Dawkins interviewed by Piers Morgan

March 31, 2023 • 11:30 am

I found out about this recent appearance by Richard Dawkins on Piers Morgan‘s show via the tweet below. Reader Luana, who sent me that tweet, says that many people online are now going after Richard, accusing him of cowardice by refusing to give his opinion on matters Islamic. I’ve put the entire interview below and you can judge for yourself.  Morgan, by the way, is a Tory, but not as conservative as a hardwired American right-winger. He’s also religious.

Below is the whole 47-minute video. Topics discussed including cancel culture, evolutionary biology, and how did something come from nothing (this plays into Morgan’s religious sentiments), Morgan asks Dawkins what happened before the Big Bang, which of course nobody knows. (Dawkins says, “it doesn’t help to postulate something complicated [God] at the outset.”)

Morgan claims that as a believer, he needs an alternative to a purely naturalistic origin of the universe, and sees that as a telling point against atheism. Dawkins’s response, “Science take a pride in admitting what they don’t know”—a good response given that Pier’s own “theory”—that Catholicism is the true faith—has no evidence at all in its favor. I think Richard should have asked Morgan, “What evidence do you have for the Catholic god you believe in?” or “How do you know that YOUR own ‘theory’ is right?”

After each man has stated his position on God and the afterlife, the conversation moves to the recent movement of the woke to purify language, especially in biology, including discussion of sex. Here Dawkins and Morgan agree (and so do I). Dawkins says, “There are two sexes—and that’s all there is to it.”

The discussion moves on to how “perceived scientific wisdom” can change, as in the covid pandemic. Morgan asks Dawkins to respond to those who use these shifts in position to denigrate science itself, and Dawkins again has a good response (I think Morgan agrees with him, though I’m not sure.) This brings up the “culture of nastiness” on social media, and then artificial intelligence (“can a machine be sentient?”)—seemingly the most important topic of today’s intellectual discussions.

The discussion of Islam begins at 30:28, when Morgan reminds Dawkins that he, Richard, said that fundamentalist Islam is “one of the great threats” to humanity.  Dawkins explains why he adheres to this, but rejects the idea that he’s an “Islamophobe”; he simply objects to the tenets of fundamentalist Islam like female genital mutilation and the denigration of music and dancing. As Dawkins says, correctly, “Muslims are the biggest victims of Islamism.”

Dawkins then refuses to give an opinion of whether a British “ISIS bride” should be allowed back to Britain, saying that he hasn’t studied the situation thoroughly enough. He doesn’t want to talk about the threats that he himself gets, which may have given rise to the tweet above, but I understand that Richard doesn’t like to discuss threats to public figures, including himself, because he thinks it just encourages nut cases and wannabees who might follow suit.

At 34 minutes in, Dawkins reveals who he thinks is the smartest person he’s ever met, but I’ll let you go to 34:15 to hear the answer.

Other questions include what does Dawkins hope to achieve now that he’s 82, does he have any great unfulfilled ambitions, and so on. He does mention the topic of the book he’s writing now, which is going to be, I think, scientifically controversial because of its claim that you can read off the ancestral environments of any species by reading its DNA. (I have issues with that idea, though I will read the book to see what it says before weighing in.)

At 36:30, Morgan asks him, “What is the one question you’d most like answered before you die?” You can hear the answer for yourself. (Dawkins actually mentions several questions.) During the show’s last bit, Morgan peppers Richard with personal questions like, “Are you a romantic?”, “Do you get a bad rap?”, “What is the one thing you’d like to be known for?” and so on.

It’s a good interview, and I have to say that I think the tweet above is misguided: there’s simply no indication that Dawkins evinces cowardice in his discussion of Islam or religion. In fact, it’s one of the better interviews with Dawkins I’ve heard. Morgan asks provocative questions, but he’s not out to “get” Richard, and the only agenda he seems to have is to hold onto his Catholicism.

22 thoughts on “Dawkins interviewed by Piers Morgan

    1. Just a comment on Dawkins’ use of the phrase “random mutations”. I really wish biologists et al. would not use this phrase. It leads to so much misunderstanding. I vote that random gets replaced by chaotic.

      1. It not even needs to be random (or chaotic) in an absolute sense, NS only means mutations may be random (or chaotic) with regards to possible selective advantage for the theory to work. It works, even if most mutations are disadvantageous or ‘neutral’. I think that is the whole point of NS on chaotic (or random) mutations.

          1. I just happen to be covering this exact question in my evolution class. Here is the text from two slides from my lecture on the genetic basis of evolutionary change:

            Mutations are random.

            This does NOT mean:
            1. Mutations lack physical causes.
            2. All mutations are equiprobable.
            3. Mutations of any phenotypic effect are possible.

            Mutations are random in the sense that the probability of a mutation occurring is independent of whether or not it would be adaptive.

            Mutations have physical causes (x-rays, UV, errors of replication, mutagens, etc.). Different kinds of mutations, different kinds of organisms, and different parts of the genome mutate at very different rates. Mutations are alterations of the existing developmental program– some phenotypic places are very hard to get to from where you are: evolving Pegasus would be very difficult, because it is a six-legged tetrapod. The last sentence above expresses what is meant by the randomness of mutations: a mutation being advantageous (or not) neither increases nor decreases the chance that the mutation will occur. Most mutations are, in fact, deleterious. If environmental needs could engender mutations that are directed toward supplying those needs, evolution would occur very differently from how we think it does.


