In a Channel 4 interview, Richard Dawkins describes his new book

August 30, 2019 • 9:15 am

Although I heard rumors that Richard Dawkins was publishing a new book, I wasn’t aware that it was already finished and scheduled for publication. But Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide is will be out October 8. I haven’t seen it, but it’s apparently intended for young people. And I’ve put below a 45-minute video interview about the book on Channel 4; the interviewer is Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

The Beeb’s description of the interview:

Richard Dawkins is one of the world’s most famous atheists. An evolutionary biology at Oxford and best-selling author of The God Delusion – his new book ‘Outgrowing God – A Beginner’s Guide’ aims to inform young people about religion and atheism. He talks to Krishnan about why he wrote it, his passion for scientific truth and whether he thinks there’s life outside of Earth.

Guru-Murthy is described in Wikipedia as having “gained notoriety for causing awkward moments in interviews with celebrities by asking increasingly probing questions, most notably Quentin Tarantino and Robert Downey Jr..” I haven’t heard any of his interviews, but this one is tolerable but marred by the interviewer’s repeated claim that Richard’s criticism of Islam is unfair. (I don’t know if Guru-Murthy is religious, but he’s certainly soft on religion in general and Islam in particular.)

Even at the outset Guru-Murthy appears to have an agenda, as he introduces Richard as “perhaps famous as the world’s biggest atheist.” Well, maybe that’s why he’s famous, but Richard has written only one book about atheism—though I guess The God Delusion is his most famous book. Well, Richard is famous as well as a popularizer and writer about science.

But up until about 23 minutes, when he gets onto Islam, Guru-Murthy asks some pretty good questions, and draws out Richard’s views. If I have a beef about the questions, it’s that they tell us a lot about Richard’s views on religion (although you probably know much of this), but give us very little insight into the new book. And Guru-Murtha doesn’t appear to have done a lot of background research.

A few notes:

16:00: Guru-Murthy asks Richard if people can really live morally without fear of divine sanction, and I was sad to hear that Richard tentatively agree, for the morality of atheistic countries like Sweden and Denmark show that you don’t need God to be moral. (The interviewer does suggest the old canard that even secular countries inherit their morality from older Christianity, but I think that’s bunk.)  Richard does add, however, that the idea that religion is necessary for morality is a “patronizing reason” to be good. (Note that the police strike Richard mentions, as described by Steve Pinker, occurred not in Toronto but in Montreal.)

18:30:  Would the world be better if we jettisoned all our superstitions, including religion, and moved, as Richard wants, towards evidence-based thinking? Richard’s answer is good, bringing up secular ethics and noting that even the winnowing of the “good” from the “bad” parts of the Bible presupposes a non-goddy ethics—the Euthyphro argument. Richard also points out that morality has changed hugely over time (viz., The Better Angels of Our Nature), belying the idea that morality comes from religious doctrine (which of course changes, at best, very slowly).

At 23:15, Guru-Murtha starts trying to stick the knife in, telling Richard that “You annoy people”, and asking him if he’s peevish and lacks humor. Then you can see what really pisses off the interviewer: Richard’s insistence that Islam is the most dangerous and harmful of the world’s religions. Responding to the accusation that he hates Islam more than other faiths, Richard replies that he hates Islam’s tenets and religiously-motived acts—like killing apostates and suicide bombings—that draw from the wells of Islam but are vanishingly rare in, say, Christianity. The interviewer goes on, boring into the following infamous tweet of Richard’s:

Perhaps an unwise tweet, but Richard explains it (as he does in the tweet below), and keeps his cool despite Krishna-Murthy’s attempt to rattle him by asking him if he’s an “Islamophobe.”


Finally, at 26:53 Krisnan asks Richard whether he’s clouded his scientific message with his atheism and anti-theism. (I get the same question, implying that I should just talk about evolution and stop banging on about religion, though I rarely mix the two subjects in a single talk.)

Richard’s response: “I’m not a politician; I’m a scientist, and I care about what is true. . . I’m not trying to be popular.” And that’s a good response. The new book (shown at bottom), is apparently a message for young people to care about what’s true—the claims that have good reasons supporting them.

Anyway, Richard looks in good nick and is as eloquent as ever despite his stroke. If you’ve read The God Delusion and already know a lot about Richard’s views about religion vs. science, you might skip to 23 minutes in when the fireworks (well, small ones) begin.

The video:

The new book (click on screenshot to get to the site for Amazon US):

h/t: Karin

73 thoughts on “In a Channel 4 interview, Richard Dawkins describes his new book

  1. Nice to hear from Richard. Unfortunately he is so iconic that he has become something of a Marmite personality, which is a shame.

