Richard Dawkins

English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author

Richard Dawkins (born 26 March 1941) is a British evolutionary biologist and author. He is known for his advocacy of atheism.

There's real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.

Quotes edit

  • Just because science can't in practice explain things like the love that motivates a poet to write a sonnet, that doesn't mean that religion can. It's a simple and logical fallacy to say, 'If science can't do something, therefore religion can'.
  • So to the book's provocation, the statement that nearly half the people in the United States don't believe in evolution. Not just any people but powerful people, people who should know better, people with too much influence over educational policy. We are not talking about Darwin's particular theory of natural selection. It is still (just) possible for a biologist to doubt its importance, and a few claim to. No, we are here talking about the fact of evolution itself, a fact that is proved utterly beyond reasonable doubt. To claim equal time for creation science in biology classes is about as sensible as to claim equal time for the flat-earth theory in astronomy classes. Or, as someone has pointed out, you might as well claim equal time in sex education classes for the stork theory. It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).

    If that gives you offence, I'm sorry. You are probably not stupid, insane or wicked; and ignorance is no crime in a country with strong local traditions of interference in the freedom of biology educators to teach the central theorem of their subject.

    • "Put Your Money on Evolution". The New York Times Review of Books: p. 35. 9 April 1989. 
    • Reviewing Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution (1989) by Maitland A. Edey and Donald C. Johanson
    • Last sentence expanded upon in "Ignorance is No Crime" (2001) (see below)
  • 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.
  • It is often said, mainly by the 'no-contests', that although there is no positive evidence for the existence of God, nor is there evidence against his existence. So it is best to keep an open mind and be agnostic. At first sight that seems an unassailable position, at least in the weak sense of Pascal's wager. But on second thoughts it seems a cop-out, because the same could be said of Father Christmas and tooth fairies. There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can't prove that there aren't any, so shouldn't we be agnostic with respect to fairies?
  • You see, if you say something positive like the whole of life – all living things – is descended from a single common ancestor which lived about 4,000 million years ago and that we are all cousins, well that is an exceedingly important and true thing to say and that is what I want to say. Somebody who is religious sees that as threatening and so I am represented as attacking religion, and I am forced into responding to their reaction. But you do not have to see my main purpose as attacking religion. Certainly I see the scientific view of the world as incompatible with religion, but that is not what is interesting about it. It is also incompatible with magic, but that also is not worth stressing. What is interesting about the scientific world view is that it is true, inspiring, remarkable and that it unites a whole lot of phenomena under a single heading. And that is what is so exciting for me.
  • What worries me about religion is that it teaches people to be satisfied with not understanding the world they live in.
    • Heart Of The Matter: God Under The Microscope | BBC (1996)
  • Yet scientists are required to back up their claims not with private feelings but with publicly checkable evidence. Their experiments must have rigorous controls to eliminate spurious effects. And statistical analysis eliminates the suspicion (or at least measures the likelihood) that the apparent effect might have happened by chance alone.

    Paranormal phenomena have a habit of going away whenever they are tested under rigorous conditions. This is why the £740,000 reward of James Randi, offered to anyone who can demonstrate a paranormal effect under proper scientific controls, is safe. Why don't the television editors insist on some equivalently rigorous test? Could it be that they believe the alleged paranormal powers would evaporate and bang go the ratings?

    Consider this. If a paranormalist could really give an unequivocal demonstration of telepathy (precognition, psychokinesis, reincarnation, whatever it is), he would be the discoverer of a totally new principle unknown to physical science. The discoverer of the new energy field that links mind to mind in telepathy, or of the new fundamental force that moves objects around a table top, deserves a Nobel prize and would probably get one. 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.

    Yet the final indictment against the television decision-makers is more profound and more serious. Their recent splurge of paranormalism debauches true science and undermines the efforts of their own excellent science departments. The universe is a strange and wondrous place. The truth is quite odd enough to need no help from pseudo-scientific charlatans. The public appetite for wonder can be fed, through the powerful medium of television, without compromising the principles of honesty and reason.

    • "Human gullibility beyond belief,— the “paranormal” in the media". The Sunday Times. 25 August 1996. 
Faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.
  • It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, "mad cow" disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.
  • The popularity of the paranormal, oddly enough, might even be grounds for encouragement. I think that the appetite for mystery, the enthusiasm for that which we do not understand, is healthy and to be fostered. It is the same appetite which drives the best of true science, and it is an appetite which true science is best qualified to satisfy.
  • The reason Smolin's idea is interesting is that it may answer the challenge, "The universe is too good to be true. It looks like a put-up job." But, note that the Smolin hypothesis cannot be used to account in particular for the BIOLOGICAL part of that "too good to be true". Smolinian selection may account for the fact that our universe has the necessary constants, dimensionality and laws to last for last for a long time (not fizzle out or crunch immediately its initiating bang), long enough to spawn daughter universes (and INCIDENTALLY long enough to breed life). But Smolinian selection cannot account for the fact that our universe is specifically congenial to life, or to intelligent life, or to us. My negative conclusion would break down only if life itself is in the habit of engineering the spawning of daughter universes. As far as I am aware, this hasn't been suggested, but it is, I suppose, a theoretical possibility that daughter universes are generated as a consequence of the fooling around of highly evolved physicists.
  • 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.
    • "When Religion Steps on Science’s Turf", Free Inquiry (1998)
  • I don't withdraw a word of my initial statement. But I do now think it may have been incomplete. There is perhaps a fifth category, which may belong under "insane" but which can be more sympathetically characterized by a word like tormented, bullied, or brainwashed. Sincere people who are not ignorant, not stupid, and not wicked can be cruelly torn, almost in two, between the massive evidence of science on the one hand, and their understanding of what their holy book tells them on the other. I think this is one of the truly bad things religion can do to a human mind. There is wickedness here, but it is the wickedness of the institution and what it does to a believing victim, not wickedness on the part of the victim himself.
    • "Ignorance Is No Crime", Free Inquiry 21 (3), Summer 2001, ISSN 0272-0701 
    • Regarding his 1989 statement "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." (see above)
  • Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!
  • We've reached a truly remarkable situation: a grotesque mismatch between the American intelligentsia and the American electorate. A philosophical opinion about the nature of the universe which is held by the vast majority of top American scientists, and probably the majority of the intelligentsia generally, is so abhorrent to the American electorate that no candidate for popular election dare affirm it in public. If I'm right, this means that high office in the greatest country in the world is barred to the very people best qualified to hold it: the intelligentsia, unless they are prepared to lie about their beliefs. To put it bluntly American political opportunities are heavily loaded against those who are simultaneously intelligent and honest.
  • An atheist is just somebody who feels about Yahweh the way any decent Christian feels about Thor or Baal or the golden calf. As has been said before, we are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
  • The population of the US is nearly 300 million, including many of the best educated, most talented, most resourceful, humane people on earth. By almost any measure of civilised attainment, from Nobel prize-counts on down, the US leads the world by miles. You would think that a country with such resources, and such a field of talent, would be able to elect a leader of the highest quality. Yet, what has happened? At the end of all the primaries and party caucuses, the speeches and the televised debates, after a year or more of non-stop electioneering bustle, who, out of that entire population of 300 million, emerges at the top of the heap? George Bush.
  • The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing, is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.
  • Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional "next world" is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.
  • Basil Fawlty, British television's hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn't start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. "Right! I warned you. You've had this coming to you!" He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality. Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem. Is the carburettor flooded? Are the sparking plugs or distributor points damp? Has it simply run out of gas? Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don't we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal, just as heartily as we laugh at Basil Fawlty? Or at King Xerxes who, in 480 BC, sentenced the rough sea to 300 lashes for wrecking his bridge of ships? Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?
  • Just because science so far has failed to explain something, such as consciousness, to say it follows that the facile, pathetic explanations which religion has produced somehow by default must win the argument is really quite ridiculous.
  • Well, what if I'm wrong, I mean — anybody could be wrong. We could all be wrong about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the pink unicorn and the flying teapot. You happen to have been brought up, I would presume, in a Christian faith. You know what it's like to not believe in a particular faith because you're not a Muslim. You're not a Hindu. Why aren't you a Hindu? Because you happen to have been brought up in America, not in India. If you had been brought up in India, you'd be a Hindu. If you had been brought up in Denmark in the time of the Vikings, you'd be believing in Wotan and Thor. If you were brought up in classical Greece, you'd be believing in Zeus. If you were brought up in central Africa, you'd be believing in the great Juju up the mountain. There's no particular reason to pick on the Judeo-Christian god, in which by the sheerest accident you happen to have been brought up and ask me the question, "What if I'm wrong?" What if you're wrong about the great Juju at the bottom of the sea?
    • Answering audience questions after a reading of The God Delusion[1], Randolph-Macon Woman's College, (23 October 2006)
    • Posed question: "This is probably going to be the most simplest one for you to answer, but: What if you're wrong?"
  • But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as "these are not one-dimensional abilities" apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice. I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?
  • "The wheel may be one of those cases where the engineering solution can be seen in plain view, yet be unattainable in evolution because it lies [on] the other side of a deep valley, cutting unbridgeably across the massif of Mount Improbable."
  • Even sticking to the higher plane of love, is it so very obvious that you can't love more than one person? We seem to manage it with parental love (parents are reproached if they don't at least pretend to love all their children equally), love of books, of food, of wine (love of Chateau Margaux does not preclude love of a fine Hock, and we don't feel unfaithful to the red when we dally with the white), love of composers, poets, holiday beaches, friends . . . why is erotic love the one exception that everybody instantly acknowledges without even thinking about it?
  • I'm not one of those who wants to stop Christian traditions. This is historically a Christian country. I'm a cultural Christian the same way as many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims. So, yes, I love singing carols along with everybody else. I'm not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.
    • BBC's Have Your Say (December 2007)
  • It would be deeply depressing if the only way children could get moral values was from religion. Either from scripture, and God knows we don't want them to get it from scripture, I mean, just look at scripture. Or, from being afraid of God, being intimidated by God. Anybody who is good for only those two reasons is not really being good at all. Why not teach children things like the Golden Rule, do as you would be done by, how would you like it if other children did that to you, so why do you do it to them... I think it's depressing that anybody should suggest that you actually need God in order to be moral. I would hope that our morals come from a better source than that, and therefore they are genuinely moral rather than based on outmoded scripture, or based on fear.
    • BBC, (29 January 2008)
  • Ben Stein: What do think is the possibility that intelligent design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics, or in evolution?
    Richard Dawkins: Well, it could come about in the following way: it could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved by probably some kind of Darwinian means to a very, very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto, perhaps, this planet. Now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it's possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of our chemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer, and that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe. But that higher intelligence would itself have had to have come about by some explicable, or ultimately explicable, process. It couldn't have just jumped into existence spontaneously. That's the point.
  • Our ethics and our politics assume, largely without question or serious discussion, that the division between human and 'animal' is absolute. 'Pro-life', to take just one example, is a potent political badge, associated with a gamut of ethical issues such as opposition to abortion and euthanasia.
What it really means is pro-human-life. Abortion clinic bombers are not known for their veganism, nor do Roman Catholics show any particular reluctance to have their suffering pets 'put to sleep'. In the minds of many confused people, a single-celled human zygote, which has no nerves and cannot suffer, is infinitely sacred, simply because it is 'human'. No other cells enjoy this exalted status.
But such 'essentialism' is deeply un-evolutionary. If there were a heaven in which all the animals who ever lived could frolic, we would find an interbreeding continuum between every species and every other. For example I could interbreed with a female who could interbreed with a male who could ... fill in a few gaps, probably not very many in this case ... who could interbreed with a chimpanzee.
We could construct longer, but still unbroken chains of interbreeding individuals to connect a human with a warthog, a kangaroo, a catfish. This is not a matter of speculative conjecture; it necessarily follows from the fact of evolution.
A successful hybridisation between a human and a chimpanzee. Even if the hybrid were infertile like a mule, the shock waves that would be sent through society would be salutary. This is why a distinguished biologist described this possibility as the most immoral scientific experiment he could imagine: it would change everything! It cannot be ruled out as impossible, but it would be surprising.
  • Unfortunately, instead of working out that they have probably misunderstood evolution, creationists conclude, instead, that evolution must be false.
  • "I can think of no moral objection to eating human road kills except for the ones that you mentioned like 'what would the relatives think about it?' and 'would the person themselves have wanted it to happen?', but I do worry a bit about slippery slopes; possibly a little bit more than you do.

