Dawkins discusses creationism, the Giant’s Causeway, and the evidence for evolution

July 11, 2012 • 1:46 pm

Here’s a new YouTube “video” which is a broadcast of a talk Richard Dawkins gave on the BBC about the National Trust’s inclusion of creationist views in its Giant’s Causeway exhibit.  That’s a springboard for a debate with creationist listeners who call in about evolution and the age of the earth.

It saddens me to hear creationists with an Irish accent (I’m used to either Americans or the noxious Aussie Ken Ham), some defending a 6,000-year age of the Causeway, but Richard disposes of them handily by simply asking them to look at the evidence. (There’s no sign any of them have; they simply cite creationists who have “reputable degrees.”)

WEIT gets a shout-out, too.

h/t: Thad

75 thoughts on “Dawkins discusses creationism, the Giant’s Causeway, and the evidence for evolution

  1. It must be incredibly difficult to spend year after year dealing with the same inanity over and over. My hat is off to Dawkins for having the patience for that alone.

    1. I was thinking the same. For Richard Dawkins to even bother debating with laypeople who call into a radio talk show astounds me… it’s almost a waste of his time, but I suppose it’s a necessary evil (no pun intended) if he wishes to spread scientific understanding.

      1. It is always the bystanders (bylisteners?) who you are really talking to in exchanges like these. Still, the stupid burns. Perhaps Professor D. wears special anti-stupid burn clothing. I’d need it if I were in his shoes.

    1. I think he should make it clear that by calling them “ignorant” he means that they do not know the facts of the case (ignorant of the facts). They are, in fact, ignorant of what “ignorant” means. They think he means that they are of low intelligence. Which is not always the case 😉

  2. I love how the lady at the end explains that she’s got her evidence of a new earth, not just from the bible, but from the “biblical creation society.”

    If someone would just give her that 6th grade reading level science book, she might find out that there’s a real world just outside her window.

    1. Well, that’s it isn’t it? They’re just wilfully blind to the wonders of the real world — and our astonishing understanding of them!


  3. I still have trouble fully believing that anyone can look at the evidence and come to the YEC conclusion. I do wonder what it will take to remove that rejection of information from the cultural paradigm and move toward a culture that values evidence.

    1. Problem is that they don’t look at the evidence. They look at some nutter’s bogus case and don’t bother with any actual evidence.

      It will take a miracle, so to speak. 😉

      1. In my darker moments I think the current generation of YECs are a lost cause. I think education is the key, we need to get people to value evidence at school and not just try to pass the classes. But that is of course next to impossible.

  4. Goodness–when someone describes Dawkins as arrogant and rude, and I listen to this, I can only wonder at the restraint and patience he shows to the ignorant and stupid comments launched his way. I would have difficulty repeating the same arguments and appeals to consult the evidence over and over, though I definitely enjoyed the near-Hitch-slap he delivered on “David.”

  5. As Richard loves to point out, mistraking the age of the Earth at the scale of thousands of years is akin to standing on one side of Broadway in New York and estimating San Francisco to be on the other side of the street.

    Richard, if you’re reading this, you’re being far too generous by characterizing these people as merely ignorant. They’ve gone about as far past ignorant as Fisherman’s Wharf is from the Lyceum. Oh — and I do believe that Jerry owes you a plate of poutine for lunch as partial payment for your promotion of WEIT.



  6. That was really rather good. Glad Dawkins kept telling them to go read books and learn about the evidence for themselves. There was a comment thread on the Guardian about creationism sneaking into science teaching and there were a few people recommending WEIT and other books – one angry reply from a creationist was along the lines of ‘but I want YOU to explain evolution, stop hiding behind Coyne’s book!’ – as if it was all about personal opinion rather than evidence.

    1. Yes. I feel like we sometimes get the cart before the horse, explaining the scientific evidence to people before they understand what proper science is. The reason Richard finds the evidence for evolution so compelling is because he recognizes the rigor and care that went into developing and verifying that body of evidence. If you don’t appreciate the power of the scientific method, then you can’t really be impressed by scientific evidence—it’s all kind of the same, just things people say.

