This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Richard Dawkins interview on religion, evolution and Iraq

Richard Dawkins interview on religion, evolution and Iraq - Comments

Bernard Hurley's Avatar Comment 1 by Bernard Hurley

I think we are going into a sore tooth at the moment


So your saw has a sore tooth?

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 14:35:00 UTC | #451113

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 2 by NewEnglandBob

That was a fun read.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 14:38:00 UTC | #451114

sharpcj's Avatar Comment 3 by sharpcj

In light of the recent revelations that Blair has reaped millions in fees for negotiating oil contracts in Iraq, I don't think he would've agonised too much. This was always the plan. His conscience may have been screaming afterwards, which would explain his conversion to Catholicism and his megalomaniacal comments about God 'telling him to invade'. But I'm speculating.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 14:40:00 UTC | #451115

stanleygarden's Avatar Comment 4 by stanleygarden

MK: Lots of other people have said… did you read the memo recently in which Blair was assuring Bush about British support even before Parliament voted?

RD: Oh yes. I mean Blair is surely guilty but I as I said “with agony” – that’s what I meant. I think he really did agonize over it whereas I think Bush is too stupid to agonize about anything.

haha priceless!

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 15:05:00 UTC | #451122

Friend Giskard's Avatar Comment 5 by Friend Giskard

they are now doing what Christianity used to do in the Middle Ages, in much more dangerous circumstances because now there are much more terrible weapons than the Crusaders, for example, ever had.
This is quite right, of course, but, as I was reading it, the thought occurred to me the the absence of nuclear weapons in the 11th century did not prevent the crusaders from going nuclear on the people of Jerusalem when they invaded that city. They slaughtered the entire population, numbering tens of thousands. Bloody crusaders.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 15:52:00 UTC | #451140

gumby gumby's Avatar Comment 6 by gumby gumby

Oh, that was funny!

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 16:58:00 UTC | #451157

MikeEnRegalia's Avatar Comment 7 by MikeEnRegalia

Let's not forget that the crusades were an attempt to drive the Muslims from countries that they had previously conquered.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 18:42:00 UTC | #451175

canatheist's Avatar Comment 8 by canatheist

I mean Blair is surely guilty but I as I said “with agony” – that’s what I meant. I think he really did agonize over it whereas I think Bush is too stupid to agonize about anything.


Brilliant quote Richard, just brilliant.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 19:34:00 UTC | #451193

Paul Pelosi's Avatar Comment 9 by Paul Pelosi

Regarding RD’s comments during the interview I incline, rather, to the view that religious impulse goes deeper than merely being a psychological pre-disposition triggered into action by favourable circumstances. Religious types claim a love of God. It can in certain circumstances, I am told, exceed the intensity of that felt for one’s, by definition, ‘loved ones’. Love has been plausibly linked to evolution through natural selection. Surely, then, love of God must similarly be linked.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 19:38:00 UTC | #451195

Corylus's Avatar Comment 10 by Corylus

Paul Pelosi

Religious types claim a love of God. It can in certain circumstances, I am told, exceed the intensity of that felt for one’s, by definition, ‘loved ones’. Love has been plausibly linked to evolution through natural selection. Surely, then, love of God must similarly be linked.
Doesn't necessarily follow.

As I understand it (open to correction as always) love plausibly linked to evolution is probably (highly likely) to be related to oxytocin release which is post labour, lactation or orgasm. (These are not the only things related to oxytocin of course, but they are the biggies).

Now it might be that love of god is also triggered by oxytocin release, but I have to say I would find myself wondering exactly what buttons are being pushed if that is the case. Expecially if it is more intense than what women experience after several hours plus of gruelling labour.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 20:01:00 UTC | #451207

Jerôme Serpenti's Avatar Comment 11 by Jerôme Serpenti

Well done, Richard! I have often been bothered by scientists being unable to properly clarify when what they say is their opinion and when something is a scientific fact - this isn't as obvious to the general public as it is to trained scientists - and you commented succinctly and with humility on questions of Iraq.
I salute you, sir!