    There are barriers that we have set up in our minds and certainly the barrier between Homo sapiens and any other species is an artificial barrier in the sense that its a kind of 'accident' that the evolutionary intermediates happen to be extinct. Never the less it exists and natural barriers that are there can be useful for preventing slippery slopes and therefore I think I can see an objection to breaching such a barrier because you are then in a weaker position to stop people going further.

    Another example might be suppose you take the argument in favour of abortion up until the baby was one year old, if a baby was one year old and turned out to have some horrible incurable disease that meant it was going to die in agony in later life, what about infanticide? Strictly morally I can see no objection to that at all, I would be in favour of infanticide but I think i would worry about/I think I would wish at least to give consideration to the person who says 'where does it end?' "

    • Peter Singer - The Genius of Darwin: The Uncut Interviews (2009)
  • The absolute morality that the religious person might profess would include what, stoning people for adultery, death for apostasy, punishment for breaking the Sabbath; these are all things which are religiously based absolute moralities. I don't think I want an absolute morality. I think I want a morality that is thought-out, reasoned, argued, discussed—based upon, almost say—intelligent design. Can we not design our society which has the sort of morality, the sort of society we want to live in?
    • Dawkins on Q&A (2010-08-03), replying to a Muslim man who asked about 'absolute morality'. [2]
  • Every person I met believes if there is any disagreement between the Koran and science, then the Koran wins. It's just utterly deplorable. These are now British children who are having their minds stuffed with alien rubbish. Occasionally, my colleagues lecturing in universities lament having undergraduate students walk out of their classes when they talk about evolution. This is almost entirely Muslims.
  • Dear Muslima

    Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don't tell me yet again, I know you aren't allowed to drive a car, and you can't leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you'll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

    Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep"chick", and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn't lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

    And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.


  • The absolute morality that a religious person might profess would include what, stoning people for adultery, death for apostasy, punishment for breaking the Sabbath. These are all things which are religiously based absolute moralities. I don't think I want an absolute morality. I think I want a morality that is thought out, reasoned, argued, discussed and based upon, I'd almost say, intelligent design [pun intended]. Can we not design our society, which has the sort of morality, the sort of society that we want to live in – if you actually look at the moralities that are accepted among modern people, among 21st century people, we don't believe in slavery anymore. We believe in equality of women. We believe in being gentle. We believe in being kind to animals. These are all things which are entirely recent. They have very little basis in Biblical or Quranic scripture. They are things that have developed over historical time through a consensus of reasoning, of sober discussion, argument, legal theory, political and moral philosophy. These do not come from religion. To the extent that you can find the good bits in religious scriptures, you have to cherry pick. You search your way through the Bible or the Quran and you find the occasional verse that is an acceptable profession of morality and you say, ‘Look at that. That’s religion,’ and you leave out all the horrible bits and you say, ‘Oh, we don’t believe that anymore. We’ve grown out of that.’ Well, of course we've grown out it. We've grown out of it because of secular moral philosophy and rational discussion.
    • Richard Dawkins-George Pell Q&A (2012)
  • I can't be sure God does not exist... On a scale of seven, where one means I know he exists, and seven I know he doesn't, I call myself a six... That doesn't mean I'm absolutely confident, that I absolutely know, because I don't.
  • I am often accused of expressing contempt and despising religious people. I don't despise religious people, I despise what they stand for. I like to quote the British journalist Johann Hari who said, "I have so much respect for you, that I cannot respect your ridiculous ideas."
  • I don't believe you until you tell me, do you really believe, for example, if they say they are Catholic, "Do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?" Mock them. Ridicule them. In public. Don't fall for the convention that we're all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.
  • I am extremely pleased by Daniel Fincke's article, which says exactly what I SHOULD have said and, to my regret, didn't make sufficiently clear in my Reason Rally speech. The best way to summarise it would be to modify the quotation from Johann Hari. Johann said, "I respect you too much to respect your ridiculous beliefs". From now on, my version will be, "I respect you too much to accept that you really believe anything so ridiculous as you claim. Please either defend those beliefs and explain why they are not ridiculous, or else declare that you do not hold them and publicly disown the church to which you claim loyalty."
  • What I can't understand is why you can't see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that life started from nothing – that is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God?”
  • "Imagine you are God. You’re all-powerful, nothing is beyond you. You’re all-loving. So it is really, really important to you that humans are left in no doubt about your existence and your loving nature, and exactly what they need to do in order to get to heaven and avoid eternity in the fires of hell. It’s really important to you to get that across. So what do you do? Well, if you’re Jehovah, apparently this is what you do. You talk in riddles. You tell stories which on the surface have a different message from the one you apparently want us to understand. You expect us to hear X, and instinctively understand that it needs to be interpreted in the light of Y, which you happen to have said in the course of a completely different story 500-1,000 years earlier. Instead of speaking directly into our heads - which God has presumed the capability of doing so - simply, clearly and straightforwardly in terms which the particular individual being addressed will immediately understand and respond to positively - you steep your messages in symbols, in metaphors. In fact, you choose to convey the most important message in the history of creation in code, as if you aspired to be Umberto Eco or Dan Brown. Anyone would think your top priority was to keep generation after generation after generation of theologians in meaningless employment, rather than communicate an urgent life-or-death message to the creatures you love more than any other."
    • FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) 2012 National Convention, 2012-12-10 [3]
  • I am very conscious that you can't condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don't look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can't find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.
  • SJWs can't forgive Shakespeare for having the temerity to be white and male.
    • In 2014, as quoted in The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement (2015), Stephen LeDrew
  • We're too stupid to decide on EU (that includes me)
  • I think there really is a place for science in literature and I think that may be increasing
  • People are terrified of being thought racist, there's an awful confusion in many people's minds. They think Islam is a race, which of course it isn't
  • If you're seen to criticise Islam you are often accused of racism, which is absurd.
  • I'm all for offending people's religion. I think it should be offended at every opportunity
  • In the case of immigrants from Syria and Iraq I would like to see special preference given to apostates, people who have given up Islam, they are in particular danger.
  • science is the best way to do anything (if you want to do terrible things with technology, a terrible weapons for example science is the best way to do it because science is the best way to do anything)
  • evidence is the only good reason to believe anything
    • interview shown in AlJazeera [4], [5]
  • It's tempting to say all religions are bad, and I do say all religions are bad, but it's a worse temptation to say all religions are equally bad because they're not. If you look at the actual impact that different religions have on the world it's quite apparent that at present the most evil religion in the world has to be Islam. It's terribly important to modify that because of course that doesn't mean all Muslims are evil, very far from it. Individual Muslims suffer more from Islam than anyone else. They suffer from the homophobia, the misogyny, the joylessness which is preached by extreme Islam, Isis and the Iranian regime. So it is a major evil in the world, we do have to combat it, but we don't do what Trump did and say all Muslims should be shut out of the country. That's draconian, that's illiberal, inhumane and wicked. I am against Islam not least because of the unpleasant effects it has on the lives of Muslims.
  • Is trans ideology becoming a religion? Well, it has some of the attributes. [...] Of course, it's not a religion in the sense of believing in the supernatural, but the zealous hunting down and punishing of heretics, that's very like a religion.
  • I speak as a biologist. There aren't many absolutely clear distinctions in biology. Mostly what we have is a spectrum. But the male-female divide is exceptional in biology. It really is a true binary.