  7. Mrs. White is not stupid and has looked at the evidence . . . in the form of literature produced by Professor Edgar Andrews of the Biblical Creation Society.

    I understand that it is a fact that people are often forthrightly proud to blatantly display their willful ignorance, but some how it still amazes me when I experience a specific instance of such a thing.

    I would really like to be able to help people like Mrs. White, for both noble and selfish reasons, but I just don’t have a clue how to do it. It seems like it is similar to addiction. The addict can’t be successfully helped until they reach a point where they can acknowledge that they need help.

    So, how do you get a Mrs. White to the point where she can admit to herself that she is ignorant and needs help changing that? The only thing I am sure of is that accommodationism is right out. Even if there where evidence that it was effective I couldn’t stomach it. Fortunately there is no such evidence.

    1. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that sadly. Yes, it is true that some creationists are not brash ignoramuses who are proud of their ignorance. Some are genuinely deceived. But it isn’t always a matter of showing them the evidence. When it comes down to their belief versus the evidence, some will still choose their belief.

      This is one of the saddest things I ever read:

      “Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.”

      From: Sadly, an Honest Creationist by Richard Dawkins

      1. The reference is to Kurt Wise, BA degree from Un. of Chicago, PhD from Harvard, where his thesis adviser was none other then Stephen Jay Gould.

        Dawkins concludes that, “We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationism’s most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.

      2. Oh, yes I know it is complicated. Just venting some frustration. Not the least over the fact that many people are genuinely deceived. At what point, though, should they be held accountable for their ignorance?

      3. there is still some problems that its hard to solve. like produce a new enzyme that bind 2 substrate. its need somthing like 100 amino acid to bind 2 substrate, so its a big problem.

    2. Mrs. White is almost guaranteed a lost cause, at least for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean that arguing with her is a lost cause — just remember that she’s but one member of your audience.

      Shame and ridicule can be powerful weapons to get her to shut up and to convince others that she’s the blithering idiot that she so clearly is (and to convince them that they don’t want to be associated with her lest her stupidity rub off).

      Of course, to do that effectively, you need the facts absolutely solidly on your side. For example, you can point out that DNA testing works not only on humans but on other species; and, just as a DNA test can tell you that somebody is your cousin so many times removed, it can tell you that a redwood tree is your cousin removed enough times that your last common ancestor lived a billion and a half years ago. And that a chimp is your cousin six and a half million years removed.



      1. Ben, I agree with you. It’s been a while since I (tried to) read the Dialog on Two World Systems. I never got to the end so I don’t know if Simplicio was ever convinced but that’s not his role anyway.
        You don’t argue with a creationist to try to convince him that he’s wrong. You can’t do that but you can convince someone who’s listening to the argument.

    3. “I understand that it is a fact that people are often forthrightly proud to blatantly display their willful ignorance, but some how it still amazes me when I experience a specific instance of such a thing.”

      I used to say “Kentucky slapped me upside the head AGAIN!” I don’t live there anymore but nothing has changed. Willfull ignorance appears to be a new virtue in the U.S.

      “It seems like it is similar to addiction. The addict can’t be successfully helped until they reach a point where they can acknowledge that they need help.”

      So true. It’s why scientists are still fighting this battle. The other side is wearing intellectual armor in the form of t-shirts that say “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

      1. I used to say “Kentucky slapped me upside the head AGAIN!”

        Thank you! I just snorted a fine Italian red wine through my nose!

      2. It’s not a new virtue. Its popularity waxes and wanes, but ignorance has always been held as a virtue by a large segment of American society.

        1. Anti-intellectualism is the philosophical bedrock upon which American “culture” has been built. See Richard Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Culture” for details.

  8. Nutcase is just a blunt way of describing a delusional person, and can be applied to creationists without the need for apology.

    This is beyond ignorant, this is either an unwillingness to learn in the case of the sheep or active dishonesty in the case of the leaders.

    I agree with Chad, it is beyond me how anyone can listen to or read Richard Dawkins and then characterize him as strident or shrill.

    The level of patience exhibited with the chap who thought carbon dating would be used in determining the age of the earth and with the “educated housewife” is super human.

