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

Don’t Mess with Mother Nature: On Marriage and Driving Licenses.

Many of us in the West tend to feel some smug superiority when we witness the medieval debate in Saudi Arabia over the right of women to drive. It is hard to imagine in the 21st century that any technologically modern society can be so backward.

At the same time we have recently witnessed a great debate in the New York Legislature over the right of same sex couples to marry. Much hand wringing, and recourse to moral, religious, or legal considerations was devoted to the lengthy debate that ended up in a last minute very close vote on this historic issue.

There remains an intimate connection between these two events, and 100 years from now I expect that both will be looked upon with the same kind of wry disdain, as our descendants once again wonder how their ancestors could have been so out of touch with reality.

Ultimately, reality trumps ideology. It takes time—in some cases clearly thousands of years—but when human civilizations creates laws, often based on outmoded religious thinking, that violate the fundamental laws of nature as revealed by our emerging scientific knowledge, these human laws inevitably can’t compete.

Slavery is a good example. Why we may bemoan the current sorry state of the world, with terrorism, religious rivalry, sexual trafficking and the like still rampant, we have to realize, as my friend Steven Pinker has argued in a massive treatise soon to be released, that progress toward a more rational world is actually occurring at some basic level. In most of the civilized world it is recognized that the outmoded view that some races are biologically inferior and therefore not subject to the same human rights—one of the claimed justifications for organized slavery—is simply nonsense.

So too, the subjugation of women on religious grounds will inevitably fall. It is often shocking to remember that as late as the 1960’s women were not admitted into many Ivy League universities in this country. The recognition that in spite of biological differences, womens’ intellectual potential and biological drives, capability of work and leadership, are not quantitatively distinct from men is now generally recognized as biological reality, even at Harvard University. As a result, these justifications for suppressing their rights are disappearing (if not yet disappeared) in the west. It is simply a matter of time before Saudi Arabia is dragged, kicking and screaming perhaps, into the modern world.

And no matter what religious fundamentalists may feel about scriptural dogma condemning homosexuality, the biological fact is that homosexuality is completely natural in many species, occurring with frequencies that are largely biologically and culturally independent. It is no more a choice than is poverty or prosperity. It is essentially an accident of birth. Legislation creating artificial biological discriminants, where none actually exist in nature, cannot survive the march of time, or the continued onslaught of reality.

Religion is a powerful force, and it has held sway against nature in many cases for millennia. But whenever religious dogma tries to overcome the facts of nature, be it the age of the universe, the existence of a big bang, evolution as the source of biological diversity, or the inner workings of human biology, knowledge and reason will slowly whittle down resistance, and reason will win out. Religious fundamentalism, as powerful a force as it often appears, is unsustainable in a world driven by science and technology.

Ultimately, the fundamental lesson of science is quite simple: the universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not. Our job as humans is to figure out how it works so that we can tailor our philosophy and our actions as biological entities sharing a planet with the rest of nature, to maximally benefit from our knowledge.

Lawrence M. Krauss is Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. His most recent book, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science appeared in March. His newest book, A Universe from Nothing will appear in January of 2012.



Science journalism through the looking...

Chris Chambers and Petroc Sumner -... Comments

Science has an uneasy relationship with journalism, so what can be done by both sides to improve coverage

In defence of obscure words

Will Self - BBC News Magazine 100 Comments

We chase "fast culture" at our peril - unusual words and difficult art are good for us, says Will Self.

Your Brain on Fiction

Annie Murphy Paul - New York Times 26 Comments

New support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience.

The spectre of militant secularism

Nick Cohen - The Spectator 40 Comments

If you turn on the news tonight and hear of a bomber slaughtering civilians anywhere from Nigeria to the London Underground, I can reassure you of one point: the bombers will not be readers of Richard Dawkins.

A brutal price still paid for daring to...

Amol Rajan - The Independent 39 Comments

Their assault illustrates the extent to which defenders of religion still dominate our press, the brutal retaliation exacted on clever opponents of faith and the incorrigible stupidity of Sayeeda Warsi's claim about "militant secularism" last week.

The Sins of the Fathers [Also in Polish]

Richard Dawkins - 341 Comments

I can’t help wondering at the quality of journalism which sees a scoop in attacking a man for what his five-greats grandfather did.



A Blip That Speaks of Our Place in the...

Lawrence M. Krauss - New York Times Comments

A Blip That Speaks of Our Place in the Universe

How the Higgs Boson Posits a New Story...

Lawrence M. Krauss - The Daily Beast Comments

How the Higgs Boson Posits a New Story of our Creation

The Dark-Matter Ages

Lawrence M. Krauss - Slate 28 Comments

The U.S. may be losing its place as the world leader in frontier physics research.

Does Religious Liberty Equal Freedom to...

Lawrence M. Krauss -... 78 Comments

Does Religious Liberty Equal Freedom to Discriminate?

The Consolation of Philosophy

Lawrence M. Krauss - Scientific... 72 Comments

An update by the author of "A Universe from Nothing" on his thoughts, as a theoretical physicist, about the value of the discipline of philosophy

A universe without purpose

Lawrence M. Krauss - Los Angeles Times 87 Comments

A universe without purpose



Comment RSS Feed

Please sign in or register to comment