The Selfish Gene (1976, 1989) edit

They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.
  • I would mind more if I could claim that The Selfish Gene had become severely outmoded and superseded. Unfortunately (from one point of view) I cannot. Details have changed and factual examples burgeoned mightily. But, with an exception that I shall discuss in a moment, there is little in the book that I would rush to take back now, or apologize for. Arthur Cain, late Professor of Zoology at Liverpool and one of my inspiring tutors at Oxford in the sixties, described The Selfish Gene in 1976 as a ‘young man’s book’. He was deliberately quoting a commentator on A. J. Ayer’s Language Truth and Logic. I was flattered by the comparison, although I knew that Ayer had recanted much of his first book and I could hardly miss Cain’s pointed implication that I should, in the fullness of time, do the same.
    • Introduction to 30th Anniversary Edition (2005)
  • The selfish gene theory is Darwin’s theory, expressed in a way that Darwin did not choose but whose aptness, I should like to think, he would instantly have recognized and delighted in. It is in fact a logical outgrowth of orthodox neo-Darwinism, but expressed as a novel image. Rather than focus on the individual organism, it takes a gene’s eye view of nature. It is a different way of seeing, not a different theory.
    • Preface to Second Edition (1989)
  • We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.
    • Preface to the first edition
  • Three imaginary readers looked over my shoulder while I was writing, and I now dedicate the book to them. First the general reader, the layman. For him I have avoided technical jargon almost totally, and where I have had to use specialized words I have defined them. [...]
    My second imaginary reader was the expert. He has been a harsh critic, sharply drawing in his breath at some of my analogies and figures of speech. His favourite phrases are ‘with the exception of’; ‘but on the other hand’; and ‘ugh’. I listened to him attentively, and even completely rewrote one chapter entirely for his benefit, but in the end I have had to tell the story my way. The expert will still not be totally happy with the way I put things. Yet my greatest hope is that even he will find something new here; a new way of looking at familiar ideas perhaps; even stimulation of new ideas of his own. If this is too high an aspiration, may I at least hope that the book will entertain him on a train?
    The third reader I had in mind was the student, making the transition from layman to expert. If he still has not made up his mind what field he wants to be an expert in, I hope to encourage him to give my own field of zoology a second glance. There is a better reason for studying zoology than its possible ‘usefulness’, and the general likeableness of animals. This reason is that we animals are the most complicated and perfectly-designed pieces of machinery in the known universe. Put it like that, and it is hard to see why anybody studies anything else!
    • Preface to the first edition
  • Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin. To be fair, others had had inklings of the truth, but it was Darwin who first put together a coherent and tenable account of why we exist.
    • Ch. 1. Why Are People?
  • We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man?
    • Ch. 1. Why Are People?
  • Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun, but the full implications of Darwin’s revolution have yet to be widely realized.
    • Ch. 1. Why Are People?
  • The argument of this book is that we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes.
    • Ch. 1. Why Are People?
  • I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave.
    • Ch. 1. Why Are People?
  • Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.
    • Ch. 1. Why Are People?
  • The individual selectionist would admit that groups do indeed die out, and that whether or not a group goes extinct may be influenced by the behaviour of the individuals in that group. He might even admit that if only the individuals in a group had the gift of foresight they could see that in the long run their own best interests lay in restraining their selfish greed, to prevent the destruction of the whole group. How many times must this have been said in recent years to the working people of Britain? But group extinction is a slow process compared with the rapid cut and thrust of individual competition. Even while the group is going slowly and inexorably downhill, selfish individuals prosper in the short term at the expense of altruists. The citizens of Britain may or may not be blessed with foresight, but evolution is blind to the future.
    • Ch. 1. Why Are People?
  • Darwin's ‘survival of the fittest’ is really a special case of a more general law of survival of the stable. The universe is populated by stable things. The universe is populated by stable things. A stable thing is a collection of atoms that is permanent enough or common enough to deserve a name. It may be a unique collection of atoms, such as the Matterhorn, that lasts long enough to be worth naming. Or it may be a class of entities, such as rain drops, that come into existence at a sufficiently high rate to deserve a collective name, even if any one of them is short-lived.
    • Ch. 2. The replicators
  • Should we then call the original replicator molecules ‘living’? Who cares? I might say to you ‘Darwin was the greatest man who has ever lived’, and you might say ‘No, Newton was’, but I hope we would not prolong the argument. The point is that no conclusion of substance would be affected whichever way our argument was resolved. The facts of the lives and achievements of Newton and Darwin remain totally unchanged whether we label them ‘great’ or not. Similarly, the story of the replicator molecules probably happened something like the way I am telling it, regardless of whether we choose to call them ‘living’. Human suffering has been caused because too many of us cannot grasp that words are only tools for our use, and that the mere presence in the dictionary of a word like ‘living’ does not mean it necessarily has to refer to something definite in the real world. Whether we call the early replicators living or not, they were the ancestors of life; they were our founding fathers.
    • Ch. 2. The replicators
  • They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.
    • Ch. 2. The replicators
  • Genes do indirectly control the manufacture of bodies, and the influence is strictly one way: acquired characteristics are not inherited. No matter how much knowledge and wisdom you acquire during your life, not one jot will be passed on to your children by genetic means. Each new generation starts from scratch.
    • Ch. 3. Immortal Coils
  • No doubt some of your cousins and great-uncles died in childhood, but not a single one of your ancestors did. Ancestors just don't die young!
    • Ch. 3. Immortal Coils
  • Survival machines that can simulate the future are one jump ahead of survival machines that who can only learn of the basis of trial and error. The trouble with overt trial is that it takes time and energy. The trouble with overt error is that it is often fatal. ...The evolution of the capacity to simulate seems to have culminated in subjective consciousness. Why this should have happened is, to me, the most profound mystery facing modern biology.
    • Ch. 4. The Gene machine
  • The genes are the master programmers, and they are programming for their lives.
    • Ch. 4. The Gene machine
  • Whenever a system of communication evolves, there is always the danger that some will exploit the system for their own ends.
    • Ch. 4. The Gene machine
  • In particular, it is certainly wrong to condemn poor old Homo sapiens as the only species to kill his own kind, the only inheritor of the mark of Cain, and similar melodramatic charges. Whether a naturalist stresses the violence or the restraint of animal aggression depends partly on the kinds of animals he is used to watching, and partly on his evolutionary preconceptions—Lorenz is, after all, a ‘good of the species’ man. Even if it has been exaggerated, the gloved fist view of animal fights seems to have at least some truth. Superficially this looks like a form of altruism. The selfish gene theory must face up to the difficult task of explaining it. Why is it that animals do not go all out to kill rival members of their species at every possible opportunity?
    • Ch. 5. Aggression: stability and the selfish machine
  • Group selection theory would therefore predict a tendency to evolve towards an all-dove conspiracy ... But the trouble with conspiracies, even those that are to everybody's advantage in the long run, is that they are open to abuse.
    • Ch. 5. Aggression: stability and the selfish machine
  • ... a lion wants to eat an antelope's body, but the antelope has very different plans for its body. This is not normally regarded as competition for a resource, but logically it is hard to see why not.
    • Ch. 5. Aggression: stability and the selfish machine
  • What is the selfish gene? It is not just one single physical bit of DNA. Just as in the primeval soup, it is all replicas of a particular bit of DNA, distributed throughout the world.
    • Ch. 6. Genesmanship
  • ... a gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this would appear as individual altruism but it would be brought about by gene selfishness.
    • Ch. 6. Genesmanship
  • It is normally possible to be much more certain who your children are than who your brothers are. And you can be more certain still who you yourself are!
    • Ch. 6. Genesmanship
  • The truth is that all examples of child protection and parental care, and all associated bodily organs ... are examples of the working in nature of the kin-selection principle.
    • Ch. 6. Genesmanship
  • But you cannot have an unnatural welfare state, unless you also have unnatural birth control, otherwise the end result will be misery even greater than that which obtains in nature.
    • Ch. 7. Family planning
  • It is hard to believe that this simple truth is not understood by those leaders who forbid their followers to use effective contraceptive methods. They express a preference for ‘natural’ methods of population limitation, and a natural method is exactly what they are going to get. It is called starvation.
    • Ch. 7. Family planning
  • A system whereby each child told the parent how hungry he was would be ideal for the parent, and, as we have seen, such a system seems to have evolved. But the young are in a strong position to lie, because they know exactly how hungry they are, while the parent can only guess whether they are telling the truth or not. It is almost impossible for a parent to detect a small lie, although it might see through a big one.
    • Ch. 8. Battle of the Generations
  • One feature of our own society that seems decidedly anomalous is the matter of sexual advertisement. As we have seen, it is strongly to be expected on evolutionary grounds that, where the sexes differ, it should be the males that advertise and the females that are drab. Modern western man is undoubtedly exceptional in this respect. It is of course true that some men dress flamboyantly and some women dress drably but, on average, there can be no doubt that in our society the equivalent of the peacock's tail is exhibited by the female, not by the male. Women paint their faces and glue on false eyelashes. Apart from special cases, like actors, men do not.
    • Ch. 9. Battle of the Sexes
  • Elizabeth II is a direct descendant of William the Conqueror. Yet it is quite probable that she bares not a single one of the old king's genes.
    • Ch. 11. Memes: the new replicators
  • The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.
    • Ch. 11. Memes: the new replicators
  • If we want to know where the truth lies in particular cases, we have to look. What the Darwinian corpus gives us is not detailed expectations about particular organisms. It gives us something subtler and more valuable: understanding of principle. But if we must have myths, the real facts about vampires could tell a different moral tale.
    • Ch. 12. Nice Guys Finish First
  • Replicators are no longer peppered freely through the sea; they are packaged in huge colonies—individual bodies. And phenotypic consequences, instead of being evenly distributed throughout the world, have in many cases congealed into those same bodies. But the individual body, so familiar to us on our planet, did not have to exist. The only kind of entity that has to exist in order for life to arise, anywhere in the universe, is the immortal replicator.
    • Ch. 13. The Long Reach of the Gene

The Blind Watchmaker (1986) edit

  • Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.
    • Chapter 1 “Explaining the Very Improbable” (p. 5)
  • Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
    • Chapter 1 “Explaining the Very Improbable” (p. 6)
  • However many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead.
    • Chapter 1 “Explaining the Very Improbable”
  • Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of random.
    • Chapter 2 “Good Design” (p. 41)
  • Human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution.
    • Chapter 3 “Accumulating Small Change” (p. 50)
  • Natural selection is all about the differential success of rival DNA in getting itself transmitted vertically in the species archives.
    • Chapter 5 “The Power and the Archives” (p. 122)
  • To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer.
    • Chapter 6 “Origins and Miracles” (p. 141)
  • Our subjective judgment of what seems like a good bet is irrelevant to what is actually a good bet.
    • Chapter 6 “Origins and Miracles” (p. 162)
  • Contrary to earlier prejudices, there is nothing inherently progressive about evolution.
    • Chapter 7 “Constructive Evolution” (p. 178)
  • Evolution normally does not come to a halt, but constantly ‘tracks’ the changing environment.
    • Chapter 7 “Constructive Evolution” (p. 179)
  • It is generally characteristic of arms races, including human ones, that although all would be better off if none of them escalated, so long as one of them escalates none can afford not to.
    • Chapter 7 “Constructive Evolution” (p. 184)
  • There has been progress in design, but not progress in accomplishment.
    • Chapter 7 “Constructive Evolution” (p. 186)
  • The successful scientist and the raving crank are separated by the quality of their inspirations. But I suspect that this amounts, in practice, to a difference, not so much in ability to notice analogies as in ability to reject foolish analogies and pursue helpful ones.
    • Chapter 8 “Explosions and Spirals” (pp. 195–196)
  • There are people in the world who desperately want not to have to believe in Darwinism.
    • Chapter 9 “Puncturing Punctuationism” (p. 250)
  • This not only misses the point, it is the precise antithesis of the point.
    • Chapter 10 “The One True Tree of Life” (p. 261)
  • There is one particular property of living things, however, that I want to single out as explicable only by Darwinian selection. This property is the one that has been the recurring topic of this book: adaptive complexity.
    • Chapter 11 “Doomed Rivals” (p. 288)
  • If we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organized complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must have been vastly complex in the first place. The creationist, whether a naive Bible-thumper or an educated bishop, simply postulates an already existing being of prodigious intelligence and complexity. If we are going to allow ourselves the luxury of postulating organized complexity without offering an explanation, we might as well make a job of it and simply postulate the existence of life as we know it!
    • Chapter 11 “Doomed Rivals” (p. 316)

The Evolutionary Future of Man (1993) edit

Full text here. The Economist (11 September 1993), vol. 328, p. 87

  • There is no general reason to expect evolution to be progressive – even in the weak, value-neutral sense. There will be times when increased size of some organ is favoured and other times when decreased size is favoured. Most of the time, average-sized individuals will be favoured in the population and both extremes will be penalised. During these times the population exhibits evolutionary stasis (i.e., no change) with respect to the factor being measured. If we had a complete fossil record and looked for trends in some particular dimension, such as leg length, we would expect to see periods of no change alternating with fitful continuations or reversals in direction – like a weathervane in changeable, gusty weather.
  • Another force driving progressive evolution is the so-called "arms-race." Prey animals evolve faster running speeds because predators do. Consequently predators have to evolve even faster running speeds, and so on, in an escalating spiral. Such arms races probably account for the spectacularly advanced engineering of eyes, ears, brains, bat "radar" and all the other high-tech weaponry that animals display.
  • It may be that brain hardware has co-evolved with the internal virtual worlds that it creates. This can be called hardware-software co-evolution.
  • It is an article of passionate faith among "politically correct" biologists and anthropologists that brain size has no connection with intelligence; that intelligence has nothing to do with genes; and that genes are probably nasty fascist things anyway.
  • The likelihood is that, in 100,000 years time, we shall either have reverted to wild barbarism, or else civilisation will have advanced beyond all recognition – into colonies in outer space, for instance. In either case, evolutionary extrapolations from present conditions are likely to be highly misleading.
  • The late Christopher Evans, a psychologist and author, calculated that if the motor car had evolved as fast as the computer, and over the same time period, "Today you would be able to buy a Rolls-Royce for £35, it would do three million miles to the gallon, and it would deliver enough power to drive the QE2 And if you were interested in miniaturisation, you could place half a dozen of them on a pinhead."
  • Scientific and technological progress themselves are value-neutral. They are just very good at doing what they do. If you want to do selfish, greedy, intolerant and violent things, scientific technology will provide you with by far the most efficient way of doing so. But if you want to do good, to solve the world's problems, to progress in the best value-laden sense, once again, there is no better means to those ends than the scientific way.