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 20:18:00 UTC | #451217

Paul Pelosi's Avatar Comment 12 by Paul Pelosi

10. Comment #471312 by Corylus on March 22, 2010 at 8:01 pm

I'm afraid I have to confess to being out of my depth in regard to what you say. I have no idea what you meant.

For my part I'm keen to know if an embedded religious disposition had had any survival value out on the plains of the Serengetti, i.e., too long ago to have been derived from political expediency or adopted for social advancement, or otherwise credited to the pressures of needing to be invented.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 20:48:00 UTC | #451225

MattHunX's Avatar Comment 13 by MattHunX

Ah, excellent!

I completely agree with RD on Iraq.

I've also thought, that 9/11 was just a good excuse and cue for the US to attack, they had it coming anyway and Cheney and Bush were all too eager to play war-games at the expense of bright and brave(young) men who threw their lives away for their petty conflicts.

To quote the late George Carlin, it was just a whole lot of prick-waving, and the overly and nauseatingly patriotic, naive (conservative) American was easily swayed by it.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 21:01:00 UTC | #451229

LittleFluffyClouds's Avatar Comment 15 by LittleFluffyClouds

It's true we probably did the Iraqis a favor by removing Saddam, but the long-term consequences of that invasion remain to be seen.

Most U.S. invasions have ended badly because they were undertaken for the wrong reasons. When U.S. interests in democracy and economic opportunity diverge, as they eventually do, we end up as colonialists every time. After seizing what we want, as in Latin America, we generally leave and let places go to hell, or leave them to the care of a friendly strongman.

Richard is absolutely right that the biggest problem with the war was the lying: the shifting, hysterical rationale that concealed a garden-variety great-game power grab. It damaged America's image and strengthened al-Quaeda. However, I do think the US is doing considerable damage to al-Quaeda simply by killing so many of them. And al-Quaeda has screwed itself by targeting Muslim civilians. They are easier targets than Americans, but they are also the people whose support al-Quaeda needs to survive. So I think they are losing, for now.

If America really cared about promoting democracy and protecting human rights, there would have been a military response, not just a pussy-liberal-outrage on the fringes over the Darfur genocide, and Saudi Arabia would not be our friend.

That's the hugest elephant in the room in America: Most of the hijackers were Saudi, the saudis oppress women and kill sorcerers and apostates in the public square, and that whole country is a hive of wahabbis brutally suppressed by a corrupt MONARCHY (for god'd sake) that believes most of the same shit. They have Mecca, and they have oil, and so they are immune to the U.S. But they do serve to show what bullshit the American self-image is, as a 'protector of liberty.'

And don't get me started on Israel.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 21:16:00 UTC | #451235

Philoctetes                                        's Avatar Comment 14 by Philoctetes

"...not everything has to be explained in a rational way before it can be considered valid. ".
Out of the mouth of a supernaturalist that is an absurd statement. But, not everything experimentally provable is necessarily rational, take chaos theory, string theory and its 11 dimensions (imagine that!) or quantum mechanics. Wasn't it Nils Bohr who said "If you think you understand QM, you are missing the point."? I (largely) accept QM etc. but on the credibility of its proponents rather than my own patchy understanding. I guess that makes me (in this case) a person of faith.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 21:16:00 UTC | #451234

Corylus's Avatar Comment 16 by Corylus

Paul Pelosi

I'm afraid I have to confess to being out of my depth in regard to what you say. I have no idea what you meant.
You are an honest person - refreshing. Don't sweat it though - I'm no biologist either :)
For my part I'm keen to know if an embedded religious disposition had had any survival value out on the plains of the Serengetti, i.e., too long ago to have been derived from political expediency or adopted for social advancement, or otherwise credited to the pressures of needing to be invented.
If that is the case -considering the prevalence of 'religious' actions/experience across markedly difference environments - then I rather suspect you need to look for an underlying cause which is capable of adaptation (ie. a quick response to changed circumstance/environments). Remember it is survival of the most adaptive not the fittest that we need to discuss.

This might be religion, but it might also be something else entirely.

In any event, as I say, I am no biologist, so I'll shut up now before I drop any clangers!

