Reader survey: do you have a question for Richard Dawkins?

August 18, 2013 • 7:19 am

As I’ve announced before, on October 3 I’ll be interviewing the Most Reviled Horseman onstage at Northwestern University in Evanston (just north of Chicago). This event is part of Richard’s U.S. book tour, for the first volume of his autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist, will be released September 24.

I’m reading a prepublication copy now, and of course will focus my questions on the book, but I want to range more widely, as there are many things people would like to know about Richard, his writing, his science, and his “strident” atheism. This is your chance to submit those questions for my consideration.  As I’ll be in Poland much of September, I thought I’d post this now.

I can’t guarantee that I’ll ask readers’ questions, but given the erudite and science-friendly readership here, I thought I’d parasitize your brains.

Please, though, avoid questions that involve the following:

  • Extremely technical questions about genetics or evolution. Those would bore the audience.
  • Snarky or funny questions that don’t have a point besides showing off, or negative questions that are really attacks in disguise.
  • Personal questions that transcend what is normally asked an interviewee.

But if you have something you’ve always wanted to ask Richard, please put it in the comments below.

213 thoughts on “Reader survey: do you have a question for Richard Dawkins?

      1. I just got home from his Lecture at the Sheldonian in Oxford and I didn’t get a chance to ask my question because i basically froze in awe. my question is this:

        Your book The selfish gene, (along with other publications, and general public understanding)states that we should teach altruism. Fair enough, my question is essentially why.

        If you had to compile a list of reasons for which selflessness should be the direction of humanity, despite being an exploitable trait versus its evolutionarily triumphant counterpart of selfishness, what would your list look like?

    1. Hah! That’s my question. I don’t think he should be allowed to say for both. I’d like to know which he is more proud of.

  1. I’d ask about how he goes about writing: does he need solitude? does he find certain subjects much more difficult than others? how does he get around writer’s block? Are there any techniques he uses to help him write as clearly as he does?

    1. I’d also ask what it was like for him to write something personal like this, as apposed to his other books (i.e. areas of expertise / subjects for which he has a passion)

  2. Richard: are you aware that you are ‘irreplaceable’, and that the light side of mankind will need you for decades more? Keep it coming!

  3. I would ask him about the role of social media in promoting science and reason. What strategies are most effective, for those who choose to adopt Twitter, FB, etc?

  4. My question : When Richard says religion is the greatest evil today (re his tweet about Islam) does he think we will solve most problems in the world if religiosity goes down?

    Even without religion people will still act tribally, still find divisions/differences to fight over about nationalism, regionalism, wealth inequalities etc.

    1. True that much of the world’s ills are not directly caused by religion, but by the weaknesses that are natural to humans.

      But we have made much progress, a few clear examples being the abolition of slavery and the empowerment of women, two advances that did not come because of religion but rather in spite of religion’s best efforts to solidify the conservative resistance to change. These changes depended upon more modern and scientific views of what humans are, and they depended on relaxing explicit doctrines embedded in religious texts.

      So today, to say that an instantaneous evaporation of all religion would not transform the world into paradise, is that an argument to stop working to improve and refine our understanding of reality, and to bring it into better and better agreement with reality? We have made enormous progress due to accurate understanding, and religion is diametrically opposed to that understanding and fights to retard it.

      1. It’s not an argument to stop mitigating the impact of religion, but to understand Dawkins’ perspective on other evils we face today. I guess when he says “root of all evil” does he mean that literally?

  5. My question to Prof. Dawkins: Regarding your friend, the late and still much-lamented Douglas Adams, what bit of his writing or commentary sticks in your mind as the most important, and which possibly other bit of his work still strikes you as the funniest?

  6. I would ask Richard what he thinks is the single most exciting development in evolutionary biology over the course of his career, why he personally finds it exciting, and what, if anything, the general public should find exciting about it.

    As a follow-on, if said development isn’t a recent one, I’d ask the same for a recent finding.

    Also, since this is taking place at a college campus, I think it’d be worth asking him what he would personally study today if he were to pursue another degree himself.

    b&

  7. Dr. Dawkins, in your opinion, what are the greatest contributions those of us who are not scientists can make to the promotion of science literacy in America?

  8. It also occurs to me: I’d be much more interested in the answers if they’re not sprung on an unsuspecting Richard. Not that I’d want canned responses, but I think just inviting him to read this thread would give him more time to think through some possibly interesting twists on some of the answers — and, perhaps, even jot down relevant notes (such as the requested DNA quote from Jim’s question just before mine).

    And, if so: Hi, Richard!

    b&

  9. Let’s call The End of Faith and The God Delusion the “kick-off” for the new atheist movement. How does Prof. Dawkins characterize/quantify the progress made toward the goal, which (to me) is minimizing or eliminating the effects of religion on society.

    1. Yes, that, and similarly, what are his thoughts on the status of the idea of the selfish gene now? (Assuming the topic doesn’t arise somewhere else in the evening, and that many people in the audience may not be very familiar with the idea.)

  10. With so many of Richard Dawkins’ books available, both technical and otherwise, and all the myriad sources of his writings, videos, etc., his life and thoughts are pretty much an open book. If you read this, Prof. D., thank you for enriching my life and educating me.

  11. What question or point raised in a debate by an opponent was the most difficult for you to address? How did you answer it at the time and how would you answer it now?

  12. Scientists in the making nowadays live in a very different environment from when you were growing up and studying. Young people nowadays do their homework on Facebook, research papers on Wikipedia, inform themselves on Google.

    Any tips on how to navigate the sea of information we currently live in, how to assist young minds in developing a taste for wonder? How to find quality in the overwhelming quantity that submerges us?

  13. No question, but if you could convey to him my favorite comment of his. It was on a radio interview/Q&A session that probably ran on NPR. Someone either in the audience or a phone-in made (IIRC) voiced some fairly simplistic but broad-stroked concern about evolution, and asked Richard what what advice he had about this.

    The questioner was pretty clearly one of the naive faithful, expecting to pin him down. RD’s (annoyed) reply was, “Read. A. Book. There are shelf-miles of them.” It was great!

    1. I’m pretty sure Richard would answer that there is no single best approach, that different people will respond to different approaches, and that some people will respond best with different approaches from different people. I suspect his only complaint would be against fellow atheists who tell people who take a different approach to shut up.

      b&

      1. Wow, you sound like a real expert on all things Dawkins. Do you know what his favorite color is too? How about how he likes his tea? Do you still have that tee-shirt he left in your apartment, oh so many years ago, back before he became famous?

            1. oops, my bad. I thought you were saying something specific and intelligible about how the theory of cognitive dissonance predicts the utility of disdain in rational discourse. If I had known you were just being mindlessly vague and dismissive, I wouldn’t have put you through the trouble of posting an actual link. Wow, I’m such a dork!

              1. Either your disdain is a failed attempt at some sort of postmodern ironic sarcasm, or you really did sleep through the lesson on cognitive dissonance.

                Hint: what self-respecting adult wishes to admit that his ultimate source of wisdom is a fourth-rate faery tale anthology that opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard?

                b&

              2. @Ben Goren
                “Either your disdain is a failed attempt at some sort of postmodern ironic sarcasm, or you really did sleep through the lesson on cognitive dissonance.”