Viruses of the Mind (1993) edit

  • I have just discovered that without her father's consent this sweet, trusting, gullible six-year-old is being sent, for weekly instruction, to a Roman Catholic nun. What chance has she?
  • With so many mind-bytes to be downloaded, so many mental codons to be replicated, it is no wonder that child brains are gullible, open to almost any suggestion, vulnerable to subversion, easy prey to Moonies, Scientologists and nuns. Like immune-deficient patients, children are wide open to mental infections that adults might brush off without effort.
  • Think about the two qualities that a virus, or any sort of parasitic replicator, demands of a friendly medium, the two qualities that make cellular machinery so friendly towards parasitic DNA, and that make computers so friendly towards computer viruses. These qualities are, firstly, a readiness to replicate information accurately, perhaps with some mistakes that are subsequently reproduced accurately; and, secondly, a readiness to obey instructions encoded in the information so replicated.
  • The second requirement of a virus-friendly environment – that it should obey a program of coded instructions – is again only quantitatively less true for brains than for cells or computers. We sometimes obey orders from one another, but also we sometimes don't. Nevertheless, it is a telling fact that, the world over, the vast majority of children follow the religion of their parents rather than any of the other available religions. Instructions to genuflect, to bow towards Mecca, to nod one's head rhythmically towards the wall, to shake like a maniac, to "speak in tongues" – the list of such arbitrary and pointless motor patterns offered by religion alone is extensive – are obeyed, if not slavishly, at least with some reasonably high statistical probability.
  • Ten years ago, you could have traveled thousands of miles through the United States and never seen a baseball cap turned back to front. Today, the reverse baseball cap is ubiquitous. I do not know what the pattern of geographical spread of the reverse baseball cap precisely was, but epidemiology is certainly among the professions primarily qualified to study it.
  • Like computer viruses, successful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect. If you are the victim of one, the chances are that you won't know it, and may even vigorously deny it. Accepting that a virus might be difficult to detect in your own mind, what tell-tale signs might you look out for? I shall answer by imaging how a medical textbook might describe the typical symptoms of a sufferer (arbitrarily assumed to be male).
  • The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as "faith".
  • If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith as your parents and grandparents had. No doubt soaring cathedrals, stirring music, moving stories and parables, help a bit. But by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth. The convictions that you so passionately believe would have been a completely different, and largely contradictory, set of convictions, if only you had happened to be born in a different place. Epidemiology, not evidence.

River out of Eden (1995) edit

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.
  • [W]hen the ricochets of atomic billiards chance to put together an object that has a certain, seemingly innocent property, something momentous happens in the universe. That property is an ability to self-replicate; that is, the object is able to use the surrounding materials to make exact copies of itself, including replicas of such minor flaws in copying as may occasionally arise. What will follow from this singular occurrence, anywhere in the universe, is Darwinian selection and hence the baroque extravaganza that, on this planet, we call life. Never were so many facts explained by so few assumptions. Not only does the Darwinian theory command superabundant power to explain. Its economy in doing so has a sinewy elegance, a poetic beauty that outclasses even the most haunting of the world's origin myths.
    • Preface
  • In one way or another, all my books have been devoted to expounding and exploring the almost limitless power of the Darwinian principle—power unleashed whenever and wherever there is enough time for the consequences of primordial self-replication to unfold.
    • Preface
  • The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. [...] 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 bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
    • pp. 131–132
  • Mitochondrial DNA is blessedly celibate. (p.53)
  • The world becomes full of organisms that have what it takes to become ancestors. That, in a sentence, is Darwinism.
  • Each generation is a filter, a sieve; good genes tend to fall through the sieve into the next generation; bad genes tend to end up in bodies that die young or without reproducing.
  • ... you need more than luck to navigate successfully through a thousand sieves in succession.
  • The river of my title is a river of DNA, and it flows through time, not space. It is a river of information, not a river of bones and tissues.
  • ... the genetic code is in fact literally identical in all animals, plants and bacteria ... All earthly living things are certainly descended from a single ancestor.
  • What is truly revolutionary about molecular biology in the post-Watson-Crick era is that it has become digital.
  • There is no spirit-driven life force, no throbbing, heaving, pullulating, protoplasmic, mystic jelly. Life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information.
  • Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.
  • Your DNA may be destined to mingle with mine. Salutations!
  • Never say, and never take seriously anyone who says, "I cannot believe that so-and-so could have evolved by gradual selection". I have dubbed this kind of fallacy "the Argument from Personal Incredulity". Time and again, it has proven the prelude to an intellectual banana-skin experience.
  • ... it seems that it would take less than half a million years to evolve a good camera eye ... It's no wonder "the" eye has evolved at least 40 times independently around the animal kingdom ... It is a geological blink.
  • Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous – indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
  • If there is only one Creator who made the tiger and the lamb, the cheetah and the gazelle, what is He playing at? Is he a sadist who enjoys spectator blood sports? ... Is He manoeuvring to maximise David Attenborough's television ratings?
  • ... the true utility function of life, that which is being maximised in the natural world, is DNA survival. But DNA is not floating free; it is locked up in living bodies and it has made the most of the levers of power at its disposal.
  • We humans are an extremely important manifestation of the replication bomb, because it is through us – through our brains, our symbolic culture and our technology – that the explosion may proceed to the next stage and reverberate through deep space.
    • Ch. 5: The Replication Bomb

Darwin's Dangerous Disciple: An Interview by Frank Miele (1995) edit

  • Most of what we strive for in our modern life uses the apparatus of goal seeking that was originally set up to seek goals in the state of nature.
  • ... but the dominance hierarchy itself is not something that natural selection favours or disfavours. What natural selection favours or disfavours is the individual behaviour of which the dominance hierarchy is a manifestation. I would put war and overpopulation in that category.
  • I think it is not helpful to apply Darwinian language too widely. Conquest of nation by nation is too distant for Darwinian explanations to be helpful. Darwinism is the differential survival of self-replicating genes in a gene pool, usually as manifested by individual behaviour, morphology, and phenotypes. Group selection of any kind is not Darwinism as Darwin understood it nor as I understand it. There is a very vague analogy between group selection and conquest of a nation by another nation, but I don't think it's a very helpful analogy. So I would prefer not to invoke Darwinian language for that kind of historical interpretation.
  • There's nothing nonsensical about saying that what would evolve if Darwinian selection has its head is something that you don't want to happen. And I could easily imagine trying to go against Darwinism.

An Interview by Sheena McDonald (1995) edit

  • The world and the universe is an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful does it appear. It is an immensely exciting experience to be born in the world, born in the universe, and look around you and realise that before you die you have the opportunity of understanding an immense amount about that world and about that universe and about life and about why we're here. We have the opportunity of understanding far, far more than any of our predecessors ever. That is such an exciting possibility, it would be such a shame to blow it and end your life not having understood what there is to understand.
  • Maybe somewhere in some other galaxy there is a super-intelligence so colossal that from our point of view it would be a god. But it cannot have been the sort of God that we need to explain the origin of the universe, because it cannot have been there that early.
  • McDonald: Now a lot of people find great comfort from religion. Not everybody is as you are – well-favored, handsome, wealthy, with a good job, happy family life. I mean, your life is good – not everybody's life is good, and religion brings them comfort.

    Dawkins: There are all sorts of things that would be comforting. I expect an injection of morphine would be comforting – it might be more comforting, for all I know. But to say that something is comforting is not to say that it's true.

  • It is a very helpful insight to say we are vehicles for our DNA, we are hosts for DNA parasites which are our genes. Those are insights which help us to understand an aspect of life. But it's emotive to say, that's all there is to it, we might as well give up going to Shakespeare plays and give up listening to music and things, because that's got nothing to do with it. That's an entirely different subject.
  • I don't want to sound callous. I mean, even if I have nothing to offer, that doesn't matter, because that still doesn't mean that what anybody else has to offer therefore has to be true.

The Richard Dimbleby Lecture: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1996) edit

Full text here(dead link)archives have an archived copy (f8ofb). Lecture, BBC1 Television (12 November 1996)

  • You could give Aristotle a tutorial. And you could thrill him to the core of his being. Aristotle was an encyclopedic polymath, an all time intellect. Yet not only can you know more than him about the world, you also can have a deeper understanding of how everything works. Such is the privilege of living after Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Planck, Watson, Crick and their colleagues.
  • For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria.
  • It has become almost a cliché to remark that nobody boasts of ignorance of literature, but it is socially acceptable to boast ignorance of science and proudly claim incompetence in mathematics.
  • If you want to do evil, science provides the most powerful weapons to do evil; but equally, if you want to do good, science puts into your hands the most powerful tools to do so. The trick is to want the right things, then science will provide you with the most effective methods of achieving them.
  • But perhaps the rest of us could have separate classes in science appreciation, the wonder of science, scientific ways of thinking, and the history of scientific ideas, rather than laboratory experience.
  • It really comes down to parsimony, economy of explanation. It is possible that your car engine is driven by psychokinetic energy, but if it looks like a petrol engine, smells like a petrol engine and performs exactly as well as a petrol engine, the sensible working hypothesis is that it is a petrol engine.
  • It's been suggested that if the super-naturalists really had the powers they claim, they'd win the lottery every week. I prefer to point out that they could also win a Nobel Prize for discovering fundamental physical forces hitherto unknown to science. Either way, why are they wasting their talents doing party turns on television?

    By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.

  • How do we account for the current paranormal vogue in the popular media? Perhaps it has something to do with the millennium – in which case it's depressing to realise that the millennium is still three years away.
  • The popularity of the paranormal, oddly enough, might even be grounds for encouragement. I think that the appetite for mystery, the enthusiasm for that which we do not understand, is healthy and to be fostered. It is the same appetite which drives the best of true science, and it is an appetite which true science is best qualified to satisfy.
  • You contain a trillion copies of a large, textual document written in a highly accurate, digital code, each copy as voluminous as a substantial book. I'm talking, of course, of the DNA in your cells.
  • You don't have to be a scientist – you don't have to play the Bunsen burner – in order to understand enough science to overtake your imagined need and fill that fancied gap. Science needs to be released from the lab into the culture.

