of his book The God Delusion

"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." - River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995)

"A mind like that of a Young Earth creationist, it seems to me, is a disgrace to the human species."

"People sometimes try to score debating points by saying, "Evolution is only a theory." That is correct, but it's important to understand what that means. It is also only a theory that the world goes round the Sun -- it's just a theory for which there is an immense amount of evidence.

There are many scientific theories that are in doubt. Even within evolution, there is some room for controversy. But that we are cousins of apes and jackals and starfish, let's say, that is a fact in the ordinary sense of the word." from Nick Pollard's interview with Richard Dawkins More information about evolution being both a fact and a theory from Laurence Moran.

"I suspect the reason is that most people ... have a residue of feeling that Darwinian evolution isn't quite big enough to explain everything about life. All I can say as a biologist is that the feeling disappears progressively the more you read about and study what is known about life and evolution. I want to add one thing more. The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and towards atheism. Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things." - Richard Dawkins, from The New Humanist, the Journal of the Rationalist Press Association, Vol 107 No 2 [2]

Perhaps the best of the available euphemisms for atheist is nontheist. It lacks the connotation of positive conviction that there is definitely no god, and it could therefore easily be embraced by Teapot or Tooth Fairy Agnostics. It is less familiar than atheist and lacks its phobic connotations. Yet, unlike a completely new coining, its meaning is clear. If we want a euphemism at all, nontheist is probably the best.

The alternative which I favor is to renounce all euphemisms and grasp the nettle of the word atheism itself, precisely because it is a taboo word carrying frissons of hysterical phobia. Critical mass may be harder to achieve than with some non-confrontational euphemism, but if we did achieve it with the dread word atheist, the political impact would be all the greater. -- Richard Dawkins, following a list of excerpts from hate mail sent to the editor of Freethought Today, after she won a separationist court battle, in "A Challenge To Atheists: Come Out of the Closet" (Free Inquiry, Summer, 2002)[3]

External Links

A May 2005 interview with Dawkins wherein he discusses his atheism: The atheist: Interview with Richard Dawkins

Collection of audio and video files featuring Dawkins discussing religion, evolution and related topics: [4]

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