                In what sense is my disdain ironic? I literally think that I am your superior in every way that matters. I think I’m smarter than you, that I can run faster, could wipe the court with you in a game of one-on-one, I’m sure my GRE scores are better than yours, that I’m probably better looking than you, have read more books, can write better jokes than you, that I have fresher breath, etc. I’m honestly quite convinced that I’m just a better, all-round human being than you are, and I thoroughly disdain thee and hereby cast scornful aspersions on you and your descendants.

                And in what sense has my disdain failed? You went from making some vague and dismissive hand wave towards a very long Wikipedia article on Cognitive Dissonance, to saying something much more intelligible and specific, and dare I say, rational. Granted, it still leaves much to be desired, but progress is progress.

                I see no failure here. It looks to me like my disdain actually worked! It looks to me like I actually disdained thee into acting more rationally. Yes, that does appear to falsify my own default expectation that it would fail, but that just means I learned something, which is also no failure. I see only success here.

                Are these results replicable? Were proper controls in place? Will it pass peer-review? Probably not on all three counts, but we have to start somewhere, do we not?

      1. Perhaps if you are thinking in terms of one individual to another, you are correct that mockery and disdain only heighten defensive reactions.

        But what we are involved in here is a public dialog involving millions upon millions of individuals arriving at a consensus from among various competing view points. In such a scenario mockery and disdain can in fact be a very effective strategy to break down and diminish the reputation and unquestioned deference and respect accorded religion in our society. If it weren’t effective, why do you see so much of it in our public political dialog?

        Mocking the ideas or statements of one persom may very well not win that person over, but it could win over large numbers of observers who are on the fence, as long as the mockery is intelligent and on target.

        Whatever the answer works out to be, I’m guessing it won’t involve disdain (scorn, mockery, humiliation, etc.)

        I haven’t noticed you offer anything positive about what you do think the answer is.

        1. I havent noticed you offer anything positive about what you do think the answer is.

          Indeed, about all he’s offered has been scorn and mockery for us for being too stupid to understand that uncouth loudmouths such as ourselves can’t possibly have ever having any hope of changing people’s minds….

          b&

          1. I am working on that problem, thanks for asking. I’ve been calling it “disdain-free activism”. I could certainly use some help if you’re up for it, and by “help” I don’t mean “praise and loving support”, but rather the kind of critical no-holds-barred scrutiny that I’m sure you true-bleevin disdain-addicts can offer.

            Here’s a link to an overview on my progress so-far:

            http://greatbandwagon.com/2013/08/08/what-is-disdain-free-activism/

            Please don’t pull your punches. I know I won’t. 🙂

            1. Sorry. Not interested. Do your own homework.

              You accommodationists keep whining that us meanines aren’t helping, and yet you have nothing but “Play nice!” in your corner, and we’ve got established psychology and Richard’s Convert’s Corner in ours. Plus overwhelming examples from every social change movement in all of history — your “disdain-free activism” is no different from, “Back of the bus, lady,” when it comes right down to it. The established order is always telling those who challenge it to not be so obnoxious and just shut up and play along — and there are always toadies who don’t agree but who are nevertheless all too eager to toe the party line.

              The topic has been beaten to death here on WEIT, and you’ve yet to add anything new — let alone interesting. See the archives for more. Much, much, much more. You might start with Tom Johnson and “Don’t be a dick.”

              b&

        2. @Jeff Johnson
          “Mocking the ideas or statements of one persom may very well not win that person over, but it could win over large numbers of observers who are on the fence, as long as the mockery is intelligent and on target.”

          Yeah, but what about the die-hard fanatics it just further alienates and marginalizes? I take no comfort in thinking that these people may eventually form a tiny minority. The U.S. President is a minority of one, but he has enormous destructive power, and fanatics are highly motivated to get their hands on their own sources of power (e.g. Iran and nuclear weapons).

          I see a “disdain as antibiotic” analogy here. Just as antibiotics can be misused to create ultra-dangerous superbugs, perhaps disdain can be misused to create ultra-dangerous “super fanatics”. I realize this is just my own rationalist “the sky is falling” hand waving, but it does seem plausible to me.

          In any case, even if disdain does ultimately need to be in the atheist’s toolkit, this inclusion should not happen mindlessly and certainly not without availing ourselves of the good Science that could be done to understand its role and limitations.

          1. You’ll never persuade the die hard fanatics even if you go so far as to bow down and perform sexual favors for them. They will, however, eventually die off, however hard it may be.

            You seem to think that if you are nice enough and kind enough that you can pursuade more faithful away from their beliefs. I doubt that, which I think was along the lines of Ben’s point about cognitive dissonance. Past a certain point, nothing will disconfirm a belief held deeply enough. So trying rational pursuasion, no matter how sweetly accommodating you try to become, is doomed to fail. And until your subject admits the problem, there is no therapy that can help them.

            At least by pointing out the absurdities we can diminish the status of religion, and reduce the respect it receives, which creates disincentives for people to join up or remain part of it. This requires the criticisms to be intelligent and pursuasive, and to have the facts on their side. The truth wins out in the end.

            I agree that too much hostility is dangerous, but I also think there are limits to how far you can go with kindness. At some point you have to put your foot down and stand for something definite, and not endlessly flex to suit the tastes of your adversaries.

            1. “You seem to think that if you are nice enough and kind enough that you…”

              I’ll stop you right there. For me this is not about being nice or kind. For me this is about making sure that rationality wins out over irrationality, pure and simple. If it turns out that disdain is the best way to win that conflict, I promise I will make the rest of you disdain-advocates look like Mr. Rogers.

              “Past a certain point, nothing will disconfirm a belief held deeply enough.”

              I realize I can’t just dismiss the theory of Cognitive Dissonance, but Science has a habit of making mince-meat out of bold generalizations like that one. Scientists are a clever bunch, and we have no good reason to think Festinger’s theory will be the last word on that subject.

              “At some point you have to put your foot down and stand for something definite…”

              Agreed. And until the proper science is done to change my mind, I’m taking a stand for disdain-free activism.

  14. I would like to know Dawkins’ idea about the future time frame of religions in societies, general idea about where and when people start to change their attitudes about religions.

    I personally believe that the majority of currently prevalent religious ideas (as in personal gods in Christianity and Islam) will fade, with different speed and possibly directions in different regions.

    What is his general opinion on the directions of these changes, then when (i.e in 10, 20, 50, 100 years?) and where (Europe, Asia,Middle East, Africa, US).

  15. I’d like to ask if Richard if reaching his seventies has given him any new insights that have informed his approach to promoting science, atheism and secular values.

  16. Does he prefer the relaunched Dr Who or the original series?

    (Yes it IS a personal question but it might raise a smile!)

  17. Given the ridiculous criticism he got for not having read the Koran, would he consider reading it and then, chapter by chapter, posting quotes from it and his impressions on his Twitter feed? (Doing it in the manner of Randolph Churchill reading the Bible out loud and then exclaiming what a shit God is.)

  18. I would like to ask Richard why he feels its not important to debate creationists at every opportunity, that it would look better on they’re CV rather than yours.