Climbing Mount Improbable (1996) edit

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by W. W. Norton & Co. (1997), ISBN 0-393-31682-3, 2nd printing
  • Natural selection is like artificial selection, but without the human chooser. Instead of a human deciding which offspring shall die in which shall reproduce, nature ‘decides’. The quotation marks are vital because nature doesn’t consciously decide. This might seem too obvious to emphasize, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who think natural selection implies some kind of personal choice. They couldn’t be more wrong. It just is the case that some offspring are more likely to die while others have what it takes to survive and reproduce. Therefore, as the generations go by, the average, typical creature in the population becomes ever better at the arts of surviving and reproducing. Ever better, I should specify, when, when measured against some absolute standard.
    • Chapter 1, “Facing Mount Rushmore” (p. 34)
  • Orb webs in real life do their business largely in two dimensions. If the mesh is too coarse, flies pass straight through. If the mesh is too fine, rival spiders will achieve nearly the same result at less cost in silk, and will therefore leave behind more progeny to carry on their economically more prudent genes. Natural selection finds the efficient compromise.
    • Chapter 2, “Silken Fetters” (p. 58)
  • In fact writing a computer program is a pretty good way to summarize knowledge about any set of rules.
    • Chapter 2, “Silken Fetters” (p. 58)
  • Natural selection is an extremely simple process, in the sense that very little machinery needs to be set up in order for it to work. Of course the effects and consequences of natural selection are complex in the extreme. But in order to set natural selection going on a real planet, all that is required is the existence of inherited information.
    • Chapter 2, “Silken Fetters” (p. 68)
  • To this day, and in quarters where they should know better, Darwinism is widely regarded as a theory of ‘chance’.
    It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don’t need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve.
    • Chapter 3, “The Message from the Mountain” (p. 77)
  • Mutation may be random, but selection definitely is not.
    • Chapter 3, “The Message from the Mountain” (p. 82)
  • It is easy to think of DNA as the information by which a body makes another body like itself. It would be more correct to see a body as the vehicle used by DNA to make more DNA like itself.
    • Chapter 3, “The Message from the Mountain” (pp. 89-90)
  • There is no doubt that whales and dugongs come with their dry-land history written all over them. If they had been deliberately created for the sea, they’d be very different, and a lot more like fish than they are. Animals that have their history written all over them are among the most graphic pieces of evidence we have that living things were not created for their present ways of life but evolved from very different ancestors.
    • Chapter 4, “Getting Off the Ground” (p. 133)
  • Darwin, however, saw his doubts as a challenge to go on thinking, not a welcome excuse to give up.
    • Chapter 5, “The Forty-fold Path to Enlightenment” (p. 139)
  • The plaint that there hasn’t been enough time for the eye to evolve turns out to be not just wrong but dramatically, decisively, ignominiously wrong.
    • Chapter 5, “The Forty-fold Path to Enlightenment” (p. 166)
  • On one point, though, I insist. This is that wherever in nature there is a sufficiently powerful illusion of good design for some purpose, natural selection is the only known mechanism that can account for it.
    • Chapter 6, “The Museum of All Shells” (p. 223)
  • The attitude that living things are placed here for our benefit still dominates our culture, even where its underpinnings have disappeared. We now need, for purposes of scientific understanding, to find a less human-centered view of the natural world.
    • Chapter 8, “Pollen Grains and Magic Bullets” (p. 258)

Unweaving the Rainbow (1998) edit

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
  • The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.
    • Preface
  • We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
    • Ch. 1 : The Anaesthetic of Familiarity; Dawkins is reported to have stated that this passage will be read at his funeral; it is often quoted with an extension which does not occur in any thus-far-checked editions of the book: "We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?"

A Devil's Chaplain (2003) edit

  • [If] there is mercy in nature, it is accidental. Nature is neither kind nor cruel but indifferent.
    • "A Devil's Chaplain"
  • But it is we that choose to divide animals up into discontinuous species. On the evolutionary view of life there must have been intermediates, even though, conveniently for our naming rituals, they are usually extinct.
    • "Gaps in the Mind"
  • Molecular evidence suggests that our common ancestor with chimpanzees lived, in Africa, between five and seven million years ago, say half a million generations ago. This is not long by evolutionary standards ... in your left hand you hold the right hand of your mother. In turn she holds the hand of her mother, your grandmother. Your grandmother holds her mother's hand, and so on ... How far do we have to go until we reach our common ancestor with the chimpanzees? It is a surprisingly short way. Allowing one yard per person, we arrive at the ancestor we share with chimpanzees in under 300 miles.
    • "Gaps in the Mind"
  • [...] if I am asked for a single phrase to characterize my role as Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, I think I would claim Advocate for Disinterested Truth.
    • "Science, Genetics and Ethics: Memo for Tony Blair"
  • The secret of a joyful life is to live dangerously. A joyful life is an active life - it is not a dull static state of so-called happiness. Full of the burning fire of enthusiasm, anarchic, revolutionary, energetic, daemonic, Dionysian, filled to overflowing with the terrific urge to create - such is the life of the man who risks safety and happiness for the sake of growth and happiness.
    • quoting F. W. Sanderson, "The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of Oundle"
  • The Roman Catholic doctrine of "Whole substance" of the wine is converted into the blood of Christ,; the appearance of wine that remains is "merely accidental", "inhering in no substance". Transubstantiation is colloquially taught as meaning that the wine "literally" turns into the blood of Christ. Whether in its obfuscatory Aristotelian or its franker colloquial form, the claim of transubstantiation can be made only if we do serious violence to the normal meanings of words like 'substance' and 'literally'.
    • "Viruses of the Mind"
  • My last vestige of "hands-off religion" respect disappeared in the smoke and choking dust of September 11, 2001, followed by the "National Day of Prayer", when prelates and pastors did their tremulous Martin Luther King impersonation and urged people of mutually incompatible faiths to hold hands, united in homage to the very force that caused the problem in the first place.
    • "Time to Stand Up"
  • My point is not that religion itself is the motivation for wars, murders and terrorist attacks, but that religion is the principal label, and the most dangerous one, by which a 'they' as opposed to a 'we' can be identified at all.
    • "Time to Stand Up"
  • Religion is the most inflammatory enemy-labelling device in history.
    • "Time to Stand Up"
  • To label people as death-deserving enemies because of disagreements about real world politics is bad enough. To do the same for disagreements about a delusional world inhabited by archangels, demons and imaginary friends is ludicrously tragic.
    • "Time to Stand Up"
  • This is where they come into their own, for there's money in hope: the more desperate the hope, the richer the pickings.
  • The human mind is a wanton storyteller and even more, a profligate seeker after pattern. We see faces in clouds and tortillas, fortunes in tea leaves and planetary movements. It is quite difficult to prove a real pattern as distinct from a superficial illusion.
    • "Snake Oil"
  • There is more than just grandeur in this view of life, bleak and cold though it can seem from under the security blanket of ignorance. There is deep refreshment to be had from standing up and facing straight into the strong keen wind of understanding: Yeats's 'Winds that blow through the starry ways'.
    • Compare: "Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigour, and the great spaces have a splendour of their own." Bertrand Russell, What I Believe (1925)
  • Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: 'Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?' And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: 'What kind of evidence is there for that?' And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.
    • "Good and Bad Reasons for Believing" [open letter to his daughter]

The Root of All Evil? (January 2006) edit

A documentary in two parts:

  1. The God Delusion
  2. The Virus of Faith
  • I want to examine that dangerous thing that's common to Judaism and Christianity as well: the process of non-thinking called "faith". (Part 1, 00:00:55)
  • Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time.
  • One of the things that is wrong with religion is that it teaches us to be satisfied with answers which are not really answers at all.
  • If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them? Who's God trying to impress? Presumably himself, since he is judge and jury, as well as execution victim. (Part 2, 00:29:56)
  • Yousef Al-Khattab: When you take the women and dress them like whores, on the street...
    Richard Dawkins: I don't dress women, they dress themselves...
    Yousef Al-Khattab: But you allow it as a norm, to let the women go on the street dressed like this. What's going on with your society?
  • I do remember one formative influence in my undergraduate life. There was an elderly professor in my department who had been passionately keen on a particular theory for, oh, a number of years, and one day an American visiting researcher came and he completely and utterly disproved our old man's hypothesis. The old man strode to the front, shook his hand and said, "My dear fellow, I wish to thank you, I have been wrong these fifteen years". And we all clapped our hands raw. That was the scientific ideal, of somebody who had a lot invested, a lifetime almost invested in a theory, and he was rejoicing that he had been shown wrong and that scientific truth had been advanced. (Part 1, 00:13:32)
  • Of course politics are important — Iraq, Palestine, even social deprivation in Bradford. But as we wake up to this huge challenge to our civilised values, don't let's forget the elephant in the room — an elephant called "religion". (Part 1, 00:00:24)
  • I want to say that killing for God is not only hideous murder — it is also utterly ridiculous. (Part 1, 00:44:39)
  • And when we look closely, we find a system of morals which any civilised person today should surely find poisonous.
  • You've just said a very revealing thing. Are you telling me that the only reason you don't steal and rape and murder is that you're frightened of God? (Part 2, 00:13:55)
We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
  • We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
    • Part 1: "The God Delusion"
  • Oh, but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn't it? Symbolic?! So Jesus had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual? Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any verdict other than "barking mad". (Part 2, 00:30:25)
    • Part 2: "The Virus Of Faith", quoted at ibid.
  • I was reminded of a quotation by the famous American physicist Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist. Weinberg said: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it, you'd have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion". (Part 2, 00:35:01)
  • Thus the creationist's favourite question "What is the use of half an eye?" Actually, this is a lightweight question, a doddle to answer. Half an eye is just 1 per cent better than 49 per cent of an eye.
    • Part 2: "The Virus of Faith"
  • To an atheist [...], there is no all-seeing all-loving god to keep us free from harm. But atheism is not a recipe for despair. I think the opposite. By disclaiming the idea of the next life, we can take more excitement in this one. The here and now is not something to be endured before eternal bliss or damnation. The here and now is all we have, an inspiration to make the most of it. So atheism is life-affirming, in a way religion can never be. Look around you. Nature demands our attention, begs us to explore, to question. Religion can provide only facile, ultimately unsatisfying answers. Science, in constantly seeking real explanations, reveals the true majesty of our world in all its complexity. People sometimes say "There must be more than just this world, than just this life". But how much more do you want? We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they're never going to be born. The number of people who could be here, in my place, outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. If you think about all the different ways in which our genes could be permuted, you and I are quite grotesquely lucky to be here, the number of events that had to happen in order for you to exist, in order for me to exist. We are privileged to be alive and we should make the most of our time on this world.