---
Oh before I go, if you are interested in intense religious experience you might find the discussion of Dostoyevsky's epilepsy below interesting.

http://tinyurl.com/6lqu8n

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 21:20:00 UTC | #451237

Paul Pelosi's Avatar Comment 17 by Paul Pelosi

16. Comment #471344 by Corylus on March 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Thank you for your kind remarks. And don't worry about clangers. This is not the place for intellectual snobbery. It is a place to learn things. I propose to do most of the learning.

And thank you for the link. I'm a bit stuck at the moment on what I perceive as a difference between religious impulse (genetic source££)and religion (imaginative response to impulse). Once I have that squared away I can perhaps move on a bit.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 22:00:00 UTC | #451244

mmurray's Avatar Comment 18 by mmurray

Wasn't it Nils Bohr who said "If you think you understand QM, you are missing the point."?


Richard Feymnan. I can't find the quote right now but usually it goes more like 'if you think you understand quantum mechanics you don't understand quantum mechanics'

I (largely) accept QM etc. but on the credibility of its proponents rather than my own patchy understanding. I guess that makes me (in this case) a person of faith.


I wouldn't call it faith I would call it experience. The scientific method has always worked in the past it is reasonable to assume it will continue to work. You can test the scientific method anytime you like by using one its products like the computer you are reading this on.

Michael

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 22:27:00 UTC | #451251

gurkuda's Avatar Comment 19 by gurkuda

I hope one day Lawrence Krauss will be kind enough to comment on this site. There are so many questions regarding QM I would like to ask. Does anyone here know him?

I would like to present an idea regarding the evolutionary explanation of religion. Could religion be thought as a by-product of our conscience which is a by-product of our highly developed intelligence? Just like the tamed foxes mentioned in TGSOE. Their patches served no evolutionary purpose, they were just there. Maybe the fact that we tend to have irrational beliefs is just an inevitable side-effect of having a conscious brain and serves no actual purpose.

EDIT: Ironically, this would mean that religion disproves intelligent design.

Mon, 22 Mar 2010 23:43:00 UTC | #451264

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 20 by Bonzai

You don't need to accept that QM works on faith. There are plenty of experimental data to back that up.

On the other hand, no one really "understands" QM if that means somehow reconciling it with cherished philosophical dogmas. So you are not required to accept any interpretation on faith. Just say you don't know is fine.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 00:03:00 UTC | #451271

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 21 by Bonzai

Mmurray

I think you are talking about a quote from "The Character of Physical Law".

The actual quote is "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics."

The version often cited here may be Dawkins' paraphrase.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 00:08:00 UTC | #451273

mmurray's Avatar Comment 22 by mmurray

Ah thanks Bonzai. I got lost in all the Feynman quotes sites!

Michael

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 01:55:00 UTC | #451302

JCsymmetry's Avatar Comment 23 by JCsymmetry

I find the topic of the origin of religious thought quite interesting. Evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience can provide some answers.
I have read a couple of books on the subject. The research in this area seems to show that religion is a product of our psychological and social architecture. We have a tendency to look for patterns and agency when comprehending the world around us. Religious thinking is like a hijacking of cognitive properties that already exist in all our minds. People are susceptible to religious thoughts and beliefs.
Two books that I would recommend are: 'Minds and Gods' by Todd Tremlin and 'Religion Explained' by Pascal Boyer.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 05:22:00 UTC | #451325

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 24 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #471341 by Philoctetes

not everything experimentally provable is necessarily rational
Yes it is. That's what rational means. It does not mean "makes sense the first time I heard it". As you will soon see, your thinking there's something wrong with certain evidenced things is likely because you misunderstood what they actually say.
take chaos theory
That some variables depend on initial conditions in a way which causes the uncertainties in those conditions to give uncertainties in the variables which grow with time so rapidly as to quickly be comparable with the variables themselves, rendering the deterministic equations they obey useless over long periods despite us trying to measure the initial conditions to a good (but finite) accuracy, doesn't sound all that off the rails to me, really.
string theory and its 11 dimensions
That hasn't been empirically shown, actually. You appear to mix it up with the rest of particle physics. We're still waiting for evidence of even one extra dimension. Having said that, if they do exist, it's not that odd; a circular small dimension is invisible.
I (largely) accept QM etc.
1. Largely? What parts don't you accept? I'll wager they are parts it doesn't really have; your "patchy understanding" is far from unprecedented, because many experts don't explain it well to normal people. I know how to explain it, but it requires the tiniest bit of maths (of which people apparently are frightened out of their skin, even when there's no other way to get something). 2. What does "etc." mean?