    FYI, it’s a Channel 4 interview, not a BBC4 one.

    1. What is “Marmite?” My encounters with the word are a foul substance an Australian friend extolled over peanut butter and a cooking pot.

      1. yep, that sounds like Marmite…
        if you’re not from the UK, describing something as ‘a Marmite…thing’ means that it’s something that provokes either utter revulsion and disgust, or swooning ecstatic love; it’s impossible to be ambivalent about Marmite.
        of course,in my very humble opinion, Marmite is the very foodstuff of the gods, and any who reject its majesty are lost beyond redemption.

        1. I don’t understand this. My feeling about Marmite is that it’s an adequate, but distinctly inferior, substitute for peanut butter on a cracker.

          1. I haven’t had Marmite in decades but I don’t remember it tasting anything like peanut butter. About the only things they have in common is they both come in a jar and both can be spread on a cracker.

            1. Marmite goes best on fresh, hot, buttered toast or crumpets. For me, it’s the taste of breakfast.
              i’d go a little bit further than you, Murali; ‘don’t like it? get off my planet!’:-)

              1. Very amusing, but in fact Marmite is made from yeast so is acceptable as a diet item by vegetarians and vegans.

  2. Guru-Murthy does indeed come from a Muslim background. He has presented TV programs on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, describing himself as a Muslim (though of course he’d have to, to be allowed to go there). And the Channel 4 News program that he presents along with Jon Snow is very soft on Islam (notoriously censoring a Jesus and Mo cartoon, and giving softball interviews to Islamist hardliners).

    1. I think that Dawkins made it perfectly clear why Islam is the worst of religions today. If his name ‘Krishnan Guru-Murthy’ is anything to go by, I’d rather put him in the Hindu than the Islamic tradition, so I’m surprised to learn he’s from a Muslim background.
      At any rate, he got softly and suavely pawned by the Dawks there.

      1. On reflection, in saying that Guru-Murthy identified as a Muslim. I think I was confusing him with Rageh Omaar, the BBC news journalist.

    2. Coel wrote, “Guru-Murthy does indeed come from a Muslim background.”

      Sorry to contradict you but that is wrong. Going by the ‘Krishnan Guru-Murthy’ name, his background is Southern Indian Hindu. Furthermore, he may identify as a Muslim but he cannot be a true convert because in the Indian subcontinent, converts to Islam always adopt Arabic names and give up Hindu manes (as well as anything that may even suggest that they are not pure-bred Arabs.)

  3. Although I’m a huge fan of Dawkins’ work and think his TED talks are among the best in the series, I didn’t think he did very well here in several spots. As our host pointed out, he seemed to agree that morality comes from religion (although later clarified). And when asked if things like FGM and hand-amputation were practiced only by a minority of Muslims, he didn’t point out that FGM is quite widely-practiced and that hand-cutting, while perhaps not practiced by a majority of Muslims, is implemented by the government of Saudi Arabia as a part of their penal system. Why? Because the Quran mandates it.

  4. My favorite part (in response to a Christians-did-it-too defense of Islam);

    Dawkins: “Of course they did, but that was five hundred years ago”


    I always like hearing the good Dr talk. He is unflappable and relentlessly reasonable. I too was a bit surprised by his comment about morality. I’s possible I missed something so I’ll listen again.

  5. Thinking back to topics covered in”The Selfish Gene” and “The Blind Watchmaker” and fast forwarding to “The God Delusion” makes Dawkins appear to like the sciences considerably more than he dislikes any religions.

  6. Thanks for the information on what Dawkins is up to. Another book from him is always good. If I was advising Richard I would not have him be interviewed by this guy. Much more of a debate than an interview and this fellow becomes very tired early on. Most of us have heard it all before and it gets very lame. If anyone is annoying it is Krisan. He seems to have one concern and that is apologizing for Islam. He can do that someplace all by himself. Then we won’t need to listen.

      1. They probably already had it all set under another title, a little bit of search-and-replace in their word processing program, and voila!

  7. Dawkins does sound and look good. We need him to stick around for a long time.

    I dislike this style of interview with questions (exaggerating) like, “Do you think you’ve been an unfair asshole in your criticism of Islam?” It tends towards ridiculous questions and shows the interviewer’s lack of preparedness, which you mention. On the other hand, it does directly challenge Dawkins to defend his positions which is certainly ok. I suppose the interviewer is playing “devil’s advocate” to a certain extent.

