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Richard Dawkins interview about 'The Greatest Show on Earth' - Comments

NewSkeptic's Avatar Comment 2 by NewSkeptic

A well written article, and it helps solidify another side to Richard.

Sorry too about Pamba.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 01:13:00 UTC | #390411

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 1 by mordacious1

Nice interview. Sorry to hear about Pamba though.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 01:13:00 UTC | #390410

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 3 by mordacious1


Type faster.:)

btw, speaking of cretinists in the USA...I just ordered the crockoduck T-shirt off the front page. A little expensive, but it's for a good cause (pissing off morons).

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 01:22:00 UTC | #390414

Thurston's Avatar Comment 4 by Thurston

I think this is one of Richard's best interviews and is a fantastic antidote to all those who babble about fundamentalism, stridency and shrillness.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 01:40:00 UTC | #390415

Squigit's Avatar Comment 5 by Squigit

I, too, am very sorry about Pamba, Richard.

There's not much to say about the interview. It was good. :)

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 02:24:00 UTC | #390420

j.mills's Avatar Comment 6 by j.mills

He is also passionate about poetry — Haussman, Shakespeare, Yeats
I'm gonna take a punt here that they meant Houseman. (And this is in The Times!)

The Greatest Show on Earth is published by Bantam Press on September 10 at £20. To buy it for £18 call 0845 2712134 or visit
Well, you could do that. Or you could do like me and "pre-order" it from amazon for a tenner...

Something about the tone of this piece niggles at me. Like this:
Unlike with the previous book, most people in Britain will agree with most of what Dawkins has to say in The Greatest Show on Earth. But they still find him irritating for being such a literalist, so passionate and emotional.
Who are "they" in that sentence? "Most people in Britain"? And how does the writer know what "they" think of RD? Marsh seems to vindicate rather than contradict the charges of "stridency" and so forth.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 02:28:00 UTC | #390423

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 7 by SaintStephen

From Wikipedia:

The Coton is a playful, affectionate, intelligent breed. It loves people and as a result can have separation anxiety. It loves life and is enthusiastic and lively. It is a very vocal breed, grunting and making other noises when having fun. Some Cotons have a habit of jumping up and walking on their hind legs to please people. Some Cotons may exhibit shyness or cautiousness in new situations, especially around strangers, but this can usually be overcome with training. Most Cotons love meeting new people and are very curious in new situations. The dogs are very trainable with praise, instead of punishment. They can be great with other dogs.

I bet Pamba was a wonderful companion. In her memory and honor, I hope Richard can find another pet to love soon. What animal wouldn't be delighted to have Richard Dawkins as a master?

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 03:13:00 UTC | #390434

dumbcountryhick's Avatar Comment 8 by dumbcountryhick

"And they’re not really interested in what’s true, they’re interested in what feels right or what feels good or what’s moral or, um ... if I may put it this way, what feels to be true: "

Yes! So one must change what they FEEL to be true. And the way to do this is not with evolution but emotion.
Everyday around the world horrible things happen to people who couldn't possibly deserve it.
And the important question to ask people is not the common "Why does God permit evil£" but instead the more seldom asked "Why are you worshiping a god that permits evil£" Who cares WHY God permits evil. There is very little to distinguish a universe with a god that permits evil (for ANY reason) from a godless universe.
These are the kind of arguments they will listen to because they shake the true foundation of their faith i.e. "What's in it for me, my family, or my friends£". Get them off God first. THEN they will listen when you talk about evolution.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 03:25:00 UTC | #390438

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 9 by SaintStephen

Taken from the text of the article:

Howard Jacobson is “an odiou pseudo-intellectual”;

Any idea what odiou means? Anybody?

Here is what Google says.


Sat, 22 Aug 2009 03:53:00 UTC | #390439

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 10 by SaintStephen

Yes, obviously. Thanks thomas.