    1. With respect–that should be something you could figure out yourself; and if not, you could probably google it.

      1. Geeez Diane, of course i’ve heard him comment on this but thought others who haven’t may be interested, the point of this i think. So, are you going to ask a question Di or just criticize others?

        1. I just think that that’s the sort of question we here should already be able to answer easily. If your intent was to create an opportunity to educate those who might still not know why, you might have mentioned it.

  19. A question about human genomes and evolution: given the fact that until ca. 30.000 years ago several human species co-existed on our planet, what are the prospects for the future? Could the same situation rise again? Will we have several distinct human species in a few thousands years? Maybe due to space navigation, or to socio-biological segregation processes (e.g. religious / non-religious), or to ‘antropotechnology'(genetic engineering of human genomes)?

  20. “Is there anything religious people do or say, besides those things that actually cause harm, that can upset you and cause you to lose your calm?”

    Some history on why I asked that.

    I once saw an interview with Richard Dawkins and Wendy Wright.

    It was… incredible. Wendy Wright was pure distilled creationist empty-headedness. She was practically a straw man of her own position.

    And yet through it all, Dawkins remained calm. I was shocked. A friend of mine talked about the stridency and rudeness of Dawkins. I showed him that video and he changed his mind on the spot, agreeing with me that anyone who flipped out and started shouting invectives at that woman could be forgiven, and that Dawkins ability to remain calm and polite was amazing.

    So, I’m convinced Dawkins has the paitence of a saint (no pun intended). The only times I can think of him getting really angry or upset about the religious is when they espouse beliefs that cause harm. He gets angry about abusing children by teaching them about Hell, but threats of Hell to any adult slide right off, apart from maybe some response pointing out the silliness of such a threat.

    So, what behavior of the religious is capable of setting him off, even without really hurting anyone?

    1. I had the same reaction to that video – how could people call him “strident” or “militant” when he could treat an empty-headed idiot with such patience and respect? It is an amazing interview.

  21. What is your response to charges of “Islamophobia”?

    (I believe I already know roughly what his response is, but I’d like to see it aired in a public forum as often as possible).

  22. “Is there anything about evolution and/or atheism that you once passionately believed and publicly advocated … on which you have since changed your mind? If so, what and why?”

  23. The CEO of the now defunct and fraudulent company “Enron”, Jeffrey Skilling, listed Dawkins book “The Selfish Gene” as his favorite, and made it required reading for all of his underlings. He applied his bizarre understanding of evolution to how he managed the company, such as every year, he would fire the bottom 10% of the traders.

    Not much of a question, just wanted to hear his reaction, assuming he is aware of this.

    1. Most science books can be used for nefarious goals. Chemistry or nuclear physics comes to mind, but biology has also its parasites.

      It’s a question, but the question is if it is an interesting question (I don’t think so) or a rude question (I think so).

      1. I’m not sure how it is rude to ask about why people mischaracterize his writings, especially when it is done so spectacularly. I greatly enjoyed Dawkins essays on critics of his book who clearly never made it past the title.

    2. It must have been enormously confusing for his underlings, those who actually did read it that is. And I can only assume that Skilling either never read it himself or failed utterly to understand it.

  24. What would he say to people who cling to their religion’s origins story because they find science too difficult to understand and too changeable?

    1. A variation on this question:
      I have always felt that without a pretty solid understanding of science and scientific method a person does not really have what amounts to a rational basis for being an atheist. Does Dawkins agree?
      As an aside; I once met the chairman of a local chapter of the Humanist Society. He said that about a quarter of his chapter membership became atheists because of “religious abuse” i.e. very bad childhood experiences in their religious upbringing that made them “hate their abuser” and rebel. When I said this was no basis to be called an atheist (which must include understanding some science and be committed to rationality) he countered that what I was asking was in effect that there had to be an “atheism test” or liturgy which is “approved”. I totally see his point, but still can’t quite accept it. What would Dawkins say.
      Sorry for the long post, i’m not very good at short sharp questions.

      1. I don’t, and I doubt Richard will, either.

        When it comes right down to it, an atheist is merely somebody who doesn’t believe the claims of the religious.

        Do you need a solid understanding of science to not believe somebody who tells you he flies to Jupiter every night and has great sex with Elvis’s three-headed Martian lovechild there?

        No?

        Then why do you need a solid understanding of science to not believe the Christians, who claim that an ambulatory rotting corpse with a penchant for having his intestines fondled through his gaping chest wounds will judge you after you yourself die? Or the Muslims whose favorite superhero flew off into the sunset on a winged horse? Or the Hindus who have more gods than a Hindu god has blue penises?

        Atheism is just another way of saying, “I don’t believe you.” Your basis for not believing can be rigorously empirical or irrationally absurd; the end result is that you don’t believe the claims of the religious.

        b&

        1. Hmmmm….
          Which means, Ben, that atheism is no better than religion in that there needs to be no criteria in accepting or rejecting something other than a personal opinion or inclination. Which also means that religious peoples accusation that atheism is merely just another sort of “faith” or personal belief is true.
          I don’t buy it.

          1. No, no, no! No.

            The null hypothesis is that absent observation there is no magic. Yes, we can say much more from science, but that doesn’t bear on the definition of atheism as absence of belief.

            And the use of a null hypothesis is overwhelmingly accepted by statisticians and scientists both. Skeptic organizations have accepted science as useful skepticism, so again: skepticism is enough.

            1. And what is the allowable basis for such skepticism? Under your definition it can still be personal inclination or else some “revealed truth”. I really do think that atheism or the atheist movement (as the terms are commonly used) is more than this, it MUST imply, at a minimum, the acceptance of the scientific method in determining reality

              1. That isn’t true. The christian is making assertion that they have true doG-ideas. An atheist can simply be someone that examines those claims, concludes that they are false and finds that there is another group (atheists) that agrees with them as well. The (scientific) evidence simply adds to the good reasons to reject christianity.

                Christianity is reject worthy on its own merits.

          2. [A]theism is no better than religion in that there needs to be no criteria in accepting or rejecting something other than a personal opinion or inclination. [Emphasis added.]

            To expand on Torbjörn’s response: there’s a difference between rejecting a claim and simply not accepting it. If you want to reasonably reject a claim, you need good reasons for doing so. But simply not accepting a claim just means that the evidence you’ve learned of to date doesn’t rise to standards you consider reasonable.

            b&

            1. … and what exactly constitutes being “reasonable”? You are backing away from your original definition of atheism and moving toward mine. Only one more step… it’s that”reasonable” implies the scientific method

        2. Atheism is just another way of saying, “I don’t believe you.”

          And that right there is one of the main reasons the religious get their noses so out of joint!

          1. +1

            I reserve the right to not believe any story somebody makes up (unless they have some supporting evidence).

            You don’t need scientific training to say ‘that doesn’t make sense’.