The God Delusion (2006) edit

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.
  • 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. (p. 31 of the hardcover edition and p. 51 of the paperback edition; see also: Dan Barker, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, foreword by Richard Dawkins, 2016)
  • Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism. (p. 40)
  • I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented. (p. 57 of the Black Swan paperback edition of 2007)
  • (Spectrum level 6) I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there. (p. 73)
  • What expertise can theologians bring to deep cosmological questions that scientists cannot? (p. 79)
  • On the Argument from Degree: "That's an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion." (p. 102)
  • The fact that something is written down is persuasive to people not used to asking questions like: ‘Who wrote it, and when?’ ‘How did they know what to write?’ ‘Did they, in their time really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?’ ‘Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that coloured their writing?’. (p. 118 of the Black Swan paperback edition of 2007)
  • Admittedly, people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they'd like to be true. (p. 135 of the Black Swan paperback edition of 2007)
  • On the Arguement from Scripture: "Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul, which mentioned almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus's life. All were then copied and recopied … by falilible scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas." (p. 118)
  • "But there are many unsophisticated Christians out there … who take the Bible very seriously indeed as a literal and accurate record of history and hence as evidence supporting the religious beliefs. Do these people never open the book that they believe is the literal truth? Why don't they notice the glaring contradictions?" (p. 120)
  • "The four Gospels that made it into the official canon were chosen, more or less arbitrarily, out of a larger sample of at least a dozen … The gospels that didn't make it were omitted by those ecclesiastics perhaps because they included stories that were even more embarrassingly implausible than those in the four canonical ones." (p. 121)
  • "It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all … Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as reliable record of what actually happened in history, and I shall not consider the Bible further evidence for any kind of deity." (p. 122)
  • "However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747" (p. 138)
  • On natural selection: "Any entity capable of intelligently designing something as improbable as Dutchman's Pipe (or a universe) would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman's Pipe. Far from terminating the vicious regress, God aggravates it with a vengeance." (p. 146)
  • [...] one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding. (p. 152 of the Black Swan paperback edition of 2007)
  • "What is it that makes natural selection succeed as a solution to the problem of improbability, whereas chance and design both fail at the starting gate? The answer is that natural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces. Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so. (p. 153)
  • "A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple. His existence is going to need a mammoth explanation in its own right." (p. 178)
  • On the properties of God: "Such a bandwidth! God, who may not have a brain made of neurons, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know." (p. 184)
  • Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them. Such trusting obedience is valuable for survival: the analogue of steering by the moon for a moth. But the flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. The inevitable by-product is vulnerability to infection by mind viruses. (p. 176)
  • "Once again, modern theologians will protest that the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac should not be taken as literal fact. And, once again, the appropriate response is twofold. First, many many people, even to this day, do take the whole of their scripture to be literal fact, and they have a great deal of political power over the rest of us, especially in the United States and in the Islamic world. Second, if not as literal fact, how should we take the story? As an allegory? Then an allegory for what? Surely morals could one derive from this appalling story? Remember, all I am trying to establish for the moment is that we do not, as a matter of fact, derive our morals from scripture. Or, if we do, we pick and choose among the scriptures for the nice bits and reject the nasty. But then we must have some independent criterion for deciding which are the moral bits: a criterion which, wherever it comes from, cannot come from scripture itself and is presumably available to all of us whether we are religious or not. (p. 275 of the Black Swan paperback edition of 2007)
  • More generally (and this applies to Christianity no less than to Islam), what is really pernicious is the practice of teaching children that faith itself is a virtue. Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument. Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a virtue primes them - given certain other ingredients that are not hard to come by - to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads or crusades. (pp. 347-348 of the Black Swan paperback edition of 2007)
  • There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else (parents in the case of children, God in the case of adults) has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point. [...] The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it. And we can make it very wonderful indeed.
    • p. 360 (Chapter 10)
  • If the alternative that's being offered to what physicists now talk about - a big bang, a spontaneous singularity which gave rise to the origin of the universe - if the alternative to that is a divine intelligence, a creator, which would have to have been complicated, statistically improbable, the very kind of thing which scientific theories such as Darwin's exists to explain, then immediately we see that however difficult and apparently inadequate the theory of the physicists is, the theory of the theologians - that the first course was a complicated intelligence - is even more difficult to accept. They're both difficult but the theory of the cosmic intelligence is even worse. What Darwinism does is to raise our consciousness to the power of science to explain the existence of complex things and intelligences, and creative intelligences are above all complex things, they're statistically improbable. Darwinism raises our consciousness to the power of science to explain how such entities - and the human brain is one - can come into existence from simple beginnings. However difficult those simple beginnings may be to accept, they are a whole lot easier to accept than complicated beginnings. Complicated things come into the universe late, as a consequence of slow, gradual, incremental steps. God, if he exists, would have to be a very, very, very complicated thing indeed. So to postulate a God as the beginning of the universe, as the answer to the riddle of the first cause, is to shoot yourself in the conceptual foot because you are immediately postulating something far far more complicated than that which you are trying to explain. Now, physicists cope with this problem in various ways, which may seem somewhat unconvincing. For example, they suggest that our universe is but one bubble in foam of universes, the multiverse, and each bubble in the foam has a different set of laws and constants. And by the anthropic principle we have to be - since we're here talking about it - in the kind of bubble, with the kind of laws and constants, which are capable of giving rise to the evolutionary process and therefore to creatures like us. That is one current physicists' explanation for how we exist in the kind of universe that we do. It doesn't sound so shatteringly convincing as say Darwin's own theory, which is self-evidently very convincing. Nevertheless, however unconvincing that may sound, it is many, many, many orders of magnitude more convincing than any theory that says complex intelligence was there right from the outset. If you have problems seeing how matter could just come into existence - try thinking about how complex intelligent matter, or complex intelligent entities of any kind, could suddenly spring into existence, it's many many orders of magnitude harder to understand.
    • Lynchburg, Virginia, 23/10/2006 [6]

Why There Almost Certainly Is No God (2006) edit

  • The first cause cannot have been an intelligence, let alone an intelligence that answers prayers and enjoys being worshiped. Intelligent, creative, complex, statistically improbable things come late into the universe, as the product of evolution or some other process of gradual escalation from simple beginnings. They come late into the universe and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.
    • The Huffington Post, 23/10/2006 [7]

The Enemies of Reason (August 2007) edit

  • Amusingly, it [astrology] falls foul of our modern taboo against lazy stereotyping. How would we react if a newspaper published a daily column that read something like this: "Germans: It is in your nature to be hard-working and methodical, which should serve you well at work today. In your personal relationships, especially this evening, you will need to curb your natural tendency to obey orders. Chinese: Inscrutability has many advantages, but it may be your undoing today. British: Your stiff upper lip may serve you well in business dealings, but try to relax and let yourself go in your social life.
  • The word 'mundane' has come to mean boring and dull, and it really shouldn't. It should mean the opposite because it comes from the latin 'mundus', meaning the world, and the world is anything but dull; the world is wonderful. There's real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.
  • Reason has built the modern world. It is a precious but also a fragile thing, which can be corroded by apparently harmless irrationality. We must favor verifiable evidence over private feeling. Otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.
  • We should be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brain falls out.
  • Science replaces private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence.
  • So whereabouts in my body might there be a black hole?
  • Isn't Deepak Chopra just exploiting Quantum jargon as plausible-sounding hocus pocus?
  • If any remedy is tested under controlled scientific conditions and proved to be effective, it will cease to be alternative and will simply become medicine. So-called alternative medicine either hasn't been tested or it has failed its tests.
  • The idea that ancient equal years of accumulated wisdom is a fallacy. [...] In medicine, 'ancient' also means developed before we understood the causes of disease, before germ theory. It was based on ignorance then and age makes it no truer. We misguidedly look back to a golden age that never was; ours is the golden age of safe tested medicine, effective beyond placebo, in which we've cut infant mortality and conquered diseases, then forgotten they existed.
  • Sceptical rational inquiry is always the best approach. [...] we can think independently, be truly open-minded. That means asking questions, being open to real corroborated evidence. Reason has liberated us form superstition and given us centuries of progress. We abandon it at our peril.

The Big Questions (2008) edit

  • "The universe does not owe you a sense of hope. It could be that the world, the universe, is a totally hopeless place. I don't as a matter of fact think it is, but even if it were - that would not be a good reason for believing in God. You cannot say "I believe in X", whatever X is - God or anything else - "because that gives me hope". You have to say "I believe in X because there is some evidence for X". In the case of God - there is not a tiny shred of evidence for the existence of any kind of god.” … “There's plenty of reason for hope in a Godless world. The universe is a beautiful place. The world is a beautiful place. To understand it in a clear-eyed, open-eyed way; to look out at the world and to really understand why we exist, what it's all about - that is a hugely uplifting feeling; That really does give a sense of worth to life, even if life itself is finite, as I believe it is. Nevertheless, it is not a hopeless life without a god, and to re-divert to my earlier point, even if it were - then it's just illogical to say that that gives you evidence for the belief in God." [8]

The Genius of Charles Darwin (2008) edit

  • Gravity is not a version of the truth. It is the truth. Anybody who doubts it is invited to jump out of a tenth-floor window.

"Has Science Buried God?" Debate (2008) edit

  • In the case of the cosmos, [...] even if we don't understand how it came about, it's not helpful to postulate a creator, because the creator is the very kind of thing that needs an explanation - and although it's difficult enough to explain how a very simple origin of the universe came into being - how matter and energy, how one or two physical constants came into existence - although it's difficult enough to think how simplicity came into existence, it's a hell of a lot harder to think how something as complicated as a God comes into existence - difficult enough to think of how a deist God comes into existence, and even more difficult to think of - how a Christian God, who actually cares about things like sin and gets Himself born of a virgin.
    • Richard Dawkins vs. John Lennox, 21/10/2008 [9]

Lecture at UC Berkeley (2008) edit

  • We should be offended when children are denied a proper education. We should be offended when children are told they will spend eternity in hell. We should be offended when medical science, for example stem-cell research, is compromised by the bigoted opinions of powerful and above all well-financed ignoramuses. We should be offended when voodoo, of all kinds, is given equal weight to science. We should be offended by hymen reconstruction surgery. We should be offended by 'female circumcision', euphemism for genital mutilation. We should be offended by stoning.
    • Lecture at UC Berkeley about The God Delusion, 08/03/2008 [10]

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2009) edit

  • Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eye witnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, more distant cousins still of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips... continue the list as long as desired.
    • (p. 8)
  • We don't need fossils – the case for evolution is watertight without them; so it is paradoxical to use gaps in the fossil record as though they were evidence against evolution
    • (p. 164)