I have another gripe though. (Why am I letting this article bother me? It is a good interview.) -->

He’s written eight books on evolution so far and one wouldn’t have thought there can be that much more to say on the subject.

Eight whole books Ms. Marsh! How much more can a mortal human possibly say about any one subject?

It's a daft comment. Period.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 04:27:00 UTC | #390442

NakedCelt's Avatar Comment 11 by NakedCelt

My condolences on your loss, Richard.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 04:36:00 UTC | #390443

Big City's Avatar Comment 12 by Big City

Sorry to hear about Pamba, Richard. As a fellow animal-lover, I know that an uncanny amount of comfort can be derived(deriven?) from a relationship with a pet.

Everyone else:
I didn't like the tone of this article. It seemed to portray Richard as unreasonable, defensive, condescending, and rather aloof, like he thought he was above petty, human emotions. What is it about "Folks shouldn't turn off their brains when it comes to religion!" that is so hard to understand?

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 05:14:00 UTC | #390446

Lisa Bauer's Avatar Comment 13 by Lisa Bauer

I'm so sorry about Pamba. Losing a beloved pet really is losing a family member, and I know how much it hurts. I'd read about her before and knew she was ill, but hoped she might get better. At least she isn't suffering now, banal as that sentiment may be.

And does this fuzzy-headedness mystify him? “Yes, it does. And they will say things like, ‘Well it’s obviously not true but who cares in what’s true?’ And they’re not really interested in what’s true, they’re interested in what feels right or what feels good or what’s moral or, um ... if I may put it this way, what feels to be true: ‘There’s a deeper truth than mere scientific truth’ and that sort of thing. ‘There are spiritual truths that transcend scientific truths and which are so much more valuable and humane’.”

I suppose there's a difference betweeen "true" (meaning factually correct) and "true" (meaning that it explains or describes something about human nature or the world or whatever, regardless of its factual veracity). A novel may be fiction but "true" in the sense that it really communicates what it's like to be this character and have these feelings, thoughts, experiences, and people might see themselves in some of that, or come to some kind of understanding about themselves. (I suppose students of literature or fiction writers will be able to tell you all about this!) A myth or legend may be factually false but "true" in the sense that it captures something about the human condition or teaches a moral via storytelling.

Still, when these myths and legends are taken to be also "true" in the "factual validity" sense, that's certainly a problem! And there is the problem that many of them lose a lot of meaning when "reduced" to metaphor -- the Christian story of Jesus's death resurrection kind of loses something if you see it as merely a metaphor and not as literally, factually true. I mean, the bottom kind of falls out from almost all versions of Christianity with that kind of reading.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 06:34:00 UTC | #390452

etny's Avatar Comment 14 by etny

"What he does far better than mauling other people with his fabulous intellect is unravelling the delights of the natural world"
Frankly, I am tired of these condescending journalists and pundits who keep bashing Pr Dawkins' more abrasive side.
Abrasiveness is sometimes warranted and effective. Do you think Voltaire was Mister Nice Guy? Do you think wars are fought with flowers? There is a war raging on between the enlightenment and religion. We need strong words in brilliant minds, to counter the hatred, bigotry and ignorance that speaks so loudly in the US and elsewhere.
So, in Billy Joel's words
Richard, don't go changing...
I like you just the way you are.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 10:12:00 UTC | #390486

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 15 by NewEnglandBob

13. Comment #408129 by Big City:

I agree with you. This is NOT a well written article at all.

Does he find it annoying that there are so many stupid people in the world?

That is a awful in tone and intent. The interviewer is confrontational and assumes that the world hates Richard.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 10:20:00 UTC | #390487

hotpinkape's Avatar Comment 16 by hotpinkape

"Soon after he gives me the talk about stars. If only this, Richard Dawkins’ poetic, highly articulate, deeply moved and moving side could come to the fore more often, we might begin to remember how very lucky we are to have him"

Yes, well those of us who have read his books and actually paid attention to what he DOES say, already know this.