I won't reply to michelnostra88 just yet. Maybe after breakfast.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 07:07:00 UTC | #451332

evolutionman's Avatar Comment 25 by evolutionman

As a strong advocate of evolution, I simply ask the question why does ALL human behaviour have to be a direct consequence of natural selection. I prefer the theory that religious belief is an indirect consequence of our large brains that have the unique property in the animal kingdom of knowledge of its own mortality. Faith in some kind of supernatural being and an afterlife is surely a mitigation against the fear of impending death. Science has now blown that cover, so we have the option of discarding religious behavoiur and thought. It then begs the question as to how we cope without religion in this respect. Perhaps we grow up?

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 07:51:00 UTC | #451336

Christopher Davis's Avatar Comment 26 by Christopher Davis

Great interview.

Prof. Dawkins mentioned group selection when talking about the evolution of religion, but then stated that he beleived the true explanation would be found at the individual level. This is interesting, because I think it provides an opportunity to distinguish between the evolution of religious thought (i.e. supernatural belief) and the evolution of religious practice.

I absolutely think that the psychological predispositon to believe in supernatural entities is an individually selected trait. However I tend to believe that the evolution of ritualized behavior was driven more by group selection. Exactly how/why ritualized behavior and belief in the supernatural became entwined to the degree that it became religion I'm not sure. However, it is not hard to imagine how once developed, a ritualized system of specific beliefs based on a shared cognitive predisposition could be a powerful force for group identification and solidarity.

Since groups do compete with one another for resources, one only need to assume that groups with high levels of solidarity have an advantage over groups with weaker levels of affiliation. Then, if it could be shown that religion increases group solidarity, the utility function of religion as a promoter of social cohesion would be supported via group selection theory. Of course this does not mean that religion is "evolutionarily inevitiable" (if there even is such a thing), anything that promotes group solidarity would suffice...nationalism, racism, etc.

In essence, I speculate that religion is a form of group selected cultural evolution that is underpinned by an individually selected predisposition to believe in the supernatural.

I believe the advantages of group cohesion are a direct extension of the advantages of individual cooperation

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 16:00:00 UTC | #451440

Paul Pelosi's Avatar Comment 27 by Paul Pelosi

26. Comment #471562 by Christopher Davis on March 23, 2010 at 4:00 pm

19. Comment #471372 by gurkuda on March 22, 2010 at 11:43 pm

23. Comment #471445 by JCsymmetry on March 23, 2010 at 5:22 am

Thought inducing comments indeed.

I think there is a difference between imagining a religion into being and believing it to be true. Tolkien imagined the myths of his Lord of the Rings trilogy into being but he bid not believe them to be true – nor does anyone else. Imagining the existence of a God of all things into being and going on to imagine a theist interpretation of “God’s will” is not the same as believing them to be true.

The recognising of patterns in the world and the intelligent interpretation of them, even if in primitive times this necessitated the conclusion that there must be a God, is not the same as arriving at a belief. Belief lingers on long after worldly patterns have revealed themselves to have secular interpretations. Once belief has taken hold, no amount of secular logic appears to have any redemptive effect. I’m speaking here of people who truly ‘believe’ and not of fakers, charlatans or believers-of-convenience. I am surrounded at home and at work by fundamentalists who are unshakeable in their belief. They are all aerospace engineers.

Inclination to belief derives from at least two things – incredulity (the universe is too wondrous to be meaningless) and logic (cause and effect - there must have been a creator).

Personal incredulity can be dismissed on the grounds that there are people who exist for whom the wondrous is credibly meaningless. Truth must be true for all.