Richard Dawkins vs. Jonathan Sacks - BBC's RE:Think Festival (2012) edit

  • I agree that it's very difficult to come to an absolute definition of what's moral and what is not. We are on our own, without a god, and we have to get together, sit down together and decide what kind of society do we want to live in. Do we want to live in a society where people steal, where people kill, where people don't pull their weight paying their taxes, doing that kind of thing? Do we want to live in a kind of society where everybody is out for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world? And we decide in conclave together that that's not the kind of world in which we want to live. It's difficult. There is no absolute reason why we should believe that that's true - it's a moral decision which we take as individuals - and we take it collectively as a collection of individuals. If you want to get that sort of value system from religion I want you to ask yourself - whereabouts in religion do you get it? Which religion do you get it from? They're all different. If you get it from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition then I beg you - don't get it from your holy book! Because the morality you will get from reading your holy book is hideous. Don't get it from your holy book. Don't get it from sucking up to your god. Don't get it from saying “oh, I'm terrified of going to hell so I'd better be good” - that's a very ignoble reason to be good. Instead - be good for good reasons. Be good for the reason that's you've decided together with other people the society we want to live in: a decent humane society. Not one based on absolutism, not one based on holy books and not one based on sucking up to.. looking over your shoulder to the divine spy camera in the sky. [11]

The Magic Of Reality (2012) edit

The truth has a magic of its own. The truth is more magical – in the best and most exciting sense of the word – than any myth or made-up mystery or miracle. Science has its own magic: the magic of reality.
  • Don't ever be lazy enough, defeatist enough, cowardly enough to say “I don't understand it so it must be a miracle - it must be supernatural - God did it”. Say instead, that it's a puzzle, it's strange, it's a challenge that we should rise to. Whether we rise to the challenge by questioning the truth of the observation, or by expanding our science in new and exciting directions - the proper and brave response to any such challenge is to tackle it head-on. And until we've found a proper answer to the mystery, it's perfectly ok simply to say “this is something we don't yet understand - but we're working on it”. It's the only honest thing to do. Miracles, magic and myths, they can be fun. Everybody likes a good story. Myths are fun, as long as you don't confuse them with the truth. The real truth has a magic of its own. The truth is more magical, in the best and most exciting sense of the word, than any myth or made-up mystery or miracle. Science has its own magic - the magic of reality.
    • Duke University, 01/03/2012 [12]

Interview with Sophie Elmhirst (2015) edit

  • Moral philosophers say things like, ‘What is actually wrong with cannibalism?’ There are two ways of responding to that: one is to shrink back in horror and say, ‘Cannibalism! Cannibalism! We can’t talk about cannibalism!’ The other is to say, ‘Well, actually, what is wrong with cannibalism?’ Then you work it out and you tease it out and you decide yes, actually, cannibalism is wrong, but for the following reasons. So I'd like to think that my moral values at least partly come from reasoning. Trying to suppress the gut reaction as much as possible.

Public conversation with Penn Jillette at Live Talks Los Angeles (1 October 2015) edit

  • [Those who support Kim Davis's refusal to issue marriage licenses have] the unutterable gall to imply that they are being oppressed because they're not allow to oppress other people.
    • at 50:25 in the video [14]

Interview with Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience (2019) edit

Eternity is best spent under a general anesthetic – which is what is going to happen.
  • Eternity is best spent under a general anesthetic – which is what is going to happen.
    • [15] (20 January 2019)

Forewords edit

  • For his purposes (and mine), scientific medicine is defined as the set of practices which submit themselves to the ordeal of being tested. Alternative medicine is defined as that set of practices which cannot be tested, refuse to be tested, or consistently fail tests. If a healing technique is demonstrated to have curative properties in properly controlled double-blind trials, it ceases to be alternative. It simply, as Diamond explains, becomes medicine. Conversely, if a technique devised by the President of the Royal College of Physicians consistently fails in double-blind trials, it will cease to be a part of 'orthodox' medicine. Whether it will then become 'alternative' will depend upon whether it is adopted by a sufficiently ambitious quack (there are always sufficiently gullible patients).

Twitter edit

  • It is very good that Wikipedia also gives a page to "Internet Meme". Internet memes are arguably the most important subset of memes today
    • [16] (5 December 2012)
  • Those people who think sexual abuse is a black-or-white, all-or-none category are incapable of clear, logical thought.
    • [17] (23 December 2012)
  • Some states, e.g. "pregnant", are all-or-none, no intermediates. But sexual abuse has shades of grey, from violent buggery to mild touching.
    • [18] (23 December 2012)
  • Haven't read Koran so couldn't quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil today
    • [19] (28 February 2013)
  • With respect to those meanings of "human" that are relevant to the morality of abortion, any fetus is less human than an adult pig.
    • [20] (13 March 2013)
  • I'm told theology is outside my field of expertise. But is theology a "field" at all? Is there anything in "theology" to be expert ABOUT?
    • [21] (16 April 2013)
  • I hate the neologism "owned" for "scored a victory over". I have no intention of owning anyone, and nobody will ever own me.
  • Don't ask God to cure cancer & world poverty. He's too busy finding you a parking space & fixing the weather for your barbecue.
  • All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.
    • [24] (8 August 2013)
  • Saw a down-and-out in Seattle last night. His sign said not "I need food" or "I need a job" but "I need a fat bitch". What could this mean?
    • [25] (13 October 2013)
  • If we ever talk to aliens, their civilisation will be far more advanced than ours (because of distances involved). They won't be religious!
    • [26] (17 February 2014)
  • Who (apart from the pig) is damaged by bacon?
  • Suggest always put Islamic "scholar" in quotes, to avoid insulting true scholars. True scholars have read more than one book.
  • Mild paedophilia is bad. Violent paedophilia is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of mild paedophilia, go away and learn how to think. Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.
  • Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.
  • Eugenics was not inspired by Darwin's natural selection but by ancient agricultural ARTIFICIAL selection. Eugenics is UNnatural selection.
    • [32] (15 February 2015)
  • University is about confronting new ideas, unfamiliar, un-"safe". If you want to be "safe" you are not worthy of a university education.
    • [33] (22 April 2015)
  • Islam needs a feminist revolution. It will be hard. What can we do to help?
  • You know you've won the argument when the only counter argument they can find is that you are white or male or old.
  • Don't call him "clock boy" since he never made a clock. Hoax Boy, having hoaxed his way into the White House, now wants $15M in addition!
  • National pride has evil consequences. Prefer pride in humanity. German pride gave us Hitler, American pride gave us Trump, British pride gave us Brexit. If you must have pride, be proud that Homo sapiens could produce a Darwin, Shakespeare, Mandela, Einstein, Beethoven.
    • [37] (30 March 2019)
  • When I tweet on politics, even if I merely post a url, I get many replies like “Stick to science. Politics is not your field.” Which field, then, does qualify one to hold a political opinion? Are scientists specifically disqualified from thinking & caring about the world?
    • [38] (1 November 2020)
  • Science is not a social construct. Science’s truths were true before there were societies; will still be true after all philosophers are dead; were true before any philosophers were born; were true before there were any minds, even trilobite or dinosaur minds, to notice them.
  • The buzz words of the campus—diversity, inclusion, microaggression, power differential, white privilege, group safety—have become the buzz words in public life. Already confusing on campus, they become noxious off campus.
    • [40] (23 December 2022)