It's scientists like Professor Dawkins who have allowed me - an atheist with strong nihilistic leanings - to open my eyes and see that there IS meaning in my life, it's whatever I choose to give it.

We are lucky to have him, and all of our scientists.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 10:32:00 UTC | #390488

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 17 by Mark Jones

Sorry, too, to hear about Pamba.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 10:53:00 UTC | #390489

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 18 by Steve Zara

The loss of a dear pet can be very significant. My condolences, Richard.

On the the article:

One gets the impression that he is in an almost permanent state of dumbfoundedness at humankind’s ability to hold two contradicting ideas in its head: “It’s almost as though they [vicars] don’t really see the distinction between actually what’s true and what is only true in a metaphorical or mythological sense. It’s as though they don’t really care about the difference. I think that’s it! They don’t really care about the difference!”

And does this fuzzy-headedness mystify him? “Yes, it does.

A couple of things come to mind here.

First, I would say that this is simply what humanity is like! This is the way most of us live most of our lives. If we weren't fuzzy-headed, would we ever fall in love? Have children? Act on impulse?

There is an hilarious example of what happens if we try and abolish fuzzy-headedness here:
Mitchell and Webb Best Man's speech.

What most people need to realise is when we should work to be not fuzzy-headed. I think that is the real struggle.

The second thing that comes to mind is the way that scientists are taught to think usually results in a far more critical and rational way of looking at the world in my experience.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 11:10:00 UTC | #390490

Cosmin's Avatar Comment 19 by Cosmin

Good article! Wish I could see a video of the interview somewhere, without all the ado in the article.

Sorry to hear about Pamba though.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 11:23:00 UTC | #390493

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 20 by Mark Jones

I would be interested to hear if The Times have commissioned Richard to write a puff piece for his book like this one by Karen Armstrong for her book? Interviews like this one, whilst giving some excellent quotes, still include the usual snarky comments:

The idea that Dawkins is capable of doing very much more than deeply offending people...
But they still find him irritating for being such a literalist...

I expect Muslim women being stoned to death are a tad irritated that those condemning them are literalist in their reading of the Koran.

But by 'literalist' I guess she means insisting on reasons and evidence. *How* irritating, insisting on someone giving a reason for telling us how to behave. It's so much easier to just make *assertions* based on one's prejudice (intuition!), isn't it.

Richard says:

I know quite a lot about evolution and there are plenty of people out there who know nothing about evolution and who probably who would enjoy learning something about evolution.

No doubt the theists and faitheists will jump on this and swap theology for evolution, and tu quoque. There *is* an important distinction, though; the subject for study, *any* subject, must pass a basic worthiness test; is the evidence there to show that this is a worthwhile area of study? Evolution has a great deal of evidence for its worthiness; astrology, alchemy and theology, not nearly so much. For an atheist, theology has practically no evidence for its worthiness, although not precluding its study for cultural reasons. No doubt theists, presupposing a deity, consider the evidence sufficient, and go on to waste many good intellects on a fiction.

If the basic *premise* of a subject is dismissed as probably not true, given the evidence, then that subject needn't be analysed deeply. And that is exactly how theists operate in everyday life too, and why it's important for books such as The Greatest Show on Earth to establish, or rather, *reinforce* this premise for evolution.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 11:42:00 UTC | #390497

Butler's Avatar Comment 21 by Butler

Richard, through no fault of his own, does seem to scare the crap out of every reporter he meets.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 12:48:00 UTC | #390504

HughCaldwell's Avatar Comment 22 by HughCaldwell

I wonder what the afterlife holds for Pamba. Will she frolic for eternity in the flowery fields of Heaven? Perhaps a religionist has some inside information here.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 15:08:00 UTC | #390544

j.mills's Avatar Comment 23 by j.mills

All dogs go to heaven. (Or is it "all gods..."?)