  9. The callers were depressing.

    When it comes to the ongoing effort to educate the public about science, certain concepts are not getting across. Lots of people clearly don’t comprehend the difference between an established scientific consensus (and how it’s arrived at) and a handful of people with scientific credentials who are willing to say absurd things. From what I can detect, many people just think “Well, this guy Dawkins is a scientist, and he says X, but this guy Ken Ham seems to know a lot about science, too, and he says Y.” They then think science is a matter of opinion—and, as we all know, everyone is “entitled to” their opinion. When Richard said the Earth is not 6,000 yrs old, they heard an “opinion,” not a statement of scientific fact. The times I’ve gone at it with these types, I’ve had trouble getting them to really get it; they always leap right back onto the idea that science is all about “opinions.”

    1. And really, getting a degree doesn’t mean much. Ron Paul somehow managed to graduate from medical school without learning that evolution is not teleological, and life does not, in fact, start at conception.

  10. This video was posted by “TheAikenHead.” It was titled much more appropriately: “Richard Dawkins vs. Morons.”

    I don’t think one could get more parsimonious than that.

  11. The callers were a rather sad lot but some of the messages the host read out were pretty good. It was nice to have a situation where the host was clearly on the side of rationality too, she did a good job. I don’t think Dawkins needed needed to apologize for calling these people nut-jobs, they clearly are and it obviously got under their skin. This is a good thing.

    1. As a former YEC, I think that the use of the term “nut-job”. While it has it merits, here it can easlily play into their “persecuted for Christ’s sake” assertions. I think that calling them out on their ignorance is far more effective because it puts the ball in their court (even if they won’t acknowledge it). my opinion is that Dawkins did a nice correction on that one.

      If you are going to engage them the evidence is where you pin them down. “What is the evidence for your claims?” “How do you know this?” “Is there any way to test what you claim”? Of course their ultimate response will come down to the authority of scripture (their particular scripture, of course), but it helps prove a point. Evidence isn’t the issue, faith is.

      Creationist are firmly in the authoritarian tradition. Listen to what Ms. White considers to be “studying” the evidence. She doesn’t acknowledge that she has read any of the material suggested to her by Dr. Dawkins. Instead, her knowledge comes from “studing” claims of others in the insulating community that is Christian fundamentalism. Those who are recognized as authorites of course. For them, doubt is the path apostasy, and reason is the bridge to damnation.

      I have quit trying to reason with people who are “of faith”. Most of my family are in this camp. When scientific knowledge can be dismissed with their “I feel” or “I believe”, what is there to talk about?

    2. “apologize for calling these people nut-jobs”

      Richard has called these people “nut-jobs” or some synonym on numerous occasions, only to retract it shortly thereafter, so I suspect that it must be a tactic on his part.

      While these people may not be intrinsically nut-jobs, running the creationist software in their heads is a serious disturbance in their thinking patterns that often has ramifications outside of this one area of knowledge.

      1. Yes, I often defend name calling as a rhetorical tactic that absolutely has its place. (The late Mr. Hitchens was like a Jedi master of it, who elegantly name called for emphasis and for comedic effect.) One of the tricks is to be extremely precise, so I enjoyed when Richard retracted the more expansive name he’d called the person and promptly replaced it with “you’re ignorant.” “Nut job” can be understood to imply that someone has psychiatric issues, which doesn’t necessarily have to be the case; the person’s ignorance, however, that’s indisputable. The shoe fits. Nicely done.

  12. Once again, I’m amazed by Richard’s patience and politeness in the face of rampant and aggressive stupidity.

    You just can’t argue with the brainwashed. He even asks them to look at the evidence which they ignore.

    The sad thing is, just think of the endless and wondrous facts they are missing out on. I’m not even a scientist but I’m in constant awe at what surrounds us. It’s a shame.

  13. This use of the term “reputable scientist” is problematic because the endorsement of creationism, by definition, disqualifies one from being a reputable scientist.

  14. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to watch the video yet.