Quotes about Dawkins edit

  • All the biology that Dawkins tries to present as modern biology is no such thing... the idea of the selfish gene is an idea against biochemistry, against genetics which tells us that the DNA does not replicate itself, that it's not divided by itself, that it's divided by enzymes, that you have to take into account not only the genome; you also have to take into account the -ome, a whole system in which we can distinguish but not separate the different elements. That's why Dawkins has been so successful; science fiction is sold much better than scientific works.
  • Dawkins is a master of setting up a straw man, then dismantling it with great relish. In fact, it is hard to escape the conclusion that such repeated mischaracterizations of faith betray a vitriolic personal agenda, rather than a reliance on rational arguments that Dawkins so cherishes in the scientific realm
    • Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006), Simon and Schuster, p. 163.
  • We are now ready to survey afresh the battlefield of the sexes. With The Selfish Gene as our guide, we can compile a gene-centred inventory of any participants that we come across. There are the principal antagonists: ‘male’ and ‘female’ genes in conflict and the resulting multifarious adaptations in male and female creatures. There are the victors and victims that we would otherwise have missed: the agents of genomic imprinting, visiting the feuds of the previous generation upon the children. There are the subversive opportunists: mitochondria waging their own private war against nuclear genes over their mitochondrial mausoleum, the male parts of plants. And there are the innocent bystanders: victims of collateral damage from other’s battles, such as drowned and poisoned females.
    So the banner of the battle of the sexes should depict not a spider’s quietus in his lover’s jaws nor the withered anthers of a flower; for they represent other concerns of genes. Nor need it depict struggle or pain, injury or death. It could instead portray the dazzling beauty of the peacock’s tail, the deep intimacy of the titis’ embrace, the finely poised equilibrium that builds a newborn baby. Such are the ways of genes that even their conflicts—‘male’ against ‘female’ genes—can appear deceptively to us as harmony and beauty in their bearers.
    • Helena Cronin, "The Battle of the Sexes Revisited", in Alan Grafen, Mark Ridley (eds.), Richard Dawkins: How a scientist changed the way we think (2006)
  • I haven't lived with the author of The Selfish Gene for nearly twenty-five years but I have lived in close and constant contact with the book itself since before it was published. Its words and figures of speech are thrown at me almost daily from student essays. The questions it raises are the driving force behind the most successful tutorials and the sound of pennies dropping as each new generation of students takes in the extraordinary implications of what the book is saying, is as loud now as it ever was. The Selfish Gene seems to occupy a unique place in biological writing. Some books, like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, herald a new age and have a huge impact on the way people think at the time but thereafter are read mainly for historical interest. Others form part of an ongoing movement but are soon superseded by more up-to-date versions or more fashionable means of expression. But if The Selfish Gene had not been written when it was, there would still be a need for it to be written today. There are simply no books that have taken its place, even now when so many other books have followed in its wake.
    • Marian Stamp Dawkins, "Living with The Selfish Gene", in Alan Grafen, Mark Ridley (eds.), Richard Dawkins: How a scientist changed the way we think (2006)
  • A psychologist colleague, on reading a draft of this essay, asked if The Selfish Gene is considered required reading in any philosophy graduate program. Certainly specialists in the philosophy of science or philosophy of biology would be expected to have read it, but what about students of epistemology or philosophy of mind or language? We philosophers are a somewhat conservative lot, loath to grant that anybody but a professional philosopher could write something worthy of entry into the canon. If you put The Selfish Gene on the required reading list, just which ‘classic’ would you bump from the list to make room for it? I have seen enough philosophy students enthusiastically tell me how they were transformed by reading the book to judge that it pulls its weight and then some, so yes, I put Dawkins’ book alongside classics by such non-philosophers as Turing and Kuhn as essential thinking tools for any student of philosophy. In addition to everything else they will learn from it, they will discover that it is actually possible to write arguments that are both rigorous and a joy to read. That discovery, if enough philosophers took it to heart, could transform our discipline.
    • Daniel Dennett, "The Selfish Gene as a Philosophical Essay", in Alan Grafen, Mark Ridley (eds.), Richard Dawkins: How a scientist changed the way we think (2006)
  • I think if we study the primates, we notice that a lot of these things that we value in ourselves, such as human morality, have a connection with primate behavior. This completely changes the perspective, if you start thinking that actually we tap into our biological resources to become moral beings. That gives a completely different view of ourselves than this nasty selfish-gene type view that has been promoted for the last 25 years.
  • Richard Dawkins is quite simply incomparable. No one can make science so exciting, so interesting, or so clear... If only Stephen Hawking had a tenth of his clarity.
  • To the best of my recollection, I have met Dawkins only once and by chance, when we coincided at some meeting in London. It must have been in late 2001, since conversation at dinner centered around the terrorist attacks of September 11. Most of those at the table were concerned with how the West would respond: would it retaliate, and if so how? Dawkins seemed uninterested. What exercised him was that Tony Blair had invited leaders of the main religions in Britain to Downing Street to discuss the situation—but somehow omitted to ask a leader of atheism (presumably Dawkins himself) to join the gathering. There seemed no question in Dawkins's mind that atheism as he understood it fell into the same category as the world's faiths.
    In this, Dawkins is surely right. To suppose that science can liberate humankind from ignorance requires considerable credulity. We know how science has been used in the past—not only to alleviate the human lot, but equally to serve tyranny and oppression. The notion that things might be fundamentally different in the future is an act of faith—one as gratuitous as any of the claims of religion, if not more so. Consider Pascal. One of the founders of modern probability theory and the designer of the world's first mass-transit system, he was far too intelligent to imagine that human reason could resolve perennial questions. His celebrated wager has always seemed to me a rather bad bet. Since we cannot know what gods there may be (if any), why stake our lives on pleasing one of them? But Pascal's wager was meant as a pedagogical device rather than a demonstrative argument, and he reached faith himself by way of skeptical doubt. In contrast, Dawkins shows not a trace of skepticism anywhere in his writings. In comparison with Pascal, a man of restless intellectual energy, Dawkins is a monument to unthinking certitude.
  • Dawkins is a brilliant writer and speaker on science. His grasp of the subject and his use of vivid analogies can explain scientific concepts and make them clear even for the non-scientist...
  • "What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists. Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind."
    • Peter Higgs, Nobel Prize laureate in physics. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
  • Anyone familiar with ‘selfish gene’ thinking will immediately spot the problem. The view that communication evolves for mutual benefit is essentially an argument based on the premise that natural selection works for the good of the group or species, rather than the good of the gene. It is especially remarkable that, in spite of this implicit underpinning assumption, many of the major proponents of the ‘information’ view of animal communication were avid, neo-Darwinian, individual selectionists. It took Richard’s relentless, uncompromising, and surgical application of neo-Darwinian thinking to expose the logic of animal communication with coruscating clarity.
    • John Krebs, "Richard Dawkins: Intellectual Plumber—and More", in Alan Grafen, Mark Ridley (eds.), Richard Dawkins: How a scientist changed the way we think (2006)
  • People like Dawkins are the public face of atheism. And that public face is one that is defensively and irrationally sexist. It's not only turning women away from atheism, it's discrediting the idea that atheists are actually people who argue from a position of rationality. How can they be, when they cling to the ancient, irrational tradition of treating women like they aren't quite as human as men?
    • Amanda Marcotte quoted by journalist Kimberly Winston, The Washington Post (November 18, 2014) [41]
  • The God that Dawkins does not believe in is "a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." Come to think of it, I don't believe in a God like that either. In fact, I don't know anybody who does. Dawkins at least has the graciousness to appreciate this point. The God whom I know and love is described by Dawkins as “insipid,” summed up in the “mawkishly nauseating” idea of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” While some readers will take offense at this description, it is probably the mildest criticism of religion offered anywhere in his book"
    • Alister McGrath, "The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine" (2011)
  • Perhaps a suitable analogy to explain the short-falls of Dawkins's account of evolution is to think of an oil painting. In this analogy Dawkins has explained the nature and range of pigments; how the extraordinary azure colour was obtained, what effect cobalt has, and so on. But the description is quite unable to account for the picture itself. This view of evolution is incomplete and therefore fails in its side-stepping of how information (the genetic code) gives rise to phenotype, and by what mechanisms. Organisms are more than the sum of their parts, and we may also note in passing that the world depicted by Dawkins has lost all sense of transcendence.
  • Richard Dawkins is arguably England's most pious atheist.
  • Otter Leader: [Walks up to a painting of Dawkins and Garrison] The great Dawkins said we cannot tolerate those who don't use reason! How reasonable is it to eat off wood instead of your tummy?
    The Wise One: Well perhaps the great Dawkins wasn't so wise. Oh, he was intelligent, but, some of the most intelligent otters I've ever known were completely lacking in common sense.
  • My sense is that The Selfish Gene had a huge impact among evolutionary biologists, ecologists, and behaviourists, recruiting people to these fields and helping to get right the thinking of the less mathematically inclined. But in biomedicine, the largest and most well-funded area of biology, selfish genery has had negligible impact. This is in part because evolution is largely absent from biomedical training, and also because evolutionary biologists have been slow to leave the comfortable natural histories of birds and insects for the jargon-laden natural history of medicine. But it is also a consequence of the overwhelming dominance of a reductionism in biomedicine (ironically a criticism once levelled at Dawkins). Explanation of disease virulence and infectiousness is usually sought in terms of molecular interactions, cell signalling, and so on. Mechanistic description is of course fantastically important and has yielded substantial insight and some clinical advances. However, such explanations are necessarily incomplete. To explain why something is like it is, we also need to ask about the evolutionary pressures. And this involves the thought processes laid out in The Selfish Gene.
    • Andrew F. Read, "Ballooning Parrots and Semi-Lunar Germs" in Alan Grafen, Mark Ridley (eds.), Richard Dawkins: How a scientist changed the way we think (2006)
  • All that is necessary for something to evolve, according to Dawkins, is a faithful but imperfect copying mechanism for instructions and a system that is ready to obey those instructions. DNA and the cell fulfill these requirements. So do computer programs and computers. And so do memes and the human mind.
    • Stanley A. Rice, Life of Earth: Portrait of a Beautiful, Middle-aged Stressed-out World (2011)
  • At his best, Dawkins has written with passion, urgency and clarity, and, if crushing the creationists and convincing the enemies of reason of their stupidity has secured him a reputation as something of a one-trick pony, it has been a polished trick and a best-in-show pony.
    • Steven Shapin, "Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science by Richard Dawkins – review", Guardian (26 Aug 2015)
  • Dawkins retired as “public understanding” professor in 2008, and he is now in his mid-70s. He basks in the knowledge that he is worshipped by many, but he also seems aware that others – including those who would like to be counted among his intellectual allies – have long believed his cask-strength hectoring would have benefited from a splash of water and a willingness to teach rather than preach. You don’t read Dawkins to be converted from faith to science – though that’s possible; you read him to be fortified in your secular beliefs and to be armed against the Dark Side with handy facts, gestures at powerful theories, and rich stores of satirical rhetoric.
    • Steven Shapin, "Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science by Richard Dawkins – review", Guardian (26 Aug 2015)
  • Dawkins argues that the survival of a segment of DNA is the sole criterion for its successful replication, whence DNA is 'selfish'.
    This is of course the old 'a chicken is just an egg's way to breed a new egg' line of thinking, dressed up in fancy hi-tech. It is equally possible to give an account of genetics and evolution from the point of view of the organism, leading to what biologist Jack Cohen and I call the 'slavish gene', obsessed with activities that do not damage the organism's survival chances. The selfish gene metaphor is not wrong—in fact, it is intellectually defensible as a debating point. But it diverts our attention rather than adding to our understanding. The relation between genes and organisms is a feedback loop: genes affect organisms via development; organisms affect genes (in the next generation) via natural selection. It is a fallacy to attribute the dynamics of this loop to just one of its components. It is like saying that wage increases cause inflation, but forgetting that price increases fuel demands for higher wages.
  • I experience the same sense of absurdity when I listen to a cosmologist like Stephen Hawking telling us that the universe began with a big bang fifteen billion years ago, and that physics will shortly create a 'theory of everything' that will answer every possible question about our universe; this entails the corollary that God is an unnecessary hypothesis. Then I think of the day when I suddenly realized that I did not know where space ended, and it becomes obvious that Hawking is also burying his head in the sand. God may be an unnecessary hypothesis for all I know, and I do not have the least objection to Hawking dispensing with Him, but until we can understand why there is existence rather than nonexistence, then we simply have no right to make such statements. It is unscientific. The same applies to the biologist Richard Dawkins, with his belief that strict Darwinism can explain everything, and that life is an accidental product of matter. I feel that he is trying to answer the ultimate question by pretending it does not exist.
  • Dawkins is inexhaustibly outraged by the fact that religious opinions lead people to terrible crimes. But what, if there is no God, is so peculiarly shocking about these opinions being specifically religious? The answer he supplies is simple: that when religious people do evil things, they are acting on the promptings of their faith but when atheists do so, it's nothing to do with their atheism. He devotes pages to a discussion of whether Hitler was a Catholic, concluding that “Stalin was an atheist and Hitler probably wasn’t, but even if he was… the bottom line is very simple. Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism.”
    Yet under Stalin almost the entire Orthodox priesthood was exterminated simply for being priests, as were the clergy of other religions and hundreds of thousands of Baptists. The claim that Stalin’s atheism had nothing to do with his actions may be the most disingenuous in the book, but it has competition from a later question, “Why would anyone go to war for the sake of an absence of belief [atheism]?”—as if the armies of the French revolution had marched under icons of the Virgin, or as if a common justification offered for China’s invasion of Tibet had not been the awful priest-ridden backwardness of the Dalai Lama’s regime.
    • [w:Andrew Brown (writer)|Andrew Brown], "Dawkins The Dogmatist", Prospect Magazine, 21st October 2006
  • The God Delusion by the atheist writer Richard Dawkins, is remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling over a million copies. But what is much more remarkable than that economic achievement is that the contents – or rather lack of contents – of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot. (Helpfully, my copy of The Oxford Dictionary defines a bigot as ‘an obstinate or intolerant adherent of a point of view’).
  • Richard Dawkins was honored in 1996 by the AHA as Humanist of the Year for his significant contributions in this area. Regrettably, Richard Dawkins has over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalized groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values. His latest statement implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking Black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient. His subsequent attempts at clarification are inadequate and convey neither sensitivity nor sincerity. Consequently, the AHA Board has concluded that Richard Dawkins is no longer deserving of being honored by the AHA, and has voted to withdraw, effective immediately, the 1996 Humanist of the Year award.
  • Good people with humanist hearts have been pilloried if they don’t subscribe to every jot and tittle of the identitarian gospel. A prime example is the decision last year by the American Humanist Association (AHA) to retract its 1996 award to Richard Dawkins as Humanist of the Year. The man who has done more than anyone alive to advance evolutionary biology and the public’s understanding of that science, who has brought the light of atheism to millions of people, and whose vociferous opposition to Donald Trump and Brexit certainly must have burnished his liberal cred became radioactive because of one tweet on transgender issues that the AHA didn’t like.
    Apparently decades of past good works are erased by 280 characters. Just poof.

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