            1. I reserve the right to not believe any story somebody makes up (unless they have some supporting evidence).”
              And why if that “evidence” is what is found in the Bible?
              Skepticism is not enough, “evidence” is not enough, logic is not enough, distrust is not enough, to make atheism (as the term is now used) any different than any other belief system. What makes atheism different from other approaches is encapsulated in the scientific method. This does not mean a formal practise of the scientific method, it can be a personal and ad hoc inclination to the principles of scientific thinking. I can not see how anyone can truly be an atheist without this. But I do see the point that someone who rejects religion because of their past abuse from it, or their disinclination to accept religions answers to the problem of evil can come also to reject religion.
              Anyhow, this is what I would like to ask Dawkins his opinion upon. I really don’t believe in asking a speaker a question that I am certain I already have the answer to.

      2. I always wonder why people who became atheists because of “religious abuse” in their childhood didn’t just find another, friendlier version of God. Goodness knows there are plenty of liberal religions and feel-good forms of spirituality out there.

        If they didn’t do this because they considered the matter more deeply and realized that the same basic problems with the “mean” God run through all the “nice” ones, then the abuse was only a catalyst and not the actual cause.

        But if they seem to be totally unaware of anything other than “God damns you to Hellfire” and fundamentalism, then I suspect you’re right. They’re atheists who would spin on a dime if they were approached by a loving-enough congregation or believer. It’s a matter of being right for the wrong reason; that’s risky.

        Many loving believers seem to think most atheists are like this. I don’t know what the actual numbers and statistics are, but I hope not.

      3. It may be easier to be a non-believer with some education, but only if skepticism isn’t good enough.

        There is no atheism test by the definition of atheism. Adding to skepticism is attempted by some atheists, often not as understanding science but as being committed to a larger humanism, and it isn’t either needed or (it seems) successful.

        We can ask Dawkins, but I don’t think he can do much with the question.

      4. I think scientific knowledge helps add confidence to the statement “I do not believe in God”, but I don’t think rationally arriving at this belief requires much knowledge of science.

        Look at Epicurus and the Stoics, who were innovators in the scientific mode of thought in their day, but had less scientific knowledge than most religious believers today.

        I think it only requires curiosity, rational thought, and the courage to challenge and break free of the pervasive social pressures to conform to established norms. Most children manage eventually to figure out that Santa Clause isn’t real, and realizing that God isn’t real just requires a bit more effort along those same lines to step outside the enclosing envelope of human culture and see that humans made it for human purposes.

  25. Peter Boghossian is also asking for questions in prep for his interview with Dawkins. Maybe you should compare notes. I imagine there’s a bit of overlap in your readership with his.
    I would like to hear about some discoveries that he would be sad not to live to see. Maybe you can think of a way to ask it less morbidly. I think of him primarily as an educator and I’m just thinking of the advances in science that he sees as inevitable, but are for now out of reach. What could the 16 year old aspiring biologist expect to be doing in 20 years? Besides looking for grant money.

  26. If there existed robots which somehow passed down artificial genes (which program their behavior) to dormant robots, and such robots and fundamentally their artificial genes took part in natural selection would these robots be alive?

  27. I hope to, but I will not, live long enough to see a statue for you erected in a city like Tehran.
    Do you also like that idea?

    1. Seems rather unlikely. Dawkins was a very noteworthy and influential biologist, but you generally only get statues for major discoveries.

      Dawkins only real (Science-oriented) claim to fame outside of scientific circles is his popularization of evolution due to the quality books he produced for lay-audiences.

      1. …except for the gene-centric perspective of evolution.

        And the recognition that Darwinian evolution isn’t restricted to biological systems (e.g., memetics).

        …and the sanitation and the roads….

        b&

  28. At some point Humankind will need to escape from this planet and the high costs
    of space travel means it’s probable that the human cargo on board the rocket ship
    will largely be in the form of gametes and/or embryos. When the software to
    inform,educate and entertain the developing colonists is written would it be wise
    to omit all reference to religious history? Or, is there a case for its retention on the
    grounds that forewarned is forearmed?

    1. No matter how badly we fuck up the Earth, there will never by anywhere else in the Universe even vaguely remotely handwavingly close to as good for us.

      And the energy expenditure to colonize the stars is so mind-bogglingly great that we will only do so after we’ve already terraformed and fully populated every terrestrial body in the Solar System, including Mercury and the Uranian moons. Indeed, I’d bet on us building a Dyson Sphere — or, at the very least, a Niven Ringworld — before the first extra-Solar colony is launched. And then, the target will be Proxima Centauri, and the star itself will be used as an energy source because our own Sun is no longer enough for our appetites.

      Honestly, I really don’t expect our species to last that long. Even if our civilization does, I just can’t imagine squishy bags of mostly water surviving in such an environment, except perhaps as curiosities in a zoo. And, even then, the zoo is much more likely to be virtual….

      Cheers,

      b&

      1. Yah, even if technology improves to the point where colonizing other stars becomes practical, there are precious few advances in science and technology that would make it easier to locate and travel to an Earth like planet than to just work with what we go in our local ‘neighborhood’.

      2. Well, yes and no. There seems to be only two viable economics of space due to the cost imposed by the universal speed limit – information barter (assuming ETIs) or colonization. And of course we will colonize the system first.

        But, as xqcd once visualized effectively, the two large steps on an exponential scale corresponding to the exponential growth of economy is the Moon (been there, done that) and the Oort cloud. Other planet systems is close on an exponential scale as soon as you get a light year out.

        Therefore I don’t think we will migrate to planets of other systems. Oort cloud bodies has all of the same resources (habitat bodies, volatiles, energy from fissionables/fusionables), neatly packaged in transportable bodies, and none of the costs and risks associated with deep gravity wells.

        An Oort cloud migration wave into the galaxy will make our species lifetime typical of hominids. The inhabited comets will move slowly under classical volatile rocket drift, meaning speciation be inevitable.

        “Non-speciation is futile!” =D

      3. I really don’t expect our species to last that long.

        This idea (with which I agree; based on grounds of environmental destruction) form the basis of my question: “What is your honest opinion as the potential future of the human species? Long-term survival? Extinction in the relatively near future? Or something in-between?

        And, best wishes to you, Professor Dawkins.

  29. Richard and I have been atheists for a long time, and his support is great for atheists. But he will not choose that as his greatest contribution to science or culture in general. Many evolutionists were devoted atheists earlier in the 19th century, including Charles Darwin. The best question asked in this series is “what would you choose for study now?” I would choose RNA, because it controls all proteins made in eukaryotes. They edit out the 5′ and 3′ ends, and truly edit the DNA on its way to being a protein. About 70% of the DNA codes for RNA of so many kinds. To understand evolutionary biology, we must understand RNA. Richard, do you agree with this statement?

    1. Just because atheism has always been a thread running through the scientific mindset doesn’t mean that helping to turn that thread into a larger ribbon couldn’t be seen as a great contribution to both science and the culture. The most dangerous part of religion — the aspect which fights against evolution, scientific understanding, and all the values of the enlightenment — has been the prominent place and great deference granted to faith. Not hope, trust, or provisional confidence: religious faith.

      As long as people believe that there is something fundamentally noble and wise about belief which goes beyond what a reasonable person can accept, then they will always use science like a taxicab — dismissing it as soon as it intrudes upon their magical, mystical view of the world. Scientists will play endless games of whack-a-mole with irrationality and nonsense because faith is a virtue in the culture and a vice in science.