    I love the part where Dawkins counters the argument that only a tiny minority of Muslims do those terrible things. As Dawkins points out, that’s a good thing but it does matter what Islamic authorities encourage and sanction and it does matter what Muslims believe is right and proper. The interviewer’s dismissal of the polls of Muslims’ attitudes is ridiculous hand waving. He says they are controversial but he doesn’t bother to disagree with their conclusion.

  8. Guru-Murthy asks Richard if people can really live morally without divine sanction, and I was sad to hear that Richard tentatively agreed …

    I think the Dawkins statement on religion and morality is unobjectionable. Some people can behave morally without religion, but certainly others cannot and do not. It is indeed condescending to say, but so is “your supernatural beliefs are false.”

    Religious belief can motivate people to better behavior, just as they can motivate to crusade or suicide bomb.

  9. I like the book’s title and cover. Thanks for the post and summary. I’m glad he seems to be in good health as well; I really admire RD and consider him one of my heroes (like our esteemed WEIT host).

  10. I find church bells aesthetically repulsive. I will take Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan any day over a church bell.

    But I agree with Dawkins: it’s part of how we were raised and a combination of our acquired aesthetics. Like Dawkins I find Bach’s music some of the most sublime music ever written for human beings.

  11. Dawkins makes an important point that seems to be missed by the interviewer -that of changing one’s mind. This is tied to a statement about denying children the knowledge of science.

    When the mind is made up on assertions without evidence, it is “very hard to change your mind”. The interviewer immediately shifts to arguing that science isn’t being denied. However, religion by design is denying children numerous things because it is about indoctrination.

    Then for the main point : a scientific world view allows navigation – changing our minds in a scrupulous way. How does a religious world view – which originated in a time where nothing was supposed to change – allow for navigation that the scientific view facilitates?

  12. The title of Richard Dawkins’s new book, “Outgrowing God”, sounds extremely pertinent, for God/god by any name and with or without capital letters is the prime example of a childish thing that even the Bible says we should put aside.

    Yet the vast majority still cling to this imaginary deity. Dissuading this majority from allegiance to this superstition will, if this can ever happen at all, be the work of innumerable generations that we will never live to see.

    But the work goes on, chipping away at the foundation of the big fairy tale, and it is good to have another contribution to this worthy cause by the author of “The God Delusion”.

    1. “Dissuading this majority from allegiance to this superstition will, if this can ever happen at all, be the work of innumerable generations that we will never live to see.”

      It’s already been achieved in only 1 or 2 generations in large swathes of Europe.

      1. Yes, this truth about Europe has often been confirmed to me by students from most European nations with whom I have worked in Los Angeles TESOL classes.

        To them, religion and God have long since become relics that they leave to the elderly, including their grandparents.

        However, the rest of the world may be another story…

    2. This is a sort of Malthusian view of religion. Malthus was proved wrong when human ingenuity was able to increase the food supply faster than the population.

      Going into the 17th century religious belief was ubiquitous. Expressing heterodox beliefs was as rare as it was dangerous. We have come a long way. Many of us have seen profound societal change concerning religion just in our lifetimes. This very rapid rate of change suggests optimism to me.

          1. or any of these (from authors of varied political perspectives):

            Deutsch, David. The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World . Penguin Publishing Group.

            Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist (P.S.) HarperCollins.

            Rosling, Hans. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think . Flatiron Books.

            Skousen, Mark. The Making of Modern Economics Taylor and Francis.

            Sowell, Thomas. A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles Basic Books.

            1. It’s no surprise that Deutsch (quantum physicist) believes in parallel universes, because he lives in one.

              Ridley (evolutionary biologist), Skousen (economist), and Sowell (economist) are libertarians and climate change deniers.

              Rosling (physician) could be described as a climate change trivializer who advocated massive global wealth distribution. He prioritized facilitating population growth over environmental protection, once quipping ”If you burn coal, you save children”.

              Tellingly, not one of these authors has any expertise in Climate Science, Oceanography, or other relevant field.

              1. Discounting someone’s argument based on occupation is obviously flawed reasoning. As is claiming the “carrying capacity” of the planet has been exceeded when the inhabitants are doing better, much better than at any time in the past. I’ll take this group of highly intelligent people who have researched the issues over Malthus, Rachael Carson, Al Gore, Matt, and all the other pessimists who have offered us their disproved prophesies.

              2. Discounting someone’s argument based on occupation is obviously flawed reasoning

                It matters quite a bit that the authors in question have no expertise in the subjects they write about. Two are economists, a pseudoscience. If you don’t like the view of an economist, you needn’t look far to find another with the complete opposite view.