          2. There are lots of possible meanings, but in this context, it means that the mutation does not need to be “directed” in any sense towards any aim of changing the organism in any particular direction.
            An organism (well, population …) could have some mechanism that ensured a mutation in the first base pair at midnight meiosis, the next organism in the population has a mutation in the second base pair at midnight+1 minute, the next at midnight+2minutes … very non-random and deterministic, but not “targeted” at changing any particular aspect of the organism (population). It doesn’t matter how the mutations are generated.
            After the mutations are generated, natural selection kills those that are lethal, ignores those that are neutral, and promotes those that are beneficial. It’s the “filter” (sometimes “ratchet”) of natural selection that has the effect, not the origin of the mutations.
            Could you get such a mutation pattern? It’s not impossible – maybe a parasitic infection could work it’s way along the genome of a reproductive stem cell, planting damage that would work through to leave sequential mutations like that. I’m damned if I can figure out a selective advantage that it would gain from that though.

      2. I think all that’s needed is for people to stop deliberately choosing to misunderstand the meaning of “random” in “random mutation”. Anybody who’s bothered by random will find some way to misunderstand chaotic (chaos has a real meaning in some kinds of biological models) or unguided too. All three words or phrases are metaphorical, and meant to stand in for the longer correct explanation that Nicolaas articulated. Our language is metaphorical at its roots (ha ha) but is being attacked by people who want to criticize the metaphor rather than focus on the idea.

        1. people to stop deliberately choosing to misunderstand

          Don’t hold your breath while you’re waiting.

          Our language is metaphorical at its roots (ha ha)

          Ohhh, radical humour.

  1. I saw this interview yesterday while pounding away on my elliptical trainer. It’s an excellent interview. I almost sent the link to you but decided against it, thinking that I probably got it from your web site!

    Anyway, excellent interview. No, Morgan was not out to get Dawkins, but he pushed Dawkins gently and respectfully. Dawkins revealed some interesting things, once he became convinced that this was not going to be a “gotcha” interview.

    I think his choice of the “smartest person” is a good one. I’ll not reveal it here, as I want to let others have a chance to watch the excellent interview.

  2. It’s a good interview, and I have to say that I think the tweet above is misguided: there’s simply no indication that Dawkins evinces cowardice in his discussion of Islam or religion. In fact, it’s one of the better interviews with Dawkins I’ve heard.

    Maybe I am wrong, but I interpret the tweet differently. Smita Deshmukh is not disappointed by Richard Dawkins, but that the pressure and influence of Islamists are so great that even a Dawkins who had not shied away from confrontation for years can no longer escape this pressure.

    She is disappointed that large parts of civil society and politics do not give enough support to upright persons like Dawkins due to false consideration or outright cowardice.

    1. Call me cynical, but I have a hard time reading an anti-Islamic statement like that without seeing the context of the Indian flag and the bindi. Especially in light of the murders (and calls for outright genocide) against Muslims by Hindus in India. https://archive.is/ICnUD

  3. Great interview. I think he was outstanding.
    I particularly liked his answers on pedophilia and rape. On the date rape there is a compounding factor though: being raped by someone you trusted may leave a great fear, since it is more personal. I’m not a psychologist, but one thing is sure, “rape is rape” is not correct. There certainly are degrees of depravity on the one hand and of damage on the other.

  4. Re the person Dawkins called the smartest man he ever met, Steven Gould called the same person the “cleverest man I have ever known”.

  5. Dawkins does pretty well in describing the fact that scientist know that they don’t know about such things as abiogenesis and the origin of the Cosmos. However, as Piers badgers him about “something from nothing” it seems to me a very good answer is found in what the majority of physicists currently think. That is that there was never “nothing”, and that the most primitive level of current understanding is quantum fields. Theories exist showing that quantum fields are capable of generating the “big bang”. Further most physicist believe that the Cosmos is likely past infinite. I think this kind of high level explanation would give Piers something to chew on.

    1. Exactly. Even if the Big Bang were the beginning of time, there was plenty of energy — “something” — in the universe at that time. That’s not “something from nothing”, as there would be no time at which to locate the “nothing”.

  6. “I think this kind of high level explanation would give Piers something to chew on.”

    No, he would simply ask where the ‘quantum fields’ come from.

    1. Or he would insist that quantum fields are God. I saw/heard Neil deGrasse Tyson interview a Catholic priest once. When Tyson couldn’t explain what was before the Big Bang, the Padre insisted that God was whatever the first thing was. Maybe creation didn’t go on forever but the argument does.

  7. I’ve never been a big Piers Morgan fan, but (other than his stanning for Mother Church early on) I thought he conducted an excellent interview of Dawkins here.

    I agree with our host that the tweet in the post above gets things wrong. I respect Dawkins for not wanting to sound off on the so-called ISIS bride, given his admission that he doesn’t feel he knows enough about the topic to have an informed opinion. (More of us should follow that example.) And I think I understand his reticence regarding the threats made against him — although I think he could have been a bit more express about why he didn’t want to discuss them, even while completely avoiding any discussion of the content of those threats themselves.

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