      So I’m not sure what Dawkins would choose as his greatest contribution. If I had to pick the greatest invention of all time, it would be the scientific method. Helping to extend this method into a way of thinking about reality itself would be a great contribution. The extension entails atheism — if we are honest. Science is brutally honest.

  30. Here’s one sure to start an argument if this Board is anything to go by:
    “Richard, do you believe in any form of free will”?

  31. My question to Richard Dawkins would be some version of the following – at what point in modern history should it have no longer been considered normal or acceptable for most people to be religious?

  32. Might you please discuss how art and music might have developed without Religion – were the artists & music makers often secular but keeping that quiet, or, maybe, without religion would have created great works? I am devoutly atheist but have always wanted, as I listen to so many composers of religiously-based music, to understand that mystery.

  33. Will the interactive version of The Magic of Reality ever be released on a platform other than Apple? I really want it in the interactive version but, if a non Apple version will never happen I might as well get the book instead. It’s not that I don’t think Apple produces nice products.

  34. Maybe the great questions have been asked and/or maybe I’ve had and exhausting weekend.

    My question to Dawkins ends up stemming from personal curiosity. (Which may be a good thing, I don’t knock it.) But I’m sure it has been asked by others and answered in his prodigious authorship before. Nevertheless, for those of us who doesn’t know much of that authorship [I have only read TGD so far] a question may be:

    – How did you come to be interested in, and effective in, communicating science to the public?

    Re: Dawkins has more than most scientists, our host being an illustrious bl… website-ing exception, communicated and analyzed communication (memes).

    1. Thinking about it, the standard joke falls flat: here it _is_ the website that is the thing (presenting WEIT et cetera).

      And “an exhausting”.

  35. Do you believe that disdaining (scorning, humiliating, mocking, etc.) a delusion can cure the delusional? If so, do you have any actual evidence that such mock-therapy is effective? Or is it just an article of faith for you?

      1. OK, I looked but didn’t find. Please feel free to provide even just one specific example of where some reasonable approximation of my question has been taken seriously.

        By the way, it’s actually a psychiatric question as can be seen in the following form of it:

        “Do you believe that psychiatrists should use the sort of mock-therapy on their delusional patients that you endorse (as evidenced by the kinds of internet memes issued by your organization) in response to god delusions? If so, do you have any evidence to support your belief or is it just an article of faith?”

        1. Well Daniel, I don’t ever remember Dawkins ever suggesting that he had, or could convert a delusional highly committed religious person by ANY means at all, least of all mockery. So what is the point of “mock-therapy” as you put it? Well there are several benefits.
          1) Religion has far too long held a unique position that it is a highly personal value judgement that should always be respected, should never be questioned. This is totally absurd, and protects and insulates the most irrational and violent human tendencies, and is counterproductive to human progress. It is time to take religion of it’s undeserved pedestal and attack it for the errors inherent in it. Many religious beliefs are so ridiculous they deserve and NEED to be mocked to emphasise their stupidity. For people with open minds mockery is a useful aid in getting to recognising reality. Isn’t this what we all want?
          2) Atheists are a truly hated group, especially in the USA. Just like gays in the 60’s Atheism needs to encourage fearful members to “come out of the closet”. It takes bravery to do this. Seeing the folly of alternative religious beliefs is essential under such circumstances.
          3) Mockery is just a form of HUMOUR. Humour undermines absurdities far better than argument ever seems to, no matter how good the argument. We might question why so many highly successful comedians are atheists, and I’d suggest religious beliefs are so absurd that the people who live by exposing human absurdity are drawn naturally to atheism. We too have a sense of humour, and mockery is an outstanding tool to undermine absurdity.
          I sense that you are religious yourself and are scared by the power of mockery.. that is why you attack it. I rest my case.

          1. Having checked your own blog Daniel, I concede that you are NOT religious, but instead are an atheist without a sense of humour. I apologise for my previous error.

          2. It’s not the “power of mockery” that frightens me. It is the irrational faith of disdain-addicts like Dawkins who gleefully and with great gusto assert without proof that disdain can do anything but exacerbate the very unfunny problem of god delusions.

            Yes, yes we have anecdote and rationalist hand waving (thanks for that enthusiastic example), but so do the astrologists. Is there a psychiatrist on the planet who would endorse this Dawkins snake-oil?

            By the way, I am only an atheist if you disagree with my own belief that Reality is a god; otherwise I’m a very strict monotheist(i.e. There is no Reality, but Reality.)

            As to your allegations that I have no sense of humor, did you read my post called “Disdain-free vs. ‘Politically Correct’ Activism”? It has one of my better punch lines. Here’s the link: http://greatbandwagon.com/2013/07/31/disdain-free-vs-politically-correct-activism/

            1. Dawkins isn’t trying to provide therapy for people, or to coddle them, or to heal them.

              For you to accuse him of irrational faith and peddling snake oil is bullshit.

              The phrase God Delusion isn’t meant to refer to clinical delusions such as might be suffered by schizophrenics. It’s a book title, not a diagnosis, and it’s meaning is fairly plain: that belief in God is belief in something that is not real. That is his thesis and he defends it. You can agree or disagree.

              It’s a debate over ideas. Nobody is asking for the endorsement of psychiatrists. We can all hope that those who need mental health care find it, but its got nothing to do with the debate between science and religion, or atheism and religion.

              Meanwhile, the religious engage in plenty of mockery, or worse, of those who are atheists or adherents to rival religions. How many psychiatrists would endorse death sentences or jail sentences for atheists or apostates? How many psychiatrists would endorse threats of everlasting hell fire? And how many psychiatrists would endorse keeping kids home from school and teaching them that people and dinosaurs walked the planet together 6000 years ago?

              1. First of all, the fact that religious people use mockery is a strong argument against its utility. Why reject everything else they believe, but not their belief in the utility of disdain? Well, here’s my guess: because it feels so yummy to hate. Disdain is positively intoxicating, and what better way to anesthetize ourselves against the mind-bending frustration we feel when the god-believers won’t succumb and kneel before our own evidence-based righteousness?

                I think the gist of your own rationalist hand waving is either that the god delusion is not a serious, scientific problem (refuted nicely, I think, by Dennett in Breaking The Spell), or that Science is simply not up to the task of solving it, which to me looks a lot like the same “distrust of Science” that religious fundamentalists have.

                This is only a “debate over ideas” for people who accept the rules of such debate, two of which are the following. The first is that the hypotheses being debated must be falsifiable, for example: “disdain is no cure for irrationality”. And the second is that only evidence can falsify an hypothesis, not mere rationalist hand waving, and especially not just calling it “bullshit”.

              2. @Daniel Scholten
                “First of all, the fact that religious people use mockery is a strong argument against its utility.”

                That doesn’t follow at all. Religious people use cars, but I’m buggered if I’m going to give up driving.

                As to whether religious people are more likely to be persuaded by soft talk or mockery, it depends on the circumstances. I’d use soft talk where I thought it would do most good, but I’m certainly not going to refrain from calling BS on something when it’s merited.

              3. … and another thing, in the specific case where Creationists try to suggest evolutionists are afraid to debate them (as in the previous thread to this), a good strong statement that Creationism is BS is practically essential. Not least to overcome the Gish Gallop they use.