                Three of the authors are libertarians. Libertarianism is as intellectually bankrupt a political ideology as Marxism.

                You cherry-picked a list of books by like-minded non-experts who jibed with your personal bias, and attempted to pass that off as representative of a broad range of thought among scientists. Who’s committing the logical fallacy here?

          2. Whatever the planet’s carrying capacity, it is not unlimited. (I’ve yet to hear of a corporate Master of Mankind acknowledge that.) Could the Earth sustain its current population with each person having the the same standard of living as the average American? (I forget the name of some expert on the matter who has said that it would take approximately two Earths.) I reasonably assume that the average Earther deems “themselves” no less entitled to that than the average American.

            1. The earth does not have any definite “carrying capacity.” Carrying capacity depends on the state of the technology. With appropriate technology, the earth can carry 1 billion or 1 trillion or whatever.

              1. With our present technology, the Earth’s human population greatly exceeds its carrying capacity.

                When you all have invented and implemented your new technologies, then we can discuss expanding the population. Until then, we should rely on an existing, proven technology — birth control.

              2. The earth does not have any definite “carrying capacity” . . . depends on the state of the technology . . . the earth can carry 1 billion or 1 trillion or whatever.

                Is “whatever” equal to “unlimited”?

              3. Actually, there *is* an upper limit, fixed by thermodynamics. The calculations to this effect have been done by folks at the Long Now Foundation. Long story short – doesn’t matter what the constants are, exponential growth is lethal.

                This, BTW, is why I regard Malthus as essentially correct – those of us who have done a course in algorithms or real analysis may recognize asymptotic notation lurking in his paper.

        1. Matt, I’m with darwinwins on this. Please explain. That the earth isn’t “carrying” its current population, and in prosperity undreamed of in Malthus’s time, is absurd.

          1. ‘Carrying Capacity’ is a Biology term for the maximum population of a given species that a given environment can support indefinitely.

            The unprecedented prosperity humans currently enjoy has only been possible via the overexploitation of renewable, and exhaustion of non-renewable, resources. Many parts of the world, most notably India, face imminent, catastrophic shortages of water. China is unable to feed its population without turning vast swathes of the oceans into dead zones. Worldwide, the demand for everything from beef to palm oil leads to ever more conversion of woodlands to farmland. The anticipated large-scale effects of climate change will bring unprecedented misery and death.

            1. It sounds less crazy, when you add “indefinitely” but that is useless because the “given” environment does not remain static. Human intelligence has greatly increased the productivity of the environment. The Green Revolution has insured the planet will be able to feed itself through this century when total population will peak – i.e., indefinitely. Many once famine prone countries like Mexico, India, and Pakistan have become grain exporters.

              Just like Malthus, your doomsday predictions don’t account for humanity overcoming challenges as we always have.

              1. You express a blind, quasi-religious faith in ‘human ingenuity’ which leads you to ignore hard facts.

                As mentioned, India is on the verge of a water shortage catastrophe. It has wrecked most of its aquifers from overuse. What is the technological miracle for that, and when can we expect it?

                China cannot feed its population. Its soil nutrients are exhausted, while farming on hillsides, etc. has led to massive topsoil runoff and silting of its rivers. Only by drag-netting vast expanses of the ocean has starvation been averted. After it has finished destroying our planet’s sea life, where will China turn to next to feed its ever-expanding population?

        2. Malthus was right. For this time. But we’ve left that Malthusian era. Because Industrial Revolution. (I could not resist that because.:)

          Practically infinite carrying capacity. Because fusion. (OK, won’t do that again.)

          1. Atanu, I must assume your comment is jocular, as the Industrial Revolution is directly responsible for our current climate change emergency. And fusion power, as we all know, is both a pipe dream and no remedy for exhaustion of other types of resources.

            1. Matt, I was not joking (and don’t call me Shirley.)

              Of course, without the various Industrial Revolutions, humans would never have reached the 7+ billion number, and would never have the capacity to affect the natural world like they do.

              This I believe.

              1) There are no natural resources. All resources are human-made.
              2) The natural world is not all that benign. It takes human ingenuity to make the natural world better.
              3) Humans make mistakes. They create problems that wouldn’t have existed in nature.
              4) Humans solve the problems they create.
              5) Solving a problem usually makes the system better than it was before the problem.
              6) Anthropogenic climate change is real. But it will not be catastrophic. Human technology will solve that problem.
              7) Fusion technology will be commercially available by 2035.
              8) Resource scarcity will be a thing of the past. No more poverty.