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 16:09:00 UTC | #390556

heathen2's Avatar Comment 24 by heathen2

Maybe the interview was good, but I found the tone of the article annoying. Such as:

"those who accuse him not only of a virulent disrespect for religion but of being an apologist for Hitler and Stalin"

I've never heard or read anything that indicated that RD is an apologist for either Hitler or Stalin. Or that he has been accused of that. I think what has been conveyed is that Stalin's atheism was unrelated to his atrocities, which is not the same as being an apologist for Stalin.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 16:55:00 UTC | #390570

Stella's Avatar Comment 25 by Stella

So sorry for your loss, Richard. My "pets," too, are more like family.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 17:41:00 UTC | #390583

HughCaldwell's Avatar Comment 26 by HughCaldwell

Stefanie Marsh is suffering from the usual interviewer's compulsion to show she's smarter than the interviewee. This is done by inserting lofty-sounding tosh by way of comment. The last paragraph is particularly senseless.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 18:04:00 UTC | #390585

decius's Avatar Comment 27 by decius

He’s written eight books on evolution so far and one wouldn’t have thought there can be that much more to say on the subject.

Let me guess, Stephanie Marsh is a journalist.

My condolences on your loss, Richard.
I can imagine how you must feel, as I was forced to put down Jackass - my beloved pet of 13 years - just about a month ago.

Sat, 22 Aug 2009 21:38:00 UTC | #390636

Hellene's Avatar Comment 28 by Hellene


There's a dog out there that needs you.


Sat, 22 Aug 2009 23:46:00 UTC | #390662

David-in-Toronto's Avatar Comment 29 by David-in-Toronto

To his credit, anything that’s written about him, good or bad, Dawkins links to his website, alongside a campaign to “out” closet atheists

I take that to mean exposing closeted atheists against their will. Am I perhaps missing a British nuance in the phrase… or is it a bad choice of words?

David in Toronto

Sun, 23 Aug 2009 00:48:00 UTC | #390671

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 30 by Richard Dawkins

To his credit, anything that’s written about him, good or bad, Dawkins links to his website, alongside a campaign to “out” closet atheists

I take that to mean exposing closeted atheists against their will. Am I perhaps missing a British nuance in the phrase… or is it a bad choice of words?

David in Toronto

Thank you for noticing this, David in Toronto. I had already written to Stefanie Marsh, as follows:-
Dear Stefanie

Thank you, your interview has come out nicely. I am pleased that you mentioned our beloved Pamba.

Too late for the paper edition, but in the on-line edition you might like to correct a couple of typos. The poet I mentioned is, of course, not Haussmann but Housman (A Shropshire Lad etc), and Howard Jacobson is odious (not odiou).

More difficult to correct is that, in the OUT campaign, the one thing we have been absolutely adamant about is that we do NOT 'out' closet atheists. On the contrary, we encourage people to come out by outing ourselves.
"Atheists are far more numerous than most people realize. COME OUT of the closet! You'll feel liberated, and your example will encourage others to COME OUT too. (Don't "out" anybody else, wait for them to OUT themselves when they are ready to do so).

More sharply, I said the following in my article launching the OUT campaign.
"Before I go any further, I must forestall one major risk of misunderstanding. The obvious comparison with the gay community is vulnerable to going too far: to 'outing' as a transitive verb whose object might be an unfortunate individual not yet — or not ever — ready to confide in the world. Our OUT campaign will have nothing, repeat nothing to do with outing in that active sense. If a closet atheist wants to come out, that is her decision to make, and nobody else's. What we can do is provide support and encouragement to those who willingly decide to out themselves. This may seem trivial to people in parts of Europe, or in regions of the United States dominated by urban intellectuals where support and encouragement is unnecessary. It is anything but trivial to people in other areas of the United States, and even more so in parts of the Islamic world where apostasy is, by Koranic authority, punishable by death.",1471,The-Out-Campaign,Richard-Dawkins

All good wishes,Stefanie, and thanks again.



Sun, 23 Aug 2009 01:22:00 UTC | #390677