              4. @ Daniel

                The success of literary satire over millennia would seem to falsify the hypothesis that mockery is ineffectual.

                John Loftus cites, for example, Desiderius Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly, “one of the most notable works of the Renaissance and considered to be a catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.”

                And I doubt that Thomas Jefferson was being especially credulous when he wrote:

                Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.

                /@

              5. And the second is that only evidence can falsify an hypothesis, not mere rationalist hand waving, and especially not just calling it “bullshit”.

                You didn’t pay attention to what I wrote. I didn’t say any particular hypothesis was bullshit.

                I called bullshit on you indulging in the oh so yummy hatefulness of accusing Richard Dawkins of irrational faith and of paddling snake-oil.

                I guess the appropriate phrase here is “physician heal thyself.”

    1. @infiniteimprobabilit
      “That doesn’t follow at all. Religious people use cars, but I’m buggered if I’m going to give up driving.”

      That’s a lousy counter-example. You need to find one in which atheist-disdain outperforms theist-disdain. Also, the example should be reproducible under controlled conditions, be peer-reviewed, etc.

      Another point of clarification: I am absolutely not suggesting that a disdain-free approach to irrationality is a sufficient condition, but only a necessary one. I do not expect in the least that simply eschewing disdain will somehow magically make everybody sane. But I do expect that whatever the best approach actually works out to be, it will not involve disdain.

      1. Incorrect. Your original statement was “Why reject everything else they believe, but not their belief in the utility of disdain?” I’d turn that on its head – because we reject [some of] their beliefs, it does not necessarily follow, logically or tactically, that we have to reject all of their beliefs or even all of their tactics.
        I can lose ‘Thou shalt not have any other gods but Me’ (or whatever it is) without being obliged to chuck out ‘Thou shalt not kill’ too.

        And in practical terms, I don’t have to find a case where atheist-disdain outperforms theist-disdain, I just have to find a case where atheist-disdain outperforms non-atheist-disdain. And [since you were equating disdain with mockery] I gave an example of exactly that, in debating Creationists who try to imply evolutionists are afraid of them – it’s essential to state strongly ones disdain for Creationism.

        (The other meaning of disdain, as in ‘refusing to debate them at all’, is not the sense I’m using here).

        1. Damn. That should read ‘a case where atheist-disdain outperforms atheist-non-disdain’.

          Oh for an Edit function in WP…

        2. I’m not sure what you mean by “non-atheist-disdain”. Is it the disdain of non-atheists? Or the non-disdain of atheists?

          In any case, before we get lost in an orgy of hair-splitting, my real point here is that when I think of what is really, really wrong with religion, (above and beyond its being factually wrong), it seems to me that it is religion’s endorsement of disdain for unbelievers. When I look at that fact, I think, well, okay, so if disdain of unbelievers is wrong for them, well, why isn’t it wrong for us too? And maybe it isn’t. Maybe it really is the case that disdain is just wrong for them, maybe because they are so factually wrong. Maybe when you get your facts correct, maybe then you really are right to be disdainful. Maybe, maybe, maybe. That’s a lot of maybees. I’m not happy with all of this maybe-ness. I want to be sure. Before I subject my 99 year old Bible-believing grandmother to a healing blast of truly righteous evidence-based atheist disdain (or just about everybody else in my family for that matter), I need to know that such disdain really is truly righteous and healing, and not just the same poison in a different bottle. And this really looks to me like a scientific question, as scientific as asking whether homeopathy really works, or acupuncture, or chiropractic.

          1. It’s not your grandmother were after, it’s protecting her poor great great grandchild from the brainwashing she’s intending for him and the damage that this will cause to him and to humanity. Why should we have to tip-toe around your grandmothers sensitivities and certitudes when making efforts to accomplish this?

            1. Well, until the proper Science is done to answer the question for real, my guess is that for roughly the same reason that a surgeon should tip-toe around all the healthy tissue when removing a tumor.

              You don’t want to accidentally screw something up while you’re busy fixing things.

    2. @Ant
      “The success of literary satire over millennia would seem to falsify the hypothesis that mockery is ineffectual.”

      OK, point scored for the disdain-addicts. But you’re right to say “would seem to falsify”. All you’re really noticing is a correlation, and we all know what that doesn’t imply (i.e. causation, for those who don’t).

            1. That “would seem to falsify” is an ironic understatement. (But, on reflection, I think I was even more confused by the different kinds of cell division — “mitosis” v. “meiosis” — than I’d thought and jumped the wrong way; I actually wanted “meiosis” [same word!], a more general ironic understatement than “litotes”.)

              Lesson: I should not comment here between client calls. 😉

              /@

    3. @Jeff Johnson

      “I guess the appropriate phrase here is “physician heal thyself.””

      Thanks for that insight. What do I owe you? Oh, and do you do digital prostate exams? I’ve been having trouble with my stream lately. Maybe you could poke around, fix that too?

      Oops…did I go too far with that? And what are the rules for disdain, anyway? Does anybody know? Or is it just sort of a “Wild West” kind of thing?

      Can I play Sheriff?

      1. Here are two “arguments” for science versus unreason, as found in religion:
        Steven Pinker, “Science Is Not Your Enemy “
        Tim Minchin, “Storm”
        I challenge you to select which of these two excellent arguments, one reasoned, one using ridicule, is “ineffective” or counterproductive to winning the argument for rationality. I would also claim that the whole of the two approaches is more than the sum of its parts (or any separate part)
        You seem to feel Daniel, that we would win our case by “setting an example” of sticking to the purities of formal, rational and calm debate. I would say that we would only appear terribly boring and lacking in human warmth in doing so.
        It is quite impossible to change the mind of the truly delusional, but that is not what what we are trying to do. We are trying to present a our case to the questioning and the uncommitted. Atheism is not only intellectually appropriate, it’s actually rather fun.

  36. I have a (possibly naive) question about speciation.
    Whenever I see a picture illustrating speciation, it always seems to be depicted as a capital “Y”. The impression one gets from this is that the common ancestor splits into two mutational variations, both of which move away from the common ancestor, as well as each other.
    It must sometimes be the case, though, that the ancestral species will be successful enough to carry on multiplying and surviving (as if the stem of the “Y” carries on moving upwards in a vertical direction).

    Do we know of any currently extant species which is the ancestor of one or more other currently extant species?

    1. In case of molecular assessment this is impossible, as neutral bases will mutate no matter what. As for phenotype, it would still be depicted as a Y shaped bifurcation even if one of the tips is exactly the same as the ancestral one.

  37. As I understand it, the gene selection approach is supposed to have born fruit in explanations of animal sexuality, such as the work of John Maynard Smith. Would it be possible to comment on how gene selection sheds light on alternation of generations in plants and plasmogamy and karyogamy in fungi, as well as bacterial exchange of genes.

    This isn’t very technical, in fact. Also, sex questions are never dry.

  38. My Question:

    Prof. Dawkins, do you still consider “God” to be a scientific hypothesis?

    ———————————-

    My reason for asking the question:

    Prof. Dawkins seemed to be wavering a bit on this a while ago, when the issue of “whether there could be any evidence that would convince you a God existed” was being discussed on his, and P.Z. Myer’s web site.