  13. I’m just very grateful for Richard Dawkins and for his ability to remain calmly focused on facts, no matter how an interviewer tries to push his buttons by asking “questions” like whether he’s peevish and lacks humor.

    1. I also applaud Dawkins’s ability, but find myself wanting to see this interviewer made to account for his own peevishness, which seems to characterize not a few media-types.

  14. I have just received a pre-publication copy which I’ve yet to read. Chapter headings are as follows:

    So many gods.
    But is it true?
    Myths and how they start.
    The Good Book?
    Do we need God in order to be good?
    How do we decide what is good?

    Surely there must be a designer?
    Steps towards improbability
    Crystals and jigsaw puzzles
    Bottom up or top down?
    Did we evolve to be religious? Did we evolve to be nice?
    Taking courage from science.

    I have a young relative who is being ‘brought up Catholic’, despite one parent being an atheist. As he enters his first teenage year he’s starting to ask questions and on a skim-read I’d say this is the perfect book for him.

  15. I suspect that Dawkins’ reply about how people need religion to live a moral life was an opinion about OTHER PEOPLE”S NEEDS, based on observation and experience rather than on his personal belief. These subtleties get lost or distorted or misunderstood in interviews like this one. I have never read anything by Dawkins that suggests he believes in the efficacy of religion in the moral realm. The same is true of other atheists. As for Islam, he is just being blunt and stating his opinions about Islam and so far he has hit the nail on the head about its
    inherent violence. But there are still people who think religion should be exempt from criticism. Maybe those are the “closet” believers? They pretend to be secular and rational of course.

    1. Lorna, you wrote, “But there are still people who think religion should be exempt from criticism.”

      Actually, it’s worse than that. It is OK to criticize Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or whatever.

      There are people (not all of them followers of Islam) who believe that only Islam should be exempt from criticism. Not just that, criticism of Islam should be criminalized. Indeed there was (or perhaps is) a move to get the UN to pass such a law. See

      And this:
      In Europe, Speech Is an Alienable Right
      A human-rights court upheld an Austrian woman’s conviction for disparaging the Prophet Muhammad.

  16. If only for amusement, I refer readers to this 2006 review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion by Marilynne Robinson that appeared in Harper’s Magazine (

    Fans of Dawkins will bristle at much of this, and there’s no question that Robinson can get too snide for her own good (as in “So it seems fair, if not strictly possible, to take [Mr. Dawkins] as seriously as he takes himself”). But as infuriating as she can become, Robinson is an original thinker whose first novel, Housekeeping, remains a quiet but quirky classic.

    Be interesting to see if she decides to go after Dawkins’ new book.

  17. The interviewer suggests that Dawkins feels the way he does about the church bells because of his cultural background. As if the bells would sound vile to him if he grew up in any place else. Buddhism meditation and Gamelan music makes use of bells, I wonder if the interviewer likes those, and if so, how he would explain it because it’s not “his culture”. Dawkins goes on to describe the beauty of the Muslim call to prayer he awoke to in … Turkey, I think?

  18. Dawkins was my second go-to (after Bertrand Russell) when I became atheist. I’m disappointed that, like so many intellectuals, he cleaves to superstitious thinking on economics (Brexit) and outright religious perspectives on policy (climate change).

    1. Kevin, fact is that while Dawkins is excellent in his field, it is unlikely that his views outside his domain would be likewise excellent. On Brexit he does admit that he is clueless and that he’d rather leave it to the experts on such matters.

      Unfortunately some other great thinkers have not been as modest. I have the greatest respect for Einstein but found his views on socialism disconcerting. He believed that capitalism was evil and the answer to the world’s economic woes was socialism. Go figure.

  19. It’s telling that Mr. Guru – Murthy must reach back centuries to find Christian analogs of the atrocities Muslims commit now.

    Islam is, indeed, the “slowest kid in the class.”

  20. Regarding the morality issue at 16:00, “Guru-Murthy asks Richard if people can really live morally without fear of divine sanction.”
    I was a bit disappointed that Dr. Dawkins did not take the opportunity to distinquish between morality and obedience. What Guru-Murthy alludes to is religious obedience, that is, fear of divine punishment. Conversely, morality is the desire to do what is right for its own sake. Two very different concepts.

  21. Good interview. I think Guru-Murthy was throwing mostly softballs and Dawkins was ready for fast balls, curves, and even screwballs.

  22. When I read the title, “Outgrowing God”, I was hoping it would be a children’s book, not just to explain evolution, but to explain how gods are created. I did come across an article published about a year ago where Dawkins said that he was working on two books, one for teenagers (this book) and another for young children, which would be illustrated. This is the one I hope to see.GROG

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