    A few days ago, somewhere (perhaps this blog; don’t really remember), it was pointed out that it was possible to respond to the Giant’s Causeway brouhaha; a form letter was even given to make it easy to do. I did so (I did not edit the letter, not having time), and received a reply. It’s probably a bit long to post here, as they give a position statement and a FAQ, but I’ll go ahead and post the relatively short position statement. The FAQ doth protest (methinks, too much?) that they adhere to the scientific position, but mentions the controversy, the Caleb Foundation, and the fact that some people have other (creationist) perspectives. If I had had time, I would have replied to ask why people with other perspectives (that aliens put the columns there; that Darth Dumbledore created the world one second ago; that they are an illusion, etc.) were not also mentioned.


    Position Statement:

    The Giant’s Causeway visitor centre provides a state-of-the-art exhibition area which showcases the science and the stories of the Giant’s Causeway.

    All of the information presented to visitors in relation to how the Giant’s Causeway was formed, and how old it is, clearly reflects mainstream scientific understanding that the Causeway stones were formed 60 million years ago.

    For centuries the Giant’s Causeway has prompted debate about how it was formed and how old it is.

    One of the exhibits in the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre tells the story of the part the Giant’s Causeway played in the historic debate about how the earth’s rocks were formed and about the age of the earth.

    In this exhibit we also state that for some people this debate continues today.

    A National Trust spokesperson said: “The interpretation in the visitor centre showcases the science of how the stones were formed, the history of this special place and the stories of local characters.

    “We reflect, in a small part of the exhibition, that the Causeway played a role in the historic debate about the formation of the earth, and that for some people this debate continues today.

    “The National Trust fully supports the scientific explanation for the creation of the stones 60 million years ago.

    “We would encourage people to come along, view the interpretation and judge for themselves.”

  15. “It saddens me to hear creationists with an Irish accent”
    What, like Ireland is free from religious nutjobs? This is the country that, until 1996, was putting women in slave labor camps for being “sluts”.

      1. The slave labor camps were in the Republic (while both have state religions, the CoE seems to have become, like the monarchy, largely ceremonial). I’m not aware of significant differences in the accents, though (although I would expect the distribution to be different).

  16. Odd how Ms. White complains about personal attacks, then calls Dawkins a “liar”.

    And the website she cites says this, which is actually a lie: “Here it is important to distinguish between two separate theories which often go under the name `evolution’. According to one, `evolution’takes place on a small scale, and can be observed at close quarters in the laboratory…”

    Strangely, the according to the counter, I am the very first visitor to the website.

  17. The religious fundamentalism in the north of Ireland is a direct result of the generations of dogmatic brainwashing that has been an essential element in maintaining the murderous conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants.

    1. What’s amazing is how many people from other parts of the UK seem surprised to hear of creationism in Northern Ireland, as if it’s new.

      1. Ignorance about what actually happens in Northern Ireland is fairly widespread in the rest of the UK. I remember a poll taken in the early 70’s (unfortunately I can’t find a reference to it so I’m relying on memory) that showed that something like 20% of English residents thought that Ian Paisley was an IRA leader.

        1. Yes, deleted. “Bonetired” accidentally linked to an apparently creationist Causeway website.


          1. Thanks ….

            I am a fully paid up member of the anti-loon fb group and I am mortified!

          2. The links to the other group are available from ours – we’re eyeballing each other, only they don’t realise they’re the ones in the aquarium…

            It’s educational to read their group, in a masochistic sort of way, because they absolutely believe every last droplet of hogwash they post, and as all conspiracy theorists do, believe everyone is out to get them.

            Crackpots never think their crackpots, just misunderstood…

  18. wgat about new protein?

    an average protein made of 300 amino a acid. how can it evolve in small steps? its realy a mystery.

    1. Actually, “Oh, for God’s sake!” He’s a cultural Anglican, remember.

      Besides, “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” wouldn’t go down too well on BBC Radio 4.


  19. Dawkins could have said that:
    a. There are no articles in scientific journals advocating the age of six thousand years for Earth.
    b. A six thousand years for Earth goes against the theory of evolution, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, etc.

  20. I think Richard Dawkins should make it clear that, by calling them “ignorant”, he means that they do not know the facts (ignorant of the facts). They are, in fact, ignorant of what “ignorant” means. They think he means that they are of low intelligence. Which is not always the case 😉

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