    I’m with Prof. Coyne on the issue: that an All Powerful God (or many other conceivable Gods) could produce strong, empirical evidence for “His” existence. It worries me somewhat that the world’s most prominent scientist/atheist would consider abandoning
    what, by my lights, is the most rational position and one that deserves the type of promotion Prof. Dawkins has given it. Just last night I was talking to an old friend.
    The last time I’d seen him in our early 20’s he had given his life over to Christ and had become drunk with Christianity. Then he majored in philosophy and has been atheist ever since. He felt that Dawkins’ approach, God as a hypothesis that demands evidence, was vital to his own path to leaving Christianity behind.

    I hope Jerry and Richard find some time to discuss this issue, not only to see where Richard is at, bu to read about two smart guys knocking that ball around!

    Vaal

    1. From Uni of Cambridge, UK, Jan 2013, mini-series there’s a Youtube of the talk (53 mins) by a cosmologist:

      “God is not a Good Theory (Sean Carroll)”

      1. Thanks, I’ll check that video out.

        Just in case though: I suspect that Carroll’s lecture has to do with God being a bad explanation for things, e.g. the universe.

        I’d completely agree.

        But that is a different question than the one I referenced: “Could there be ANY evidence that would convince you that a God exists?”

        So it’s not about being stuck making inferences to a merely hypothetical God as an explanation for something: it’s about possibilities like a God actually showing up, for all to see and examine.

        Cheers,

        Vaal

    2. Both Profs would ask you to first define that God.
      Is it the omni-everything, loving you, wanting to be worshipped, caring what goes on in your personal life, occasionally saving lives, drowning most life, sending himself down to save everyone etc, or what?

      Or is it the Stephen Law one of max’d out evilness?

      I should have given Sean’s posting with links to the talks:

      http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/06/17/explanations-god-vs-nature/

      In his 2nd talk, with caveats, he claims that there cannot be any new particles or forces that are beyond the standard model + GR that affects everyday life.

      Given that, Sean says that no life after death is possible.
      If your God offers this then it cannot be a scientific hypothesis?

      At 35 mins into the 2nd talk he also has an interesting explanation for free will.

  39. When initially writing The Selfish Gene, were you aware that you were making a deep philosophical argument or simply talking science which, like all science, happens to carry with it philosophical baggage? I’m aware you wrote it for fellow scientists and laymen, but what were your thoughts on contemporary philosophy at the time?

  40. What do you think of E.O. Wilsons attack on inclusive fitness, and how would multilevel selection, if prevalent, be incorporated in the selfish gene framework?

    Or just give us some fireworks 🙂

  41. Does Professor Dawkins see any similarity between the arguments around evolution/creationism and climate change? How can people be convinced by scientific facts when they believe in the irrational? As a follow-up does he agree that Tom Baker was the best Doctor Who?

  42. Question for Dawkins (I suspect he may have written about this in his books):

    What kind of future scientific advances will most convincingly disprove God?

    (a) advances in neuroscience that allow us to manipulate the physical basis of cognition, permitting us to experimentally induce, alter, and revoke any kind of religious belief

    (b) invention of an affordable time-machine (the hand-held iTime) that permits anyone to revisit any time in our evolutionary past

    (c) advances in physics that permit us to transition between lives in parallel universes

    (d) discovery of extraterrestrial life

    (e) other

    (g) none of the above (i.e., there are no possible scientific advances that will convince everyone to abandon the concept of God)

    The scientific discoveries that disprove evolution can be spelled out and are summarized here:
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/what-would-disprove-evolution/

  43. Why don’t Atheist authors make effective use of Higher Criticism and Historical Critical Method? Mainstream seminaries do, for very good reasons. It makes Atheists of many seminarians.

    1. I’m confused. Are you sayin mainstream seminaries want to create atheists? Or did you mean “Mainstream seminaries don’t”?

  44. Competition for one of todays (Most Reviled) angry New Atheists from one of yesteryear’s milder, more congenial Old Atheists [today’s FFRF Person of the Day e-mail]:

    “. . . [the profession of the Christian faith is] a system of the grossest hypocrisy, a fashionable villainy, a licensed swindle, cheat, and trick. . .

    . . . go to church and chapel, you fools, — listen to the parson, and shut your eyes, and open your mouths, and see what God will send you.

    Never was the day, never, in all the tide of time, in which such mighty efforts were made to keep mankind in ignorance; never were any clergy on earth, Pagan or Papistical, so opposed to the diffusion of knowledge, so desperately afraid of it, and so bitterly hostile to it, as the Protestant clergy, both of the established church, and the dissenters of the present day, in this metropolis.”

    —Robert Taylor, “The Devil’s Pulpit” (pamphlet, 1831)

  45. After thinking about it, here’s my question?

    -In your career as a scientist, what do you think was your most interesting failure?

  46. I would be curious what Richard thinks of the movements to create a more Church-y atheism. Specifically does he think the atheist community needs rituals and the like? Jerry Dewitt for instance thinks we need a more missionary type Atheism. I like Jerry a lot, but I must confess I cringe a bit when ever I hear any of this.

  47. Quoting Sagan, we live in very interesting times, a period where intelligent people with reasonable resources could gain insights into major knowledge that were obscure to billion others in all of the history of mankind; I believe Richard Dawkins is in the forefront of this movement now.

    What is your view? Our current knowledge about universe, about the nature of physics, nature of natural world, nature of human minds, nature of culture are at the brink of revolutionary changes; and soon afterward will become popular knowledge.

    Within next few decades, all that is currently strange, shrill and atheistic at the moment will become primary school stuffs.
    You’re involved in many of these changes, in biology, in religions, children education.

    Therefore you Sir, is one of the most prominent accelerators of these humanity’s crucial changes. A few wise words will be nice.

  48. I have been told that he once said that religion was like poetry. The person informing me of this was a poet (who is quite scientifically informed) who considered this a very tasteless remark that has tainted his opinion of Dawkins ever since. Now I have not been able to find any such comment from Dawkins although it may have been on a TV or radio interview. So I am keen to know whether he has said this. But either way, I would also be interested to hear his views on aesthetics in general, in particular any particular music, literature, poetry etc. that he likes. Most importantly is his view of the importance or otherwise of liberals arts on our lives.

  49. First my serious question:

    Does it bother you that you are probably better known nowadays as an atheist rather than as a scientist?

    Then my frivolous question:

    What is it like being married to a Time Lord and, perhaps during moments of domestic strife, have you ever wondered whether a regeneration might be beneficial?

  50. Why was there (or seems to have been) such a “bushy” branch of humanoids in the relatively recent past (sort of 100,000 to 3M ya) and now only the single representative (us)? Seems like it was a pretty successful “experiment” (throwing off many, temporarily successful branches). What pruned it back? Did we kill them all off?

  51. i have one-

    what if we will find a watch that is capable of self replication and have dna? is this kind of watch need a designer according to the evolution?

  52. Do you think that humans have evolved the propensity for belief in supernatural agency, ie, the the difficulty to reason through religious belief is made more difficult (or possible) because of our natural selection?