Logic is more of a sticking point. It cannot be said on the basis of logic that a God must himself have had a creator. Even the great Stephen Hawking acknowledges that logic cannot be inferred beyond the Big Bang. Indeed, logic cannot be inferred within a micro-instant of the Big Bang. During the micro-instant of the universe’s first appearance it is recognized that the laws of Nature, indeed the very laws of existence, had not been formulated or were in the process of formulation.

If it is suggested that a God created the universe at the Big Bang, then this cannot be de-bunked on the grounds of logic since logic before or even at the Big Bang cannot be inferred. But neither, it is necessary to say, can it be supported. If it is suggested that the creator-God must himself (or itself) have had a creator then this can be de-bunked on precisely the same grounds, i.e., the logic of this, while sound enough within the compass of the Natural world, cannot be inferred much less invoked before the Big Bang.

The hypothesising of gods, then, is as logical or illogical as one cares to deem according to one's taste. It cannot be said to fall within the realm of science.

Within the compass of the Natural world science is in the ascendant and may yet provide all the answers. Mathematicians may yet develop the logic of illogic to account for the goings-on between zero and the elapse of the first micro-instant. Geneticists may one day be able to assign to genes the ‘gnosis’ that separates the believer from the merely imaginative.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 17:56:00 UTC | #451506

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 28 by Steve Zara

Comment #471628 by Paul Pelosi

Logic is more of a sticking point. It cannot be said on the basis of logic that a God must himself have had a creator. Even the great Stephen Hawking acknowledges that logic cannot be inferred beyond the Big Bang.


You are confusing "logic" with "time".

If time started at the Big Bang, then there can be no causal connection with a creator.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 18:07:00 UTC | #451512

Sciros's Avatar Comment 29 by Sciros

Tolkien imagined the myths of his Lord of the Rings trilogy into being but he bid not believe them to be true – nor does anyone else. Imagining the existence of a God of all things into being and going on to imagine a theist interpretation of “God’s will” is not the same as believing them to be true.
"To imagine X into being" means to bring about X's existence through imagination. The LotR trilogy myths never actually came to pass so I think your choice of words is inappropriate for your point. You say "imagine into being" but you really mean simply "imagine."

Logic is more of a sticking point. It cannot be said on the basis of logic that a God must himself have had a creator. Even the great Stephen Hawking acknowledges that logic cannot be inferred beyond the Big Bang. Indeed, logic cannot be inferred within a micro-instant of the Big Bang. During the micro-instant of the universe’s first appearance it is recognized that the laws of Nature, indeed the very laws of existence, had not been formulated or were in the process of formulation.
I am challenging this notion. Logic is not an emergent property of physical existence. It is a tool, like mathematics, which isn't actually contingent on existence. Logic and mathematics are not laws of existence; they are used to describe laws. In fact I'm not even sure how you can get away from that, because without math and logic the concept of "beyond the big bang" becomes incoherent, as does really the whole notion of what is and isn't true. That is, a property of what is out there within an instant of the Big Bang is that it is outright indescribable?

This may be a misunderstanding due to a poor choice of words, though.

EDIT: Steve, that's probably it -- a confusion of terms. And it leads Paul down the wrong road in his post, I'd say.

If it is suggested that a God created the universe at the Big Bang, then this cannot be de-bunked on the grounds of logic since logic before or even at the Big Bang cannot be inferred.
Logic alone isn't enough anyway; you need axioms in order to logically draw conclusions. I'll tell you what, though, in saying "X on the grounds of Y" you are invoking logic, so there's a big fat contradiction right there.

The hypothesising of gods, then, is as logical or illogical as one cares to deem according to one's taste. It cannot be said to fall within the realm of science.
Even if your argument, which I submit is flawed, is taken at face value, it means that some people define their gods out of existence and therefore the logical conclusion from their definition is atheism.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 18:14:00 UTC | #451518

Stefanie Blair's Avatar Comment 30 by Stefanie Blair

The Neils Bohr quote goes like this:

"Anyone who is not shocked by quantum mechanics has not understood it."

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 18:15:00 UTC | #451521