    1. Oh, that’s an interesting one, but probably hard for Richard to answer off the cuff. (I second the comment above that Richard should have some advanced warning!)

      Given that capitalism has flourished as religion has (somewhat) declined, I think there’s a correlation. I can think of why there might be a causal link.

      What do you think?

      /@

      1. Look at China. Capitalism neither requires nor guarantees rights, freedoms, democracy, or religion of any kind. Capitalism can exist comfortably with fascism as well.

        I think capitalism is pretty much amoral and able to adapt to a variety of ideological contexts. It doesn’t cause or determine anything more than how investment in and ownership of economic productivity takes place. Markets may be more or less free in a capitalist system. Capitalists hate competition and free labor markets; these are their worst enemies, after governments who try to protect innocent people from being victimized by capitalist abuse of economic power.

  53. What evidence or event do you think would cause the most people to abandon or question their religious faith? Are there areas of research you would recommend people pursue that would make people skeptical about their religion?

    For example, studying the origin of life and prove that it can come about through natural processes or searching for extra-terrestrial life.

  54. “Richard, do you have any explanation of why or how any very intelligent and scientifically trained person such as John Polkingrorne, George Price or Martin Nowak could hold or come to a belief in god?”

  55. “Given that you have chosen to become a leading figure in a fire-storm of contemporary controversy, haven’t you opened yourself up to the accusation of being a “self promoting egotist” by your many critics, in writing an autobiography? Wouldn’t it have been better to write a book on “A Scientific Life” with just a few key insights drawn from your own experience instead?”

      1. It isn’t just you 😉

        Surely anyone is entitled to write an autobiography; whether it’s any good (or appears egoistic) depends on how well it’s written. The proposed question also states that Richard deliberately courted controversy – yes, definitely snarky.

        The suggested alternative ‘A Scientific Life’ sounds like a rather pretentious concept, to me. And it would leave out a major chunk of Richard’s experience, which is his championing of atheism and opposition to ID.

        1. Well, perhaps it is snarky but it is from a most ardent Dawkins fan here. For my sins, over the years I have become very attuned to the politics of a cultural wars and the necessity for good strategic moves (and dare I say it PR) when involved in one. For a controversial movement leader writing an autobiography is NOT a good move. And perhaps it’s better for Richard to prepare an answer for this question, coming as it is from an admirer…. because he is certain to be getting it big-time from his enemies.

          1. I’d be more inclined to think it would be absolutely necessary for him to write his autobiography, given all the misrepresentations and false accusations that inevitably come with his position as cultural lightning rod.

            Surely he’ll have biographers, approved or not, soon enough. Looks better (and more strategic) to get the record down in the first place than to play a game of responding to spurious claims after the fact.

    1. I’ll be buying two copies of each!
      I don’t have a delicate way of putting it, but Prof. Dawkins is getting on in years, and it would be a gift to his many admirers to hear it from the horse’s mouth. He can lay to rest the many false accusations and misconceptions made against and about him. Furthermore, it’s his life and why shouldn’t he and his own family benefit from writing about it, rather than have someone else do it?

  56. Do you regret not spending more time on primary research or theoretical research in biology, in the way your mentor Niko Tinbergen did?

  57. Forest fires are an important, necessary natural part of the evolutionary process of our environment. Since the 90’s the U.S. has went from spending $300 million to $3 Billion annually.

    The industry has been overwhelmingly privatized and profit driven complete with their own lobbyists and lawmakers. Many fires of the past were allowed to burn with stands made at neighborhoods. The effects are clear, we have larger fires and they are more frequent. We have lives put at risk and making the situation worse.

    Is the scientific community doing enough to shed light on these disastrous policies and when will reason overcome greed with regards to dealing with fires?

  58. Follow-on to vehement goat (although perhaps this question is best asked of an evolutionary psychologist):

    When will reason overcome greed? And another:

    Is libertarian Randian greed decision-making an immediate-term survival impulse behavior triggered by impending environmental disaster?

  59. Why can’t we just bury loved ones in the ground if they wish not to be incinerated or entombed in a concrete box?

    The closest thing I ever got to an answer was something about water contamination. There are a few options for natural burial in a few states, but it is not cheap.

    I think we can find designated areas to bury loved ones without being extorted from an event that is inevitable. I buried a goat last year, but if my wife were to do the same for me she could be arrested.

    This was my first question to FFRF years ago and they responded by informing me this is not their area of expertise.

    Before you attack me for trying to save money on a family member, it is me that wants this for myself.

  60. We need to help citizens gain a better understanding of what makes natural (including sexual) selection so powerful. We do a lousy job of communicating that selection is much more than a mere negative editing process. “Non-random survival,” a phrase that both Coyne & Dawkins have used to describe selection fails to incorporate the processes that makes selection powerful enough to bring about the evolution of the complex adaptations we observe in nature.
    What two-sentence one paragraph description of natural (including sexual)selection can Dawkins and you write/champion that draws attention to the fact that selection causes more than “selective survival?”

  61. My question would be:
    a) Who are/were the ten most influential persons in your life?
    b) If it were possible and you could invite any ten people (dead or alive) to your dinner table, who would they be?

  62. Feeling already rather familiar with the Dawkins of the last few decades, I’m looking forward to this book for its coverage of the less well-known parts of his life. Looking at the pre-release notes on Amazon, in the book “[h]e paints a vivid picture of his idyllic childhood in colonial Africa, peppered with sketches of his colorful ancestors, charming parents, and the peculiarities of colonial life right after World War II.”

    I wouldn’t begin to know what to ask about this period but would love to hear a bit more about what to look forward to in this section of the book. Perhaps he wouldn’t mind sharing an early anecdote or two.

  63. I would like to ask Richard Dawkins a question along these lines (feel free to rephrase):

    Are you familiar with the idea of constructive neutral evolution, and in light of our current understanding of the amount of seemingly superfluous DNA in many genomes, are you open to the idea that much molecular (and perhaps morphological) complexity did/does not arise through strictly adaptive evolution, but also involved/s selectively neutral evolutionary forces.

    Follow up: Were you to write The Blind Watchmaker or Climbing Mount Improbable again, would you include these ideas?

    a few references for material related to non-adaptive evolution of complexity:

    https://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20130716-the-surprising-origins-of-lifes-complexity/

    http://www.amazon.com/Biologys-First-Law-Complexity-Evolutionary/dp/0226562263

    http://www.biologydirect.com/content/7/1/35

    http://www.amazon.com/Origins-Genome-Architecture-Michael-Lynch/dp/0878934847/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377296268&sr=1-1&keywords=michael+lynch+genomes

  64. What, do you think, is your most difficult experience in your debates with non-theists in topics concerning God/god/religion?

    What, in your opinion, is the worst argument you have come across, in your discussions/debates with other people on the subject of God/god/religion?

    Have you come across any “rational” arguments from non-theists or religious people regarding their views concerning God/god, and, if so, what are they?

  65. Apologies, corrections:

    First and third questions should read:

    What, do you think, is your most difficult experience in your debates with theists in topics concerning God/god/religion?

    Have you come across any “rational” arguments from religious people regarding their views concerning God/god, and, if so, what are they?

Leave a Reply